In 2015, a major study of 24 indicators of human activity and environmental decline titled ‘The Great Acceleration’ concluded that, “The last 60 years have without doubt seen the most profound transformation of the human relationship with the natural world in the history of humankind”. We have all seen aspects of these trends, but to look at the study’s 24 graphs together is to apprehend, at a glance, the totality of the monstrous scale and speed of modern economic activity. According to lead author W. Steffen, “It is difficult to overestimate the scale and speed of change. In a single lifetime humanity has become a planetary-scale geological force.”
Every indicator of intensity and scale of economic activity — from global trade and investment to water and fertilizer use, from pollution of every sort to destruction of environments and biodiversity — has shot up, precipitously, beginning around 1950. The graphs for every such trend point skyward still.
The Great Acceleration is manifest everywhere, including many areas not covered in the study. It is impossible to directly, humanly appreciate the ghastly scale of change. Only statistics can do that. For example:
Humans now extract and move more physical material than all natural processes combined. Global material extraction has grown by more than 90 percent over the past 30 years, reaching almost 70 billion tons today.
In this century “global economic output expanded roughly 20-fold, resulting in a jump in demand for different resources of anywhere between 600 and 2,000 percent”.
For more than 50 years, global production of plastic has continued to rise. Today, around 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year. “About two thirds of this is for packaging; globally, this translates to 170 million tons of plastic largely created to be disposed of after one use.”
The global sale of packaged foods has jumped more than 90 percent over the last decade, with 2012 sales topping $2.2 trillion.
“In the last 50 years, a staggering 140 million hectares… has been taken over by four industrial crops: soya bean, oil palm, rapeseed and sugar cane. These crops don’t feed people. They are grown to feed the agro-industrial complex.”
Not only are the scale and speed of materials extraction, production, consumption and waste ballooning, but so too the scale and pace of the movement of materials through global trade. For instance, trade volumes in physical terms have increased by a factor of 2.5 over the past 30 years. In 2009, 2.3 billion tons of raw materials and products were traded around the globe. Maritime traffic on the world’s oceans has increased four-fold over the past 20 years, causing more water, air and noise pollution on the open seas.
2016 has been a chaotic year. Twice in the space of 6 months, we have been left reeling by a political event of global significance, with both the Brexit vote in June and the election of Trump in November. In both cases, we knew of the dates in advance, and the possibility of the outcome. And yet in neither case has the left been fully prepared for these moments. We are, as always, on the back foot.
In the weeks following Trump's victory, many arguments have broken out over what is the best way for the left to move forward. Do we put all our energies into supporting radical electoral candidates like Jeremy Corbyn, or is the rise of fascism the final nail in the social democratic coffin? Do we focus on building egalitarian economic alternatives in the cracks, or smashing the state head-on? Or maybe we just ride it out, just try our best to build a culture of care for each other, to help us survive in this terrifying world before a better one comes along.
These various ways of approaching social change tend to correspond to broad divisions on the left. For some, like certain revolutionary socialists, direct action to disrupt or destroy systems is the way. Others stay away from the state, creating their own economic alternatives which aim to take over in the future – in workers cooperatives, Transition towns, or creating the 'digital commons'. A more interpersonal approach is taken in the formation of communities of care, such as among LGBT people, disabled people and people of colour, to try to create spaces and practices which enable marginalised people to survive in the here and now. And of course there's the electoral route, currently en vogue among the radical left in Britain, aiming to support a social democratic candidate to take power through mainstream electoral means and reform its way to socialism. Drawing on and altering Erik Olin Wright's typology of strategic logics, we might refer to these as Smashing, Building, Healing and Taming. Whilst these rarely occur in complete isolation from each other, the categories are useful for focusing our minds on the pros and cons of different approaches.
Taken alone, all of these strategies have failed. But all of them have also had their successes. An alternative is to combine their strengths and weaknesses into a coherent meta-strategy, aiming to unify the left around a common strategic framework whilst maintaining the autonomy of groups within it. This is not simply a vague 'diversity of tactics', but an analysis of how those different tactics and broader strategies can feed into one another. What follows is a proposal for such a framework; not a blueprint to be dogmatically followed, but an initial idea to be tried, tested, and adapted.
The vehicle for this meta-strategy is an ‘ecology of organisations’.
In this short paper I am taking as a starting point the ecological rift, or metabolic rift in Marx’s own phrase, at the heart of the way in which capitalism appropriates the natural world and alienates humanity from its species being and from nature in the process. This is elaborated at considerable length by John Bellamy Foster and Brent Clark (but not exclusively by them) and what I hope to do here is while accepting their recovery of ecological balance and its disturbance in Marx, give an overview of an ecological praxis related to that theorization.
On Nov. 18, the Obama administration banned oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans for the next five years, while allowing drilling projects to go forward in the Cook Inlet (southwest of Anchorage, Alaska) and in the Gulf of Mexico. The media have noted the strong possibility that when Donald Trump assumes office, his administration would try to rewrite this blueprint in order to ramp up off-shore oil drilling even more.
(Original PDF) The times when climate action was raised as a job killer are behind us. Ambitious emissions reduction and adaptation policies are now recognised as vital to protect jobs, people and communities from the impacts of climate change, and investment is creating jobs in renewable energy, public transit, energy efficiency in buildings, sustainable agriculture, forestry, water and more.
We are living in a time of contradictions. A minority of corporate interests intends to benefit until the last minute from a socially unfair, environmentally-damaging and undemocratic system by obstructing change. Many governments bow to these interests while austerity policies, attacks on regulation and public services remain on the same governments’ tables, even when those policies have proven to be disastrous and their countries face climate aggravated crises.
For the past years, the international trade union movement has stood strong in calling for ambition from our political leaders on climate because we all know: “there are no jobs on a dead planet”.
In 2015 government leaders from all over the world signed the Paris Agreement, which will regulate international climate action from 2020 onwards. For unions, every step that contributes to global governance in favour of rights, justice and solidarity – every investment in climate action is a welcome one. However, we are conscious that the long-term objective governments have set for themselves and our societies of “staying well below 2°C in average temperature increase, and aiming at 1.5°C”, will only be reached if concrete measures are taken to dramatically change our production and consumption patterns and if national emissions reduction objectives, in particular in developed countries, are reviewed with greater ambition, before 2018.
Reaching the agreed goals will also require governments to deliver on their climate finance commitments and agree to provide more support so that everyone can contribute to the global effort. The Paris Agreement is one step in a long journey for protecting our climate.
This is not only a matter of principle – it is a matter of need: we need ambition to trigger sustainable investments and decent jobs at a time when we face historic levels of unemployment with half of the world’s workers either unemployed or in vulnerable employment, with two in five young people in this situation.
We know millions of workers and families still depend on a fossil-fuel-based economy for their jobs and livelihoods. They have generated the energy required for today’s prosperity. Governments and employers, with workers and their unions must sit together and commit to protect our future through a just transition strategy
– a plan which guarantees decent work for all. The inclusion of a just transition in the Paris Agreement is an important first step.
Corporations who refuse to diversify their energy base instead set out to frighten workers. But fear will not deliver for working families in communities dependent on fossil fuels. Fear will just increase the costs of action and make the prospects for organising the transition we need to build together more difficult. A difficult set of challenges confront us. The imperative to make our societies compatible with all forms of life and with the restrictions of limited planetary resources must be met with national and international plans that must deliver
on social justice and prosperity for all. The decisions by global leaders to meet the sustainable development goals by 2030 with the Paris agreement chart a course to a zero poverty, zero carbon world but this journey will only be realised when people act to make it happen.
Her work has appeared in numerous publications on subjects including imperialism and colonialism, political economy ecology, ecological justice, feminism, advertising and propaganda, financialization, mass incarceration, and social theory.
She is a featured speaker at a regional socialist educational conference, The Solution is Socialism, to be held at Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, Connecticut on October 22.
David Kiely, a socialist youth organizer in Connecticut, interviews Hannah Holleman on the ecosocialist imperative.
Many focus on environmental injustice as the unequal distribution of outcomes of environmental harm. Colonized or formerly colonized peoples are homogenized and described as “stakeholders” in environmental conflicts. Mainstream environmental organizations, those on the privileged side of the segregated environmental movement globally, and more linked to power, are encouraged to diversify their staff and memberships and pay attention to issues of “justice.” However, the deeper aspects of social domination required to maintain the economic, social, and environmental status quo often are denied, minimized, or simply ignored.
Ignoring the systemic and historical injustice that makes current inequalities possible allows environmentalists and other activists, as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes, “to safely put aside present responsibility for continued harm done by that past and questions of reparations, restitution, and reordering society,” when discussing current, interrelated environmental and social problems.[i] Superficial approaches to addressing racism, indigenous oppression, and other forms of social domination preclude the possibility of a deeper solidarity across historical social divisions. However, this kind of solidarity is exactly what we need to build a movement capable of challenging the status quo and making systemic, lasting change that is socially and ecologically restorative and just.
Does Critical Criticism believe that it has reached even the beginning of a knowledge of historical reality so long as it excludes from the historical movement the theoretical and practical relation of man to nature, i.e. natural science and industry?
I’d been hoping to pay another visit to the Peasant’s Republic of Wessex, but red tape has been holding me up at the border so it’ll have to wait probably for another couple of weeks. Instead, I thought I’d offer a few top-of-the-head thoughts on Felicity Lawrence’s recent article about agricultural pesticide use in The Guardian – or, more specifically, on some of the under-the-line responses it prompted.
Whenever someone writes an online article about virtually any aspect of the environmental challenges facing humanity, you can pretty much guarantee that underneath it somebody is going to write a comment that closely approximates to this: “The real issue here is human over-population. It’s the elephant in the room that trendy green thinkers don’t want to talk about.” In distant second place you’ll usually find a similar comment about meat eating. And, even less commonly, one about the flying or other carbon-intensive sins of said trendy green thinkers.
These comments doubtless emanate respectively from the childless, the vegan, and the foot-powered, and represent the pharisaical human tendency to elevate whatever behaviours we engage in that we feel are especially praiseworthy to a kind of touchstone status by which we can judge others less virtuous than ourselves. Hovering in the background of such thought is the ever present charge of hypocrisy, as in this recent tweet aimed at George Monbiot’s opposition to fossil fuel extraction: “Hey @GeorgeMonbiot – You PERSONALLY give up all items made or sustained by fossil fuels first, then we’ll talk.”
David Fleming nails this way of thinking especially well when he writes,
“Though my lifestyle may be regrettable, that does not mean that my arguments are wrong; on the contrary, it could mean that I am acutely aware of values that are better than the ones I achieve myself. If I lived an impeccable life, I could be lost in admiration for myself as an ethical ideal; failings may keep me modest and raise my sights”1
But, more importantly, all the obsessive finger-pointing about individual behaviours neglects the systemic logic which provides their ground. This was Marx’s insight in his critique of the utopian socialists – capitalism isn’t an especially nasty system because capitalists are especially nasty people. Therefore, building some nice factories with pleasant managers won’t solve the problem. The problem is that individual people ultimately have little choice but to respond to the behavioural drivers dictated by the logic of the (capitalist) system – and these drivers, investing a million innocent little decisions, have nasty consequences.
That brings me to my main point: when it comes to pesticide use in farming – actually, when it comes to a lot of things – if we want to talk about ‘the elephant in the room’, it isn’t human population. It’s capitalism.