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Thoughts on Reversing Global Warming

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Hiya, I relatively recently submitted this to an essay writing contest on global warming, and thought I'd share my entry here. It's short, and I tried to incorporate a bunch of ideas and tendencies I align with, like libertarian municpalism, Peak Oil, animal liberation, etc.

Mainstream discourse over global warming, and climate change more broadly, has largely remained on the surface, doing little but set back minimally the pace of its threats to
everyone’s well-being and the continuation of human existence. Individual purchasing choices, certifying that corporations are ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’, or even the replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy sources, are helpful steps, in numerous instances indispensablebut focusing on these alone has led us to misperceived solutions.

For one, our capitalist economic system requires a real growth rate of 3% per year for major firms to make profit in aggregate. This may at first sound smalluntil one realises this entails double the world’s products every twenty years. Twice as many houses, factories, planes, power stations, twice as much everything, every twenty years, is completely unsustainable. In other words, we should strive for a system that doesn’t necessitate exponential growththis is the idea of ‘de-growth’, where production and consumption are downscaled in ways that increase well-being.

The most likely way that climate change will be challenged is not with a universally applicable blueprint, but by experimenting with political-economic alternatives. Given that the state holds a monopoly on violence and has a high success rate in the crushing of deeds in resistance to the interests of capitalas manifest when direct actions and protests take place against ecocidal developments, like the oil pipelines running through Native American lands and the clear-cutting of rainforestsit appears more tactically beneficial for the time being to focus on legal methods, albeit not exclusively.

Libertarian muncipalism is a political programme whereby a candidate runs in elections at the town, village or municipal level. Once elected, thon legislates to set up a popular assembly, preventing separate interests from emerging between a policymaking, professionalised class and the citizens of the municipality. Cities on the scale of London would be parceled into smaller cities, decentralised to a point where they are ‘humanly scaled’ communities. As a means of coordination, and to thwart the inception of competing parochialisms, the democratised municipalities should link together to form a broader confederation, with recallable and rotatable delegates at the higher administrative levelsthough it must be noted that their roles would be strictly of undertaking administrative tasks, not of holding more decision-making power.

The significance in programmes like libertarian muncipalism is that, in dismantling centralised power structures to disperse power throughout society, there is more of an incentive to strive toward the common good instead of exclusively self-serving interests. Where a popular assembly or local group defines a Community Land Trust, the tract evades the private proprietor who unfairly charges rent or wrecks the ecosystem for short-term profit. Where worker co-operatives are set up, each worker-owner is involved in the decision- making process and ethical considerations are prioritised, instead of shareholdersprofit

margin demands. And where popular assemblies see that trams and buses could be upgraded to handle more passengers and reduce travelling time, personal car use and its ills would decline. These are steps toward the economy of the commons, one more distanced away from all oppression, exploitation, domination, one beaming with liberatory potential.

In a world of multiple complex challenges like rising sea levels and peak oil (the moment when global oil production reaches its maximum rate, whereafter production will fall, a rather unnerving eventuality when one bears in mind that gasoline, jet fuel, plastics and tires are among the many things that depend on petroleum), it is in the interests of communities to build up resilience and relative self-sufficiency. With worldwide information systems at hand to share knowledge, neighbourhoods will find themselves much less constrained in bringing to fruition their own crafts, agriculture and industry, without the waste generated by long- distance transportation of materials as a result of an international division of labour. No longer restricted by the repetitious work that contemporary wage labour characterises (and in effect makes compulsory should one wish to live in relative comfort), the Kropotkinesque ideal of well-rounded individuals thanks to a diversity in manual and intellectual labour can take place, or whatever else the citizens of a popular assembly see fit.

Still largely brushed aside in mainstream environmentalism is veganism, the personal consumer choices that accompany the animal liberation cause. There are about 7.5 billion humans. Excluding fish and other marine animals, 56 billion is a conservative statistic about the number of animals like chickens and cows killed per year because of the meat, egg and dairy indusrties, their lives deplorable, so unfree and cramped they step in their own faeces, so pumped with growth hormones they can hardly lift themselves. They are forced into lorries (without water) that take them to slaughterhouses, at which point they are murdered, the executions often slow and inefficient, only to have chunks of their corpses arrive at butcher shops and supermarkets in plastic packaging. As if this weren’t an adequately startling reason to shut down the meat, egg and dairy industries, it should be remarked that these account for 51% of the world’s greenhouse gases, require vast amounts land, fodder, energy and water, and pour toxins from manure and fertilisers into waterways, marring aquatic ecosystems.

The fact that veganism is gaining acceptance is uplifting news. It is probable that as alternatives to meat, dairy and eggs are refined, attain economies of scale and become more affordable (such as through the production of in vitro meats grown in laboratories), they will capture more of the public’s attention and outcompete what are arguably the most exploitative industries in the world.

By doing nothing, we only guarantee the triumph of global warming. What we should be doing, then, is asking which modes of social relations and structures best pave the road to a world free of global warming, a worldin all seriousnessfair and happy for all.

Discussion 2 Comments

  • Bat Chainpuller 27th Jan 2018

    Hi Gustavo,

    Nice to see a new blogger.

    Veganism, even just vegetarianism, is hard to dispute. Me thinks we will have to, or maybe just will, head down that area, but it needs to be in conjunction with a new economic system.

    Libertarian municipalism is interesting. A political poroject of Bookchin. Even Bookchin felt he failed and Janet Biehl, his partner and biographer has rejected radical politics in favour of social democracy. Bookchin’s bio is great. LM needs a economic system to support it. I’m not sure social ecology provides enough. I’m not sure community/local economics, solidarity economics is enough.

    Recently Ted Trainer, of The Simpler Way, wrote an essay about the Cooperativa Integral Catalana https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/the-catalan-integral-cooperative/.

    I tend to lean towards Robin Hahnel’s thoughts in chapter thirteen of Economic Justice and Democracy.

    “It is important not to put any particular experiment in equitable cooperation on a pedestal and blind oneself to its limitations. It is also important not to focus exclusively on the limitations of a particular experiment and fail to recognize important ways that it advances the cause of equitable cooperation. But it is most important not to underestimate the value of living experiments in equitable cooperation in general.

    The glass will always be part full and part empty. All real-world experiments in equitable cooperation in capitalist economies will not only be imperfect because human efforts are always imperfect, more importantly, they will be imperfect because they must survive within a capitalist economy and are subject to the serious limitations and pressures this entails. Of course it is important to evaluate how successfully any particular experiment advances the cause of equitable cooperation and resists pressures emanating from the capitalist economy to compromise principles of economic justice and democracy. But there is little point in either pretending experiments are flawless or vilifying those struggling to create something better. What is called for is to nurture and improve experiments that already exist, to build new ones that can reach out to people who continue to live in their traditional communities, and eventually to link experiments in cooperation together to form a visible alternative to capitalism in its midst.”

    In ch13 he looks at prefigurative experiments, including, local currency systems, worker participation and partial ownership in capitalist firms, worker ownership, worker takeovers in Argentina, Mondragon, consumer cooperatives, linking consumer and producer coops, participatory budgeting in Kerala and Porto Alegre, neighbourhood assemblies in Argentina, egalitarian and sustainable intentional communities, partial commitment to equitable cooperation, and some examples of participatory economics in practice.

    In ch14 he says, or start off saying,

    “The struggle between competition and greed and equitable cooperation was both fierce and full of surprises during the twentieth century. Unfortunately, by century’s end those fighting to replace the economics of competition and greed with the economics of equitable cooperation were in full retreat. What went wrong? What must those struggling to advance the cause of equitable cooperation do differently in the century ahead to achieve better results?

    Never Compromise Principles

    Agreeing to accept less than what you deserve is not the same as conceding that you do not deserve more than you got. During the course of the twentieth century, too many on the left lost track of this important difference between the necessity of accepting compromise outcomes and compromising our principles. In particular many of us lost sight of what economic justice and economic democracy mean, and what is required to achieve them. The difference between recognizing we cannot win full economic justice because the movement for economic justice is not yet strong enough, and modifying our conception of economic justice to rationalize what we can achieve is crucial. In the first case we remind people that we made some progress, but we validate their feeling that things are still unfair and more changes must be made. In the latter case, in one way or another, we tell people who are victims of injustice that they are not being treated unfairly and they have no right to complain. That is something a movement for economic justice should never do because when it does it becomes an accomplice to injustice and undermines itself as well. Similarly, when we compromise our conception of economic democracy to accommodate what the movement is capable of winning at some point, we become apologists for ways in which people are still being disenfranchised.

    Too many on the left in the twentieth century failed to apply the same criteria to analyzing the legitimacy of income deriving from human capital that we applied to income deriving from nonhuman capital. Too many failed to apply the same logic to differences in the desirability of peoples’ work lives we applied to differences in peoples’ income. As human capital and the quality of work life become more important considerations in the century ahead, failure to be clear on these matters will increasingly undermine the movement for economic justice. Any system of economic cooperation that does not benefit people equally is not treating people as equals. To benefit equally people who sacrifice more must receive extra compensation commensurate with their extra sacrifice. Contribution-based conceptions of economic justice are a philosophical red herring we need to abandon. Similarly, too many of us succumbed to the sleight of hand whereby the reality of undemocratic corporate power was excused on grounds that consumers and workers indirectly influence decisions when they vote with their pocketbooks and their feet in goods and labor markets. And too many of us were willing to substitute “industrial democracy”—worker representation on boards of directors and joint management committees, and partial worker ownership plans—for true economic self-management—where everyone has decision-making power in proportion to the degree they are affected by economic choices. No matter how often reform campaigns and movements must settle for outcomes that are still unfair, no matter how often we must agree to abide by economic decision making procedures that are still undemocratic, it is crucial to remain clear—“ crystal clear” in the words of Colonel Jessup in the movie A Few Good Men—about what economic justice and economic democracy mean.

    Figure out What We Want

    No more excuses. No more intellectual laziness. Critics of capitalism have got to think through and explain to others how we propose to do things differently, and why outcomes will be significantly better. Even when people lend an ear to our complaints about capitalism, we have zero credibility with the public when it comes to replacing capitalism with a wholly different economic system. And in the light of history, people have every reason to be skeptical that the left knows how to create a vastly superior economic system. In any case, since the sacrifices people must make on the road to replacing capitalism will often be great, there must be good reasons for people to believe the benefits will be great as well, not necessarily for themselves, but at least for their children. This does not mean we must agree right now on what the best alternative to capitalism looks like, which is fortunate, because at this point we do not agree among ourselves on whether the best alternative is some form of market socialism, community-based economics, or participatory democratic planning. The debate about alternatives to capitalism in the wake of the collapse of communism is still in its infancy. But the quality of the debate over economic vision must inspire confidence that the movement for equitable cooperation is busy tackling this crucial task effectively. How best to organize a system of equitable cooperation is not a trivial intellectual problem. The answers will not be obvious to those who finally jettison capitalism decades from now without a great deal of deliberation, and much of this deliberation must take place before the moment arrives when the answers are needed. The quality of the thinking and discussion about our alternative tuo capitalism must inspire confidence that we will have good answers when the time comes.

    Not only must intellectual and theoretical discussion improve greatly in quality, we must demonstrate to skeptics that we are testing our theories in practice wherever possible, and seriously studying what the results of our experiments in equitable cooperation teach us about our theoretical models and predictions. We have to give concrete answers to serious questions about precisely how choices will be made. We have to demonstrate why there is good reason to believe that new procedures we recommend will provide people with the opportunity to engage in equitable cooperation without undue demands on their time and energy. We have to seriously consider whether or not procedures that are just and democratic will also be efficient, and not prove too cumbersome or demand too much of peoples’ time and patience. Finally, we have to be honest and admit when procedures we recommend may still prove problematic, so people will be prepared to deal with problems when they do inevitably arise. If we are not capable of doing all this, if we are not up to this intellectual task, the movement to replace the economics of competition and greed with the economics of equitable cooperation will not succeed in earning people’s trust and confidence.“

    And,

    Neither Reforms Nor Experiments Alone Will Suffice

    Before we will be able to replace competition and greed with equitable cooperation, before we can replace private enterprise and markets with worker and consumer councils and participatory planning, we will have to devise intermediate means to prevent backsliding and regenerate forward momentum. For the foreseeable future most of this must be done by combining reform work with work to establish and expand imperfect experiments in equitable cooperation. A central contention of this book is that work to reform capitalism and work to create imperfect experiments in equitable cooperation are both necessary. Neither strategy is effective by itself. Reforms alone cannot achieve equitable cooperation because as long as the institutions of private enterprise and markets are left in place to reinforce antisocial behavior based on greed and fear, progress toward equitable cooperation will be limited, and the danger of retrogression will be everpresent. Moreover, reform campaigns undermine their leaders’ commitment to full economic justice and democracy in a number of ways, and do little to demonstrate that equitable cooperation is possible, or establish new norms and expectations. On the other hand, concentrating exclusively on organizing alternative economic institutions within capitalist economies also cannot be successful. First and foremost, exclusive focus on building alternatives to capitalism is too isolating. Until the noncapitalist sector is large, the livelihoods of most people will depend on winning reforms in the capitalist sector, and therefore that is where most people will become engaged. But concentrating exclusively on experiments in equitable cooperation will also not work because the rules of capitalism put alternative institutions at a disadvantage compared to capitalist firms they must compete against, and because market forces drive noncapitalist institutions to abandon cooperative principles.

    Unlike liberated territories in Third World countries, in the advanced economies we will have to build our experiments in equitable cooperation inside our capitalist economies. So our experiments will always be fully exposed to competitive pressures and the culture of capitalism. Maintaining cooperative principles in alternative experiments under these conditions requires high levels of political commitment, which it is reasonable to expect from activists committed to building a new world, but not reasonable to expect from everyone. Therefore, concentrating exclusively on reforms, and focusing only on building alternatives within capitalism are both roads that lead to dead ends. Only in combination will reform campaigns and imperfect experiments in equitable cooperation successfully challenge the economics of competition and greed in the decades ahead.

    Since both reform work and building alternatives within capitalism are necessary, neither is inherently more crucial or strategic than the other. Neither is more revolutionary or reformist than the other. Campaigns to reform capitalism and building alternative institutions within capitalism are both integral parts of a successful strategy to accomplish in this century what we failed to accomplish in the past century, namely, making this century capitalism’s last! Unfortunately, saying we need stronger reform movements and stronger experiments in equitable cooperation does not do justice to the magnitude of the tasks. Particularly in the United States, we are going to need a lot more of both before we even reach a point where an odds maker would bother to give odds on our chances of success. While capitalism spins effective enabling myths to spellbind its victims, the left has too often spun consoling myths about mysterious forces that will come to our rescue even if our organizational and political power remains weak. Nothing substitutes for strong organizations and political power, and there are no easy ways to build either. Over the next two decades most of the heavy lifting will have to be done inside various progressive reform movements because that is where the victims of capitalism will be found, and that’s where they have every right to expect us to be working our butts off to render capitalism less destructive. But even now it is crucial to build living experiments in equitable cooperation to prove to ourselves as well as to others that equitable cooperation is possible. Expanding and integrating experiments in equitable cooperation to offer opportunities to more and more people whose experiences in reform movements convince them they want to live by cooperative not competitive principles will become ever more important as time goes on.“

    Below are a couple f books by Samuel Alexander from the Simplicity Institute here in australia you may be interested in or have already read. Can’t get the Simplicity Institue site up so will show books through Amazon. Got the pdf’s direct from Samuel, but not sure how to dump them here.

    https://www.amazon.com/Prosperous-Descent-Crisis-Opportunity-Limits/dp/0994160607

    https://www.amazon.com/Sufficiency-Economy-Enough-Everyone-Forever/dp/0994160615

    • Gustavo Campina 14th Feb 2018

      Hi, I'll check out the Simplicity Institute, think the PDFs are all there. Thanks