1 Dec 2010

'little more than a ridiculous I'm-more-Marxist-than-you pissing competition'

Pocket-sized guide for green activists
Sunday, November 28, 2010
By Matt Ward

The Rise of the Green Left: Inside the Worldwide Ecosocialist Movement
By Derek Wall
Pluto Press, 190 pages, paperback
Review by Mat Ward

As the threat of climate catastrophe looms ever larger, Derek Wall has written what he calls "an explicit call to non-violent arms".

The prolific British author and activist starts by outlining the case for ecosocialism. He says questioning economic growth is viewed as an act of lunacy, yet a dedication to continual growth of production and consumption for its own sake threatens the human species.

“The myth of growth has failed us”, says Wall. “It has failed the 2 billion people who still live on less than $2 a day. It has failed the fragile ecological systems we depend upon for survival. It has failed spectacularly, in its own terms, to provide economic stability and secure people's livelihoods.”

Capitalism and its need to constantly grow have produced a litany of disasters, from greenhouse gases to acidic seas, deforestation and huge floating islands of plastic in the oceans. Corporations have hijacked climate change summits from the start and locked them “into a logic of profit seeking”.

“It's instructive that an economist [ex-World Bank boss Nicholas Stern] rather than an environmental scientist wrote the British government's most important document on climate change policy.

"In addition, many environmental NGOs are actually funded by corporate polluters and banks. For example the HSBC bank, which invests in tar sand oil production, donates to the World Wide Fund for Nature."

The result is that plenty of money has been made, but with no let up in the assault on the planet.

The European Union's emissions trading system has actually allowed firms to increase their greenhouse gas emissions because permits were given away free rather than sold, allowing firms to produce more CO2 than they had previously.

"Green" hedge funds have made money by betting that environmental companies will fail. Companies in rich countries buy the right to pollute by paying companies in poorer countries to pollute less.

Carbon trading is used to subsidise the fossil fuel industry and expand production.

Projects such as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) result in the commodification of indigenous land and the replacement of biodiverse rainforest with fast-growing monocultures such as eucalyptus.

The promotion of biofuels has created as much damage as fossil fuels. Biofuels need fossil fuel-based fertilisers to grow. The most popular biofuel crop, palm oil, is often grown on land obtained by cutting down rainforests. Biofuels also reduce the land available for food crops, pushing up food prices and increasing starvation.

Tens of thousands of Afro-Colombians have been evicted or killed by Colombian paramilitaries seizing their land to produce biofuels for the European market.

Because the market is seen as sacrosanct, the burden of climate change has been shifted from corporations to the individual. Although leading a green lifestyle is worthwhile, it will have only a limited effect, since most emissions are not produced by individual consumers, says Wall.

The US military uses about the same amount of oil and electricity as the rest of the world put together.

The Wall Street Journal said 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".

However, the establishment consensus is that there is no alternative to capitalism, owing to the 20th century failures of state socialism and communism. But the viable alternative, says Wall, is ecosocialism.

For Wall, the key to successful ecosocialism lies in the concept of "the commons". An everyday example of the commons is libraries, where items are borrowed and returned as the need arises. The concept can be applied to whole economies.

"The commons overcomes many of the problems with traditional state socialism because it tends to be flexible and decentralised”, says Wall.

"It has an inbuilt ecological principle based on the concept of usufruct, that is, access to a resource is granted only if the resource is left in as good a form as it was when first found. By extending this concept of usufruct, we can provide the basis of an ecological economy. By providing access, the commons enables prosperity without growth; if we have access to the resources we need, we can reduce wasteful duplication."

Such a change must be accompanied by a transition from agribusiness to permaculture and a "Green New Deal" to create jobs in renewable energy, says Wall.

Yet bringing about that change will require intense political struggle. "So while this book deals with a range of theoretical issues, it primarily aims to inspire action."

Here lie many problems. Wall says in Western societies, Greens have abandoned their principles once in power and often ignore the working class as agents of change. He notes that, in these societies, "the political system has been better at transforming radicals than radicals have been at changing the political system".

He cites former Australian environment minister (now minister for schools) Peter Garrett — an anti-nuclear campaigner turned nuclear apologist — as a classic example.

The left in the West also suffers from damaging disunity and Wall quotes Australia's Democratic Socialist Perspective as saying: "What passes as politics in 'the left' as we have it in this country can degenerate to little more than a ridiculous I'm-more-Marxist-than-you pissing competition."



Sandwichman said...

Probably not the most informative title for this review!

This idea of the commons is so important it needs to be spelled out very carefully. The commons is neither the market nor the state. As Elinor Ostrom has explained there are ways of managing a commons that are superior in conserving resources to either government regulation or private ownership. The "tragedy" of the commons turns out to not be tragic at all.

One innovation I would like to suggest is the idea of a labor commons to administer the equitable sharing of working time and disposable time. Today we have the absurd coexistence of unemployment with overwork and time poverty. A labor commons union with a work time/free time social accounting framework could fix that.

Derek Wall said...

Yes good points, the commons is so important.

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