Climate Struggles and Ecosocialism

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Climate Struggles and Ecosocialism

The hard right U.S. administration of Donald Trump has widened the terrain of struggle over climate change and, indeed, the entire array of environmental issues facing the ecology of North America and the working class movement. Climate change deniers, big oil executives, and finance capitalists now occupy pivotal positions in an array of state agencies and apparatuses directly impacting these portfolios. Some of the first decisions of the new administration have been to expand pipeline development (of both the Dakota Access and the Keystone XL), further open spaces for fossil fuel extraction, and gut the Environmental Protection Agency. Alongside the continued expansion of the tar sands in Canada, the North American energy superpowers are being pushed further down the path of ‘extreme energy’ extraction in the pursuit of fossil fuels (something already encouraged by the preceding Obama and Harper governments).

It will be impossible to meet present climate change targets to contain the global warming (and crucial tipping points for the earth’s biosphere) in this context. Indeed, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA announced in February that average global temperature was 1.76 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the 20th century average, and the second warmest winter on record (after last year’s). NOAA also announced that global carbon emissions reached an all-time high, and measures of CO2 at the Mauna Loa Baseline Atmospheric Observatory in Hawaii is now pushing toward 410 ppm. The damage to the Great Lakes cleanup, wilderness protection and endangered species, control of pollutant discharges, and much else from the EPA cuts is not yet clear but potentially of enormous consequence.

In Canada, the Trudeau government immediately shifted the discourse on climate change as an issue that needed to be directly confronted from the ‘acknowledge but ignore’ policy of the Harper regime. But the policy practice with respect to climate change is more notable for its continuities with the Harper period than its break. The administrative processes with the National Energy Board, First Nations consultations on pipelines, and environmental assessments largely carry on as they were. They remain vehicles for negotiating and smoothing-out pipeline expansions and further tar sands development. The last year of struggles – over Site C, Lines 3 and 9, Kinder Morgan, and Petronas LNG – are evidence enough of this. As with so much else (Canada’s foreign policy on Syria and the Ukraine, Bill C-51, industrial subsidies, trade agreements), the Trudeau government proceeds from the same neoliberal guidebook as Harper.

The war on the planet is a direct consequence of the Trump and Trudeau government’s efforts to restore capitalist accumulation in the face of continued stagnation. As the 100th day of the Trump Administration is reached, a continent-wide set of demonstrations in the hundreds, under the banner of the People’s Climate Movement, is being held on April 29 (People’s Climate March in Toronto). This mobilization builds upon the Women’s March, the fight against Islamophobia, the protests against anti-black policing, and the continent-wide Fight for $15 campaign. The platform of demands for social and economic justice, indigenous sovereignty, green jobs, renewable energy support and immigrant rights, reflect the resistance that has been growing against the array of neoliberal governments. It is of vital importance that ecological activists, unionists, community groups, and socialists, come out, to build and widen the resistance to the authoritarian neoliberalism that continues to gain ground, and now threatens to undermine even the tepid steps taken so far to address climate change.

What still needs to be registered is the fundamental antagonism between containing climate change (and restoring the earth’s ecology), and capitalism. It is remarkable, given the urgency of the ecological crisis and after so much scientific evidence and debate, that a critique of capitalism – and for the most part, even the word – does not figure in the main build-up to the demonstrations. The main North American environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOS) made their peace with capitalism and markets in the 1990s, and they are yet to reverse course, whatever the ecological chaos that surrounds us. But there is no market-centred ecology, or green work, or localist green capitalism, or environmental justice, able to overcome the class relations and forms of production of capitalism. Endless accumulation, the commodification of everything, permanent war, continual ecological damage: this is the inner core of capitalism and the agenda now, each in their own way, of the Trump and Trudeau governments. To this end, we recall here several of the key manifestoes of the ecosocialist movement of the last period as this movement finds a central place in the remaking of the global working class and socialist movements.

18 Theses on Ecosocialism

“I want the vast majority – the only majority, that is: everyone – to be able to speak, read, listen, blossom and grow.
I’ve never understood struggle as anything other than a way to end harshness.
I took this path because I believe that it will lead us all to this permanent sweetness.
I’m fighting for this general, growing, inexhaustible goodness.”

Pablo Neruda, I Confess I Have Lived, 1974.

I. What is Ecosocialism?

1. A concrete and radical alternative.

Ecosocialism is not a utopia with which reality should comply. It is the reasoned human answer to the double impasse in which humanity is now locked because of the modes of production and consumption of our times which are exhausting human beings and the environment. This calls for radical thinking and political action, in the sense that we must go to the root causes. We are thus fighting the two driving forces of the current system: capitalism and productivism. Capitalism imposes the commodification of everything for new sources of profit. It is therefore responsible for widening the gap in social inequality and for the ongoing globalization, liberal and destructive of liberty. Social and environmental dumping prevail, with the relocation of pollution and damage to ecosystems. Productivism (seeking ever greater production) depletes natural resources and disrupts the climate. The consumerist ideology is its corollary. It raises material accumulation to the rank of a law, with big publicity stunts to generate needs which can never be satisfied. We point at the real culprits of that system: the global financial oligarchy, governments subjected to multinational lobbies without democratic control, ideologists of “free and undistorted” competition, green capitalism and free trade. On the other side, ecosocialism is an alternative to overcome the crisis and pose human interest as a priority: sharing wealth without delay, founding a new economy based on real needs and the moderation of consumption, preserving the climate, the ecosystem and its biodiversity.

Global Warming

2. A paradigm of general interest.

In reality, human beings are an integral part of the ecosystem in which they live, even before they have started thinking about it. The two cannot be separated. There is only one global ecosystem compatible with human life. Therefore, we are all alike in our dependence on the ecosystem. This truth applies to everyone, despite all our differences. There is thus a human interest which is linked to that of all the other species: the protection of the ecosystem that makes human life possible. How can we identify it other than by free collective deliberation? And how can it be free if some dominate others, if revealed truths are imposed first? The environmentalist paradigm calls for democracy, social equality, secularism and feminism. These are the essential conditions for public debate to take place without oligarchic, dogmatic or patriarchal intrusion. Finally, in the discussion to determine the general human interest, it is for each of us to say not what is good for him or herself, but what is good for all. This establishes the universality of human rights, citizenship as a duty and the Republic as a necessity. Such is the reasoned link that unites political ecology and the universal social Republic. It is this global political theory that we call ecosocialism. It is about humanism and about a socialist and concrete universalism.

3. A new political synthesis of the Left.

Ecosocialism is a new political project unifying a necessarily anti-capitalist ecology and a socialism freed from the logic of productivism (that is the false need to produce and consume ever more). It allows the junction of the main currents of the Left into a new political paradigm. We need this as an alternative project of society to capitalism. It draws a perspective in the struggle for a society of emancipation and progress in which the destruction of the environment and the exploitation of man by man will be wiped out. Our ecosocialist project takes into account human needs and the limitations of our planet. It gives new thinking to the social utility of production, the way in which we consume, our real needs, the purpose of what we produce and how we produce it.

4. The renewal of socialism.

Socialism has always sought the emancipation of the human being. This implies the sharing of wealth, the democratization of power and global education of every person. This remains our programme. But we now know that emancipation can not be achieved through endless growth: the ecosystem that makes human life possible does not allow for it. This observation requires us to define a new model of progress which breaks with the capitalist system. The system of production and exchange needs to be reassessed, but also the contents of production and consumption patterns. Therefore this approach involves the whole social and political organization. It forces us to think in a new way of what human progress really means in the context of the preservation of the ecosystem. Accordingly, we propose a new set of liberating strategies for the future of humanity.

II. The Way Out of Ideological Impasses

5. The lie of green capitalism, and the risk of “apolitical environmentalism.”

Our ecology is social. It continues the historical battles of the Left. We reject the deception of a vision of ecology which would make it compatible with liberal economics. We denounce “green capitalism,” which under the guise of sustainable development provides a new space to the search for maximum profits, feeds imperialist dynamics and short-term visions. We reject “conservationist” positions that simply put the blame on individuals, thus refraining from highlighting the major responsibility of unbridled productivism. Such positions turn away from the fight against capitalist modes of production and consumption and refuse to acknowledge that they exploit the most vulnerable and plunder developing countries. We reject that kind of drawing-room ecology cut off from the working classes, devoid of a serious critical approach of the global economy and of a social vision, and therefore also devoid of environmental efficiency. Our ecology addresses environmental issues by systematically linking them with criticism of the economic system and social struggles, and by involving all citizens.

6. The social democratic impasse.

We reject the social democratic doctrine according to which any redistribution of wealth should depend on a prior boost of the GDP and on increased overall material consumption. This is double nonsense. On the one hand, it maintains the power of financial capital and assumes that the distribution of wealth is based on “the benefits of growth.” It does not tackle the accumulation already acquired. But we know that wealth is there, and we don’t need to wait to redistribute it. What is at stake is the hoarding of this wealth by capitalistic plundering. On the other hand, the social democratic doctrine is based on a model of infinite growth which is suicidal for human civilization. GDP is a measurement which does not reflect “good living.” It is of course imperative that every human being have access to basic commodities. Of course, stimulating activities of general interest is also essential. However, boosting blind economic growth is not the answer to social emergencies. It is even less bearable or desirable from the point of view of preserving the ecosystem, the natural resources and the climate. Therefore we hope neither for the resumption of growth, nor for the beneficial effects of austerity. We believe in neither.

III. Setting Up a New Political Economy Serving Human Progress

7. Putting the economy at the service of the people’s needs.

Ecosocialism wants to put the economic and productive systems at the service of human needs. In this it opposes the “supply-side policies” advocated by liberals. We reject this productivist logic which consists in producing everything and anything under any condition simply in order to sell on the market by massive spending on advertizing. It is obvious that with such an objective, and in order to raise profits, the system is selling us products programmed to break down or become obsolete sooner and sooner. How much longer must we put up with our civilization’s ever-rising pile of waste? How can we turn a blind eye to the fact that much of this waste is exported to the countries of the South to the detriment of their peoples’ health and their environment? On the contrary, our collective decisions must instead be guided by the satisfaction of our real needs. This is the meaning of ecological planning. It reverses the logic by being based on real needs, on our duty to preserve the ecosystem and the right of all to live in a healthy environment. It makes the productive system compatible with those requirements.

8. Breaking with traditional thought patterns.

Ecosocialism challenges the dictatorship of vested interests and of the private ownership of the means of production. It questions the relationship to work. We advocate social ownership of the means of production and alternative proposals for social economy in terms of self-management and cooperatives. We uphold fiscal sovereignty and nationalization as tools of public policy, particularly in the fields of banking and credit. Indexation of human progress, de-globalization and social and ecological protectionism, basic income guarantee, socialized salaries, and maximum allowed income are among the many perspectives we have in mind to get off the beaten tracks and to avoid the trap of lending support to the system. We must also go further in drastically reducing working time, by “working less and working better, with work for all,” and by setting full employment as our goal while reassessing the finality of work. There is no point in working longer than necessary to produce what we need. The time thus freed could be usefully allocated to activities now considered as “unproductive,” which are nevertheless essential to “good living.”

9. Producing differently.

The complete overhaul of our system of production is based on what we call the “4 Rs”: relocalization of activity, ecological re-industrialization, restructuring of industrial facilities and redistribution of work. Many needs remain unsatisfied: in a restructured industry, in personal services, in agroecology, in farming aimed at food sovereignty and health for all, in research and the “green” sectors working at reducing our dependence on non-renewable resources (such as green building, energy efficiency, thermal renovation of housing, renewable energies). With rising unemployment and the social crisis, the need to create or preserve jobs is too often put forward against the imperative of environmental protection. It is absurd. Here is one of the economic and social costs of liberal laissez-faire policies. On the contrary, relocation and ecological transition would allow to preserve, transform or create many jobs, both local and sustainable, in all countries.

10. Setting up the “green rule” as our political compass.

The “green rule” is our central indicator of economic management. It replaces the “golden rule” of austerity policies and of “structural adjustment” imposed by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. It aims at ensuring our responsibility to humanity and its ecosystem by phasing out the ecological debt. It combines the need to reduce the consumption of certain material commodities and the necessary boosting of other activities, their resulting ecological footprint being systematically taken into account. The damage already done by the emission of greenhouse gases and the loss of biodiversity must be made good. In addition, pushing back every year the “ecological debt day” will be adopted as a means of evaluating public policies. This is the date when an amount of renewable resources equal to what the planet is able to regenerate has been used on a worldwide scale, and when the amount of waste it is able to “digest” has been reached. Our goal is to push it back to December 31, that is to say, to neutralize our ecological footprint. This implies drastically reducing the emission of greenhouse gases and also phasing out nuclear energy, which produces unmanageable radioactive waste and carries unacceptable risks to humans as well as to the ecosystem.

IV. Building the Ecosocialist Revolution

11. Our struggles have to converge.

Our goal of a civilization break requires that the largest number of people be implied in political action. It is a question of gathering and acting together, and not simply of being in the right among those holding similar views, or worse still, of setting the ones against the others. We stand alongside the workers and those left out by the system who are fighting for alternative social and environmental projects. Ecological restructuring cannot be achieved without them, much less against them. Our opponents in this radical change of course of society are not the researchers or the workers of industry, but the banks, the multinational corporations and the shareholders who are steering all production patterns according to their private interests and not according to the general interest.

12. Struggling and resisting to reinvent.

The ecosocialist revolution combines programme proposals and a presence in social and environmental struggles, alongside all those who continue to resist. The citizens involved in this project play a part in the development of practical experiments and alternatives: local distribution networks, associations for the maintenance of small-scale peasant agriculture, support for out-of-town food crop farming, actions against the urbanization of farmland, transition town networks, takeover of companies by employees, local exchange systems, responsible saving and complementary currencies, collective housing and carpooling. They are active in actions of nonviolent civil disobedience, such as actions against advertizing or requisitions of empty housing. Elected representatives of the people for the ecosocialist project are committed to a consistent approach between what they say and what they do. For example they revitalize the left by taking steps to ban advertizing, to bring utilities back into public management, to overtax wasteful consumption, or to extend free access to public services.

13. Implementing environmental planning.

Environmental planning requires the taking into account of the long term as well as public leadership, all placed under the control of citizens, workers and consumers. The problem is not industry, research or the technology in themselves, but the lack of choice and control by citizens. A citizens’ revolution is needed to conquer this capacity of control. Such is the explosive mixture of revolutionary utopianism and technical expertise to which we aspire. The Ecological Plan gives us the possibility of charting a new course toward another mode of development, by questioning our needs and reorienting production, exchanges and consumption along our social and ecological values. The research sector must be reorganized around general interests and real needs, and invent new forms of participation, for example through citizens’ conventions. Government schools must work at raising the general level of knowledge and skills for all ages through professional and general education in order to support this change of course and pave the way for the emergence of new activities. “Conferences of popular participation” must be set up to redefine the criteria of social and environmental usefulness and the working links between the various levels of policy-making, from the European Union to local authorities. Environmental planning promotes the continuing involvement of staff in corporate governance, in line with the growing convergence of social and environmental struggles.

14. Without a Constituent Assembly, Equality and a Social Republic remain impossible!

We affirm the need for a high level of common culture through the public school system, including environmental education. How else can we achieve individual and collective emancipation, which alone can pave the way to consent for a social contract shared by all? The ecosocialist project reaffirms the role of the state, the community and public services, who are essential in planning the civilization break, build a liberating society and ensure equal access to fundamental rights for everyone, everywhere. These must be redrafted by means of a constituent assembly. It will have to renew the institutions from top to bottom, and set up the democratic ways and means which will ensure a permanent involvement of the citizens and the people’s sovereignty in all areas. For the revolutionary task is huge. Indeed we support the establishment of a system of “care” for town and country which runs counter to urban sprawl, the concentration of populations in huge cities and organized competition between territories. We advocate a new form of urbanism that brings together those functions essential to “good living” (public services of health and education, housing, work, culture and leisure, biodiversity, and peasant farming). We refuse the commodification of living things, and GMOs, as well as of common assets such as water, energy and knowledge, and the privatization of public services. These must come under public management by rethinking the working relationship between the state, the guarantor of republican equality, local authorities and the action of citizens, trade unions, associations and users.

15. Fighting the cultural battle.

The ecosocialist project leads its ideological struggle through popular education. It wants to decolonize the imagination. It denounces the programming of a docile individual-consumer, submitted to the opinions of so-called experts and to the requirements of productivism which make us yearn for harmful and useless products, made at the other end of the world in shameful working conditions and under inadequate or nonexistent environmental legislation. It fights the armed wing of productivism: advertizing, with its attendant commercialization of the body and sexism, fashion and the media, relayed by credit institutions which condition us and subject us to a permanent incitement to buy and waste. This ideological battle is also a battle of words. We reject the politics of the oxymoron and neoliberal “newspeak”: the “price of labour” which becomes a “cost,” social security contributions re-classified as “burdens,” “police forces” renamed “law enforcement,” “video surveillance” masquerading as “video protection” or nuclear energy disguised as “clean and carbon-free.”

16. Blasting away the obstacles of liberal treaties.

On a global scale, we denounce the agreements pushed forward by the World Trade Organization: free trade agreements and economic partnership agreements which contribute to the depletion of natural resources, the exploitation of the peoples of the South and social dumping in the developed countries. Because the European Union is the first economic zone in the world, its evolution influences the whole planet. Its neoliberal policies are guarded by the existing treaties and austerity plans. Established under the leadership of economic and financial lobbies, these all aim at the disappearance of public services, the extension of private commercial interests and free trade. This is a source of waste due to mercantile competition and the destruction of public services and common wealth, all for the benefit of private interests. Liberal and austerity policies in Europe also make it impossible to control and steer production and exchanges toward objectives of human progress. Under these conditions, we maintain that an ecosocialist policy in Europe requires disobedience to neoliberal Europe and its directives. To achieve this it is necessary to build another balance of power between citizens, financial power and the anti-democratic institutions of the European Union. While the European Union may be considered a relevant scale for wide-range environmental and social policies, their implementation will only be made possible by the construction of another Europe, under the democratic control of the people.

17. Carrying out an international and universal struggle.

There is only one ecosystem compatible with human life. Therefore we have to take this into account in all areas. Decisions taken on one side on the planet have repercussions everywhere else. The ecosocialist project implies the recognition of the responsibility of the countries of the “North,” the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (aka Troika), toward the peoples of the “South.” The ecosocialist project denounces organized competition rather than cooperation, productivism and its nefarious effects on global climate, the plundering of natural resources, the race for arable land, as well as the austerity measures imposed by the Troika. It also implies the recognition of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the creation of an international tribunal for crimes against the environment. Ecosocialism requires us to contribute to the debate linking policies for development and social progress with environmental protection. To this end, we support and take our inspiration from alternative policies or events abroad: citizens’ revolutions, the Arab Spring, the refusal of the debt and of media monopolies in Argentina, the Constituent Assembly in Iceland and Venezuela, the Yasuni-ITT Initiative to leave oil underground in Ecuador, etc. The knowledge, experience and methods learned in those situations must converge. The ecosocialist project must be supported by a global forum that will make it the goal of the citizens’ revolution for our time.

18. A citizens’ revolution to lead the way for ecosocialism.

Given the scale of our objective, setting a new course away from the capitalist model of productivism cannot come from a simple electoral changeover or from decisions dictated from above. It implies a radical overhaul of institutions, including elections with proportional representation, gender parity and an end to one person holding many offices, which will allow people to be adequately represented in their diversity. What is at stake is bringing the oligarchy to heel and ensuring popular sovereignty through real democracy under all circumstances. This requires that the ecosocialist parliamentary majorities combine their efforts with popular movements involved in all domains of life in society. This reclaiming of political and civic initiatives by every person, in order to determine where the general interest lies, everywhere and on every issue, is what we call the citizens’ revolution. It is a revolution, because it intends to change the forms of ownership, the institutional system and the hierarchy of legal, social and environmental standards which organize both society and the economy. And it is a citizens’ revolution, because it intends to empower every person, not in the interest of a particular social category but for the good of all humans, and because it provides institutional forms for itself and submits to universal suffrage within the framework of political pluralism. We refuse to accept that despair and anger turn into hatred. We want neither an enlightened avant-garde, nor a green dictatorship, nor ethnocentric insularity; we support the democratic path of the citizens’ revolution. People are not the problem, they are the solution. The worst damage that could be wrought by the current crisis would be that humanity proved unable to open itself up to a new future. Ecosocialism can be that new future. Let it blossom! •

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The Belem Ecosocialist Declaration:

The 2nd Ecosocialist Manifesto

“The world is suffering from a fever due to climate change,
and the disease is the capitalist development model.”

Evo Morales, September 2007.

Humanity’s Choice

Humanity today faces a stark choice: ecosocialism or barbarism.

We need no more proof of the barbarity of capitalism, the parasitical system that exploits humanity and nature alike. Its sole motor is the imperative toward profit and thus the need for constant growth. It wastefully creates unnecessary products, squandering the environment’s limited resources and returning to it only toxins and pollutants. Under capitalism, the only measure of success is how much more is sold every day, every week, every year – involving the creation of vast quantities of products that are directly harmful to both humans and nature, commodities that cannot be produced without spreading disease, destroying the forests that produce the oxygen we breathe, demolishing ecosystems, and treating our water, air and soil like sewers for the disposal of industrial waste.

Capitalism’s need for growth exists on every level, from the individual enterprise to the system as a whole. The insatiable hunger of corporations is facilitated by imperialist expansion in search of ever greater access to natural resources, cheap labor and new markets. Capitalism has always been ecologically destructive, but in our lifetimes these assaults on the earth have accelerated. Quantitative change is giving way to qualitative transformation, bringing the world to a tipping point, to the edge of disaster. A growing body of scientific research has identified many ways in which small temperature increases could trigger irreversible, runaway effects – such as rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet or the release of methane buried in permafrost and beneath the ocean – that would make catastrophic climate change inevitable.

Left unchecked, global warming will have devastating effects on human, animal and plant life. Crop yields will drop drastically, leading to famine on a broad scale. Hundreds of millions of people will be displaced by droughts in some areas and by rising ocean levels in others. Chaotic, unpredictable weather will become the norm. Air, water and soil will be poisoned. Epidemics of malaria, cholera and even deadlier diseases will hit the poorest and most vulnerable members of every society.

The impact of the ecological crisis is felt most severely by those whose lives have already been ravaged by imperialism in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and indigenous peoples everywhere are especially vulnerable. Environmental destruction and climate change constitute an act of aggression by the rich against the poor.

The People's March

Ecological devastation, resulting from the insatiable need to increase profits, is not an accidental feature of capitalism: it is built into the system’s DNA and cannot be reformed away. Profit-oriented production only considers a short-term horizon in its investment decisions, and cannot take into account the long-term health and stability of the environment. Infinite economic expansion is incompatible with finite and fragile ecosystems, but the capitalist economic system cannot tolerate limits on growth; its constant need to expand will subvert any limits that might be imposed in the name of “sustainable development.” Thus the inherently unstable capitalist system cannot regulate its own activity, much less overcome the crises caused by its chaotic and parasitical growth, because to do so would require setting limits upon accumulation – an unacceptable option for a system predicated upon the rule: Grow or Die!

If capitalism remains the dominant social order, the best we can expect is unbearable climate conditions, an intensification of social crises and the spread of the most barbaric forms of class rule, as the imperialist powers fight among themselves and with the global south for continued control of the world’s diminishing resources.

At worst, human life may not survive.

Capitalist Strategies for Change

There is no lack of proposed strategies for contending with ecological ruin, including the crisis of global warming looming as a result of the reckless increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The great majority of these strategies share one common feature: they are devised by and on behalf of the dominant global system, capitalism.

It is no surprise that the dominant global system which is responsible for the ecological crisis also sets the terms of the debate about this crisis, for capital commands the means of production of knowledge, as much as that of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Accordingly, its politicians, bureaucrats, economists and professors send forth an endless stream of proposals, all variations on the theme that the world’s ecological damage can be repaired without disruption of market mechanisms and of the system of accumulation that commands the world economy.

But a person cannot serve two masters – the integrity of the earth and the profitability of capitalism. One must be abandoned, and history leaves little question about the allegiances of the vast majority of policy-makers. There is every reason, therefore, to radically doubt the capacity of established measures to check the slide to ecological catastrophe.

And indeed, beyond a cosmetic veneer, the reforms over the past thirty-five years have been a monstrous failure. Isolated improvements do of course occur, but they are inevitably overwhelmed and swept away by the ruthless expansion of the system and the chaotic character of its production.

One example demonstrates the failure: in the first four years of the 21st Century, global carbon emissions were nearly three times as great per annum as those of the decade of the 1990s, despite the appearance of the Kyoto Protocols in 1997.

Kyoto employs two devices: the “Cap and Trade” system of trading pollution credits to achieve certain reductions in emissions, and projects in the global south – the so-called “Clean Development Mechanisms” – to offset emissions in the highly industrialized nations. These instruments all rely upon market mechanisms, which means, first of all, that atmospheric carbon dioxide becomes a commodity under the control of the same interests that created global warming. Polluters are not compelled to reduce their carbon emissions, but allowed to use their power over money to control the carbon market for their own ends, which include the devastating exploration for yet more carbon-based fuels. Nor is there a limit to the amount of emission credits which can be issued by compliant governments.

Since verification and evaluation of results are impossible, the Kyoto regime is not only incapable of controlling emissions, it also provides ample opportunities for evasion and fraud of all kinds. As even the Wall Street Journal put it in March, 2007, emissions trading “would make money for some very large corporations, but don’t believe for a minute that this charade would do much about global warming.”

The Bali climate meetings in 2007 opened the way for even greater abuses in the period ahead. Bali avoided any mention of the goals for drastic carbon reduction put forth by the best climate science (90% by 2050); it abandoned the peoples of the global south to the mercy of capital by giving jurisdiction over the process to the World Bank; and made offsetting of carbon pollution even easier.

In order to affirm and sustain our human future, a revolutionary transformation is needed, where all particular struggles take part in a greater struggle against capital itself. This larger struggle cannot remain merely negative and anti-capitalist. It must announce and build a different kind of society, and this is ecosocialism.

The Ecosocialist Alternative

The ecosocialist movement aims to stop and to reverse the disastrous process of global warming in particular and of capitalist ecocide in general, and to construct a radical and practical alternative to the capitalist system. Ecosocialism is grounded in a transformed economy founded on the non-monetary values of social justice and ecological balance. It criticizes both capitalist “market ecology” and productivist socialism, which ignored the earth’s equilibrium and limits. It redefines the path and goal of socialism within an ecological and democratic framework.

Ecosocialism involves a revolutionary social transformation, which will imply the limitation of growth and the transformation of needs by a profound shift away from quantitative and toward qualitative economic criteria, an emphasis on use-value instead of exchange-value.

These aims require both democratic decision-making in the economic sphere, enabling society to collectively define its goals of investment and production, and the collectivization of the means of production. Only collective decision-making and ownership of production can offer the longer-term perspective that is necessary for the balance and sustainability of our social and natural systems.

The rejection of productivism and the shift away from quantitative and toward qualitative economic criteria involve rethinking the nature and goals of production and economic activity in general. Essential creative, non-productive and reproductive human activities, such as householding, child-rearing, care, child and adult education, and the arts, will be key values in an ecosocialist economy.

Clean air and water and fertile soil, as well as universal access to chemical-free food and renewable, non-polluting energy sources, are basic human and natural rights defended by ecosocialism. Far from being “despotic,” collective policy-making on the local, regional, national and international levels amounts to society’s exercise of communal freedom and responsibility. This freedom of decision constitutes a liberation from the alienating economic “laws” of the growth-oriented capitalist system.

To avoid global warming and other dangers threatening human and ecological survival, entire sectors of industry and agriculture must be suppressed, reduced, or restructured and others must be developed, while providing full employment for all. Such a radical transformation is impossible without collective control of the means of production and democratic planning of production and exchange. Democratic decisions on investment and technological development must replace control by capitalist enterprises, investors and banks, in order to serve the long-term horizon of society’s and nature’s common good.

The most oppressed elements of human society, the poor and indigenous peoples, must take full part in the ecosocialist revolution, in order to revitalize ecologically sustainable traditions and give voice to those whom the capitalist system cannot hear. Because the peoples of the global south and the poor in general are the first victims of capitalist destruction, their struggles and demands will help define the contours of the ecologically and economically sustainable society in creation. Similarly, gender equality is integral to ecosocialism, and women’s movements have been among the most active and vocal opponents of capitalist oppression. Other potential agents of ecosocialist revolutionary change exist in all societies.

Such a process cannot begin without a revolutionary transformation of social and political structures based on the active support, by the majority of the population, of an ecosocialist program. The struggle of labour – workers, farmers, the landless and the unemployed – for social justice is inseparable from the struggle for environmental justice. Capitalism, socially and ecologically exploitative and polluting, is the enemy of nature and of labour alike.

Ecosocialism proposes radical transformations in:

  1. the energy system, by replacing carbon-based fuels and biofuels with clean sources of power under community control: wind, geothermal, wave, and above all, solar power.
  2. the transportation system, by drastically reducing the use of private trucks and cars, replacing them with free and efficient public transportation;
  3. present patterns of production, consumption, and building, which are based on waste, inbuilt obsolescence, competition and pollution, by producing only sustainable and recyclable goods and developing green architecture;
  4. food production and distribution, by defending local food sovereignty as far as this is possible, eliminating polluting industrial agribusinesses, creating sustainable agro-ecosystems and working actively to renew soil fertility.

To theorize and to work toward realizing the goal of green socialism does not mean that we should not also fight for concrete and urgent reforms right now. Without any illusions about “clean capitalism,” we must work to impose on the powers that be – governments, corporations, international institutions – some elementary but essential immediate changes:

  • drastic and enforceable reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases,
  • development of clean energy sources,
  • provision of an extensive free public transportation system,
  • progressive replacement of trucks by trains,
  • creation of pollution clean-up programs,
  • elimination of nuclear energy, and war spending.

These and similar demands are at the heart of the agenda of the Global Justice movement and the World Social Forums, which have promoted, since Seattle in 1999, the convergence of social and environmental movements in a common struggle against the capitalist system.

Environmental devastation will not be stopped in conference rooms and treaty negotiations: only mass action can make a difference. Urban and rural workers, peoples of the global south and indigenous peoples everywhere are at the forefront of this struggle against environmental and social injustice, fighting exploitative and polluting multinationals, poisonous and disenfranchising agribusinesses, invasive genetically modified seeds, biofuels that only aggravate the current food crisis. We must further these social-environmental movements and build solidarity between anticapitalist ecological mobilizations in the North and the South.

This Ecosocialist Declaration is a call to action. The entrenched ruling classes are powerful, yet the capitalist system reveals itself every day more financially and ideologically bankrupt, unable to overcome the economic, ecological, social, food and other crises it engenders. And the forces of radical opposition are alive and vital. On all levels, local, regional and international, we are fighting to create an alternative system based in social and ecological justice. •

The 1st Ecosocialist Manifesto

Joel Kovel and Michael Löwy (Sept 2001)

The twenty-first century opens on a catastrophic note, with an unprecedented degree of ecological breakdown and a chaotic world order beset with terror and clusters of low-grade, disintegrative warfare that spread like gangrene across great swathes of the planet – viz., central Africa, the Middle East, Northwestern South America – and reverberate throughout the nations. In our view, the crises of ecology and those of societal breakdown are profoundly interrelated and should be seen as different manifestations of the same structural forces.

The former broadly stems from rampant industrialization that overwhelms the earth’s capacity to buffer and contain ecological destabilization. The latter stems from the form of imperialism known as globalization, with its disintegrative effects on societies that stand in its path. Moreover, these underlying forces are essentially different aspects of the same drive, which must be identified as the central dynamic that moves the whole: the expansion of the world capitalist system.

We reject all euphemisms or propagandistic softening of the brutality of this regime: all greenwashing of its ecological costs, all mystification of the human costs under the names of democracy and human rights.

We insist instead upon looking at capital from the standpoint of what it has really done.

Acting on nature and its ecological balance, the regime, with its imperative to constantly expand profitability, exposes ecosystems to destabilizing pollutants, fragments habitats that have evolved over aeons to allow the flourishing of organisms, squanders resources, and reduces the sensuous vitality of nature to the cold exchangeability required for the accumulation of capital.

From the side of humanity, with its requirements for self-determination, community, and a meaningful existence, capital reduces the majority of the world’s people to a mere reservoir of labor power while discarding much of the remainder as useless nuisances.

It has invaded and undermined the integrity of communities through its global mass culture of consumerism and depoliticization.

It has expanded disparities in wealth and power to levels unprecedented in human history.

It has worked hand in glove with a network of corrupt and subservient client states whose local elites carry out the work of repression while sparing the center of its opprobrium.

Syestem Change, Not Climate Change

And it has set going a network of transtatal organizations under the overall supervision of the Western powers and the superpower United States, to undermine the autonomy of the periphery and bind it into indebtedness while maintaining a huge military apparatus to enforce compliance to the capitalist center.

We believe that the present capitalist system cannot regulate, much less overcome, the crises it has set going. It cannot solve the ecological crisis because to do so requires setting limits upon accumulation – an unacceptable option for a system predicated upon the rule: Grow or Die!

And it cannot solve the crisis posed by terror and other forms of violent rebellion because to do so would mean abandoning the logic of empire, which would impose unacceptable limits on growth and the whole “way of life” sustained by empire. Its only remaining option is to resort to brutal force, thereby increasing alienation and sowing the seed of further terrorism … and further counter-terrorism, evolving into a new and malignant variation of fascism.

In sum, the capitalist world system is historically bankrupt. It has become an empire unable to adapt, whose very gigantism exposes its underlying weakness. It is, in the language of ecology, profoundly unsustainable, and must be changed fundamentally, nay, replaced, if there is to be a future worth living.

Thus the stark choice once posed by Rosa Luxemburg returns: Socialism or Barbarism!, where the face of the latter now reflects the imprint of the intervening century and assumes the countenance of eco-catastrophe, terror counterterror, and their fascist degeneration.

But why socialism, why revive this word seemingly consigned to the rubbish-heap of history by the failings of its twentieth century interpretations?

For this reason only: that however beaten down and unrealized, the notion of socialism still stands for the supersession of capital. If capital is to be overcome, a task now given the urgency of the survival of civilization itself, the outcome will perforce be “socialist”, for that is the term which signifies the breakthrough into a post-capitalist society.

If we say that capital is radically unsustainable and breaks down into the barbarism outlined above, then we are also saying that we need to build a “socialism” capable of overcoming the crises capital has set going. And if socialisms past have failed to do so, then it is our obligation, if we choose against submitting to a barbarous end, to struggle for one that succeeds.

And just as barbarism has changed in a manner reflective of the century since Luxemburg enunciated her fateful alternative, so too, must the name, and the reality, of a socialism become adequate for this time.

It is for these reasons that we choose to name our interpretation of socialism as an ecosocialism, and dedicate ourselves to its realization.

Why Ecosocialism?

We see ecosocialism not as the denial but as the realization of the “first-epoch” socialisms of the twentieth century, in the context of the ecological crisis. Like them, it builds on the insight that capital is objectified past labor, and grounds itself in the free development of all producers, or to use another way of saying this, an undoing of the separation of the producers from the means of production.

We understand that this goal was not able to be implemented by first-epoch socialism, for reasons too complex to take up here, except to summarize as various effects of underdevelopment in the context of hostility by existing capitalist powers. This conjuncture had numerous deleterious effects on existing socialisms, chiefly, the denial of internal democracy along with an emulation of capitalist productivism, and led eventually to the collapse of these societies and the ruin of their natural environments.

Ecosocialism retains the emancipatory goals of first-epoch socialism, and rejects both the attenuated, reformist aims of social democracy and the productivist structures of the bureaucratic variations of socialism. It insists, rather, upon redefining both the path and the goal of socialist production in an ecological framework.

It does so specifically in respect to the “limits on growth” essential for the sustainability of society. These are embraced, not however, in the sense of imposing scarcity, hardship and repression. The goal, rather, is a transformation of needs, and a profound shift toward the qualitative dimension and away from the quantitative. From the standpoint of commodity production, this translates into a valorization of use-values over exchange-values – a project of far-reaching significance grounded in immediate economic activity.

The generalization of ecological production under socialist conditions can provide the ground for the overcoming of the present crises. A society of freely associated producers does not stop at its own democratization. It must, rather, insist on the freeing of all beings as its ground and goal. It overcomes thereby the imperialist impulse both subjectively and objectively.

In realizing such a goal, it struggles to overcome all forms of domination, including, especially, those of gender and race. And it surpasses the conditions leading to fundamentalist distortions and their terrorist manifestations. In sum, a world society is posited in a degree of ecological harmony with nature unthinkable under present conditions.

A practical outcome of these tendencies would be expressed, for example, in a withering away of the dependency upon fossil fuels integral to industrial capitalism. And this in turn can provide the material point of release of the lands subjugated by oil imperialism, while enabling the containment of global warming, along with other afflictions of the ecological crisis.

No one can read these prescriptions without thinking, first, of how many practical and theoretical questions they raise, and second and more dishearteningly, of how remote they are from the present configuration of the world, both as this is anchored in institutions and as it is registered in consciousness.

We need not elaborate these points, which should be instantly recognizable to all. But we would insist that they be taken in their proper perspective.

Our project is neither to lay out every step of this way nor to yield to the adversary because of the preponderance of power he holds. It is, rather, to develop the logic of a sufficient and necessary transformation of the current order, and to begin developing the intermediate steps towards this goal.

We do so in order to think more deeply into these possibilities, and at the same moment, begin the work of drawing together with all those of like mind. If there is any merit in these arguments, then it must be the case that similar thoughts, and practices to realize these thoughts, will be coordinatively germinating at innumerable points around the world.

Ecosocialism will be international, and universal, or it will be nothing. The crises of our time can and must be seen as revolutionary opportunities, which it is our obligation to affirm and bring into existence. •


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What Might An Ecosocialist Society Look Like?
On Sept 19, 2023 ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit in New York City, climate activists gathered for a rally and civil disobedience outside Bank of America Tower in Midtown Manhattan as part of the March to End Fossil Fuels wave of actions resulting in multiple arrests. Activists demand Bank of America to “Defund Climate Chaos and Defend Human Rights” Photo: Erik McGregor (CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed)

Let’s Save Each Other

Let’s Save Each Other

Illustration by Stephanie McMillan. Used with permission