Tuesday, June 27, 2017

2639. Who Can Stop the Climate Crisis?

By Kamran Nayeri, June 27, 2017

The transition to a post-carbon society is largely political
In the “100%-Renewables: A Few Remarks about the Jacobson/Clack Controversy” (June 27, 2017) François-Xavier Chevallerau, Founder-Director of the Biophysical Economics Policy Center based in Brussels, has made an insightful contribution to the debate about the technical feasibility of transition to a post-carbon society powered by “clean” renewables by the mid-21 century.  (For Jacobson et. al. papers see here; for Clack et.al paper see here)  Mr. Chevallerau argues the scientific/technical debate is missing the point. The transition to a post-carbon society is mostly political, not technical.  Thus, he writes:
“This debate is or should be, first a foremost, a political debate, and the outcome of the transition will depend, first and foremost, on how we will manage to design, implement, and sustain new economic, social and political balances of power, within and between countries. This, much more than the accuracy of technical roadmaps that we may be able to design today, will determine whether, how and how successfully we will be able to transition to renewables.”
Mr. Chevallerau’s observation is a critical one that I hope will receive recognition among broader layers of the climate justice and ecology movements.  But he leaves the crucial question of who would “design, implement, and sustain new economic, social and political balances of power, within and between countries” hanging. Would that be the world capitalist elite? Or the billions of citizens of the world who by-and-large are excluded from such policy discussions? 

The climate justice and ecology movements lag
Last September in a review essay focusing on action programs to stop and reverse the climate crisis, I welcomed Bill McKibben’s policy essay "A Wold at War" in the New Republic that embraced the Jacobson et.al. plan for transition to a post-carbon society but criticized it for reducing the climate crisis to a technical matter (Nayeri September 3, 2016).  

In my view, the climate crisis is one aspect, a crucial one to be sure, of the planetary crisis, which includes another existential threat, the Sixth Extinction.  The planetary crisis itself is the manifestation of the Anthropocene (Age of Man), a new geological epoch in which human productive/destructive powers have grown so much that they are undermining the life-support systems of the planet. The monstrous growth of productive/destructive forces themselves is the result of the dynamics of the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization, itself the latest in a series of civilizations organized to exploit nature and labor for the ruling elite. Some of these civilizations collapsed due to ecological crises.  Clearly, we cannot honestly believe that the planetary crisis, including the climate crisis, can be overcome without transcending the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization. 

Would the Democratic Party do it? 
In the same essay, I noted what I considered as progress especially by the authors of The Leap Manifesto: A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another but also even by Edward O. Wilson who proposed to set aside at least half of the planet for wildness reserves as a way to stop and reverse the Sixth Extinction, and by The Climate Mobilization’s Victory Plan because it did not limit itself to restoring “a safe and stable climate” by calling for action to reverse the “ecological overshoot” and ending the Sixth Extinction.  The Victory Plan included a laudable transformation of the energy, food, transportation and other systems. They called for a World War II-style governmental mobilization to implement such changes. 

The fundamental problem with these proposals is the “crucial question” posed by Mr. Chevallerau. Who is going to change the world? The world capitalist elite who benefit from the status quo or the billions of working people who must be transformed in consciousness as part of the process to transcend the anthropocentric capitalist civilization? 

During the 2016 presidential election, we learned what McKibben and the 350.org  and The Climate Mobilization opted for. They turned from climate justice coalitions into campaign offices to get the vote out for Hillary Clinton who openly endorsed fracking and was the favorite candidate of the capitalist class (None of the Fortune 100 contributed to the Trump's campaign).  When Clinton did not win the presidency, the climate justice movement experienced a setback because the larger forces in it based their strategy and tactic on the Democratic Party being in power.  Ezra Silk, a leader of The Climate Mobilization, wrote in an email that they are going to revisit their strategy.  That is because their strategy was to elect public officials who would be climate policy friendly.  Of course, anyone interested in political history would know that the labor movement, the women's movement, the balck movement, and the enviromentalist movement, all followed this policy for decades and are all in crisis today.  The "strategy" is a failure. 

The sudden decision by the 350.org and The Climate Mobilization to support Hillary Clinton betrayed another problem.  They turned a climate justice coalition, this is what they say they are, into a vote-gathering machine for the Democratic Party, one the two pillars of power of the American and world capitalist elite, without any discussion among their membership.  In this, they betrayed the trust of those who worked with them.  In 350.org affiliate in Sonoma County, California, several members were left with no choice but to withdraw, including those who supported Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, and myself who supported none of the nationally known candidates.  Clearly, these organizations cannot be leaders of a transformational movement to end the planetary crisis. 

The problem is even deeper. Edward O. Wilson’s proposal to stop the Sixth Extinction overtly relies on the magic of the competitive market economy which he says is the socially constructed parallel of the evolutionary biology. (Nayeri 2017) 

Organizing from below
To be sure, there are reforms that can and should be fought for win under capitalism.  But even fighting for such reforms should be carried out in ways that increase the self-reliance and self-confidence of the working people as it they who must transform Our Way of Life to become compatible with a just and ecologically sound society. 

Suppose the People’s Climate March some 200,000 people in Washington D.C. on April 29 educated each and everyone about the root-causes for climate change and about our own action program forged in a broad and democratic discussion in the movement to stop and reverse it.  Furthermore, suppose that everyone who came to the march would commit to educate, organize and mobilize a family member, friend, neighbor, coworker, fellow student, etc.,  as part of the climate justice movement.  Assume this process is repeated every six month—each person in our movement would recruit a new person over the course of the next six month.  Watch how the number of climate justice activists grow over time.

  • April 2017 200,000 participants in the People’s Climate March
  • October 2017  400,000 climate justice activists or active supporters
  • April 2018  800,000 climate justice activists or active supporters
  • October 1,600,000 climate justice activists or active supporters
  • April 2019 3,200,000 climate justice activists or active supporters
  • October 2019  6,400,000 climate justice activists or active supporters
  • April 2020 12,800,000 climate justice activists or active supporters
  • October 2020 25,600,000 climate justice activists or active supporters

Would this not be a formidable force in the streets demanding affirmative change according to our own action program, not one cooked up by the capitalist elite, their politicians, technocrats, and bureaucrats? More importantly, would it not also be a transformation in the making in-and-of itself.  Clearly, such activists would live according to what we preach.  A new world would be unfolding as part of our climate justice and ecological movements' daily activities.  

The problem is not that this is not possible.  History tells us this is how radical social change ever happens.  The problem is that too many of us are too tied up in the political and ideological hegemony of the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization that can envisage a strategy of mass education, organization, and mobilization truly independent of the capitalist overlords and to break with institutional arrangements that we have grown to feel comfortable with even though they undermine us and eventually us as a species. 

But the planetary crisis is an existential crisis.  There are no saviors from within the system. I invite the reader to offer her/his own view of how to proceed.  

Acknowledgment: Thanks to Bill Henderson for sharing Chevallerau's commentary.  Of course, he bears no responsibility for my views expressed here. 

Chevallerau, François-Xavier. “100% Renewables—A Few Remarks about the Jacobson/Clack Controversy.” The Biophysical Economics Policy Center, June 26, 2017. 
Nayeri, Kamran. “Strategy and Tactics for the Climate Justice Movement: A Critique of 350.org ‘Break Free from Fossil Fuels’ Campaign.” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism, March 31, 2016.
————————. “How to Stop the Sixth Extinction: A Critical Assessment of E. O. Wilson’s Half-Earth.” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. May 14, 2017.

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