Disaster evironmentalism 1: looking the future in the face

December 5, 2019

“Barring a miracle, [a global average temperature rise above pre-industrial levels of] 2 degrees C must inevitably be substantially breached.” Nothing that has happened since the 2015 Paris climate conference has “suggested any reason for doubting that judgement”.

The international climate negotiations in Katowice, Poland, in 2018, which were supposed to follow up on the Paris agreements, “can be seen as achieving no more than an elaborate seating-plan for the sun-deck of the Titanic”.

In 2020, countries are supposed to show how they have met the targets set at Paris, and set tougher targets. “But even if a radical programme of reduced emissions was started at that

One demonstration: two approaches. From the school students’ protest, 29 November, 2019

point, and one that went far beyond the Paris Agreement, it would need to achieve zero emissions by 2040 to stay within the 2 degrees C limit. […]

“Surely the most optimistic assumption we are entitled to make, based on current political agreements and actions across the world is that emissions will continue to rise after 2030, hopefully levelling off later in the century”.

And so “we must assume” that there will be “a global temperature rise associated with carrying on as we are”: that means, by 2100, “at the very least” 3-4 degrees C, and “more likely” 4-5 degrees C.[1]

I agree with all that – with the caveat that those temperatures are consistent with “carrying on as we are”, whereas I believe we have the capacity to do things differently. It is from the Introduction to a new book from the Green House think tank, Facing Up to Climate Reality.[2]

The Introduction argues (i) that “dangerous climate change is now inevitable” and (ii) that “we are going to have to live in a post-growth world”.

This is the starting point of what I call disaster environmentalism, being developed by Rupert Read (one of the Introduction’s three authors), Jem Bendell and other writers associated with Extinction Rebellion (XR).

In a book, This Civilisation is Finished, Read underlines: “there is no ‘safe’ level of warming”; that limiting warming to 2 degrees C, which is now “amost unachievable”, will mean the death of 99% of the world’s coral reefs, and probably the end of ice in the northern hemisphere. It Read the rest of this entry »

Disaster environmentalism 2: roads to a post-growth economy

December 5, 2019

The disaster environmentalists’ hopes for the future rest not only on “deep adaptation”, but on acceptance that we need to live in a “post growth world”. Rupert Read writes:

It is crucial that we resist growthism, the very widespread drive to keep the economy ‘growing’. For (perpetual) growthism is a perpetual obstacle to collective sanity, to facing the reality of [ecological and social] limits. […] And green growthism is merely a subset of growthism.[1] […]

Society can not afford more growth, Read argues; progress towards understanding this is “glacially slow”. And so:

It still seems, tragically, far more likely that growth will end because of collapse than because of informed decision.

Yes and no, in my view. “Economic growth”, as manifested by global capitalism, is completely unsustainable. “Green growth”, or “socialist growth”, are no substitutes. Our challenge to the

Symptom of growth: a traffic jam in the USA

economic system must open the way for a society based on human happiness and fulfilment, values completely at odds with – and distorted and defaced by – the rich-country consumerist ideology that helps to justify ever-expanding material production. But, unlike Read, I believe that the way “growth” ends is still to play for.

In my view (not new, from a socialist), all this means challenging capitalism, along with the state and political structures that protect its interests. On that, the disaster environmentalists are agnostic. They talk up the need for systemic change, but combine this with tame, almost naïve, claims about how to challenge the system.

A really thoughtful article by Richard McNeill Douglas, in a book put together by the disaster environmentalists, poses a crucial question: “Could capitalism survive the transition to a post- Read the rest of this entry »

Disaster environmentalism 3: what to do

December 5, 2019

The gap in disaster environmentalist thinking, the absence of any kind of sense of how society changes, or could be changed, explains its’ exponents political tactics, in my view.

Non-violent direct action (NVDA), which has become a hallmark of XR, is seen as a way of pushing the existing political system to change. For disaster environmentalism, it’s a last ditch attempt: if this fails, only collapse – whatever that means – awaits, and social renewal can only be achieved through “deep adaptation”.

This is underpinned by misunderstandings and half-thought-out ideas about how society changes, in my view.

The danger of co-optation

Read writes that XR wants and needs “to transform the whole existing system […] within years, not decades. Such transformation will mean that many economic interests get challenged, or indeed ended”. This “attempt to rapidly change the entire economic, social and political system” will be far more difficult than the task of previous movements; “the vested interests opposing us are vast, as are the ideologies that have to be overcome or transformed.” And what he describes as his “key point”:

Women and black people could be accommodated into the existing system; in this way the task of the Suffragettes and of the Civil Rights Movement, while hard, was doable. But what we want – need – is to transform the whole existing system, not merely to allow excluded people access to it.

This shows a breathtaking lack of understanding about how the political representatives of capitalism work to co-opt, subvert and control social movements.

To state the completely obvious, while the specific demands of the Suffragettes, for women’s right to vote, has been won, countless aspects of the repression of women have been

School students marching in London, 29 November 2019

reproduced by capitalism in new, more sophisticated forms. Women’s legal rights to abortion is currently under threat in a series of countries.

As for the Civil Rights Movement in the USA, the gains it won in terms of voting rights for black Americans have been under vicious attack from that time to this. Gerrymandering, ID requirements, laws depriving former prisoners of the vote, and more blatant measures are used across the USA to stop black people from voting. Rights are won in struggle, defended and extended in struggle, and can be lost in struggle.

If, then, tackling climate change requires a deeper-going transformation even than these battles for the right to vote – and I agree that it does – it surely follows that the battle will be Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Marx on ecology: “capitalism generates an unrepairable physical rift”

December 3, 2019

Today I am very pleased to publish Barbara Harriss-White’s discussion of Kohei Saito’s book, Marx’s Eco-socialism: capital, nature and the unfinished critique of political economy (Monthly Review Press, 2017) on People & Nature. It is based on her talk at a panel at the Historical Materialism conference in London, on 8 November 2019 that reviewed the book, which won the 2018 Isaac Deutscher Memorial Prize. Please read and share!


“Where the fuck is the government?” ask the climate strikers

November 29, 2019

About 2000 school students marched through London today, marking the latest “Fridays for Future” strike. The demonstration was just one of a huge number internationally. You can see the giant crowds in cities across Asia, Africa and Europe at #Climatestrike or #Fridaysforfuture on twitter.

In London, “Where the fuck is the government?” was a popular slogan. Possibly because the prime minister, Boris Johnson, chickened out of the first ever televised debate between

The front of the students’ march in London today

political party leaders on climate change on Wednesday – and then had his Tory party friends threaten Channel 4, who staged it, with losing its licence.

The marchers also shouted “climate justice”, “Whose streets? Our streets. Whose planet? Our Read the rest of this entry »

Russia: a new wave of political repression

November 26, 2019

Some of the most recent protest movements in Russia – and the police actions in response to them – are summarised in this guest post from the PRAXIS CENTRE, MOSCOW (part of the Global Labour Institute network).

Dissatisfaction and moods of protest have again been gathering in Russia in recent years, in the period since the authorities repressed the wave of mass protests of 2011-13.

A powerful impulse for the protests came from the reform of the pension system, as a result

“Free our children”, says the poster on this single-woman picket by the Mothers Against Political Repression outside the presidential administration offices in Moscow. The group brings together the mothers of defendants in the “Moscow case”, the “network case” and the “New Greatness” case, of those accused of membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and the mother of Moscow student Azat Miftakhov. Photo from Arestanty 212 facebook page

of which the retirement age was raised by five years. As a result, in the autumn of last year, rallies and other demonstrations against the reform broke out across the whole country.

Dissatisfaction was also triggered by corruption, which runs through the whole Russian political system; ecological problems; and the absence of democracy or of any prospects for the overwhelming majority of the population.

In these conditions, the authorities toughened their policy of repression, not only against activists but also against anyone who was just not indifferent to the situation. There was pressure in the form of police action and fabricated legal cases.

At the same time new repressive laws were passed, the most striking of which was the recently adopted law on the “sovereign internet”, which if implemented could allow the state at any point – even this year – to cut Russia off from the world wide web.

Moreover, in Russia the freedoms of speech and assembly, and the legal immunity of people’s homes, has in effect been destroyed.

Despite all this, more and more people attempt courageously to insist on their rights, as was demonstrated very clearly by events in Moscow over the summer.

On 8 September 2019 there were elections to the Moscow city council. Forces opposed to the current regime decided to use the election campaign not only to get their representatives Read the rest of this entry »

“Network case” update: Arman Sagynbaev

November 26, 2019

The campaign group in Russia supporting the “network case” defendants – antifascists arrested and tortured by the security services, some of whom are now on trial – has withdrawn some forms of support from one of the defendants, Arman Sagynbaev.

The “network case” defendants are, and will continue to be, supported by an international campaign that has been featured on this blog e.g. here, here and here.

A statement on the Rupression web site said that campaigners in Russia would not collect money for Sagynbaev, or correspond with him, after the publication of a series of statements by women raped and/or violently attacked by him.

The Rupression site says that “we don’t have any reason not to believe” Sagynbaev’s victims; that he had always had “an unclear reputation”; and that campaigners thought their silence on this up to now had been a mistake. The statement added that Sagynbaev had “continued to deceive those with whom he corresponds, and to manipulate people” from jail. Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: