Saturday, August 27, 2016

2426. Stanford Engineers Develop State-by-State Plan to Convert U.S. to 100% Clean, Renewable Energy by 2050

By Bjorn Carey, Stanford News Service, June 8, 2015
Stanford Professor Mark Z. Jacobson and other researchers have calculated how to meet each state’s new power demands using only the renewable energies  wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and tiny amounts of tidal and wave  available to each state.
One potential way to combat ongoing climate change, eliminate air pollution mortality, create jobs and stabilize energy prices involves converting the world’s entire energy infrastructure to run on clean, renewable energy.
This is a daunting challenge. But now, in a new study, Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, and colleagues, including U.C. Berkeley researcher Mark Delucchi, are the first to outline how each of the 50 states can achieve such a transition by 2050. The 50 individual state plans call for aggressive changes to both infrastructure and the ways we currently consume energy, but indicate that the conversion is technically and economically possible through the wide-scale implementation of existing technologies.
“The main barriers are social, political and getting industries to change. One way to overcome the barriers is to inform people about what is possible,” said Jacobson, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and at the Precourt Institute for Energy. “By showing that it’s technologically and economically possible, this study could reduce the barriers to a large scale transformation.”
The study is published in the online edition of Energy and Environmental Sciences. An interactive map summarizing the plans for each state is available at www.thesolutionsproject.org.
Jacobson and his colleagues started by taking a close look at the current energy demands of each state, and how those demands would change under business-as-usual conditions by the year 2050. To create a full picture of energy use in each state, they examined energy usage in four sectors: residential, commercial, industrial and transportation.
For each sector, they then analyzed the current amount and source of the fuel consumed – coal, oil, gas, nuclear, renewables – and calculated the fuel demands if all fuel usage were replaced with electricity. This is a significantly challenging step – it assumes that all the cars on the road become electric, and that homes and industry convert to fully electrified heating and cooling systems. But Jacobson said that their calculations were based on integrating existing technology, and the energy savings would be significant.
“When we did this across all 50 states, we saw a 39 percent reduction in total end-use power demand by the year 2050,” Jacobson said. “About 6 percentage points of that is gained through efficiency improvements to infrastructure, but the bulk is the result of replacing current sources and uses of combustion energy with electricity.”
The next step involved figuring out how to power the new electric grid. The researchers focused on meeting each state’s new power demands using only the renewable energies – wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and tiny amounts of tidal and wave – available to each state.
They analyzed each state’s sun exposure, and how many south-facing, non-shaded rooftops could accommodate solar panels. They developed and consulted wind maps and determined whether local offshore wind turbines were an option. Geothermal energy was available at a reasonable cost for only 13 states. The plan calls for virtually no new hydroelectric dams, but does account for energy gains from improving the efficiency of existing dams.
The report lays out individual roadmaps for each state to achieve an 80 percent transition by 2030, and a full conversion by 2050. Jacobson said that several states are already on their way. Washington state, for instance, could make the switch to full renewables relatively quickly, thanks to the fact that more than 70 percent of its current electricity comes from existing hydroelectric sources. That translates to about 35 percent of the state’s all-purpose power if Washington were 100-percent electrified; wind and solar could fill most of the remainder.
Iowa and South Dakota are also well-positioned, as they already generate nearly 30 percent of their electricity from wind power. California, which was the focus of Jacobson’s second single-state roadmap to renewables after New York, has already adopted some of his group’s suggestions and has a plan to be 60 percent electrified by renewables by 2030.
The plan calls for no more than 0.5 percent of any state’s land to be covered in solar panels or wind turbines. The upfront cost of the changes would be significant, but wind and sunlight are free. So the overall cost spread over time would be roughly equal to the price of the fossil fuel infrastructure, maintenance and production.
“When you account for the health and climate costs – as well as the rising price of fossil fuels – wind, water and solar are half the cost of conventional systems,” Jacobson said. “A conversion of this scale would also create jobs, stabilize fuel prices, reduce pollution-related health problems and eliminate emissions from the United States. There is very little downside to a conversion, at least based on this science.”
Jacobson said that if the conversion is followed exactly as his plan outlines, the reduction of air pollution in the U.S. could prevent the deaths of approximately 63,000 Americans who die from air pollution-related causes each year. It would also eliminate U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases produced from fossil fuel, which would otherwise cost the world $3.3 trillion a year by 2050.
For more details, visit Jacobson’s website and The Solutions Project.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

2425. The Cultural Policy of the Cuban Revolution

By Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt, Against the Grain, August 24, 2016


Editor: Grounded in painstaking research, To Defend the Revolution Is to Defend Culture revisits the circumstances which led to the arts being embraced at the heart of the Cuban Revolution. Introducing the main protagonists to the debate, this previously untold story follows the polemical twists and turns that ensued in the volatile atmosphere of the 1960s and ’70s. The picture that emerges is of a struggle for dominance between Soviet-derived approaches and a uniquely Cuban response to the arts under socialism. The latter tendency, which eventually won out, was based on the principles of Marxist humanism. As such, this book foregrounds emancipatory understandings of culture.


To Defend the Revolution Is to Defend Culture takes its title from a slogan – devised by artists and writers at a meeting in October 1960 and adopted by the First National Congress of Writers and Artists the following August – which sought to highlight the intrinsic importance of culture to the Revolution. Departing from popular top-down conceptions of Cuban policy-formation, this book establishes the close involvement of the Cuban people in cultural processes and the contribution of Cuba’s artists and writers to the policy and praxis of the Revolution. Ample space is dedicated to discussions that remain hugely pertinent to those working in the cultural field, such as the relationship between art and ideology, engagement and autonomy, form and content. As the capitalist world struggles to articulate the value of the arts in anything other than economic terms, this book provides us with an entirely different way of thinking about culture and the policies underlying it.

To hear Godon-Nisbett's interview with Against the Grain click here.  

Monday, August 22, 2016

2424. Clean, Green, Class War: Bill McKibben’s Shortsighted ‘War on Climate Change’

By Elliot Sperber, Counterpunch, August 22, 2016 
Atomic bombing of Hiroshima
Across the USA, people from all types of backgrounds marinate for hours each day in the glow of nationalistic and militaristic news reports and entertainment. From the reverence directed toward its historical wars, to the imaginary wars featured in the entertainment industry, to the virtual wars of drone strikes (which blend politics and entertainment into ideological indistinction), glorification of war is ubiquitous. But though it may be amplified by the pervasiveness and invasiveness of social media, this philopolemia is hardly new. Love of war even presents itself in the demonym used by the people of the USA – by identifying only people from the US (as opposed to Mexicans, Brazilians, Canadians, and other inhabitants of the Americas) as Americans, the designation symbolically claims, and subordinates (i.e., conquers) the entirety of the Americas to US supremacy (a symbolism that, at least since the Monroe Doctrine, has concrete foreign policy analogues as well).

This is hardly, however, the extent of it. Even those who claim to abhor war still recognize war (and, by extension, force) as both admirable and authoritative. Why else does war function as such a prevalent metaphor for serious commitments? That is, in addition to literal, historical, military wars, one finds the term employed figuratively in such policy campaigns as the war on poverty, the war on cancer, the war on drugs, and the war on terror. Ostensibly no stranger to this sensibility, the famed environmental activist and academic Bill McKibben recently added the latest contribution to this bevy of wars: a war on climate change.

While the severity of the catastrophes attending climate change are difficult to overstate, and are no doubt already bombarding us, “the war on climate change” that Bill McKibben proposes does not, however, amount to much more than a proposal to reform (and continue) an other, far less openly discussed, war – i.e., class war. This becomes clear as soon as McKibben identifies his war on climate change’s enemy as the fossil fuel industry – rather than the political economic system designed to exact, extract, and exploit resources (and to reinvest its gains into exacting, extracting, and exploiting more resources, ad mortem). Abetted by the military (the largest polluter on the planet), the laws, rules and institutions governing this society (rather than the fossil fuel industry alone) compel people the world over to perpetrate unprecedented levels of violence against rain forests, rivers, oceans, and human and non-human animals alike, just to survive. To characterize the fossil fuel industry, which merely fuels these ravages, as the primary enemy, and to argue that it should be replaced by a clean, green energy sector, is deeply problematic.

Like a cleric atop the deck of a fog-enshrouded ship, McKibben peers back into the 20th century and announces that he’s spotted the future marketability. Ostensibly committed to peace, he argues for the order of war. And yet, despite these shortcomings, one can empathize to some degree with McKibben’s argument. 

Irrespective of his conflation of cause and effect, one can agree that, yes, we are being bombarded, drowned, and routed by super hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, floods, droughts, etc., and we need a radical shift in policy. The urgency of the situation beseeches us to overlook his nationalistic argument that “America” should be “the world’s dominant power in clean energy.” However, upon closer scrutiny, his suggestions seem stilted. And his argument for a massive project to produce billions of solar panels and wind turbines sounds as though his interest in fighting climate change is limited to considerations of marketability.

Citing multiple examples from the United States’ WWII war effort, industrial mobilization provides several precedents for McKibben’s argument for a 21st century “full-scale climate mobilization.” Drawing analogies to the industrial-scale production of bombers and other weapons that built up the US military, McKibben’s repeated references to “World War II-type national mobilization,” “industrial mobilization,” “global mobilization,” “the mobilization effort,” and “a wider mobilization,” leads one to question whether the idea of producing technologies that will supply current levels of energy consumption are in any way flawed (as though we really need to prioritize producing mountains of disposable plastic cups, bottles, and other toxic garbage while driving non-stop in the “millions and millions of electric cars” McKibben envisions, despite “the fundamental law of road congestion“). Wouldn’t it be easier, and mitigate climate change even more effectively, to just produce less? But that would harm economic output, which McKibben doesn’t seem to question. Repeatedly invoking the precedent of World War II, McKibben argues that, just like then, we can build “a hell of a lot of factories” that will create “an awful lot of jobs” constructing solar panels and wind turbines, never examining why we need to create such high energy output, or so many things, in the first place.

Considering just how urgent mitigating climate change is, it seems positively odd that McKibben fails to consider far more direct modes of doing so (such as restricting plastic production to essential – e.g., medical – use only). To be sure, while “mobilization” may be appropriate in certain circumstances, what is arguably just as important in tackling climate change (if not more important) is de-mobilization (and rest). And though McKibben may not be familiar with them, just as World War II provides examples of rapid industrial production, World War II also provides pertinent examples of how people learned to live without certain things.

Perhaps most relevant to the issue of climate change and rationing, commodities such as nylon, oil, and meat were rationed during World War II. And since by some measures meat production is responsible for even more greenhouse gas than fossil fuels, rationing (or, better yet, banning the commercial production of meat altogether) would reduce greenhouse gases far more rapidly than McKibben’s building plan. Beyond the ethical imperative to not torture animals, curtailing meat production would not only eliminate the production of greenhouse gases; it would allow the rain forests and other ecosystems destroyed in the creation of pasture and feed for livestock to regenerate, simultaneously halting CO2 and methane proliferation and absorbing it. And it’s a hardly incidental benefit that the tons of water used to raise and process meat could be used to ameliorate climate change-exacerbated drought the world over.

Furthermore, though it’s less well-known than either CO2 or the notoriously potent greenhouse gas methane, water vapor is also a tremendously important greenhouse gas, one with a powerful feedback loop that amplifies global warming. That is, as the climate heats up and ice melts, and soil dries out, and water evaporates (spreading deserts and extending droughts), more and more vapor enters the atmosphere, heating the planet further still – melting more ice, producing more vapor, ad infinitum. The one trillion tons of ice that disappeared from the Greenland ice sheet between 2011 and 2014, for example, didn’t simply vanish; they transmogrified into hundreds of trillions of gallons of liquid water and water vapor that, by further heating the planet, has added to the power – as well as to the mass – of hurricanes, typhoons, storms, floods, and other extreme weather events. And this is only accelerating. But while this vapor heats the planet and, when concentrated, creates catastrophic floods, this vapor can also be absorbed by, and stored in, marine and terrestrial plants.

In addition to the fact that plants convert CO2 into oxygen, because plants absorb and store water, conserving and restoring plant life is arguably just as crucial as building excessive energy capacity. And because forests and other ecosystems regenerate independently, when they’re simply left alone, this requires far less work than building all those solar panels and wind turbines (in factories that, by the way, would likely result in clearing land of a considerable deal of plant coverage). Restoring ecosystems and conserving vegetation doesn’t need to be limited to non-urban areas, though. In addition to decontaminating them (when necessary) and leaving forests alone to regenerate, plants just as easily flourish in cities. Beyond building ‘green roofs’ and street level gardens (akin to the World War II-era “victory gardens” that supplied 40% of people’s vegetables, as McKibben reminds us), much of the space devoted to cars (streets, freeways, gas stations, parking lots, etc.) could be dedicated to the growth of trees and vegetation. By absorbing both CO2 and water vapor, trees and urban gardens, not to mention spontaneously growing plants, would cool cities, improve air quality, and make cities more livable, all while mitigating global warming and providing food. Because they require space that could be used to grow plants, a serious commitment to mitigating climate change should also ration, or ban altogether, the toxic private car – at least from urban areas. If during World War II the use of public transportation increased by close to 90%, as McKibben notes, there’s no reason why this can’t be replicated today, improving the wellbeing of the climate, as well as that of human and non-human animals.

Rather than the “industrial mobilization” McKibben advocates, then, in many respects demobilization could be at least as effective at mitigating climate change, and could be implemented far more rapidly. When methane-producing, ecosystem-killing dams are dismantled, for instance, entire ecosystems can quickly and spontaneously recover. And, as it’s part of World War II history, McKibben may appreciate the fact that, in the decades leading up to the war commercial fishing in the North Sea led to the virtual extinction of fish. But, because of a commercial fishing moratorium (imposed by the threat of German submarines, and other martial maritime dangers), by the end of the war the ecosystem had regenerated itself. Following this precedent, moratoria should be imposed immediately on the commercial fishing industries presently devastating the oceans (wiping out entire species of coral, fish, and mammals, not to mention gigatons of carbon-storing, oxygen-producing phytoplankton).

Of course, rationing and imposing moratoria on ecocidal practices such as commercial fishing, logging, and the production of toxic materials, such as plastics, would slow economic production substantially; but if our priority is effectively mitigating climate change’s harms, as opposed to making money, slowing economic production is crucial. Moreover, rather than exacerbating existing poverty, the phasing out of ecocidal industries, such as the fast food industry, could lead to the elimination of poverty; we simply need to produce necessities, such as food, housing, healthcare, and transportation, for their own sake, rather than in exchange for money. Among other benefits, this would eliminate the conflicts of interest that result in such absurdities as food producers refusing to grow, and willfully destroying, tremendous amounts of food each year in order to keep up prices, and market forces driving vulnerable populations from necessary housing in order to develop luxury housing for people who already have more than enough.

Unfortunately, McKibben’s “war on climate change” only indirectly addresses these structural inequities. Although it might alleviate unemployment, “help ease income inequality,” and clean up the environment to some degree, simply replacing the toxic fossil fuel industry with a clean, green energy sector would do little to correct deeper, systemic problems – such as poverty, slums, our hypertrophic prison system, militarism, and other injustices emanating from our exploitative political economy (one that could be maintained by green cops, and by green armies, just as easily as by their fossil fuel counterparts).

All of this leads to a serious consideration. Instead of regarding the inability to act on climate change as a result of inertia or incompetence, perhaps we should begin to regard it as willful. After all, who now sincerely doubts that pollution and greenhouse gases create the conditions that produce the ecological calamities that largely harm the poor? And how can we overlook the related fact that the owners of the world have a substantial incentive in ridding the planet of the billions of people whose existence alone threatens their property and privileges? Indeed, allowing climate change to kill the poor would not only be more convenient than policing, fighting, locking out and locking up billions; by claiming that it’s inevitable, the owners of the world can watch the ecological holocaust unfold with a relatively good conscience. When one considers this, along with the fact that the affluent classes dictate social policy as well as the regulation of the pollutants responsible for the climate calamities bombarding the (mostly) poor, we may begin to see that the failure to halt the proliferation of notoriously toxic gases is comparable to a type of passive chemical warfare. Isn’t that what it amounts to? And, relevantly, there is a World War II precedent for just this type of inaction as well. While the Red Army was losing millions in their march toward Berlin, the US intentionally delayed invading Europe in order to allow the Nazis to further weaken the USSR, which the US, Britain, and others regarded as a threat to their property (and the rule of money) ever since the October Revolution.

Although there is no evidence to suggest that climate inaction amounts to a willful omission designed to cull the world’s poor, it is nevertheless difficult to deny that action is being both stymied and ignored. Obama, for instance, who promised in 2008 to vigorously tackle climate change, has done much of nothing. And though some may argue that, whatever his shortcomings, McKibben should at least be commended for arguing for action, this argument is undermined by McKibben’s approach which, at best, amounts to a plea for reform (and, at worst, comes off as a pitch for a business opportunity).
Rather than McKibben’s “war on climate change,” adequately mitigating the harms associated with climate change (which are inseparable from poverty and exploitation) requires an entirely new, emancipatory political economy, one that produces necessities for human flourishing for their own sake, rather than for exchange. Instead of producing new machines, what’s more crucial is that we turn the existing ones – such as the war machine – off. And though McKibben is correct in pointing out that climate change involves war, he grievously misidentifies the enemy. Climate change is not the enemy; it’s merely one of the many harmful effects of our biophagous political economic system. This is what needs to be eliminated. But such a transformation requires something greater than war. It requires peace.

2423. The Enemy Is Not the Climate; It Is Capitalism

By Michael Gasser, Santa Cruz Ecological Justice, August 22, 2016

In a new article in the New Republic350.org founder Bill McKibben, probably the world’s most influential climate activist, argues that World War III has begun and that the enemy is climate change.
He goes on to say that we are losing the war, that we should learn from the experience of World War II, that by retooling industry as we did then we can win the war. In making this case, he is largely adopting the position that has been promoted since 2014 by The Climate Mobilization (TCM). A few days after McKibben’s article appeared, TCM’s co-founder Ezra Silk published an extensive “Victory Plan”, which outlines the steps needed to “restore a safe and stable climate”, “reverse ecological overshoot”, and “halt the 6th mass extinction”.
Before going on to say what I think is wrong with McKibben’s and TCM’s position, I want to make it clear that there is much that is certainly right about it. Above all, they recognize the seriousness of the crisis, the fact that many people who are aware of climate change under-estimate the seriousness, and the need for drastic action to solve the crisis.
The problem is that what they are arguing for is not nearly drastic enough. This is because their “war” is against nature, and as such it ultimately relies on technological fixes, rather than challenges to the political and economic system. McKibben rests much of his case on the well-known work of Stanford University engineer Mark Z. Jacobson and his colleagues, who have argued that renewable technologies could replace those based on fossil fuels in the United States within decades. While Jacobson has his critics, his work is undeniably important. What his work shows — and he himself agrees — is that the main obstacles to solving the crisis are not technological but rather political and economic. The question is who controls the technology.
If this is so, then we must look for the enemy elsewhere. In what must be the best-known of all books written on the climate crisis and its causes, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, author Naomi Klein spells it out pretty clearly. The enemy (of the climate and hence of us) is capitalism. Although Klein does not go into much detail about what she actually means by “capitalism”, a number of ecosocialist writers have filled this gap. For an excellent overview, suitable for those who know little about the science of climate change and/or little about capitalism, see David Klein and Stephanie McMillan’s  Capitalism and Climate Change: the Science and Politics of Global Warming. A common theme in this work and others, especially Richard Smith’s Green Capitalism: the God that Failed and Daniel Tanuro’s Green Capitalism: Why It Can’t Work, is that capitalism, by its very nature, is completely incompatible with a just and sustainable future. If capitalism has a “solution” for the climate crisis, one can only imagine a dystopian world where elites survive in isolated islands of livability, protected from the masses of climate refugees on the outside.

McKibben and TCM look to the mobilization that took place in the US during World War II as a model for how the US should now respond to climate change. Much as the US declared war on fascism then, they say it should declare war on climate change today. Silk believes that “America is capable of leading the world in this mobilization”.
As McKibben discusses (though in somewhat different terms), there was a division in the US ruling class in the years before the US entered the war, with some preferring to stay out of the European and East Asian conflicts, and others, including President Roosevelt, eager to be involved. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor gave Roosevelt the excuse he needed to pursue war on both fronts. McKibben also discusses the remarkable process by which US industry was retooled to support the war effort. The ultimate result, of course, was the victory of the US and its allies.
But let’s not forget another outcome of the war effort: the ascendancy of the US to its unchallenged position as the dominant power in the world. Far from weakening the reigning political and economic system, Roosevelt strengthened it immeasurably. This was certainly no accident. Another outcome of the war was the greatly increased power of the US military, both within the US and the world.
If it is the political and economic system that is the problem, then we should not be seeking inspiration in a top-down campaign that served to strengthen that system, leaving it in a position to further devastate the environment and giving us the crisis we face today. Nor should we expect the leaders of the movement that is called for now to be wealthy politicians like FDR and his corporate allies. One only has to look at the outcomes of the annual UN Conference of the Parties meetings to see how hopelessly ineffectual the world’s economic and political leaders have been in addressing the climate crisis.
As Naomi Klein and others have shown, the ecological crisis coincides with other forms of oppression that are integral to capitalism, and those that are the most oppressed by this system are also those most likely to suffer the effects of climate change and other forms of environmental degradation. If World War III has already begun, then it is a war being fought mainly by these people, those in the Unist’ot’en camp in British Columbia defending their land against pipelines and natural gas; those in northern Greece struggling to keep gold mines out of their territory; those in Andhra Pradesh, India, battling the companies trying to create coal-fired power plants on their land; those in South Chicago who have fought to keep pet coke storage facilities out of their neighborhood.  It is these people and their allies elsewhere that should inspire us in the “war” that lies ahead, not politicians and “enlightened” capitalists.
History offers us many examples of people rising up against unjust systems — institutionalized racism, patriarchy, colonialism, capitalism itself — sometimes in armed struggle, sometimes non-violently. History also teaches us that change does not necessarily happen in a linear fashion; crises can create the conditions for very rapid change. In other words, there is actually hope for the sort of revolution that is needed, a revolution that at a minimum will result in democratic control of the economy and a massive redistribution of income on a world-wide scale.

Silk is to be commended for his detailed and extremely useful discussion of the steps that would need to be taken under a full-scale climate mobilization. More than perhaps any other document, his Victory Plan shows the extent of what must be done. But Silk does not tell us how all of this could actually be accomplished within the existing political system. This is beyond the scope of his project: “speculation about the limits of ‘political acceptability’ in the neoliberal era should be left to historians, sociologists, and politicians”.
The choice in the end is simple. Can we win this fight
  1. within the system — by changing the Democratic Party, by hoping to elect “leaders” who will guide us through another mobilization, by expecting “America” to save the world again, by relying on corporate-controlled technology
  2. or only by changing the system — by participating in existing struggles for social justice, by building class consciousness as well as climate consciousness, by enlisting technology in the service of justice, by creating a world-wide network of grassroots movements, by ultimately taking on capitalism itself, the system that is behind it all?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

2422. Markets in the Next System

By Jesse M. Myerson, The Next System Project, January 21, 2016

In her seminal work “The Origin of Capitalism,” the late scholar Ellen Meiksins Wood took on the credo that “capitalism emerged when the market was liberated from age-old constraints and when, for one reason or another, opportunities for trade expanded.” Schoolchildren in the US are commonly taught to conceive of the broad variety of political-economic systems, both those extant and those possible, as divisible into two essential and opposing categories: “markets” and “planning.” “Markets,” in this formulation, offer opportunities for commerce which make people free, while “planning” oppresses people through inefficient resource rationing. It is taken for granted that “markets” and “capitalism” are synonymous; likewise “planning” and “socialism.” The problems with this formulation are legion, but particularly egregious is its utter ahistoricity: inconveniently for the schoolteachers formulation, markets predate capitalism by thousands of years.
Almost from the very beginning of human history, there were markets. As early as the Ice Age, long before the rise of cities with permanently settled populations, there were specialized meeting areas for ritual and trade between groups. When hunting and gathering bands began to settle on land to cultivate crops and domesticate animals, they created the conditions to produce something unprecedented: an economic surplus. By the Bronze Age, people had amassed sufficient “surplus food, oil, and wool,” as economic historian Michael Hudson writes, “to support a permanent superstructure of handicraft, mercantile and administrative occupations.” Temples became the first public institutions, functioning variously as storage facilities for the surplus resources of their communities, gathering places, trading depots, refuges from local feud justice, establishers of contract law, enforcers of trade obligations, and sponsors of standardized weights and measures. 
Temples also employed the labor of dependents: war widows, orphans, the blind and infirm, and others who could not function in normal family contexts. Housing the workshops where these dependents wove, Mesopotamian temples consigned textiles to merchants under instructions to trade them abroad for raw materials not found between the Tigris and Euphrates: metal, stone, and hardwood. To facilitate this export enterprise and regulate the markets it sponsored, Sumer developed most of the major instruments of modern commerce during roughly the third millennium BCE — money, credit, interest, contracts, and legacies — and established profit-seeking mercantile operations as far away as Anatolia and the Indus Valley. Thus, roughly 4,000 years before the emergence of capitalism, we were economizing our resources by haggling in markets which connected people thousands of miles apart.
Deposit banking, insurance policies, corporations, municipal bond markets, and, what was crucial for all of these, double entry bookkeeping, were developed later on, but still well before capitalism, in medieval Venice between about the eleventh and fifteenth centuries CE. From there, merchants would acquire and peddle wares on an intercontinental scale: after Marco Polo extended the silk route to Venice, the lagoon nestled in the pit of the Adriatic Sea became the world’s chief hub of trade in commodities, bullion, and various financial instruments, with a market network connecting West Africa to Siberia, the South Pacific to England. As Wood points out, the feudal system was compatible not just with “advanced urban cultures, highly developed trading systems, and far-flung commercial networks” but indeed “profit-seeking middlemen, even highly developed merchant classes.” None of these, it follows, should be confused for, nor even considered evidence of, capitalism. Capitalism isn’t distinguished by its capacity to provide market opportunities, but by the imperatives the market places on its unique system of production.

Capitalist markets

It wasn’t until hundreds of years after Marco Polo’s travels that the dramatic transformation of the system of production began—and in a curious place. Wood demonstrates that the capitalist “laws of motion” did not emerge in urban commercial centers, as is normally supposed, but in the countryside. Specifically, the English countryside. English landholding was inordinately concentrated, so “an unusually large proportion of land was worked not by peasant-proprietors but by tenants,” as Wood explains. For most of the feudal age, English tenancies were “Freehold leases,” with rents fixed by a legal or customary standard, but by the sixteenth century, a growing number were “Copyhold leases,” auctioned by landlords to the highest bidder, their rental value set at whatever the market would bear. The more competition there was in the market for rental land, the more notice landlords and their surveyors began to take of the “value above the oulde Rentes” that could be extracted through this market. And so England underwent great waves of land enclosure, separating the masses from direct access to the means of their own subsistence.
 woodcut_woman_spinning
The transition from peasant to worker in the English countryside
At this point, in addition to competing in a market for consumers, tenants were obliged to compete in a market for access to land. In the system emerging out of the particularly English invention of a land-rent market, farmers were subjected to a “systematic need to lower the costs of production in order to prevail in price competition.” Those who failed to compete in this market found themselves dispossessed of all but their own capacity to perform labor, which they flocked to cities to sell, or else to starve.
This, and not the availability of markets, is the essence of capitalism, the engine motoring in its depths. From this imposition, and thus this dispossession, capitalism sprang to life. Now the masses were at the mercy of a job market to obtain the means to reproduce themselves socially. Now the process of production was systematically subordinated to market imperatives: “competition, accumulation, and profit-maximization, and hence a constant systemic need to develop the productive forces.”
These imperatives, in turn, give capitalism its ability (and charge it with the necessity) to relentlessly expand in unprecedented ways and degrees. “It can and must,” as Wood insists, “constantly accumulate, constantly search out new markets, constantly impose its imperatives on new territories and new spheres of life, on all human beings and the natural environment.”

Markets after capitalism

The key to imagining what post-capitalist markets might look like, according to David Schweickart, is to  discard the unitary idea of “markets.” Too general a term to be useful, markets, Schweickart suggests, should be divided into three types: markets for goods and services, capital markets, and labor markets. The first sort was compatible with feudalism, and it can be compatible with socialism: with solid regulation, price discovery through market clearance is a useful tool in signaling demand and avoiding the shortages in goods and services that may result from clumsy, or capricious, central planning.
But the other markets are not nearly so capable in the resource-allotment division. Capital markets are prone to careening wildly between booms, when they allot far too many financial resources, and busts, when they allot far too few. Labor markets are volatile because of this careening, but even in the boom times, commonly maintain a reserve army of unemployed workers amid back-breaking overwork. It is these capital and labor markets, therefore, that Schweickart contends must be socialized to give rise to the next system. To these, I’d add two that might broadly be thought of as capital markets, but which beg different, if similar, solutions: the market for intellectual property and the market which birthed capitalism, land.
There are basically two strategies for de-marketing labor, and they work best together. The first is the aggressive encouragement of worker co-ops, including buying out (not bailing out) failing firms and leasing them to workers, giving workers the right to buy out their shops as an alternative to closure, and providing public financial and technological support for start-up co-ops. The more workers can become owners, the less they’ll have to work for wages, thus shrinking the labor market. The second strategy is to provide the option to exit the job market by filling out the welfare state: public health care, education, and “last resort” guaranteed employment, capped off with a basic income to subsidize culture- and community-production. The ability to survive without submitting to the dictates of the job market would incapacitate the capitalist imperative to compete with everybody else.
Co-ops also help to de-market capital, relocating ownership from stock market gamblers who are physically and sentimentally remote from the firm’s operations to workers who inherently give a damn about the fate of the firm and the labor they deploy for it. In addition to this, it is crucial to expand our public wealth funds in number and scope. The Alaska Permanent Fund, CalPERS, and even the Social Security trust funds are pools of capital whose income streams (dividends and interest) flow to the public. A national sovereign wealth fund and/or many regional ones would shrink capital markets. (It might make sense to emulate Alaska, using the fund to outlay the aforementioned basic income.) For best results, this should be held together by a public banking system, most easily run through the postal service, featuring a publicly-controlled mobile payments system.
De-marketing intellectual property is especially exhilarating, because we can skip the socialist step of moving ideas from private to public ownership, and go straight to the communist state of non-ownership. Ideas such as pharmacological discoveries, software developments, and works of media are immaterial, their digital representations as sound, video, image, text, etc. files infinitely reproducible at negligible cost. In order, therefore, to effect their decommodification, the government only needs to take a laissez faire approach to enforcing their patents, copyrights, etc. Beyond possibly brief, non-transferable licenses for authors and inventors (as the founders intended), there is no need for the government to impose artificial scarcity, without which, an infinitely abundant product will approach its “correct consumer price”: zero dollars.
Lastly, there are also already existent vehicles for democratic land management and development that can allow us to undo the initial act of capitalism and de-market land. Foremost, in recognition of the fact that the price of a location is determined by the desirability of the surrounding community, the government can impose a fee on land-owners equivalent to the ground rent they derive. Especially elegant would be to have these fees provide the initial investment into the public fund paying out the basic income, thus compensating everyone for their exclusion from the locations in question. Additionally, the government should devote public financing and its power of eminent domain to energetically foster Community Land Trusts. Perhaps most importantly, the government should massively grow the public housing stock so that it does not merely provide poor people undignified living conditions, but rather houses major swaths of large cities in modest, comfortable units. This last is probably the most difficult, seeing as how the federal government is prevented by law at the moment from financing public housing.
A socialism like this, with capital, labor, ideas and land brought out of the market and into the democratic sphere, could accommodate markets in goods and services without imposing on all of society the imperatives unique to capitalism. Mass liberation from capitalist market imperatives would effect reparations for the dispossession that incited the capitalist laws of motion. The system would no longer have the necessity, or perhaps even the means, to impose its relentless imperatives on you and me and the whole wide world. Then what will our schoolchildren think?

2421. How Will We Reach an Ecological Civilization and Who Will Build It?

By Chris Williams, Truthout, October 31, 2016
Chris Williams
We are now officially living amid the sixth great extinction, according to scientists, but the global economy has still not shifted to prevent climate change's existential threat to human civilization and much of the biosphere.
Will transnational corporations and the political leaders that cater to them realize that it is in their own interest of self-preservation to address the problem of global climate change by halting the unrelenting use of fossil fuels? What would it take for the capitalist economy to prioritize ecological concerns? Perhaps, when 10 of the largest oil and gas companies sign a letter calling on world leaders to sign an effective deal at the international climate negotiations in Paris in December, progress is being made. In a statement that will likely surprise many, the CEOs of these 10 giant fossil fuel corporations state that, "we will continue in our efforts to help lower the current global emissions trajectory," as they apparently commit themselves to ensuring a "2°C future."
Yet Exxon, the biggest oil company, has been busily undermining its own climate research for the last two decades, and sowing doubt in the reality of climate change at every opportunity. Similarly, fossil fuel corporations consistently underplay the growth of renewables and talk up demand. One of the signers of the statement, Shell, predicted in their most recent annual report to shareholders that by 2040 demand for oil and gas would be greater than today by 14 to 55 percent, thus justifying expansion of drilling in the Arctic. Can the very corporations that are rushing to every corner of the world to find and extract more fossil fuels be the answer to reducing fossil fuel production? In the words of Josu Jon Imaz, CEO of Repsol, "We could be part of the problem, but we are convinced we are part of the solution."
Concerns about climate change, loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification and pollution are not sufficient to catalyze changes in the global economic order. Changes to capitalism are the most likely to come about internally through shifts in profitability that force shifts in economic practices; through class warfare, which makes some forms of production or social relations unacceptable; through profitable technological innovation; or through the political influence of corporations that identify and act on the geopolitical and economic interests of the capitalist class as a whole.
Dynamics of Capitalism
Pressure is clearly building for change, with the growth of a more robust and radicalizing environmental movement in the global North, and most especially in the global South. The fact that some oil and gas companies are responding with a public relations offensive is a testament to that pressure. But the movement has, thus far, not been able to generate the kind of change required on anything like the scale needed. To do so would mean either the outright rejection of capitalism, or, at the very least, the fall of neoliberalism, and the reemergence of the state in domestic political and social life, outside the spheres of the security, surveillance and criminal legal sectors.
Capitalism as a system only cares about increasing labor productivity. Why? What drives the system forward is the inbuilt compulsion to maximize profitable accumulation through the ever-expanding competitive production and sale of commodities. That profitable accumulation for the sake of accumulation is the driving force is evidenced by the way in which capital is seeking new frontiers to do so, irrespective of two decades of international climate negotiations, and increasingly dire scientific reports on the crumbling state of the biosphere.
Those new frontiers may be physical, representing previously untouched areas relatively free of commodification, such as around Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, for wind power or oil production. They may be new frontiers of technology, which take them to new physical locations - such as deep-sea drilling off the East Coast of the United States or in the Arctic, tar sands extraction in Alberta or fracking for oil and gas in North Dakota. Or they may be genetic engineering and the privatization and commodification of profitable pieces of the genomes of plants, animals and bacteria. It could take the form of new frontiers in manufacturing artificial wants and turning those, through advertising, into needs. Or it could be through the forcible expansion into new markets, via imperialism, international trade deals or international financial institutions. As a last resort, outright warfare, to secure resources and solidify geopolitical power, remains an option for the most powerful states.
If that premise is true, the only point at which the system will respond to ecological threats is when there's a short-range and recognizable negative impact on global accumulation as a whole. Which is to say, recognizable exhaustion and decay of how fast, long and hard people and nature can work, known as labor productivity, and/or natural resource productivity, either of which will impact profit and hence accumulation.
Major weather disruptions and events like massive hurricanes, storms, floods and droughts in individual countries aren't enough to globally affect the accumulation dynamic of capitalism. That's partly because the system can insulate itself from such problems, via reinsurance schemes, hiking up insurance rates or, in the case of developing countries, emergency aid (at the appropriate rate of interest). Partly it does so because all forms of spending are, from the perspective of GDP and growth of the economy, an economic good to the system. More spending of any kind, even if it's rebuilding the houses demolished by a giant superstorm, draining flooded subway tunnels or evacuating and hospitalizing people, is a positive contribution to GDP, as are government funds to help individual cities rebuild. The United States has already seen two of its most iconic cities buried beneath climate-change-powered superstorms. Yet its government, of either political stripe, remains one of the most intransigent when it comes to doing anything meaningful in the realm of international climate negotiations.
The Role of Finance and the Erosion of Democracy
The growth of the financial sector over the last 30 years, and its growing importance to GDP, often denoted as "financialization" of the economy, has facilitated not only growing inequality, but also the ability for capital to swiftly move from region to region in response to investment crises. Long-term investors, such as pension funds, are continually on the hunt for profitable places to invest and store cash. Whenever profit rates dip, because of ecological or social degradation that threatens profitability, when infrastructure is too damaged to facilitate the transport of commodities, or they can no longer be manufactured because the electricity is out, capital relocates via international financial markets in fractions of a second.
As long as the system as a whole is able to manufacture and sell commodities, whether useful or not, at increasing rates, and continue to expand, via natural resource consumption and increases to labor productivity, it will continue on its current trajectory. Absent a mass social movement for change, there will be no coherent or concerted response from ruling elites whose job it is to govern capitalism. This situation is compounded by the advent of neoliberalism, the ideology of which sets limits to the rights of states to intervene in the interests of the capitalist class as a whole.
Over the last three decades, formally democratic states have become much more authoritarian and stepped further and more forcefully into the realm of security and "homeland defense," simultaneously, moving away from ideas of social provision and market regulation. Indeed, the two movements actually co-determine and co-depend on one another. Less social spending, a smaller safety net with larger holes and greater inequality necessitate more activity, violence and incarceration by the policing, security and criminal legal wing of the state. In the West, as elsewhere, this process has gone hand in hand with the hollowing out of formal democracy, which is required because in an election with genuine choice, people would vote out the leaders inflicting oppressive policies on them - an outcome that the corporations and ruling elite could ill afford.
Hence, pollution and waste are not really a concern for capital until and unless they become a significant drain on overall profitability  - which could come from social protest, undermining their "social license to operate," as much as it comes from ecological limits. Indeed, I would argue that it's much more likely to come from social protest than from the eventual exhaustion of natural resources. Productivity demands and speed-ups become too great to bear, degrading people's work lives (in the workplace or the home), particularly in such an unequal world, and drive people to organize and protest. Or, the degradation of life caused by the polluting activities of capital on health and reproduction becomes too blatant. We are seeing both these trends around the world, in country after country. This is where the hope lies.
It is highly unlikely that resource constraints on their own will terminate capitalism, or cause a significant change of course within the time frame given to us by the laws of thermodynamics. Capital will simply move to a new frontier and method of commodification and accumulation.
When profitable accumulation on a world scale is finally and unambiguously threatened by climate change, there will be a more general reaction by the system. Needless to say, that will be far too late. But secondly, it will also be, partly because of that fact, militarized and particularly vicious. As Lenin remarked, there is no crisis that capitalism can't solve by making the workers pay for it. So, if you think capitalism ignoring or denying climate change is bad, wait until you see what happens when capitalists take it seriously.
Were it not for the sunk investment costs of fossil fuels, and the political power represented by fossil capitalism, in an age of neoliberal ideology restricting the potential for states to rectify the excesses of individual units of capital, capitalism would likely be moving more swiftly toward energy production via renewables, at least in the realm of electricity. While it's a little more complicated to commodify sunlight and wind, as long as the land is privatized, and the factories that produce the wind turbines and solar cells are in private hands, or owned by a state similarly committed to market competition, it can be done. There is really no obstacle, other than the historical, political and economic weight of fossil fuel corporations and sunk investment in infrastructure, which affects the banking and finance sector, to the expansion of commodification to convective currents of the atmosphere we breathe, and the sunshine from which all living things ultimately live.
But currently, the largest corporations are extremely profitable, with ExxonMobil, a gigantic unit of capital at the heart of the economic and political empire of oil, registering extraordinary profit rates of 19 percent in 2014. So why would capitalism change?
Growth Under Capitalism
The oil and gas industry has hired numerous analysts, and manipulated the political system, in tandem with corporate media, to massage public opinion to reconcile itself with relentless fossil fuel production and the need for continued exponential growth. Now they argue for the need for growth in order to overcome poverty - poverty produced and required by capitalism itself. In this age of new environmental activism, austerity and yawning inequality, the industry recognizes that even if it can't be unequivocally loved in quite the same way as it was in the 1950s, it will nevertheless be valued through fear: fear of what life will be like without its products. Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, said as much when noting that if Exxon stopped looking to increase supply for oil, "everybody's lights would be going off before not too long."
What is required is to either eradicate the profit motive entirely through a revolutionary redistribution of social power, or at the very least, dismantle the oil companies through government regulation. This would prevent them from operating by capitalist imperatives, and move the vast quantities of subsidies from fossil fuel production to other forms of more benign and sustainable energy production. That is to say, you'd have to take sharply anti-capitalist, even revolutionary measures, to prevent them from drilling for more oil. As we have seen with the Obama administration, and other government's around the world, they seek to argue and produce both sets of policy at once - some regulations and support for renewable alternatives, bikes lanes etc., but only where it does not interfere with the logic of the market, by which I mean the ability to make profit. Which is to say, only where it supplements profitability, by opening up new avenues for accumulation.
This was made explicit in a recent scientific conference in Paris, whereby scientists and government advisers called for "an induced implosion of the carbon economy over the next 20-30 years," while highlighting the continuing depths of poverty. "The promise of the fossil fuel age has never been fulfilled," one speaker said. "We still have 2bn people living on $2 (£1.30) a day." However, former chief economist at the World Bank, Nobel Prize winner and Columbia University professor Joseph Stiglitz, while agreeing on the need to end the fossil fuel industry and supporting the movement to divest from it, nevertheless noted that "Creating a green economy is not only consistent with economic growth, it can promote economic growth."
Regardless of the rhetoric, all measures carried out so far, by all governments, have nothing whatsoever to do with restricting consumption of fossil fuels, but merely expand consumption into new areas. If a ban or limit to extraction or production of, say, coal occurs in one country, something which can also happen due to falling productivity and competition from other energy sectors, that coal will be mined and sold elsewhere, just as coal mined in the United States is being shipped and burned in Chinese power stations in ever greater quantities. In 2014, a motion introduced to the Norwegian Parliament calling for a halt to new drilling because it was deemed antithetical to Norway's climate change policies, was defeated by 95 votes to 3. In Britain, the 2015 Infrastructure Act states that, "The principal objective and the strategy [is of] maximising the economic recovery of UK petroleum."
There is nothing specifically anti-capitalist about current regulations concerning energy, or any other realm of capital accumulation, but that is exactly what is required for humanity to collectively maintain a stable biosphere. Indeed, quite the opposite is happening. Due to the massive expansion of fracking in the United States, the oil industry is currently waging a fight to further expand oil production, by lobbying for the end of the restriction on oil exports. In turn, the expansion of fracking has been the major driver of recent significant reductions in the global price of oil and natural gas. Price falls are having dramatic geopolitical implications, a fact not lost on all of the affected states.
It's not simply the problem of growth per se. It's the way in which growth stimulates more growth, which is an attribute specific to capitalism: because the point of capitalism is precisely that - accumulate in order to accumulate. More solar and wind power does not mean declines in fossil fuels. In President Obama's words, it means "all of the above." The switch to oil in the last century did not depress the demand for coal; quite the opposite, it stimulated it by allowing us to build bigger machines and more technology applied to extract it from more difficult mines. Invention of the steam engine prior to oil was specifically to extract more coal, to build more factories, to expand the production of cotton to fuel the British Empire, founded on chattel slavery in the US South. Many people would describe this as a technology feedback loop, but it's not about things, but social relations. It's a feedback loop consistent with the social relations that operate under capitalism.
The Social and the Ecological
To take an anti-capitalist measure, via a mass movement calling for socio-ecological change, would be to rein in production, via government regulations limiting production of fossil fuels, while simultaneously shifting all the current finance going to oil subsidies, tax write-offs etc., calculated by the International Monetary Fund at almost $2 trillion, into rearranging the infrastructure of modern states. New cities, transportation networks, energy production and distribution systems would have to be built, and the lifeblood of capitalism drained away and consigned to history.
Today, there is no major question that is not simultaneously an ecological and social one intertwined and co-determining one another. Take finding a cure for cancer, for example. Is cancer best seen as a social or natural phenomenon? Where should one draw the line? Is there a line? Where does the social end and the natural begin?
What would be the best way in which to solve the issue of cancer: to continue pouring billions in to privatized research entities examining narrower and narrower purely scientific biochemical pathways and genes within animal cells? Or for workers, farmers and students to take over the factories and research centers and run them collectively and democratically in an ecologically sustainable and equitable manner, where the purpose is to produce for need, not profit? Which method is more likely to yield faster and more effective reductions in cancer?
Isn't saving your home from foreclosure, as many hundreds of thousands of people in the United States have had to try to do since 2008, as much an environmental question as a social one? Your home is part of your environment. Is arguing for better controls on emissions from a factory because of its effects on worker and local people's health, a social or an environmental struggle?
As Marx noted, capitalism creates its own gravediggers, in the form of the people it exploits, but simultaneously requires. Over the long term, it undermines itself first regionally, now globally, as it turns all of nature into a commodity, as endlessly interchangeable as a cog in a machine or a worker on an assembly line: tree plantations in place of forests; concentrated animal feeding operations in place of farms; globalized fashion in place of local culture; soulless skyscrapers and regimented concrete blocks in place of an integrated and meaningful diversity of urban environments. Though, naturally, for ease of accumulation, capital makes sure to set aside specific areas to promote certain types of cultural or ecological difference, in order to stimulate and enhance the commodification of tourism within well-defined geographical areas.
Reimagining the Future
We should ask ourselves the question: What is the purpose of a city? Is it to facilitate and maximize capital accumulation? Or to facilitate and maximize human fulfillment, creativity and happiness? Because how we answer that question is determined by who holds social power, in what type of society, and hence what human social values are seen as imperative to the well-being of that society.
Depending on the outcome of that decision, two completely different types of cities would be built: in spatial arrangement, in connection to rural and agricultural areas and within city limits, in forms of transportation, work, leisure time, sanitation, amounts of green space, the manufacture of buildings, types of buildings, energy production and production of other necessary items.
If we agree that we have entered a new epoch of geological time dominated by the activities of humans, through the actions and social relations engendered by capitalism, then what happens if we manage to overthrow capitalist social relations? It will not only be a question of constructing a new society, but deconstructing the old one. It is not enough to take over and reassemble the state, as in Marx and Lenin's time; we will need to reassemble the whole world - every single aspect of humanity's relationship with each other and the natural world. Just like the state, an infrastructure designed to dominate nature cannot simply be appropriated and used to good ends.
Ultimately, it is vital that fighters for social emancipation, human freedom and ecological sanity recognize that capitalism represents the annihilation of nature and a functioning and diverse biosphere and, thus, human civilization. A system based on cooperation, genuine bottom-up democracy, long-term planning and production for need, not profit, i.e. ecosocialism, represents the reconciliation of humanity with nature. And its achievement will, as Marx pointed out in Capital, Volume 1, of necessity be much less violent than the process by which capitalism was born in the first place:
The transformation of scattered private property, arising from individual labor, into capitalist private property is, naturally, a process, incomparably more protracted, violent, and difficult, than the transformation of capitalistic private property, already practically resting on socialized production, into socialized [common] property. In the former case, we had the expropriation of the mass of the people by a few usurpers; in the latter, we have the expropriation of a few usurpers by the mass of the people.
Which is to say, as difficult and overwhelming as it can sometimes seem to know that the whole system needs to change, we can be comforted by the knowledge that people have collectively taken their destiny into their own hands many times before. Numerous commentators argue about the need to think of the future, our children and what kind of planet they will inherit. This is a moral argument for change and an obviously important consideration. However, it's also too limiting, because we are also fighting for all those in the centuries and millennia who came before us, who laid the groundwork for our struggles, by winning theirs. We are not only in solidarity with our future selves, but all of the freedom fighters from our past. Hence, we stand in the best tradition of humanity. We should take strength from knowing that, as we attempt to tear down this system and build a genuinely ecological and socially just civilization.
Chris Williams is a Truthout Writer-in-Residence. He is also an environmental activist and author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis. He is chairman of the science department at Packer Collegiate Institute and adjunct professor at Pace University in the department of chemistry and physical science. His writings have appeared in Z Magazine, Green Left Weekly, Alternet, CommonDreams, ClimateandCapitalism.com, Counterpunch, The Indypendent, Dissident Voice, International Socialist Review, Truthout, Socialist Worker and ZNet. He reported from Fukushima and was a Lannan writer-in-residence in Marfa, Texas. He recently was awarded a Lannan Cultural Freedom Fellowship.