Saturday, January 19, 2019

3161. Conservation Biology: Just Preservation

By A. Trevesa, F.J. Santiago-Ávila, and W.S. Lynn, Biological Conservation, 2019 

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Editor's note: Below is the Abstract to "Just Preservation" which presents a much needed alternative view of conservation to the existing anthropocentric views.  Julie Callahan. 

Abstract: We are failing to protect the biosphere. Novel views of conservation, preservation, and sustainability are surfacing in the wake of consensus about our failures to prevent extinction or slow climate change. We argue that the interests and well-being of non-humans, youth, and future generations of both human and non-human beings (futurity) have too long been ignored in consensus-based, anthropocentric conservation. Consensus-based stakeholder-driven processes disadvantage those absent or without a voice and allow current adult humans and narrow, exploitative interests to dominate decisions about the use of nature over its preservation for futurity of all life. We propose that authentically non-anthropocentric worldviews that incorporate multispecies justice are needed for a legitimate, deliberative, and truly democratic process of adjudication between competing interests in balancing the preservation and use of nature. Legitimate arenas for such adjudication would be courts that can defend intergenerational equity, which is envisioned by many nations' constitutions and can consider current and future generations of non-human life. We urge practitioners and scholars to disavow implicit anthropocentric value judgments in their work – or make these transparent and explicit – and embrace a more comprehensive worldview that grants future life on earth fair representation in humanity's decisions and actions today.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

3160. Beloved Poet Mary Oliver, Who Believed Poetry 'Mustn't Be Fancy,' Dies At 83

By Lynn Nearby, NPR, January 17, 2019
Mary Oliver

Much-loved poet Mary Oliver died Thursday of lymphoma, at her home in Florida. She was 83. Oliver won many awards for her poems, which often explore the link between nature and the spiritual world; she also won a legion of loyal readers who found both solace and joy in her work.
Oliver got a lot of her ideas for poems during long walks — a habit she developed as a kid growing up in rural Ohio. It was not a happy childhood: She said she was sexually abused and suffered from parental neglect. But as she told NPR in 2012, she found refuge in two great passions that lasted her entire life.
She said, "The two things I loved from a very early age were the natural world and dead poets, [who] were my pals when I was a kid."
Oliver published her first collection, No Voyage and Other Poems, in her late 20s. She went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. But writer Ruth Franklin believes such recognition probably wasn't that important to Oliver. "I always had a sense of her as somebody who was just interested in following her own path, both spiritually and poetically," she says.
In a New Yorker article about Oliver's 2017 book, Devotions, Franklin wrote that Oliver wasn't always appreciated by critics, but she was still one of the country's most popular poets. And there's a reason for that.
"Mary Oliver isn't a difficult poet," Franklin says. "Her work is incredibly accessible, and I think that's what makes her so beloved by so many people. It doesn't feel like you have to take a seminar in order to understand Mary Oliver's poetry. She's speaking directly to you as a human being."
Oliver told NPR that simplicity was important to her. "Poetry, to be understood, must be clear," she said. "It mustn't be fancy. I have the feeling that a lot of poets writing now, they sort of tap dance through it. I always feel that whatever isn't necessary should not be in the poem."

Oliver lived for many years in Provincetown, Mass., with the love of her life, the photographer Molly Malone Cook. There, she continued her habit of taking long walks, which often inspired poems. She wrote about one such walk in her poem "The Summer Day":
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Many of Oliver's poems are a joyful celebration of nature, but she also wrote about the abuse she suffered as a child and her first brush with death from lung cancer. Ruth Franklin says her work is infused with a deep spirituality. "The way she writes these poems that feel like prayers, she channels the voice of somebody who it seems might possibly have access to God. I think her work does give a sense of someone who is in tune with the deepest mysteries of the universe."
In her poem "When Death Comes," Oliver wrote this about the inevitable: "When it's over, I want to say all my life/ I was a bride married to amazement."

3159. Poetry: The Soft Animal

By Jamie K. Reaser, January 17, 2019
Photo: Jamie K. Reaser
Beloved poet, Mary Oliver, let go today. This poem is from my yet-to-be-published collection entitled, Conversations with Mary. It's a response to a line in her poem, Wild Geese. 
Journey well, Mary. Thank you for your guiding voice and spirit.
The Soft Animal
The soft animal of my body loves the deep
cup of the nest, but also the edge of the nest,
and the nothingness that is everything on the
other side. I am not built to love one thing or
one way, or limit myself to loving one world.
What is too small must be broken through or
left behind. At times, I’ve needed to do both.
Right now, right now, I just want to sit with
the last moment, the one, the last one, before
I completely let go.
(c) 2016-2019/Jamie K. Reaser (a work in progress)
From "Conversations with Mary"
Photo: (c) Jamie K. Reaser
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3158. How Plastic Bags Came to Pollute Oceans

By Christopher Joyce, NPR, January 16, 2019

To listen click here


For years, the oceans were filling up with plastic waste, but people couldn't figure out where it was coming from. Then research in 2015 showed that over half the waste was from a handful of Asian nations. NPR's Christopher Joyce went to one of these countries, the Philippines, and found that a big culprit is a small plastic package used to sell consumer goods. It's called a sachet.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: To see how sachets worked their way into the fabric of Filipino life, I visit the neighborhood of Maysilo in the capital city of Manila. It's next to a swamp. Kids run between tin-roof shanties that hover a few feet above ankle-deep water.
NIMFA MANLABE: Hi, welcome my sari-sari store. I'm Nimfa Manlabe.
JOYCE: Nimfa Manlabe is a middle-aged woman who sells sachets from a sari-sari store, a tiny storefront in her tiny home. Think of it like a neighborhood pantry filled with shiny little packages, like the ones ketchup comes in at the fast-food restaurant.
MANLABE: Detergent powder, candies, milk, shampoo.
JOYCE: Stuff people use every day.
MANLABE: Sunsilk, Palmolive and conditioner.
JOYCE: There are more than a million sari-sari stores across the Philippines. Manlabe says this is how everyone here shops.
MANLABE: (Through interpreter) I sell sachets to people. They come back here every day and buy these small amounts because that's what they can afford.
JOYCE: But once it's empty, the sachet never goes away. You can see that by looking down underneath this elevated shantytown. You can't tell where the water ends and the land begins because it's all covered in shiny plastic. And it drives Nimfa Manlabe crazy.
MANLABE: (Through interpreter) I keep sweeping every day, but then the next day, I see the trash is back, just thrown on the ground again.
JOYCE: Self-employed waste pickers do collect and sell stuff that can be recycled. Sachets cannot, so no one picks them up. Manlabe says her neighbors resort to burning them to cook their meals or just to get rid of them.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Singing in foreign language).
JOYCE: It wasn't always this way. Sherma Benosa is with an environmental group called GAIA, and she says it used to be that people brought refillable glass or ceramic containers to the sari-sari store.
SHERMA BENOSA: I remember when I was a kid that when you go to the store and you cannot afford the one bottle vinegar, you have a container with you and give them to the saleslady, and they put whatever amount you're asking to buy. So there's no problem. Only when we had plastic things became problematic.
JOYCE: So where did all this plastic come from? Well, let's go back to the 1940s.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: This is Tupperware - the airtight plastic containers that keep good foods fresher longer.
JOYCE: Plastic for consumers was growing in popularity. Manufacturers raced to find ways to fashion it into things people would buy. Plastic was lightweight, inexpensive, flexible.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Food stored in Baggies plastic bags always have the sound of freshness, and they always taste as fresh as they sound.
JOYCE: But much of it could not be recycled, and people in the industry knew that. At the first National Conference on Packaging Waste held in San Francisco in 1969, some executives wondered, where is all this plastic going to end up? One marketing consultant said that wasn't their problem. Difficulties with plastic waste, quote, "are not the responsibility of those who produce materials, fabricate packages or package goods" - unquote. Rather, he said, it's the consumer's responsibility. So manufacturers just urged people not to litter and kept pumping out new kinds of plastic with yet more uses.
JOYCE: Then in the 1980s, an Indian businessman started marketing products in single-use sachets - a day's worth of shampoo for people who couldn't afford big bottles of it. Sachets were aimed at the poor, but eventually, they became a symbol for a middle-class lifestyle.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Chik jasmine shampoo (foreign language spoken) active double conditioners (foreign language spoken).
JOYCE: Global companies followed suit. It was also great marketing, all those single-use packets, each with a brand and a logo. Sachets did offer some advantages for consumers.
CRISPIAN LAO: You have the health issue.
JOYCE: Crispian Lao is a former plastics executive. He now leads the Philippine Alliance for Recycling and Material Sustainability. It includes companies that make and package consumer goods, such as Nestle, Coca-Cola and Unilever.
LAO: The market needed something to deliver those products to the consumer safely, and that is where single-use packaging came in. You now have disposable cups, disposable bowls, disposable plates.
JOYCE: Lao says sachets offered quality control. You knew what you were getting. You didn't have to wash reusable containers, which could be risky in poorer neighborhoods where water quality is often suspect.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Foreign language spoken).
JOYCE: Today, sachets are everywhere, in poor neighborhoods like Maysilo but also in places like this - San Fernando, a thriving business community north of Manila.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Foreign language spoken).
JOYCE: In a gated suburb, a private team of workers wheels carts through the city every day calling for trash.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Foreign language spoken).
JOYCE: San Fernando has lots of money for trash collection, but it's still stuck with sachets of the plastic that cannot be recycled. Froilan Grate is with the environmental group Mother Earth Foundation. He shows me a pile of this stuff in a damp concrete room in the center of town.
FROILAN GRATE: This one, the next one, is like the soda cup that you typically get from fast-food chains like McDonald's.
JOYCE: The cup looks like it's made from paper.
GRATE: The problem with this one is that it's promoted as a better alternative because it's paper cup, but it has a plastic liner inside.
JOYCE: Recycling something like this, mixed paper and plastic, is expensive. It requires technology they don't have in the Philippines.
GRATE: So this entire thing, including the straw that they use, goes into the landfill.
JOYCE: So if people in the Philippines can't get rid of this stuff, who should? Grate says the companies that make it.
GRATE: I'm angry because those who have the power, those who have the resources and I'm talking about companies earning billions of dollars to actually do the right thing are washing their hands and saying you use it, that's your problem. So that is where the frustration is coming from.
JOYCE: Numerous companies - Unilever, Coca-Cola, Nestle and others - have pledged that by 2025 they'll use only plastic packaging that can be reused, recycled or composted. In fact, Unilever has a new chemical process to recycle sachets and a pilot plant in Indonesia to test it. In the Philippines, Crispian Lao's industry group is planning a research effort to make more plastic recyclable.
LAO: The idea right now is that how can we now, you know, together with the global partnership, redesign the product so it becomes more recyclable, look at recycling the existing products that are there? Because it's not going to disappear overnight.
JOYCE: Von Hernandez is skeptical. Hernandez is the global coordinator for a group called Break Free From Plastic working in an office here in Manila. His view is consumers shouldn't have to recycle their way out of this mess.
VON HERNANDEZ: If we cannot recycle or compost this material, then you should not be producing them in the first place. You should not be deploying them into commerce.
JOYCE: Both activists and the brands say they want the same thing - less plastic trash. But they're still far apart on how and when to make that happen. Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

3157. Why the LA Teachers Strike Matters

By Lois Weiner, Jacobin, January 2019
Student counselor Sandra Santacruz-Cervantes, center, joins parents, teachers, and students in a crosswalk to picket outside Hollywood High School during the second day of the UTLA strike. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
The January 10 strike date announced by the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) has heightened tensions in an already contentious dispute with Los Angeles Superintendent Austin Beutner, who represents the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in negotiations. However, far more is at stake in Los Angeles and for the rest of us than a traditional contract struggle.

Given how many students LAUSD educates, the possibility of a strike by its union is huge news. LAUSD has 694,000 in its schools. The entire state of Oklahoma educates about that same number of students in its public schools.

The reforms LAUSD has demanded in Los Angeles schools are based on the bipartisan project to convert public education into a lucrative market for wealthy investors. Merrill-Lynch heralded this change in a 1999 report for prospective investors: “A new mindset is necessary, one that views families as customers, schools as ‘retail outlets’ where educational services are received, and the school board as a customer service department that hears and addresses parental concerns.”

Networks of wealthy billionaires and the foundations they create have advocated and imposed reforms nationally, even globally, we see today in LA schools: using standardized tests to control what and how children learn; creating charter schools to weaken neighborhood schools and undermine parent loyalty to public education; creating new revenue sources for corporations to profit from education; and weakening teachers unions. The “portfolio model” LAUSD has announced it will adopt fragments the school system into networks operated by private charter management organizations.

The explicit rationale for the portfolio model is enhancing “choice,” providing more and better educational options for low-income children of color. But research by scholars who work independently of think-tank funding documents that privatization has increased school segregation and racial disparities in educational outcomes. Its main achievement has been to “plunder” public education.

In New Orleans, Detroit, and other cities in which states have imposed the “portfolio model”, creation of charter networks may have given a small number of students increased educational opportunities, but as we have seen in the most extensive “experiment” in characterizationin New Orleans, the vast majority of schools and teachers receive inadequate funding and support. Schools that have become more racially isolated train students for low-paid jobs and “push out” those who are dissatisfied. A select number of elite and well-funded public schools are maintained in the richest and whitest parts of the city, and a few lucky working-class students of color find spots in these schools.

As teacher union influence has waned, especially among Democrats, who have adopted the pro-privatization views of their largest donors, teachers have become angry about their unions’ inability to stem deteriorating conditions in schools. A vibrant reform movement has formed in both national teachers’ unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Activists are challenging the model of “business unionism” that NEA, AFT, and their state affiliates embrace. Reformers see the union’s strength in mobilizing members and making alliances with community, not relying on political “friends of labor” who will reward the union’s loyalty with economic improvements for members.

The current UTLA leadership campaigned and won office with ideas that put it solidly within the reform movement, where it is allied with the Chicago Teachers Union. Though the “red state” teacher walkout movement last spring was cast by media as a peculiarity of states that had exceptionally poor funding for schools and low teacher salaries, #RedforEd was actually a response to conditions that are national and have been festering for years. The conditions were felt first and most intensely in urban schools and sparked the formation of a reform caucus that won office in the Chicago Teachers Union, transformed it, and organized an electrifying strike.

Acting on principles of “social justice unionism,” UTLA has consciously built the union’s presence in the schools and has reached out to community groups, working to develop mutually respectful alliances that acknowledge racial and class inequality in the city’s schools. Hence UTLA’s current contract demands include reducing student-counselor ratios and lowering class size, as well as ending punitive disciplinary procedures that feed the “school to prison pipeline” and do nothing to improve school climate, essential for safe schools.

The battle between UTLA and LAUSD is over contradictory visions for the role of public education in a society that claims to be democratic. LAUSD wants a privatized “public” system funded by tax dollars that its supporters say will simultaneously boost profits and allow “the best” to succeed in a competitive system. UTLA sees a teachers union’s responsibility to its members and the society as creating a system of public education that is controlled democratically, empowering parents, students, and teachers to transcend the role of consumers to create “choices” that serve all elements of its diverse population equally well.

Though this seems to be a contract dispute, the battle between UTLA and Superintendent Beutner and the economic and political interests he represents is something far bigger. It’s a turning point for Los Angeles in deciding its future.

Monday, January 14, 2019

3156. A Green New Deal vs. Revolutionary Ecosocialism

By Wayne Price, Black Rose Federation, January 4, 2019
Richard Smith
The idea of a “Green New Deal” has been raised in response to the threat of climate and ecological catastrophe. Two such proposals are analyzed here and counter-posed to the program of revolutionary libertarian ecosocialism.
According to the climate scientists, industrial civilization has at most a dozen years until global warming is irreversible. This will cause (and is already causing) extremes of weather, accelerating extermination of species, droughts and floods, loss of useable water, vast storms, rising sea levels which will destroy islands and coastal cities, raging wildfires, loss of crops, and, overall, environmental conditions in which neither humans nor other organisms evolved to exist. The economic, political, and social results will be horrifying.
The scientists write that humans have the technological knowledge to avoid the worst results. But this would take enormous efforts to drastically reduce the output of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses. The recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change writes that this “would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban, and infrastructure (including transport and buildings) and industrial systems…unprecedented in terms of scale.” (quoted in Smith 2018) At the least this means a rapid transition to shutting down fossil-fuel producing industries, leaving most oil, coal, and natural gas in the ground and rationing what is currently available. It means replacing them with conservation and renewable energy sources. It means drastic changes in the carbon-based-fuel using industries, from construction to manufacturing. It means providing alternate jobs and services for all those put out of work by these changes.
To the scientists’ warnings, there have been rumblings of concern from some financial investors, business people (in non-oil-producing industries), and local politicians. But overall, the response of conventional politicians has been business-as-usual. The main proposals for limiting climate change has been to place some sort of taxes on carbon emissions. From liberals to conservatives, this has been lauded as a”pro-market” reform. But, as Richard Smith (2018) has explained, these are inadequate, and even fraudulent, proposals. “If the tax is too light, it fails to suppress fossil fuels enough to help the climate. But…no government will set a price high enough to spur truly deep reductions in carbon emissions because they all understand that this would force companies out of business, throw workers out of work, and possibly precipitate recession or worse.
In the U.S., one of the two major parties outright denies the scientific evidence as a “hoax.” As if declaring, “After us, the deluge,” its policies have been to increase as much as possible the production of greenhouse-gas emissions and other attacks on the environment. The other party accepts in words the reality of global warming but only advocates inadequate and limited steps to deal with it. It too has promoted increased drilling, fracking, and carbon-fuels burning. These Republicans, Democrats, and their corporate sponsors are enemies of humanity and nature, worse than war criminals.
On the Left, there have been serious efforts to take up the scientists’ challenge. Various ecosocialists and other radicals have advocated a massive effort to change the path of industrial society. This is sometimes called a “Green New Deal.” This approach is modeled on the U.S.’s New Deal of F. D. Roosevelt in the Great Depression. Its advocates also usually model their programs on the World War II industrial mobilization which followed the New Deal. (For examples, see Aronoff 2018; Ocasio-Cortez 2018; Rugh 2018; Simpson 2018; Smith 2018; Wikipedia.)
There does need to be a massive social effort to change our current technological course. A drastic transformation of industrial civilization is needed if we are (in Richard Smith’s phrase) to “save the humans,” as well as our fellow animals and plants. Nothing less than a revolution is needed. Yet I think that there are serious weaknesses in this specific approach, not least in modeling itself on the New Deal and the World War II mobilization—which were not revolutions, however romanticized. The proponents of a Green New Deal are almost all reformists—by which I do not mean advocates of reforms, but those who think that a series of reforms will be enough. They are state-socialists who primarily rely on the state to intervene in the economy and even take it over; in practice this program creates not socialism but state capitalism.
From the perspective of revolutionary anarchist-socialism, the Green New Deal strategy is problematic because it means [1] an effort to modify existing capitalism, not to fight it with the aim of overthrowing it. [2] As often stated, it requires working through the Democratic Party. [3] It proposes to use the current national state as the instrument of change. Finally, while advocates speak of popular mobilization and democratization, their overall approach is top-down centralization. [4]

Plans of Ocasio-Cortez and Richard Smith

A member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was just elected to the House of Representatives as an insurgent Democrat from Queens, NY. With a group of co-thinkers, she has formally proposed that the House set up a special Select Committee for a Green New Deal. (Ocasio-Cortez 2018) This Congressional committee would work out a plan for the transition of the .U.S. to a “green” non-carbonized economy—although it would not have the power to actually implement any plan. Supposedly this will be raised in the 2019 Congress.
The committee would develop a “Plan” to achieve such goals as “100% national power from renewable sources” in ten years, a national “smart” energy grid, upgrading residential and industrial buildings for conservation of energy, investments in drawing-down greenhouse gases, and making “green” technology a big U.S. export. Central to its set of goals is “decarbonizing the manufacturing, agricultural, and other industries.” “Decarbonizing, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure.”(Ocasio-Cortez 2018) Supposedly, these goals would be implemented in such a way as to provide good jobs, services, and prosperity for everyone.
Richard Smith is a knowledgeable and insightful ecosocialist writer (from whom I have learned much, despite disagreements). He has a generally positive reaction to this proposal (Smith 2018). Describing himself as “a proud member” of the DSA, he approves Ocasio-Cortez’ idea of a massive governmental program, modeled on the New Deal and World War II mobilization, to counter the climate crisis. However, he raises some significant concerns, specially around the key goal of “decarbonization”.
What’s not said is that decarbonization has to translate into shutdowns and retrenchments of actual companies. How does one decarbonize Exxon-Mobil or Chevron or Peabody Coal? To decarbonize them is to bankrupt them. Further, the same is true for many downstream industrial consumers….” What is required, he concludes, is governmental takeover of these industries with the aim of shutting down or drastically modifying them. “But there is no mention of shutdowns, retrenchments, buyouts, or nationalization.
Even more than the need to decarbonize industry (in the U.S. and internationally), is the need to create a balanced, ecologically-sustainable, system of production. “Perhaps the biggest weakness of the GND Plan is that it’s not based on a fundamental understanding that an infinitely growing economy is no longer possible on a finite planet…, of the imperative need for economic de-growth of many industries or of the need to abolish entire unsustainable industries from toxic pesticides to throw-away disposables to arms manufacturers.” (my emphasis)
Unlike his fellow DSA member (and Democratic politician) Ocasio-Cortez, Smith raises a program which explicitly demands government take-overs of the fossil-fuel producing companies. (He notes, “Others have also argued for nationalization to phase-out fossil fuels.”) He also calls for the nationalization of industries which are dependent on fossil fuels: “autos, aviation, petrochemicals, plastics, construction, manufacturing, shipping, tourism, and so on.” These nationalizations would be part of a plan for phasing-out fossil fuels, phasing-in renewable energy, shutting down fossil-fuel production, shutting down or modifying industries which rely on fossil fuels, and creating large government employment programs. This means changing from an economy built on quantitative growth, accumulation, and profits, to one of “degrowth [and] substantial de-industrialization.”
This program may seem revolutionary. “It’s difficult to imagine how this could be done within the framework of any capitalism…. Our climate crisis cries out for something like an immediate transition to ecosocialism.”
Yet Smith contradicts himself; he does not present his perspective as a revolutionary program. While he proposes socialization (in the form of nationalization) of much of the corporate economy, he does not call for taking away the wealth and power of these main sectors of the capitalist class. “We do not call for expropriation. We propose a government buyout at fair value….The companies might welcome a buyout.” There will be “guaranteed state support for the investors….” Further, “it is perhaps conceivable, taking FDR’s war-emergency industrial reordering as a precedent, that the…plan…for fossil fuels buyout-nationalization…could be enacted within the framework of capitalism, though the result would be a largely state-owned economy. Roosevelt created [a] state-directed capitalism….”
While a revolutionary approach is often derided as absurdly “utopian” and fantastic, this reformist program is itself a fantasy. It imagines that the capitalist class and its bought-and-paid-for politicians—who have resisted for decades any efforts to limit global warming—would not fight tooth-and-claw against this program. They are supposed to accept the loss of their industries, their mansions, their social status, their private jets, their media, their political influence, and the rest of their domination over society—for the sake of the environment! In all probability, to prevent this, they would whip up racism, sexual hysteria, and nationalism, subsidize fascist gangs, urge a military coup, distort or try to shut down elections and outlaw oppositions. All of which has been repeatedly done in the past, and is partially being done right now (if still on a minor scale—so far).
In the (very) unlikely event that the capitalists accepted this program, they would still be left with great wealth from the buyout, which they would use to fight to get back their power. And even in the (extremely unlikely) event that industries could be successfully decarbonized through buyout-nationalization, there would still be the basic problem (as Smith had pointed out) of the essential drive of capitalism to expand and accumulate profits, which must conflict with sustainable life on earth.
There is a whole history of class struggles, of revolutions and counterrevolutions, which have consistently taught the lesson that there is no peaceful-gradual-electoral “parliamentary road to socialism,” including to ecosocialism. Radicals should have learned the most recent lesson of the Syriza party in Greece.

Can the State Save Us?

Central to the conception of a Green New Deal is the belief that the state can save the humans and the biosphere. To Smith, “Saving the world requires the sort of large-scale economic planning that only governments can do.” There is “only one proximate solution: state intervention….” Similarly, Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal states, “We’re not saying that there isn’t a role for private sector investments; we’re just saying that…the government is best placed to be the prime driver.”
What Smith, specifically, is proposing is a form of state capitalism. He advocates “a largely state-owned economy” which may be “within the framework of capitalism,” building on but going beyond Roosevelt’s “state-directed capitalism.” There is a radical tradition which had also advocated nationalization of big business and creation of public works, but had always tied stratification to a demand for workers’ democratic control and management. For example, Trotsky’s Transitional Program states, “Where military industry is ‘nationalized,’…the slogan of workers’ control preserves its full strength. The proletariat has as little confidence in the government of the bourgeoisie as in an individual capitalist.” (Trotsky 1977; 131) Workers’ management is not part of Smith’s proposal, nor that of Ocasio-Cortez (and it has dropped out of the program of most modern-day Trotskyists).
Of course Richard Smith is a sincere socialist democrat and a long-time opponent of Stalinist totalitarianism. But he calls on this U.S. bourgeois state, the state created and dominated by U.S. capitalism and imperialism, to take over the economy and run it. This program is state capitalism. As a result, the economy, even if decarbonized, will have the capitalist drive to accumulate profits. Just as was the state-capitalist Soviet Union, it will still be inherently destructive of the human-nature ecological balance,.
State-socialists focus on blaming the market economy for social ills, such as global warming. They see the state as an outside, neutral, institution, which might intervene in the economy to solve these problems. “If capitalists won’t provide the jobs, then it’s the government’s responsibility to do so. We, the voting public, [will] assert our ownership of the government, not the corporations.” (Smith 2018) In other words, the government could be dominated by the corporations (using their money), or it could be dominated by the people (using their votes). Supposedly either one is possible, in contradiction to the experience of two centuries of class struggle.
The state is a centralized bureaucratic-military socially-alienated institution. It has been created by (and creates) capitalism (and previous systems of exploitation) and serves to uphold it—and is thoroughly involved in all the evils of industrial capitalism. “Climate change is another state effect that governments are incapable of solving….The infrastructure of automotive transportation, industrial agriculture, and electricity generation, which are responsible for the majority of of greenhouse gas emissions, are built and regulated by states (…). The industries responsible for destroying the planet depend on government regulation, police protection, and financing, and form part of an economic complex that is integrally connected to government…Continuing to trust states as the potential solvers of climate change and mass extinction…[is to be] complicit with catastrophe.” (Gelderloss 2016; 241-2)
Anarchists and radical Marxists have agreed that the existing state cannot be used to consistently defend the interests of workers and oppressed people. At times, under pressure from below, this state may give some benefits. Similarly, the management of a corporation may raise workers’ wages when under the threat of a strike. But neither the state nor corporate management is “on our side.” Certainly revolutionaries may pressure the state to make reforms in the same way as the workers may strike to force the bosses to raise their wages. But these efforts, win or lose, do not change the institutional power of capital, in corporations or in the state.
Therefore, anarchists and radical Marxists have advocated overturning and dismantling the state and replacing it with alternate institutions. In an introduction to the Communist Manifesto, Engels modifies their original views by quoting Marx, writing, “One thing especially was proved by the [1871 Paris] Commune, viz., that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes’.” (Marx & Engels 1955; 6) Which is exactly what Ocasio-Cortez, Smith, and others propose to do.
Anarchists and other libertarian socialists advocate replacing the state with federations of workplace councils, neighborhood assemblies, and voluntary associations, defended by an armed people (militia) so long as is necessary. They advocate socialization of the economy, not by state ownership, but by replacing capitalism with networks of democratically self-managed industries, consumer cooperatives, and collectivized municipalities. They expect productive technology to be modified by the workers, in such a way as to eliminate the division between mental and manual labor and in order to create an ecologically sustainable society.
Ocasio-Cortez and other DSAers rely on the Democratic Party to implement their Green New Deal —a plan which, in Smith’s view should lead to the nationalization of much of the economy. However, the Democrats are committed to managing a traditional, private-capitalist, economy. “Most Democrats…acknowledge global warming is real, yet have failed to take meaningful steps to address the apocalyptic scale of the problem.…The Dems have always played seesaw between the interests of their corporate campaign donors and those of the party’s middle- and working-class base… They have more and more aligned themselves with the jealous interests of their elite backers. Party leaders have embraced a business-friendly, neoliberal approach to climate change, just as they have just about everything else.” (Rugh 2018) For an account of the Democrats’ climate-destroying actions when in office, see Dansereau (2018).
(Members of the Green Party have also advocated a “Green New Deal” for some time. [Wikipedia] I am not reviewing their version of the GND at this time. The Greens reject the Democratic Party, for good reasons, and claim to be for a decentralized society. But they still accept an electoralist-peaceful-reformist strategy. They hope to take over the state by getting their party elected, and then to use the power of the national state to transform capitalism by carrying out a Green New Deal.)

Decentralization and Federalism

Richard Smith is for democracy and democratic planning. He proposes elected “planning boards at local, regional, national, and international levels.” Yet his plan, like that of Ocasio-Cortez, is clearly a top-down, centralized approach. Other experts in ecological regeneration (who are not anarchists) have seen things in a more decentralized perspective.
For example, Bill McKibben has long been a leader of the climate justice movement. His main solution to climate change is decentralization: “more local economies, shorter supply lines, and reduced growth.” (McKibben 2007; 180) “…Development…should look to the local far more than to the global. It should concentrate on creating and sustaining strong communities….” (197) “…The increased sense of community and heightened skill at democratic decision-making that a more local economy implies will not simply increase our levels of satisfaction with our lives, but will also increase our chances of survival….” (231)
Naomi Klein declares, “There is a clear and essential role for national plans and policies….But…the actual implementation of a great many of these plans [should] be as decentralized as possible. Communities should be given new tools and powers….Worker-run co-ops have the capacity to play a huge role in an industrial transformation…. Neighborhoods [should be] planned democratically by their residents….Farming…can also become an expanded sector of decentralized self-sufficiency and poverty reduction.” (Klein, 2014; 133-134)
The (Monthly Review) Marxist Fred Magdoff (a professor of plant and soil science) wrote, “Each community and region should strive, within reason, to be as self-sufficient as possible with respect to basic needs such as water, energy, food, and housing. This is not a call for absolute self-sufficiency but rather for an attempt to…lessen the need for long distance transport….Energy…[should be] used near where it was produced…. in smaller farms…to produce high yields per hectare….People will be encouraged to live near where they work….” (Magdoff, 2014; 30—31) Also, “Workplaces (including farms) will be controlled and managed by the workers and communities in which they are based.” (29)
Compare with the views of anarchist and social ecologist Murray Bookchin: “Civic entities can ‘municipalize’ their industries, utilities, and surrounding land as effectively as any socialist state.…A municipally managed enterprise would be a worker-citizen controlled enterprise, meant to serve human and ecological needs….[There would be] the replacement of the nation state by the municipal confederation.” (Bookchin 1986; 160) The takeover of the oil industry could be a national and international matter, managed through confederation, while use of renewable energy would be primarily implemented by local communes.
In short, the capitalists’ wealth and power should be taken away from them (expropriated) by the self-organization of the working class and its allies. Capitalism should be replaced by a society which is decentralized and cooperative, producing for use rather than profit, democratically self-managed in the workplace and the community, and federated together from the local level to national and international levels. There should be as much decentralization as is reasonably possible and as little centralization as is absolutely necessary. There needs to be overall economic coordination on a national, continental, and world-wide level, by federations of self-governing industries and communities, but not by bureaucratic-military capitalist states. This is ecoocialism in the form of eco-anarchism.

But Let’s be Realistic….

Endorsers of the Green New Deal see it as a realistic proposal for mobilizing masses of people and averting ecological disaster. They regard a program of revolutionary libertarian ecosocialism as unrealistic, a nonstarter for the brief time there is left to save the world. We must act quickly, they say, with proposals most people can accept, calling on the state to take over.
This is itself an example of what C. Wright Mills called “crackpot realism.” The idea that the Democratic Party would endorse a plan for the next session of Congress to develop a program of remaking U.S. capitalism, perhaps nationalizing much of the economy, and then get it passed through Congress—is, shall we say, not likely. With all due respect to its proponents (with whom I share values), they are like the drunk who looks for lost keys under the street lamp, because that is where there is light, even though the keys are certain to be elsewhere.
Smith refers to “de-carbonization” as “a self-radicalizing transitional demand”. He hopes that “a vigorous campaign for this Plan will show why capitalism cannot solve the worst crisis it has ever created and encourage demands for…government planning to suppress emissions….With a…monumental mobilization around this Green New Deal …we can derail the capitalist drive to ecological collapse and build an ecosocialist civilization….”
In other words, he is for building a mass movement for the Green New Deal of Ocasio-Cortez (which he regards as inadequate as proposed), and/or his more radical plan (nationalization based on buying out the capitalists). He hopes that people will become aware of the limits of any pro-capitalism, because the “campaign will show why capitalism cannot solve the crisis.” However, he does not propose to tell the working class and the rest of the population that a pro-capitalist plain “cannot solve the crisis” Instead he advocates a plan which is an expansion of Roosevelt’s “state-directed capitalism.” Apparently he hopes that the people will come to the conclusion that ”capitalism cannot solve the crisis” by themselves—or perhaps with some help from the reformist, state-socialist, Democratic Party-supporting, Democratic Socialists of America. An ecosocialist result is far more likely if there are already radicals telling the truth about capitalism, from the very beginning, even if it is, so far, unpopular to do so.
Revolutionaries have long argued that even reforms are most likely to be won when the rulers fear a militant, aggressive, and revolutionary movement, or at least a revolutionary wing of a broader movement. “Reforms” in this case would be steps to hold back and mitigate the effects of global warming due to capitalist industry, even by using the capitalist state. Such reforms cannot be won by an environmental movement which tries to be “reasonable” and “respectable,” especially if it has a radical left which offers to buy out big businesses and stay within the framework of capitalism.
We cannot say what is reasonable to expect. Today’s popular consciousness is not what it will be tomorrow. The very crises of weather and the environment will change that. The climate crisis will interact with the looming economic crisis, and with continuing turmoil over race, immigration, gender, and sexual orientation. Not to mention endless wars. With such shakeups in the lives of working people and young people, there may be an opening for a revolutionary anarchist ecosocialist program. Whether this will develop in time cannot be known. But we must not give up on history.
In conclusion, revolutionary libertarian ecosocialists should support all sincere struggles for reforms, including those advocating state action, and participate in these movements. But they should always point out the limitations and dangers of these programs, they should always raise the goal of a decentralized-federation of self-managed institutions as the only society capable of ecological harmony and freedom.
The issue is not only whether capitalism is compatible with ecological balance and ending climate change. The question is also about the nature of the state, and whether the state is compatible with avoiding ecological catastrophe. These issues should determine our attitude toward proposals for a Green New Deal.