Some 125 people took part in the teach-in Lessons from Bolivia: Building a Global Movement for Climate Justice in Toronto on Saturday November 13. The meeting was sponsored by nearly 40 organizations, including unions, solidarity campaigns and environmental groups. Continue reading
Statement adopted by Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, at an ALBA ministers’ meeting in Bolivia, November 3-5 Continue reading
by Ian Angus
Following the BP/Deepwater oil well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, many commentators have tried to explain why it happened. Many blame greed and arrogance in BP’s executive offices. Others blame it on the Military-Oil-Government alliance that views free-flowing oil (and free-flowing oil profits) as something to promoted at all costs. But some writers identify a different cause. Continue reading
by Pablo Solon
Bolivia’s UN ambassador gave this talk to the Shout Out for Global Justice, sponsored by the Council of Canadians and attended by nearly 3,000 people on June 25 in Toronto, during the ten days of protests against the G20 meeting. Continue reading
by Roger Annis
The province of Alberta is well known as a climate-destroying behemoth. The tar sands developments in the north of that province are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. Less well known are the ambitions of its neighbouring province, British Columbia. It shares similar fossil fuel reserves and ambitions as Alberta. Continue reading
by Roger Annis
The assault on the environment accompanying expanding fossil fuel extraction is nothing new for the corporate elite in British Columbia. The lamentable state of the forest ranges, fish stocks and water quality in the province are a warning of the sharp threat to the entire biosphere by profit-hungry resource corporations that hangs over the entire province. Continue reading
A LeftViews Debate between Pablo Stefanoni and Hugo Blanco
Translated and introduced by Richard Fidler
The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, held in Cochabamba, Bolivia in April, has fueled a growing debate in Latin America over the validity and usefulness of traditional Indigenous value systems and forms of organization in resolving the pressing social problems of the region, not least the challenges posed by the climate crisis. We publish here two differing assessments. Continue reading
by Ian Angus
On April 22, a mass international assembly in Cochabamba, Bolivia, adopted a charter for action to protect our planet from ecological devastation. Continue reading
by Franz Chávez
A different way of fighting global warming will be tried out in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba when government representatives and thousands of activists gather for the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Continue reading
by Helen Yaffe
Cuba marked the 50th anniversary of its revolution in 2009. The Cuban people have withstood five decades of hostility from the United States and its international allies. However, Cuba’s best form of resistance has been not just the assertion of national sovereignty, but the creation of an alternative model of development which places ecology and humanity at its core. Continue reading
by Ian Angus and Simon Butler
Immigrants to the developed world have frequently been blamed for unemployment, crime and other social ills. Attempts to reduce or block immigration have been justified as necessary measures to protect “our way of life” from alien influences. Continue reading
By Fidel Castro
January 3, 2010 — As the Cuban Revolution celebrated its 51st anniversary two days ago, memories of that January 1, 1959, came to mind. The outlandish idea that, after half a century – which flew by – we would remember it as if it were yesterday, never occurred to any of us. Continue reading
By Ron Ridenour
“Nobel War Prize winner walked in and out of a secret door, and that is the way capitalism and the United States Empire will end up leaving the planet, through a secret back door.” So spoke Venezuela President Hugo Chavez from the plenary podium on the last afternoon, December 18, of the 12-day long Copenhagen climate conference (COP15). Continue reading
The following statement was issued by the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) late on December 18 in response to the results of the UN Copenhagen Climate Summit. Continue reading
Introduction by Ian Angus
On December 12, 100,000 people marched through the streets of Copenhagen: the largest climate protest in history demanded immediate action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Demonstrators chanted “Make love, not CO2,” and “Change the system, not the planet.” A group of young Canadians partipated in this and other actions, calling on the Canadian government to shut down the Alberta Tar Sands. Continue reading
by Roger Annis
“Climate Inaction Costs Lives.” That’s the message that activists of the Greenpeace organization delivered during a spectacular protest action in Ottawa, Canada on December 7, the opening day of the United Nations’ climate conference in Copenhagen. Continue reading
Book Review by Jeff White
The Global Fight for Climate Justice: Anticapitalist Responses to Global Warming and Environmental Destruction. edited by Ian Angus. Resistance Books, London, 2009. 284 pages. C$20/US$18/£10 Continue reading
Ian Angus was a featured guest at the World at a Crossroads: Fighting for Socialism in the 21st Century conference , in Sydney Australia, April 10-12, 2009. The event, which drew 440 participants from more than 15 countries, was organized by Democratic Socialist Perspective, Resistance and Green Left Weekly. The following is Ian’s talk to the plenary session on “Confronting the climate change crisis: an ecosocialist perspective.” He has lightly edited the text for publication.
Speech by José Ramón Machado Ventura, First Vice-President of Cuba’s Council of State and Ministers, to the general debate of the 63rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, September 24, 2008. Continue reading
By Ian Angus. For the environment, there’s good news and bad news in Canada’s current federal election campaign. Good news: for the first time ever, climate change is a central issue in the political debates. Bad news: despite much sound and fury, none of the major political parties is proposing effective measures for dealing with the climate change crisis. The differences between them amount to “Don’t do anything” versus “Don’t do much.” Continue reading
By Roger Annis
Vancouver, British Columbia — When it comes to the greenwashing of politics, no government in Canada can equal the Liberal Party government here, headed by Premier Gordon Campbell.
Last year, Campbell made a much ballyhooed announcement that his government intended to legislate a 33% reduction in carbon emissions by the year 2020 and aim for an 80% reduction by 2050. No plan for how to achieve these lofty goals accompanied the announcement, and the province’s residents are still waiting for one.
In a budget released on February 19, the government announced a new “carbon tax” that now occupies centre-stage of its carbon reduction goals. The province becomes the first jurisdiction in North America to introduce such a tax. It will penalize users of fossil fuels with a levy of $10 per ton of carbon emissions, eventually rising to $30 per ton. For gasoline, that means an initial tax of 2½ cents per litre.
Billions for roads, ports, fossil fuel
The government’s emissions reduction goals are laughable because everything it is doing ensures that they will never be reached.
Shortly after the Liberals were first elected in 2001, they abolished the province’s environment ministry, cutting 1,000 jobs. One of its functions was to monitor violations of pollution laws and prosecute offenders.
The same budget that introduced the carbon tax gives tax breaks to oil and gas companies to boost exploration and production. And several of the most polluting industries in the province are exempt, including production of natural gas, cement, and aluminium.
The B.C. and Canadian governments are charging ahead with huge expansions of two shipping ports in the province —Vancouver and Prince Rupert. These will facilitate the export of fossil fuels and the import of manufactured goods to markets across North America. The movement of ships is one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. The port expansions necessarily require more associated roads and railways.
The Vancouver part of this plan, the “Gateway Program,” will spend more than $5 billion on port and rail expansion and a huge extension of bridges and highways in the metropolitan region. A significant movement of opposition has sprung up, but so far both governments are sticking to their guns.
No answer on public transit
Another target of the provincial government’s greenwashing is public transit. In January, it announced it would add $14 billion to transit spending across the province by 2011.
Public transit in the Vancouver region is woefully inadequate. Service cannot keep up with demand, and fares are rising sharply. Rail lines that could be used for transit sit idle. Bus travel is crowded and inadequate. Successive governments in B.C. have invested in an overhead rapid transit system called “skytrain” that provides inferior service and starves the transit system of funding for less costly and more functional technologies such as light rail and buses.
Most of the announced $14 billion will go towards more skytrains. Construction of a third skytrain line began several years ago in order to reach the Vancouver airport in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics. It will cost at least $2 billion, more than $100 million per kilometre. Without a broad, effective rebuilding of the entire transit system, this massive spending on skytrain will not reduce automobile travel by any appreciable amount.
The carbon tax fits the policy pattern of provincial governments in Canada that have engineered a massive shift in the taxation system, away from progressive income tax and in favour of regressive consumption taxes. This has been accompanied by massive reductions in taxation of corporate profits.
Nowadays in British Columbia, everything is up for greenwash. One of the measures in the latest budget is elimination of a tax on the income of financial institutions operating in the province. This tax was originally introduced some years ago in response to the obscene profits they were earning. The Vancouver Sun editorialized on February 23 that the removal of the tax, “should unburden the financial services sector, which employs about 27,000 British Columbians in clean, green jobs.” This would be the “sector” whose financing work will facilitate expansion of fossil fuel exploration and extraction, road expansion, etc.
Liberal environmentalists endorse the greenwash
More road building, continued subsidies to corporate polluters, inadequate plans for transit expansion, rising consumption taxes that hit the poor the hardest — this doesn’t sound like much of a “green” plan for the future of British Columbia, or the world. Despite that, some liberal environmentalists in B.C. have welcomed the government’s plans.
Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, says the carbon tax is “good news.” He told the weekly Georgia Straight that the tax should be $30 per ton from the get-go, instead of the miserly $10 per ton.
“They’re building a good track record,” commented Lisa Matthaus of the Sierra Club of Canada.
Ian Bruce of the Suzuki Foundation called the transit plan “a good step forward,” and said the carbon tax will promote development of green technologies and make B.C. an environmental leader.
Labour needs to revisit positions
The farce unfolding in British Columbia demonstrates the need for an independent and forceful campaign on the climate change crisis, one that places the onus on those who caused the problem in the first place — greedy corporations and compliant governments. Trade unions and associated political movements should be taking a lead.
But the labour movement’s record to date is pretty abysmal. The New Democratic Party and most unions supported the bid for the 2010 Olympics, a greenhouse gas-generating monster if every there was one. They also supported the airport skytrain line boondoggle. For years they have watched in silence as paper and wood products companies have destroyed the province’s forests with clearcutting and other environmentally destructive practices.
But fresh winds are blowing within labour on climate issues, creating new openings to revisit past positions and deepen a debate over the future.
Eliminating the pollution threat to humanity and the rest of the earth’s biosystem requires a fundamental shift in how the world’s economy is organized. The profit drive and the belief that the earth’s resources are unlimited must be replaced with a planned economy that both meets human social and cultural needs and strictly respects humanity’s dependence on a healthy biosphere.
An important step in this direction is establishing free and effective public transit. The unelected board of directors that runs Vancouver’s transit system represents the interests of companies that profit from the movement of goods, real estate interests that make a killing along the routes of rapid transit lines, and construction companies that have an interest in having cumbersome and expensive technologies adopted.
Summing up in fine style a capitalist’s approach to public transit, federal government finance minister James Flaherty recently explained why his government is providing funding to Vancouver for skytrain expansion: “It’s about reducing traffic congestion so goods can get to market on time.”
Public transit should be about creating a better society and eliminating the killer pollution caused by cars and trucks. It should be organized by elected bodies that represent ordinary citizens. Their job is to meet people’s need for cheap, comfortable and effective transportation.
Consumption taxes like the B.C. government’s carbon tax cannot solve the earth’s looming environmental calamity. They punish the poorest people in society for the follies and excesses of the wealthiest.
Climate change writer and activist Ian Angus explained in a recent article why carbon taxes won’t stop greenhouse gas emissions: “So long as corporations are free to invest as they see fit, any carbon tax that is high enough to be effective will lead to capital flight, not to investment in new technology.” If carbon taxes are to be part of an effective anti-emissions policy, he says, “they must be coupled with broadscale economic planning and a determined effort to shut down the Alberta tar sands and other major emitters.”
In a recent article in the online journal, Climate and Capitalism, Angus proposed six steps to reduce carbon emissions:
- Unilaterally adopt and implement the emission reduction targets proposed by the experts in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: 25%-40% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 50%-85% by 2050.
- Instead of carbon taxes and carbon exchange schemes, impose hard limits on the emissions produced by the largest resource and energy companies.
- Stop all expansion of the tar sands — and then shut them down quickly.
- Redirect military spending and the federal budget surplus into public energy-saving projects such as expanding mass transit and retrofitting homes and office buildings. Tar sands workers and redeployed soldiers can play key roles in this effort.
- Recognize Canada’s ecological debt to the Third World and to indigenous peoples. Clean up the damage that Canada’s capitalists have caused, provide assistance in adapting to climate change, and transfer the resources and technology needed for clean economic development.
By Ian Angus
Ian Angus is the editor of Climate and Capitalism.
He will be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the University of British Columbia student environment centre on Saturday January 19.
He will also participate in a panel on “After Bali: Can Global Warming Be Stopped?” organized by the Vancouver Socialist Forum on Sunday January 20.
For details on these events see http://climateandcapitalism.com/?p=314
“We are ending up with something so watered down there was no need for 12,000 people to gather here in Bali to have a watered-down text. We could have done that by email.” —Dr. Angus Friday, Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States
In a narrow and formal sense, last month’s Climate Change conference in Bali achieved its objectives. The Kyoto Protocol is due to expire in 2012: the Bali gathering’s purpose was to adopt a roadmap for negotiating a new treaty — and that was done. A new roadmap, called the Bali Action Plan, was adopted unanimously at an overtime session, after the USA withdrew its objections.
As the New York Times pointed out, the dramatic U.S. capitulation really didn’t amount to much: “From the United States the delegates got nothing, except a promise to participate in the forthcoming negotiations.” 
That’s why the Bali meetings were a failure in any meaningful sense. They didn’t even discuss the Kyoto Protocol’s failure to produce results, failed to recognize the need for rapid action, and above all failed to adopt (or even recommend) any targets for emission reductions. The final resolution might better be called the Bali Inaction Plan — at best it is an agreement to discuss further, and maybe agree in 2009 on measures that might be implemented after 2012.
As an observer from the Institute for Policy Studies writes:
“The Bali ‘action plan’ does almost nothing to ensure that the people most affected by the worst impacts of climate change will receive the resources needed to survive impending climate chaos. This transition plan for replacing the Kyoto Protocol, which is so far being called the “Bali mandate,” instead entrenches the power of big business, and the global financial institutions that work on its behalf, without committing any government to tangible emissions reductions.” 
The only concrete measure approved in Bali was a plan to take one of Kyoto’s worst features — the so-called Clean Development Mechanism — and make it worse. Under CDM, major polluters in the industrialized countries can avoid reducing emissions in their home countries by investing in “clean” projects in the Third World. Morally, this is bizarre — the modern equivalent of paying the medieval church to be forgiven for sins. Worse, the CDM process is often corrupt, providing credits (and profits) for projects that don’t reduce emissions, or that would have been carried out anyway.
The Bali delegates approved a World Bank plan to add deforestation to the list of CDM options. As Simone Lavera, the managing coordinator of Global Forest Coalition, points out:
“The World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility … presents an easy way of pretending to be generous and contributing to tropical forest conservation … [It] encourages potentially unwilling developing countries to include their forests in the international carbon market after 2012, providing donor countries with access to an abundance of cheap credits that help them avoid painful emission reductions in their own countries.” 
The World Bank deforestation plan will encourage the enclosure and privatization of forests, overriding indigenous land rights claims and calls for land reform. The indigenous and other poor people who live in and depend on the forests will be pushed out, so that Third World governments and forestry companies can sell credits representing trees that they promise not to cut down.
This plan is clearly another example of the practices condemned by Third World activists in the Durban Declaration of 2004, when they pointed out that CDM projects “appropriate land, water and air already supporting the lives and livelihoods of local communities for new carbon dumps for Northern industries.” 
No one familiar with the Harper government’s record will be surprised that Canada played a particularly appalling role in the Bali talks. Working closely with the USA and Japan, the Canadian delegation did its utmost to eliminate action from the Bali Action Plan. Ottawa’s alignment with the Bush crew reached absurd proportions: Environment Minister Baird even copied his Washington mentors by holding out to the last minute and then dramatically withdrawing his objections so that the vote could be unanimous.
The U.S.-Canada do-nothing position was counterposed to a policy that wasn’t much better. The European Union, which is less dependent on coal and oil than its North American competitors, initially proposed to mention (not decide on) emission targets at the low end of what scientists say is essential. They see such targets as a the royal road to windfall profits from carbon trading and clean development schemes. The poorest people and countries are pressured into making development choices determined not by their own needs, but by the desire of corporations in the north to avoid cutting emissions.
But when the U.S.-Canada-Japan axis objected, the EU quickly capitulated, replacing all mention of targets with a footnote reference to an IPCC document.
The Canadian Youth Climate Coalition sent a delegation of 21 young people to Bali, in the sincere belief that a strong and idealistic lobbying voice would make a difference. One student participant, using the web-name “jodafoe,” reported on the experience in the CYCC blog:
“I felt despair because of Canada’s climate change policy and the behaviour of its delegation, which served as a diplomatic wrecking ball to the process of international collective action. Minister Baird’s flippancy towards the issue was made clear to me when he refused to meet with the Canadian Youth Delegation, or appear at his own side-event to justify our national climate change plan, or when his press secretary told that me that our petition of 60,000 signatures was insubstantial.
“I am not an expert of politics but my first foray into the field has been far from welcoming. If this is politics, I want nothing to do with it.” 
Needed: A Different Kind of Politics
Jodafoe is absolutely correct: if what happened in the conference rooms in Bali defines politics, then climate activists should have nothing to do with it.
But there is another kind of politics, and it too was represented in Bali — not in the official meetings, but in outside events and meetings that used the Bali event as an organizing opportunity and a springboard to action. There were many such activities, but two stand out as particularly important.
• Climate Justice Now! A meeting of 21 organizations that represent affected communities, indigenous peoples, women and peasant farmers, mainly from the Third World, agreed to create Climate Justice Now!, a coalition to improve communication and intensify actions to prevent and respond to climate change. Their initial statement concludes:
“Inside the negotiations, the rich industrialized countries have put unjustifiable pressure on Southern governments to commit to emissions’ reductions. At the same time, they have refused to live up to their own legal and moral obligations to radically cut emissions and support developing countries’ efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts. Once again, the majority world is being forced to pay for the excesses of the minority.
“Compared to the outcomes of the official negotiations, the major success of Bali is the momentum that has been built towards creating a diverse, global movement for climate justice.
“We will take our struggle forward not just in the talks, but on the ground and in the streets — Climate Justice Now!” 
• People’s Protocol on Climate Change. While the official meetings droned on, activists from Indonesia, the Philippines and Australia met elsewhere in Bali, in the town of Sumber Klampok, to draft a People’s Protocol on Climate Change, which they plan to use as a focus for worldwide organizing and discussion in the coming year, leading up to the next major UN meeting on climate change, in Poland in December.
The Draft People’s Protocol says that the Kyoto Protocol has not merely failed to reduce emissions, it has “diminished responsibility and accountability for the climate crisis through the marketization of energy resources and supply.”
“The Kyoto Protocol does not truly involve grassroots communities and peoples who are worst-affected, especially in the South. It has grossly neglected the severe damage to their livelihoods, well-being and welfare. It does not consistently and coherently adhere to the vital developmental principles, especially people’s sovereignty over natural resources.…
“Climate change must be understood not merely as an environmental issue but as a question of social justice; its causes are rooted in the current capitalist-dominated global economy which is principally driven by the relentless drive for private profits and accumulation.”
The document includes a hard-hitting list of demands, and commits to “building on the powerful networks of movements for climate action that have emerged worldwide.” 
We can’t tell whether either of these projects will win broad support or play a key role in building a global climate action movement. What is clear is that both point in the right direction, to a different kind of politics: away from backroom lobbying, and toward the mobilization of mass sentiment and action against global warming.
Towards a Movement Against Climate Change
Canada has one of the worst records in the world for greenhouse gas emissions. That fact alone places special responsibility on activists in this country to confront our own government, to demand that it take immediate action to reduce emissions at home and to support climate justice for the countries and peoples who are most harmed by Canadian capitalist irresponsibility.
The beginnings of a broad movement against Canada’s climate change policies can be seen in the wide variety of actions that have taken place across the country in the past year.
- Marches and rallies such as those held on December 8 in cities across Canada.
- Sit-ins and occupations like the Sharbot Lake action against uranium mining.
- Smaller “guerrilla theatre” actions designed to attract media coverage and expose particular abuses.
- Teach-ins and other educational events such as the sustainability conferences that are being held on several university campuses this winter.
It’s much too early to say which forms of protest will prove most effective in building a movement. Our responsibility today is to participate wholeheartedly in actions as they develop, to provide concrete support, and to learn from the nascent movement’s experiences.
Independent Action — For A People’s Agenda
It’s very like that there will be a federal election in 2008. Climate change activists will adopt different positions, some favoring abstention, others supporting the NDP, the Green Party, or specific individual candidates. This will offer many opportunities for debate and discussion, opportunities that should be eagerly welcomed. Our stress throughout should be on the need to build an independent movement that demands concrete action from politicians and parties of all political stripes.
To confront politicians and policy makers effectively, the green movement needs to advance its own People’s Agenda on Climate Change, a program that stresses both reducing emissions in Canada and advancing climate justice around the world. The specific details of such an agenda need to be worked out collaboratively by a wide range of activists, but the following are some of the demands we might raise.
- The experts in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have called for emission reductions of 25%-40% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 50%-85% by 2050. Regardless of what happens in international negotiations, Canada should unilaterally adopt and implement those targets.
- Emissions-trading plans and carbon-tax schemes are actually highly regressive taxes that mostly fall on poor people. Instead, Canada should impose hard limits on the emissions produced by the largest resource and energy companies.
- As the Climate Justice Now Coalition points out, the only really effective way to cut emissions is to leave fossil fuels in the ground. In Canada this means immediately stopping all expansion of the tar sands – and then shutting them down quickly. Greenpeace has rightly called the tar sands the “biggest global warming crime in history.” Stopping that crime must be a priority.
- Military spending and the federal budget surplus should be immediately redirected into public energy-saving projects such as expanding mass transit and retrofitting homes and office buildings. Tar sands workers and redeployed soldiers can play key roles in this effort.
- Canada must recognize its ecological debt to the Third World and to indigenous peoples. Paying that debt means cleaning up the damage that Canada’s capitalists have caused, providing concrete assistance in adapting to climate change, and transferring the resources and technology needed for clean economic development.
The Bali conference failed to adopt effective measures against climate change: a treaty based on the Bali decisions would be worse than Kyoto. But Bali may also be remembered as the beginning point for a revitalized global movement for climate action and climate justice.
References “Editorial: Disappointments on Climate.” New York Times, December 17, 2007 Janet Redman. “Bali’s Business-As-Usual Mandate.” Foreign Policy in Focus, December 24, 2007.
 Simone Lovera. “Reducing deforestation under the Climate Convention: funding forests, plantations or foresters?” Europe solidaire sans frontières. December 17, 2007.
 Durban Group for Climate Justice. “Durban Declaration on Carbon Trading.” October 10, 2004
 jodafoe. “Youth Rising: A Reflection on the Bali Conference.” It’s Getting Hot In Here, January 2, 2008.
 Climate Justice Now Coalition. “What’s missing from the climate talks? Justice!” Europe solidaire sans frontiers, December 14, 2007.
 “Peoples Protocol on Climate Change (Draft).” Climate and Capitalism, December 28, 2007.
 For an excellent critique of “green tax” and “cap and trade” policies, see Dick Nichols, “Can Green Taxes Save the World?”
An Interview with Ian Angus
The reports issued this year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change prove conclusively that climate change is real, that the pace of global warming is accelerating, and that it is caused by human activity. If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced quickly, climate change will have catastrophic impacts on human, animal, and plant life everywhere.
An International Day of Climate Action has been called for December 8, midway through the climate talks in Bali, Indonesia. Demonstrations and other actions will be held in some 70 countries, and in over 30 Canadian cities in ten provinces. The December 8 day of action may be the largest day of climate protest to date. For more information see these websites:
- Stop Climate Chaos Coalition (Canada)
- Climate Crisis Coalition (U.S.)
- Global Climate Campaign (Britain and worldwide)
In many countries, the participants in these actions will include supporters of the recently-formed Ecosocialist International Network (EIN). Socialist Voice Managing Editor Ian Angus is a founder and coordinating committee member of the EIN. He also edits the web journal Climate and Capitalism.
He was interviewed by the Greek socialist newspaper Kokkino (Red).
Let’s begin with a large question — what is ecosocialism?
Angus: Ecosocialism has grown out of two parallel political trends — the spread of Marxist ideas in the green movement and the spread of ecological ideas in the Marxist left. The result is a set of social and political goals, a growing body of ideas, and a global movement.
Ecosocialism’s goal is to replace capitalism with a society in which common ownership of the means of production has replaced capitalist ownership, and in which the preservation and restoration of ecosystems will be central to all activity.
As a body of ideas, ecosocialism argues that ecological destruction is not an accidental feature of capitalism, it is built into the system’s DNA. The system’s insatiable need to increase profits — what’s been called “the ecological tyranny of the bottom line” — cannot be reformed away.
With that said, it is important to realize ecosocialist thought is not monolithic — it embodies many different views about theory and practice. For example, there is an ongoing debate about the view, advanced by some ecosocialist writers, that social movements have replaced the working class as the engine of social change.
Finally, ecosocialism is an anti-capitalist movement that varies a great deal from place to place. In the imperialist countries, it is a current within existing socialist and green-left movements, seeking to win ecology activists to socialism and to convince socialists of the vital importance of ecological issues and struggles. We might say that in the global north ecosocialism today focuses on making the Greens more Red and the Reds more Green.
In the Third World, by contrast, global warming is already a matter of life and death. People there are fighting environmental destruction – and the environmental destroyers – on a daily basis. The fights take many forms, including land occupations, road blockades, and sabotage as well as more traditional actions such as petitions, rallies, demonstrations. Such protests occur daily in dozens of countries.
What we see there is a growing mass pro-ecology movement that incorporates socialist ideas — that’s especially true in Latin America, where anti-imperialist governments headed by Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and Fidel Castro in Cuba, are pressing for strong anticapitalist, pro-environment measures.
A recent letter from Evo Morales to the United Nations illustrates that point and another — that in the fight to save the earth, a vanguard role is being played by indigenous peoples. As Morales said:
“[W]e – the indigenous peoples and humble and honest inhabitants of this planet – believe that the time has come to put a stop to this, in order to rediscover our roots, with respect for Mother Earth; with the Pachamama as we call it in the Andes. Today, the indigenous peoples of Latin America and the world have been called upon by history to convert ourselves into the vanguard of the struggle to defend nature and life.”
And he suggested a global political organization to combat global warming:
“We need to create a World Environment Organisation which is binding, and which can discipline the World Trade Organisation, which is propelling us towards barbarism.”
That’s not just a clever turn of phrase. In that one sentence, Morales says that the environment must be given legal priority over capitalist profits and the neoliberal policies that protect them. That’s a profound idea that the left worldwide should adopt and defend.
What is the Ecosocialist International Network?
Angus: The Ecosocialist International Network was formed in October 2007, at a meeting in Paris that was attended by ecosocialists from 13 countries. Its main goals are to improve communication and coordination among ecosocialists worldwide, and to organize a major ecosocialist conference in Brazil in January 2009, in conjunction with the World Social Forum.
The EIN is a very loose and open organization. Its only organizational structure is a steering committee to plan the Brazil conference. Anyone who supports the broad goals of the ecosocialism is welcome to participate — more information is available on our website. (Editor’s note: see www.ecosocialistnetwork.org.)
How do you respond to socialists who argue that there is no need for specifically “ecosocialist” ideas or activity?
Angus: In a certain sense they are correct. Marxism embodies a wealth of profound ecological thought, far more than many green activists realize.
But while concern for ecology was a fundamental part of Marx’s thought, and the Bolsheviks were certainly aware of the issue, the sad fact is that the Marxist left ignored this issue for many decades. It’s important to correct that — and to do so publicly and explicitly.
Using the word “ecosocialism” is a way of signalling loud and clear that we consider climate change not just as another stick to bash capitalism with, but as a critically important issue, one of the principal problems facing humanity in this century.
But there is more involved. Marxism is not a fixed set of eternal truths — it is a living body of thought, a method of understanding society and a tool for social change. Socialists whose views don’t evolve to incorporate new social and scientific insights become irrelevant sectarians — we’ve seen that happen to many individuals and groups over the years.
Just as Marx and Engels studied and adopted ideas from the scientists of their day — Liebig on soil fertility, Morgan on early societies, Darwin on evolution, and many others — so Marxists today must learn from today’s scientists, especially about the biggest issues of the day. Ecosocialism aims to do just that.
Can capitalism solve global warming?
Angus: That depends on what you mean by “solve.”
Dealing with global warming includes two components — mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation means reducing greenhouse gas emissions so that global warming slows down and eventually reverses. Adaptation means making changes that will enable people to survive in a world where some climate change is inevitable, and where climate chaos is increasingly likely.
In my opinion, capitalism’s insatiable need for growth, combined with its massive dependence on fossil fuels as the dominant energy source, means that it is very unlikely that we will see an effective mitigation program from any major capitalist country.
Scientists say that if the average temperature rises more than 2 degrees, dangerous climate change becomes very probable. There is no sign that any of the industrialized countries will implement measures sufficient to stop such a temperature increase — anything they do will be too little, too late.
But if we do not succeed in bringing this system to an end, capitalism will undoubtedly adapt to the new climate. It will do what capitalism always does — it will impose the greatest burdens on the most vulnerable, on poor people and poor nations. Climate refugees will multiply and millions will die. The imperialist powers will fight against the global south, and amongst themselves, to control the world’s resources, including not just fuel but also food and other essentials. The most barbaric forms of capitalism will intensify and spread.
In short — yes, capitalism can “solve” global warming, but a capitalist solution will be catastrophic for the great majority of the world’s people.
Letter from Bolivian President Evo Morales
to the members of the United Nations, September 24, 2007
Sister and brother Presidents and Heads of States of the United Nations:
The world is suffering from a fever due to climate change, and the disease is the capitalist development model. Whilst over 10,000 years the variation in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels on the planet was approximately 10%, during the last 200 years of industrial development, carbon emissions have increased by 30%. Since 1860, Europe and North America have contributed 70% of the emissions of CO2. 2005 was the hottest year in the last one thousand years on this planet.
Different investigations have demonstrated that out of the 40,170 living species that have been studied, 16,119 are in danger of extinction. One out of eight birds could disappear forever. One out of four mammals is under threat. One out of every three reptiles could cease to exist. Eight out of ten crustaceans and three out of four insects are at risk of extinction. We are living through the sixth crisis of the extinction of living species in the history of the planet and, on this occasion, the rate of extinction is 100 times more accelerated than in geological times.
Faced with this bleak future, transnational interests are proposing to continue as before, and paint the machine green, which is to say, continue with growth and irrational consumerism and inequality, generating more and more profits, without realising that we are currently consuming in one year what the planet produces in one year and three months. Faced with this reality, the solution can not be an environmental make over.
I read in the World Bank report that in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change we need to end subsidies on hydrocarbons, put a price on water and promote private investment in the clean energy sector. Once again they want to apply market recipes and privatisation in order to carry out business as usual, and with it, the same illnesses that these policies produce. The same occurs in the case of biofuels, given that to produce one litre of ethanol you require 12 litres of water. In the same way, to process one ton of agrifuels you need, on average, one hectare of land.
Faced with this situation, we – the indigenous peoples and humble and honest inhabitants of this planet – believe that the time has come to put a stop to this, in order to rediscover our roots, with respect for Mother Earth; with the Pachamama as we call it in the Andes. Today, the indigenous peoples of Latin America and the world have been called upon by history to convert ourselves into the vanguard of the struggle to defend nature and life.
I am convinced that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, recently approved after so many years of struggle, needs to pass from paper to reality so that our knowledge and our participation can help to construct a new future of hope for all. Who else but the indigenous people, can point out the path for humanity in order to preserve nature, natural resources and the territories that we have inhabited from ancient times.
We need a profound change of direction, at the world wide level, so as to stop being the condemned of the earth. The countries of the north need to reduce their carbon emissions by between 60% and 80% if we want to avoid a temperature rise of more than 2º in what is left of this century, which would provoke global warming of catastrophic proportions for life and nature.
We need to create a World Environment Organisation which is binding, and which can discipline the World Trade Organisation, which is propelling us towards barbarism. We can no longer continue to talk of growth in Gross National Product without taking into consideration the destruction and wastage of natural resources. We need to adopt an indicator that allows us to consider, in a combined way, the Human Development Index and the Ecological Footprint in order to measure our environmental situation.
We need to apply harsh taxes on the super concentration of wealth, and adopt effective mechanisms for its equitable redistribution. It is not possible that three families can have an income superior to the combined GDP of the 48 poorest countries. We can not talk of equity and social justice whilst this situation continues.
The United States and Europe consume, on average, 8.4 times more that the world average. It is necessary for them to reduce their level of consumption and recognise that all of us are guests on this same land; of the same Pachamama.
I know that change is not easy when an extremely powerful sector has to renounce their extraordinary profits for the planet to survive. In my own country I suffer, with my head held high, this permanent sabotage because we are ending privileges so that everyone can “Live Well” and not better than our counterparts. I know that change in the world is much more difficult than in my country, but I have absolute confidence in human beings, in their capacity to reason, to learn from mistakes, to recuperate their roots, and to change in order to forge a just, diverse, inclusive, equilibrated world in harmony with nature.
Evo Morales Ayma
President of the Republic of Bolivia
Speech by Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque,
to the UN high-level event on climate change in New York, September 24, 2007
We met, as we are doing now, fifteen years ago at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro. It was a historic moment. There, we took on the commitment later on contained in the Convention on Climate Change and, subsequently, in the Kyoto Protocol. Cuba was then the first country to take the environmental issue to a constitutional platform.
That day, President Fidel Castro delivered a brief and fundamental speech, which overwhelmed those present in the plenary of such conference. He told profound truths, breaking them down one by one from an unwavering ethical and humanistic position:
“An important biological species is at risk of disappearing due to the rapid and progressive elimination of its natural habitat: man.
“… consumer societies are fundamentally responsible for the atrocious destruction of the environment.
“The solution cannot be to hinder the development of the neediest.
“If we want to save humanity from that self-destruction, there must be a better distribution of the available wealth and technologies on the planet. There must be less luxury and less squandering in a few countries so that there will be less impoverishment and less famine in a large portion of the Earth.”
The truth is that almost nothing was done afterwards. The situation is now a lot more critical, the dangers are greater and we are running out of time.
The scientific evidence is clear. Practical observation is overwhelming. These could only be called into question by irresponsible people. The last ten years have been the warmest. There is a decrease in the thickness of artic ice. Glaciers are receding. Sea level is on the rise. Also increasing is the frequency and intensity of hurricanes.
The future looks worse: some 30% of all species will disappear if global temperature increases by 1.5 to 2.5 degrees centigrade. Small island states are running the risk of disappearing under the waters.
In order to face the danger, we have agreed on two strategies. Mitigation, which is the reduction in and absorption of the emissions; and adaptation, referring to actions aimed at reducing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.
However, it is increasingly clear that this dramatic situation will not be tackled unless there is a shift in the current unbridled production and consumption patterns, presented as the dream to achieve through an unscrupulous and ongoing worldwide advertising campaign on which a trillion dollars is invested every year.
We have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries, responsible for 76% of the emissions of greenhouse gases accumulated since 1850, have to bear the brunt of mitigation and must set the example. What is even worse is that their emissions increased by over 12% between 1990 and 2003, and those of the United States in particular grew by over 20%. Therefore, they must begin by honoring the ever-modest commitments contained in the Kyoto Protocol and by taking on new and ambitious goals to reduce emissions as of 2012.
The problem will not be resolved by purchasing the quota of the poor countries. That is a selfish and inefficient path. Nor will it be resolved by turning food into fuels as proposed by President Bush. It is a sinister idea. Real reductions must be achieved in the emission sources. A real energy revolution must take place with a focus on saving and efficiency. A great deal of political will and courage is required to wage this battle. Cuba’s modest experience, successful and encouraging despite the blockade and the aggressions that we suffer from, is proof that we can do it.
On the other hand, the fight against climate change cannot be an obstacle impeding the development of the over 100 countries that have yet to attain it and which, by the way, are not the historic culprits of what has happened; it has to be compatible with the sustainable development of our countries. We reject the pressures on the underdeveloped countries to enter into binding commitments to reduce emissions. What is more, the portion of global emissions pertaining to the underdeveloped countries must increase in order to meet the needs of their socio-economic development. The developed countries have no moral authority to demand anything on this issue.
Paradoxically, the countries that have caused the least global warming, particularly the small island states and the least developed countries, are the most vulnerable and threatened. For them to implement adaptation policies they need unrestricted access to clean technologies and to financing.
However, the developed countries are the ones monopolizing the patents, the technologies and the money. They are, therefore, responsible for the Third World to gain access to substantial amounts of fresh funding above the current Official Development Assistance levels, which are completely insufficient in fact. They must also be held accountable for the effective free transfer of technologies and the training of human resources in our countries – something which, of course, will not be resolved through the market or the neoliberal policies imposed through pressure and blackmail.
And the largest responsibility lies, without a doubt, with the country that most squanders, the one that most pollutes, the one that has the most money and technologies – which, at the same time, refuses to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and has not shown any commitment at all to this meeting convened by the United Nations Secretary-General.
Cuba is hopeful that the forthcoming Bali Conference will produce a clear mandate for the developed countries to reduce, by 2020, their emissions by no less than 40% as compared to their 1990 levels; a mandate negotiated within the framework of the Convention and not in small cliques and selective collusions as proposed by the Government of the United States.
Cuba also expects that a mechanism be adopted to ensure the expeditious transfer to the underdeveloped countries of clean technologies under preferential terms, with the utmost priority to the small island states and the least developed countries, which are the most vulnerable.
We also expect that new and additional resources be allocated, and that financial support mechanisms be adopted to assist the underdeveloped countries in implementing our adaptation strategies. By way of example, if only half the money that our countries must pay every year in servicing a burdensome debt that does not cease to grow were set aside for these purposes, we would have over US$ 200 billion per annum. Another alternative would be to earmark merely the tenth of what the sole military superpower on the planet spends on wars and weapons and we would have another US$ 50 billion available. The money is there, but political will is lacking.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations has called upon us today to send a powerful political message to the forthcoming Bali Conference. I find no better way to say it on Cuba’s behalf than to repeat Fidel’s words that 12 June 1992:
“Let selfishness end, let hegemonies end, let insensitivity, irresponsibility and deceit end. Tomorrow it will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago.”
Thank you very much.