Friday, August 30, 2019

3275. The Anthropocene: The Amazon Could Self-Destruct

By Max Fisher, The New York Times, August 30, 2019


As fires rage across the Amazon, a growing number of scientists are raising the alarm about a nightmare scenario that could see much of the world’s largest rainforest erased from the earth.

Climate change, along with the fires and other man-made forces, appear on the verge of triggering a significant change in the Amazon’s weather system.

No one knows for sure whether and when this might happen, though some scientists who study the Amazon ecosystem call it imminent. If it does happen, a body of research suggests, the Amazon as a whole would cross a tipping point and begin to self-destruct — a process of self-perpetuating deforestation known as dieback.


If that is left unchecked, half or more of the rainforest could erode into savanna, according to some estimates, and then the rainforest, which has long absorbed the world’s greenhouse gases, could instead begin to emit them.

Subscribe for original insights, commentary and discussions on the major news stories of the week, from columnists Max Fisher and Amanda Taub.

The Amazon’s plant life stores an estimated 100 billion tons of carbon. By comparison, every coal plant worldwide combined emitted 15 billion tons of carbon in 2017. So even if only a small proportion of the trees destroyed by large-scale deforestation burn, this longtime buffer against climate change could instead become a driver of it.


A continentwide transformation remains theoretical, and is still debated by scientists. But some believe that the Amazon could pass this tipping point soon, or may have already.

Asked for a best guess as to when the Amazon might cross that threshold, Thomas Lovejoy, a prominent environmental scientist, said that he and another scientist based in Brazil, Carlos Nobre, had independently arrived at the same estimate: 20 to 25 percent deforestation.

The number was a “hip shot,” Dr. Lovejoy said. And deforestation alone would not set off the cycle, but was shorthand for a more complex set of drivers.

The Brazilian government’s own estimate for deforestation of the Amazon stands at 19.3 percent, though some scientists consider this an undercount.


A Threat Greater Than Fires

The world may one day look back and find the warnings of ecological catastrophe embedded in research papers like one led by Jennifer Balch, an expert on fire.

Before Jair Bolsonaro became president of Brazil and oversaw this summer’s drastic increase in man-made fires in the Amazon rainforest, Dr. Balch and her colleagues set out to study what was then a rarer phenomenon.


They subjected plots of rainforest to a decade of small but repeated fires like those set by farmers, and they found something alarming. After enough cycles, even if the fires caused only moderate damage, if rainfall dropped, the trees began dying off in huge numbers.

The proportion of plant life that died after a fire suddenly spiked from 5 or 10 percent to 60 percent — sudden ecological death.

“We were able to document that, yes, the Amazon does have a tipping point,” Dr. Balch said of her team’s experiment, which is still going on. “And it can happen in a very short period of time.”


But what most disturbed the scientists was how this phenomenon seemed to fit into a larger cycle — one that implicated the rainforest as a whole.

That cycle is triggered by four forces, all but one of them man-made: roads, fires, invasive grasses and climate change.

Roads, along with other forms of construction, fragment the rainforest, leaving each acre of plant life less able to endure a fire or resist its spread.

“As fragmentation is happening, you’re exposing a lot more forest edges,” Dr. Balch said. Those edges are more susceptible to drying out and other dangers.

Invasive grasses are one of those dangers, lingering at forest edges. Even a small fire can wipe out a rainforest’s undergrowth. Then grasses rush in, setting a blanket of dry, flammable plant life — and making the next fire far more damaging.

Climate change, by heating the Amazon, has made its dry seasons dryer and more hospitable to those grasses. As fires clear undergrowth, they carve out new, vulnerable forest edges and dry out forests, exacerbating the effects of climate change.

But what makes those forces so dangerous is not that they kill trees — it’s that they reduce rainfall.


In a healthy rainforest, plant life absorbs rainwater and groundwater, then sweats it back out into the atmosphere as moisture, seeding more rain. But once a section of rainforest has been thinned and fragmented, it gives off less moisture. Rainfall decreases, and the ground, of course, grows drier.

As a result, the next fire burns hotter and reaches deeper, causing more damage. Past a certain point, the forest no longer produces enough rain to survive.

“There’s already evidence that this can take place on phenomenal scales,” said Daniel Nepstad, an environmental scientist who studies the Amazon. “This is the imminent risk that could overshadow deforestation as a risk to this forest.”

Dieback occurs when each of these elements — fires, invasive grasses, reduced rainfall — trigger a chain reaction, acting like the components of a combustion engine.

That cycle is supercharged at every stage by climate change. That means the sudden death that Dr. Balch’s team observed in a few isolated plots could play out across the rainforest as a whole.

Repeated studies have found that deforestation leads to reductions in rainfall — and can even extend the annual dry season by a full month. There are already indications that Amazon deforestation will lead to catastrophic reductions in rainfall.

A study led by Claudia Stickler, an environmental economist, projected that, under current rates of deforestation in the area around Brazil’s Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, rainfall will decline so precipitously that the dam will generate only 60 percent of its planned output.

“If you talk to indigenous groups, they all say that rainfall has changed,” Dr. Nepstad said. “This is, to me, what we need to be focused on.”

Could the Amazon Die?
There are two prevailing theories for what might happen past the Amazon’s tipping point.

One is that cycles of destruction will play out only where damage is most severe. Over time, each acre of rainforest that is dried out or destroyed would put neighboring areas at greater risk, potentially accelerating as it spreads. But dieback in one stretch need not necessarily put the entire rainforest at risk.

In the more dire scenario, enough disruptions could upend the Amazon’s weather system as a whole, eventually transforming the region from rainforest into savanna.

No one knows for sure whether this is possible, much less likely. But Dr. Lovejoy, the environmental scientist, underscored that rain and weather patterns are continental — and rely on a full, healthy Amazon.


“The models, and they’re pretty consistent,” he said, “suggest that the combination of fire and climate change and deforestation will weaken the hydrological cycle of the Amazon to the point where you just get insufficient rainfall in the south and the east, and then part of the central Amazon, to actually support a rainforest.”


In either scenario, the Amazon is thought to be approaching a point past which it will begin driving its own destruction.

Scientists stress that the cycle, if caught early, could feasibly be stopped. But, once it begins, it would most likely only accelerate.
“It really makes no sense to figure out precisely where the tipping point is by tipping it,” Dr. Lovejoy said.

A Climate Change Time Bomb

In the late 1990s, a team at the University of Exeter tested an idea that was considered somewhat contrarian.


Could the Amazon rainforest — one of the world’s greatest absorbers of greenhouse gases, and therefore buffers against climate change — become a driver of climate change instead?
They designed a computer simulation to test whether trees might someday die in sufficient numbers as to put more carbon into the atmosphere than the healthy trees sucked up.

The simulation spit out a year: 2050. That was when the rainforest would become a net emitter of greenhouse gasses. The findings were heavily debated.

As the warning signs of large-scale dieback have mounted, more scientists have come to see that scenario as a threat not just to the Amazon’s inhabitants and Brazil’s economy, but to a world already struggling to confront climate change.

“It’s a lot of carbon,” Dr. Lovejoy said. “It’s a really big number.”
And it’s not just the Amazon.

“This is a global phenomenon,” said Dr. Balch, who has studied grasslands in the United States that could pose a similar threat. Dr. Nepstad said that he had found warning signs in the rainforests of Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Dr. Lovejoy compared this moment to the years before the onset of the Dust Bowl, in which mismanagement and drought turned American plains states into wastelands during the 1930s.
“Nobody really saw that coming,” he said. “The difference between then and now is we do see it coming and we know enough not to do it.”

Thursday, August 29, 2019

3274. Book Review: Money and Totality

By The Internationalists, August 22, 2019
 
Background to this Book
This is a substantial book which the author admits has been 20 years in the making. [1] It deals primarily with Moseley’s own “Macro-Monetary” interpretation of Marx’s economic writings and takes up and rebuts criticisms of this interpretation. However, the book also looks critically at the major interpretations of Marx’s economic work, by Marxist academic economists, which have emerged in the last 100 years, giving a brief description of them and critically examining their failings. Many people may not realise this, but for the greater part of the twentieth century the accepted view among academic Marxist economists, which was generally known as the Standard Interpretation (SI), was that Marx made a fundamental mistake in his economic analysis which needed to be corrected. The key issue behind this is the so-called “transformation” problem, namely the transformation of values into prices of production. The SI and its offshoots claim that Marx failed to do this correctly and his work needs to be corrected. A number of corrections have been proposed and a further number of variations of these corrections themselves put forward in ever greater complexity. Moseley shows how these criticisms and corrections are founded on a misinterpretation of Marx’s work; and that the corrections each violate some other key aspect of Marx’s work. Moseley argues that Marx did not make a mistake and there is no transformation problem whatsoever.

It is interesting to note that the criticisms of Marx made by academic economists, had most currency during the period following the Second World War when capitalism appeared to be marching from strength to strength. A notable exception was Paul Mattick who argued, throughout the boom of the 50s and 60s, that the post war boom was based on the devaluation of capital which had been brought about by the war, and predicted the return of the crisis. [2] Moseley’s book is dedicated to Mattick whom he recognises as a major influence on his work. With the return of the crisis in the 70s the SI began to be first challenged in academic papers and later in books. The crisis of 2007/8 has added momentum to this process and Moseley’s book is the latest refutation of the SI. The relationship of capitalism’s health to interpretations of Marx’s critique is not accidental. It is an illustration of the link between the infrastructure of capitalist society, its economy, and the superstructural ideology.

Though these disputes may seem somewhat arcane, the conclusions about the SI affect basic concepts of Marxism which are essential for understanding capitalism. In particular, the SI and its variants undermine the centrality of the labour theory of value. The refutation of the labour theory of value is, of course, something bourgeois economists have been trying to do since the 1870s. [3] Marx’s aggregate equalities, namely that, at the level of the global capitalist economy, total value equals total price and total surplus value equals total profit, which he derives in Capital Volume 3 Chapter 10 are also undermined, since as Moseley shows, according to the SI they cannot both be true simultaneously. These remain essential tools for understanding twenty first century capitalism with its inflation of the money supply, falling rates of profit and speculation. Understanding tendencies and developments in contemporary capitalism are, in turn, essential for framing principles and tactics in the class struggle.

The Transformation Problem
The labour theory of value holds that labour is the source of value in capitalism. The products of capitalist production, commodities, take their value from the labour they contain, which can be measured in terms of labour time. The source of profit in capitalism is the unpaid labour which capitalists extract from the working class, the surplus labour, which appears in the form of surplus value. This can also be valued in terms of labour time. Marx makes a provisional and simplifying assumption in Volume 1 of Capital, that commodities exchange at their values. This holds for the aggregate of the whole global economy, but Marx was aware that this is not true for individual commodities, which exchange at their prices of production. [4]

In Capital Volume 3 Marx examines how products of individual industries get their prices and concludes values are transformed into prices by multiplying the capital laid out in the individual industries by an average rate of profit determined across the economy as a whole. This produces an equalisation of the rate of profit throughout the sectors of the economy. Prices were therefore generally not equal to values but dependent on the capital laid out and the average rate of profit. Therfore individual industries do not generally get as profit the surplus value they produce. There is consequently a distribution of the total surplus value produced between the various industries and sectors of the economy. The amount each industry receives depends on the capital they lay out multiplied by the average rate of profit for the total economy. Marx drew up some tables in Capital Volume 3 Chapter 9 which show the division of surplus value between industries with different capitals and different ratios of constant to variable capital. The initial inputs appear in terms of values. Marx argued, however, that for the economy as a total unit (and today this must be the global economy), the sum of all the values must equal the sum of all the prices and the sum of the surplus values must equal the sum of all the profits. Marx’s analysis is a dynamic one starting with the economy as a whole from which an average rate of profit is calculated and then moving to the individual sectors where the capital they lay out is multiplied by an average rate of profit determined from the economy as a whole. This is an analysis with sequential evaluation which considers capitalism as a single system with direct connection between values based on labour time and market prices.

Marx’s analysis is fairly straightforward and easy to understand. However, the proponents of the SI [5] hold that, since the inputs to production are products of other industries, Marx should therefore have transformed the inputs from values to prices of production. They then set about correcting Marx’s ‘mistake’. This resulted in evaluating inputs and outputs simultaneously via a series of simultaneous equations, or by mathematical iteration, or by analysing the production cycle in terms of the physical quantities of the commodities input to production and those produced as output. The rate of profit was also determined simultaneously.

Moseley examines the SI and the various permutations of it in detail. He points out these corrections amount to a static equilibrium theory of capitalism and moreover make the labour theory of value (LTV) redundant because the results of all the clever mathematics reach the same answer whatever the initial inputs. Further they result in two separate systems of evaluation: a value system, which is hypothetical, and a price system, which determines prices of production. These two systems are without connection. There is thus a price rate of profit and a value rate of profit which need not be the same. If this is the case then the key conclusion of the LTV that surplus labour is the source, and only source of profit, is undermined. The sum of the surplus values does not necessarily equal the sum of the profits and some other source of profit must exist. Similarly the sum of the values of globally produced commodities does not necessarily equal their prices. All this, one would have thought, represented metaphorically driving a coach and horses through Marx’s analysis, but it has been considered merely as extending and improving his theory.
As capitalism’s crisis continued further rejections of the SI have been developed. The so-called Temporal Single System Interpretation (TSSI), developed by A Kliman and T McGlone and explained in Kliman’s book Reclaiming Marx’s Capital (2007), presents a refutation of the premises and conclusions of the SI. In particular it argues there is no logical flaw in Marx’s theory, as the SI claims, instead it is a logically consistent system. Moseley is largely in agreement with the TSSI but criticises it for arguing that prices of production are short term prices applying to a single cycle only. Prices of production, he insists, do not change with each cycle of production as the TSSI claims. Moseley argues prices of production are rather than long term centre of gravity prices responding to prices of inputs to production. If prices of the inputs change during the production process prices of the outputs must reflect this. [6] Moseley argues that, although the TSSI satisfies Marx’s aggregate equalities in a single period of production, it will not do so in the long run.

Macro-Monetary Interpretation
Moseley has developed his “Macro-Monetary” interpretation by arguing that Marx’s analysis starts on the macro level analysing capitalism as a single economy, that is analysing the economy as a whole in terms of values. It then proceeds to analysing individual industries, or branches of production. This is at the micro level, and the analysis is a monetary one resulting in prices. He calls these analyses different levels of abstraction. The first, the analysis of capitalism as a whole, can be done in terms of values. This is the level of abstraction which underlies Capital Volumes 1 and 2. For this it is assumed that commodities are exchanged at their values. For the whole economy, the sum of all the values will equal the sum of the prices and the sum of the surplus values will equal the sum of the profits. Thus for the total capital the rate of profit will be the sum of the surplus values divided by the sum of the values of all the capitals.

However, in Volume 3 the level of abstraction is a single industry. Here we find values converted into prices of production via the average rate of profit worked out for the economy as a whole and surplus value determined for the economy as a whole distributed between industries as described above. For an individual industry its original capital is increased, or in Marxist terms valorised, in the following cycle:

M-C …. P …. C’ - (M + ΔM)

A sum of money capital M is transformed into capital, C, representing means of production and labour power. This capital enters the production process P, and is transformed into capital C’, representing commodities produced. The sale of commodities C’ results in recovery of the original money capital M plus an increase ΔM. ΔM, of course, represents the unpaid labour of workers. This circuit starts and ends with money. It starts in the sphere of circulation, moves to the sphere of production, then returns to the sphere of circulation.

Because the original purchase of the means of production and labour power takes place in the sphere of circulation, the exchange of money capital for means of production and labour power is an exchange at prices of production. Hence the inputs to the valorisation cycle are prices of production to start with and their transformation from values to prices of production has already taken place. It follows therefore that the entire argument about the need to transform inputs from values to prices of production is based on a misunderstanding.

However, if the inputs are prices of production they are not generally equal to their values as Moseley admits. The link between value and price of production can only be made by assuming that these actual quantities of money capital used to purchase means of production and means of subsistence do, in the long term average, approximate to values. Marx makes this assumption and so these sums represent a starting point, a point of departure, for the analysis. Using these values, which are the same as those used in Capital Volume 1, the analysis is able to show how a sum of money capital M can be increased to M + ΔM.

Moseley is at pains to prove that his analysis corresponds to that of Marx. He supports this with many textual quotations from Marx’s published works and the more recently available drafts and notebooks accessible in the MEGA. [7] He also deals with sections of Marx’s work quoted by the SI proponents and attempts to show they are taken out of context or that their ambiguity needs to be seen in the context of Marx’s work as a whole. Whether this book will lay the transformation problem to rest or not is, however, doubtful. So much of Marx’s work now available was not edited by him but has been published posthumously. Major texts were compiled by Engels, and now with the MEGA available it is possible to see what Engels left out and what he reordered. In addition the notebooks, which are dated, show how Marx’s analysis developed. Ambiguities, of course, remain and academic Marxists will continue to use them to support their various views.

A more significant question is how precisely Moseley’s analysis helps in understanding the trajectory of twenty first century capitalism.

Relevance to Twenty First Century Capitalism
Moseley’s book clearly affirms the key aspects of Marx’s analysis which continue to underlie contemporary capitalism. The most important is the centrality of the labour theory of value to any true understanding of the present. Labour is the source of value and unpaid labour is the source of surplus value which in turn is the source, and only source, of capitalist profit. As a consequence it follows that the aggregate sum of the surplus value produced globally must equal the sum of the profits which the capitalist class appropriate. There is similarly only one rate of profit or, in other words, the value rate of profit is equal to the price rate of profit. Also, since there is only a single system of values and prices the sum of the values must equal the sum of the prices of production.

Marx’s analysis is based on money being commodity money, (i.e. gold/silver etc. which have intrinsic value in their own right). Does today’s money, known as fiat money, invalidate all this? Moseley thinks it does not. Marx, in the chapter on money in the Grundisse [8] lists three main functions of money. It must serve firstly as a measure of value, secondly as a medium of circulation and thirdly as an abstract representative of wealth. Today’s fiat money is a measure of abstract labour, i.e. value, and is accepted as both a medium of circulation and a representation of wealth. It therefore serves the same function as commodity money previously did. It can be related to labour time by what is known as the Monetary Equivalent of Labour Time (MELT). In a system of commodity money MELT would be determined by dividing the new value produced by labour in currency units (gold) by the labour time required to produce it. Moseley maintains that in a fiat currency system MELT is still related to gold and should be calculated by dividing the amount of paper money in circulation by the quantity of gold required to replace it if prices were gold prices.

The use of fiat money, however, gives states and banks controlling national currencies powers they could not have with commodity money which had to be backed by gold. Banks can inflate the money supply by issuing credit which is not redeemable by gold, while central banks can issue bonds and manipulate their interest rates. This is not a new phenomenon. In the case of the British economy, a standard work explains that: "In 1844 an Act of parliament limited the quantity of currency which the Bank of England could issue to the value of its stock of gold but the Act also allowed the Bank to issue £14 million of notes unbacked by gold, (the so-called ‘fiduciary issue’). After this initial breach, the fiduciary element was consistently increased until the break from gold was completed in 1939 with the transfer of the Bank’s gold holding to the Exchange Equalisation Account, for use only in international payments." (Guide to the British Economy, Peter Donaldson). What Donaldson omits to mention is that the 1939 devaluation was the tail-end of a round of competitive devaluations by all major states in the world economic crisis preceding the Second World War. The worldwide break from gold had started with the British domestic economy in 1931 followed by the US abandoning the gold standard in 1933. By 1939 the break was ‘completed’ when the whole sterling bloc came off the gold standard.

More recently we have seen central banks directly injecting fictitious money into the banking system by bailouts and quantitative easing. This has created massive inflation. Since the modified gold standard ended in 1971 the inflation of currencies has been staggering. The gold price has risen from $35 per ounce to an average of around $1400 today. This is devaluation of the dollar by a factor of 40 or 39000%. Past devaluations such as that carried out by Roosevelt in 1933, when the dollar was devalued from $20.67 to $35 per ounce of gold, which amounted to a 70% devaluation, pale into insignificance. For the UK inflation since 1971 has been 1470%. [9] The amount of money relative to the size of the economy has been increased by a factor of about 16. This, however, is significantly less than the increase in the gold price. One of the reasons for this is the distribution of this new credit money and the way the official statistics on inflation are calculated. In the UK according to analysis of “Positive Money,” an organisation which campaigns for reform of the banking system, while the UK central bank (BoE) has created £190bn of additional money since 1971, private banks have created £2.02 trillion. The bulk of the new money created by private banking system, £1.28tn or 63% of it, has gone into housing. The second largest amount £460bn or 23% has gone into finance. [10] This has produced massive inflation in UK house prices. In addition there has been a massive increase in debt, both of which are not registered in official inflation statistics. All this exists on a global scale also. Global debt, as we pointed out in Revolutionary Perspectives 12 [11], now amounts to approximately $250 trillion, well in excess of the debt existing before the crisis of 2007/8. This debt attracts interest which can only result in the financial sector appropriating an ever larger share of the available global surplus value. All this, of course, has resulted in the enormous increases in inequality which bourgeois economists, such as Piketty [12], have exposed and lamented. The use of non-convertible fiat currencies has given the controllers of capitalism the ability to carry out manoeuvres with the monetary system which postpone capitalism’s problems. These problems are being attenuated by spreading them globally and allowing the central countries to appropriate an ever greater share of the global surplus value through their financial sectors. But have these measures been able to fundamentally invalidate Marx’s critique of capitalism? We think not.

One of the issues which Marx is at pains to emphasise at the start of Capital Volume 1 is the fetishism of capitalist production. Nothing is as it appears and this starts with the nature of the commodity itself. Profit appears to come from both constant capital and labour both of which bourgeois economists insist are simply factors in production. The source of surplus value and so capitalist profit is disguised. The distribution of surplus value between industries, commerce, interest and rent, hide where this surplus comes from. Each sector claims it produces the profit it appropriates. Again monopoly capital drains surplus value from rivals to itself making it appear that monopoly itself is a source of profit which it is not. All this makes the system opaque and hence difficult to understand. However, as Marx noted "… all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided." [13]

Marxism is, of course, the critique which unveils the essence of capitalism which lies behind its appearance.

Today, as the global economy flounders from crisis to crisis, Marx’s analysis of capitalism is the essential basis for a correct understanding of what is going on. Moseley’s book reaffirms key elements of this analysis. The previous obsession with the transformation problem has resulted in the undermining of these key aspects of Marx’s critique, actually making an understanding of twenty first century capitalism harder. Moseley’s book, though long winded and somewhat repetitive, serves a very useful purpose in exposing this undermining and its implications. For this reason alone it is worth reading.

Notes
[1] Money and Totality by Fred Moseley published by Haymarket Books in 2015
[2] See Marx and Keynes Paul Mattick (Merlin 1970)
[3] The theory of marginal utility as opposed to the labour theory of value was proposed by W.S.Jevons in 1871 and taken up by others including A Marshall Principles of Economy in 1890. P Mattick wrote, “Marginal utility is the construction of a value concept which justifies the prevailing class and income differentiations. The existing inequalities based on the exploitation of labour are explained as the undefeatable natural law of diminishing utility.”
[4] This issue was central to Marx’s criticism of Ricardo.
[5] Most important of the theorists of the SI are L Bortkiewicz Value Price in the Marxian System, P Sweezy The Theory of Capitalist Development, P Sraffa Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities, I Steedman Marx after Sraffa.
[6] A Kliman argues Moseley’s criticism amounts to simultaneous valuation of inputs and outputs.
[7] MEGA is Marx Engels Gesamtausgabe – a project to publish all the writings of both Marx and Engels on the internet.
[8] See K Marx Grundrisse p 115
[9] See inflation.iamkate.com
[10] See Positive Money: positivemoney.org
[11] See: leftcom.org
[12] See Piketty, Marx and Capitalism’s Dynamics: leftcom.org
[13] K Marx Capital Volume 3, Chapter 4

Monday, August 26, 2019

3273. In the Burning Brazilian Amazon, All Our Futures Are Being Consumed

By Elaine Brum, The Guardian, August 23, 2019


The Amazon is the centre of the world. Right now, as our planet experiences climate collapse, there is nowhere more important. If we don’t grasp this, there is no way to meet that challenge.

For 500 years, this has been a place of ruins. First with the European invasion, which brought a particularly destructive form of civilisation, the death of hundreds of thousands of indigenous men and women and the extinction of dozens of peoples. More recently, with the clearance of vast swaths of the forest and all life within it. Right now, in 2019, we are witnessing the beginning of a new, disastrous chapter. The area of trees being cleared has surged this year. In July, the deforestation rate was an area the size of Manhattan every day, a Greater London every three weeks. This month, fires are incinerating the Amazon at a record rate, almost certainly part of a scorched-earth strategy to clear territory. Why is this happening now? Because of a change in power.

A predatory form of politics called Bolsonarism has assumed nearly total, and totalitarian, power in Brazil. President Jair Bolsonaro’s chief project is to create more ruins in the Amazon forest, methodically and swiftly. This is why, for the first time since Brazil became a democracy again, it effectively has a minister against the environment.

For more than 30 years no environment minister has enjoyed the same autonomy as Ricardo Salles. He is a gofer for agribusiness, which is responsible for the majority of the deaths in the fields and forests, and Brazil’s greatest destructive force. The landowners lobby has always been part of Brazil’s government, formally or not. But today, this has reached a new level. They are not just in the government, they are the government.

Bolsonarism’s number one power project is to turn public lands that serve everyone – because they guarantee the preservation of natural biomes, the life of native peoples and regulate the climate – into private lands that profit a few. These lands, most of which lie in the Amazon forest, include the public lands to which indigenous peoples have the constitutional right to use, the public lands settled by ribeirinhos (people who have for over a century made their living by fishing, tapping rubber, and sustainably gathering Brazil nuts and other forest products), and the collective-use lands of quilombolas (descendants of rebel slaves who won their right to territories occupied by their ancestors).

Infighting is constant in the government, in part because the Bolsonaro administration employs the strategy of simulating its own opposition so it can occupy every possible space. Yet there is a consensus about opening up indigenous peoples’ protected lands and conservation areas. When it comes to transforming the planet’s largest tropical forest into a place for raising cattle, growing soybeans, and mining ore, there is no fighting at all. A few somewhat dissonant voices have already been deleted from the government.

Bolsonarism goes well beyond the man after whom it is named. At some point, it might even do without Bolsonaro. Deeply entwined with our global democracy crisis, Bolsonarism has been influencing the entire Amazon region, drawing out figures who have been hiding in sewers for years, sometimes decades, in other Latin American countries, where the fate of the world’s largest tropical forest is also being decided. And Bolsonarism, it bears repeating, is not a threat just to Brazil but to our planet, because it destroys the forest that is strategically vital to controlling global heating.
How do we resist this tremendous destructive force, this skilled destructive force?
For us to be capable of resisting, we must become the forest – and resist like the forest, the forest that knows it carries ruins within itself, that carries within itself both what it is and what it no longer is. We must lend shape to this political, affective feeling in order to lend meaning to our actions. This means shifting a few tectonic plates in our own thinking. We have to decolonise ourselves.

The fact that the Amazon is still regarded as something far away, on the periphery of our vision, shows just how stupid white western culture is. It is a stupidity that moulds and shapes the political and economic elites of the world, and likewise of Brazil. Believing the Amazon is far away and on the periphery, when the only chance of controlling global heating is to keep the forest alive, reflects ignorance of continental proportions. The forest is at the very core of all we have. This is the real home of humanity. The fact that many of us feel far away from it only shows how much our eyes have been contaminated, formatted and distorted. Colonised.

In the big cities of Brazil and the rest of the world, we are distanced from the deaths in which our small daily acts are accomplices. We have the privilege of not being forced to question the origin of the clothes we wear or the food we eat. But in the Amazon, if you eat beef, you know for sure it is beef from deforestation. If you buy wood, you know there is (almost) no truly legal lumber in Brazil. If you purchase a table or a wardrobe, you look at the furniture and think about how it was most likely made with wood torn off indigenous land or from an extractive reserve. In the Amazon, in the centre of the world, our relationship with the death of the forest and forest peoples, as well as with the death of family farmers, is direct. It is inescapable.

We need to humbly ask if the forest peoples accept us alongside them in the fight. They are the ones who know how to live despite the ruins. They are the ones who have experience resisting the great forces of destruction. If we are to have any chance of producing a resistance movement, we must understand that in this fight, we are not the protagonists.

We are the ones whoneed to let ourselves be occupied and allow our bodies to be affected by other experiences of being on this planet. But not as a form of violence, like the colonisation of the Amazon and its peoples; the colonisation still under way today, and going on at an ever faster pace. Rather, this time, as a form of exchange, a blending, a relationship of love.

Bolsonaro is not just a threat to the Amazon. He is a threat to the planet, precisely because he is a threat to the Amazon. Confronted with Bolsonarism’s accelerated forces of destruction, all of us, of all nationalities, must emulate the enslaved Africans who rebelled against their oppressors. We must forge communities like those established by Brazil’s escaped slaves. And since we don’t know how to do this, we will have to be humble enough to learn with those who do.

What is best, and most powerful, about today’s Brazil and the Amazon, in all its regions, are the peripheries that demand to be the centre. Our best chance lies in joining forces with the real centre of the world where the battle for the future is being waged.

As the crisis escalates…

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Friday, August 23, 2019

3272. The Amazon Is Burning Because of Rising Meat Consumption

By Eliza Mackintoch, CNN,  August 23, 2019



hile the wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest may constitute an "international crisis," they are hardly an accident.

The vast majority of the fires have been set by loggers and ranchers to clear land for cattle. The practice is on the rise, encouraged by Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's populist pro-business president, who is backed by the country's so-called "beef caucus."
 
While this may be business as usual for Brazil's beef farmers, the rest of the world is looking on in horror.
 
So, for those wondering how they could help save the rainforest, known as "the planet's lungs" for producing about 20% of the world's oxygen, the answer may be simple. Eat less meat.
It's an idea that Finland has already floated. On Friday, the Nordic country's finance minister called for the European Union to "urgently review the possibility of banning Brazilian beef imports" over the Amazon fires. 
 
Brazil is the world's largest exporter of beef, providing close to 20% of the total global exports, according the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) -- a figure that could rise in the coming years. 
 
Last year the country shipped 1.64 million tonnes of beef -- the highest volume in history -- generating $6.57 billion in revenue, according to the Brazilian Beef Exporters Association (Abiec), an association of more than 30 Brazilian meat-packing companies. 
 
The growth of Brazil's beef industry has been driven in part by strong demand from Asia -- mostly China and Hong Kong. These two markets alone accounted for nearly 44% of all beef exports from Brazil in 2018, according to the USDA.
 
And a trade deal struck in June between South America's Mercosur bloc of countries and the European Union could open up even more markets for Brazil's beef-packing industry.
Speaking after the agreement as announced, the head of Abiec, Antônio Camardelli, said the pact could help Brazil gain access to prospective new markets, like Indonesia and Thailand, while boosting sales with existing partners, like the EU. "A deal of this magnitude is like an invitation card for speaking with other countries and trade blocs," Camardelli told Reuters in July.
 
Once implemented, the deal will lift a 20% levy on beef imports into the EU.
 
But, on Friday, Ireland said it was ready to block the deal unless Brazil took action on the Amazon. 
 
In a statement Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar described as "Orewellian" Bolsonaro's attempt to blame the fires on environmental groups. Varadkar said that Ireland will monitor Brazil's environmental actions to determine whether to block the Mercosur deal, which is two years away.
 
He added Irish and European farmers could not be told to use fewer pesticides and respect biodiversity when trade deals were being made with countries not subjected to "decent environmental, labor and product standards."
 
In June, before the furor over the rainforest began, the Irish Farmers Association called on Ireland not to ratify the deal, arguing its terms would disadvantage European beef farmers.
 
Deal or no deal, Brazil's beef industry is projected to continue expanding, buoyed by natural resources, grassland availability and global demand, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
 
And, with that growth, comes steep environmental costs. 
 
Brazil's space research center (INPE) said this week that the number of fires in Brazil is 80% higher than last year. More than half are in the Amazon region, spelling disaster for the local environment and ecology.
 
Alberto Setzer, a senior scientist at INPE, told CNN that the burning can range from a small-scale agricultural practice, to new deforestation for mechanized and modern agribusiness projects.
 
Farmers wait until the dry season to start burning and clearing areas so their cattle can graze, but this year's destruction has been described as unprecedented. Environmental campaigners blame this uptick on Bolsonaro, who they say has encouraged ranchers, farmers, and loggers to exploit and burn the rainforest like never before with a sense of impunity.
 
Brush fires burn in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso on August 20.
Bolsonaro has dismissed accusations of responsibility for the fires, but a clear shift seems to be underway.
 
And if saving the rainforest isn't enough to convince carnivores to stop eating Brazilian beef -- the greenhouse gas emissions the cattle create may be.
 
Beef is responsible for 41% of livestock greenhouse gas emissions, and that livestock accounts for 14.5% of total global emissions. And methane -- the greenhouse gas cattle produce from both ends -- is 25 times more potent that carbon dioxide.
 
An alarming report released last year by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, said changing our diets could contribute 20% of the effort needed to keep global temperatures from rising 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Namely, eating less meat.
 
Still, global consumption of beef and veal is set to rise in the next decade according to projections from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 
 
A joint report predicted global production would increase 16% between 2017 and 2027 to meet demand.
 
The majority of that expansion will be in developing countries, like Brazil.

3271. Engels on the Socialist Revolution

By Dragan Plavšić, Counterfire, July 26, 2019
'Before the sunrise’ (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels walking in night London) by Mikhail Dzhanashvili

Marx and Engels were above all revolutionaries who wanted to overthrow capitalism, a system they argued was the cause of impoverishing exploitation and wars. For them, revolution was the beating heart that gave life to the body of their ideas. Without it, their ideas would have lost direction and become something very different.

If anti-capitalist revolution is indeed your goal, then you have to take it seriously as an idea if you are to succeed. This entails thinking about revolution in a realistic way and developing the idea of it in the light of historical experience. Engels made an important contribution here.

A key question about revolution to which the young Engels had to find an answer was the crucial one of who would carry it out. He found it when, as a young man in the early 1840s, he came to work for the family firm in Manchester, then the urban centre of the world-leading English textile industry. Here Engels came face to face with the crushing poverty of textile workers and was shocked by what he saw.

As he wrote in his The Condition of the Working Class in England, ‘The proletarian, who has nothing but his two hands, who consumes today what he earned yesterday...and has not the slightest guarantee for being able to earn the barest necessities of life...this proletarian is placed in the most revolting, inhuman position conceivable for a human being.’ Engels wrote with stark realism of the dissolute drunkenness of the workers and how they were driven into stealing, starvation and suicide.

Engels’ realism enabled him to see more clearly than other writers who tended either to pour scorn or sentimentality on the workers. Thus, he recorded how workers became brutalised ‘the moment they bend in patience under the yoke’, but he also recorded how they became transformed when ‘they burn in wrath against the reigning class’ of capitalists. Rather than censure this anger as others did, Engels saw it as ‘proof that the workers feel the inhumanity of their position, that they refuse to be degraded to the level of brutes’. Their transformation before his very eyes led him to the political conclusion that workers would ‘one day free themselves from servitude to the bourgeoisie’.

A close reading of The Condition of the Working Class in England reveals five core ideas about revolution which Marx and Engels were to develop in the coming years into consistent features of their thinking:

  1. Revolution is not something imposed on the workers from the outside by extraneous forces. It is the product of intolerable conditions and the inevitable revolt against them. As Engels put it, ‘A class which bears all the disadvantages of the social order without enjoying its advantages…who can demand that such a class respect this social order?’ 
  2. Revolution is aimed at the wholesale transformation of society to be carried out by the workers, the only social force with the power and the willingness to effect such a transformation. It is not a question of ameliorating this condition or that, but of workers freeing themselves completely from their ‘servitude to the bourgeoisie’.
  3. Revolution has to be carried out by the workers themselves; they have to ‘free themselves’, as Engels put it simply. He later explained that ‘our notion, from the very beginning, was that ‘the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself’’. Engels was here quoting the very ‘notion’ Marx had inserted into the Rules of the First International, the organisation he had helped set up in the 1860s to represent workers. Workers cannot sit back and wait to be freed, for if the freedom to be won is to be meaningful to them as workers, it has to be won by them.
  4. Revolution is an experience that will transform workers in the very process of them carrying it out. As Marx and Engels later wrote, ‘the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution…because the class [doing the] overthrowing…can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found itself anew.’ Here we have summarised what Engels witnessed in Manchester – the capacity of workers, though almost broken by oppressive conditions, to transform themselves in the struggle against those conditions.
  5. Revolution is a mass democratic experience, not a conspiracy planned by a secret cabal behind closed doors and somehow staged behind people’s backs. As Engels later wrote, ‘The time of surprise attacks, of revolutions carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of masses lacking consciousness is past. Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must be in on it, must themselves have grasped what is at stake, what they are fighting for,, body and soul.’

These five core ideas are invaluable, but they are on their own insufficient, as concretely realistic thinking is also needed to determine how best to get to revolution from the non-revolutionary here and now. Here Engels was clear that any political organisation devoted to the goal of revolution had to prioritise looking outwards to society. As he later wrote, ‘In other words, we enter the realm of intelligent political leadership of a broad revolutionary movement that is striving to reach out, without compromising its own politics, as against the wooden drill of a self-pickling sect.’ As a result, ‘in order for the masses to understand what is to be done, long, persistent work is required’, including taking part in elections, whenever feasible, to spread the word.

This ‘striving to reach out’ also entails looking to struggles that, though not themselves revolutionary, have the potential to show workers the benefits of struggle and thus the possibility of a deeper, revolutionary transformation. In his later years, this led Engels to support the new union strikes of the 1880s which, as he explained to a friend, were ‘drawing far greater masses into the struggle, shaking up society more profoundly, and putting forward much more farreaching demands’ even as he noted that the strikers ‘themselves do not yet know toward what final goal they are working.’ Nevertheless, vague though their ideas were, they were sufficient ‘to make them elect only downright Socialists.’
These general questions about political organisation and union activity as stepping stones to revolution were not the only ones the older Engels was preoccupied with. In the 1840s, he had concluded that the only way ‘to ensure that the interests of the proletariat prevail’ would be by means of a ‘democratic revolution by force’. However, he and Marx had seen how the multiple revolutions in Europe of 1848 had been crushed by the superior military forces of the state. As standing armies became more and more a typical feature of the modern state in the nineteenth century, Engels had to address the question of whether revolution was still a feasible option given the state’s monopoly control of military power.

Engels’ answer to this question was entirely in the spirit of his core beliefs about revolution. It was the height of foolishness, he argued, to think that the forces of the state could be defeated on their own military terms. After all, they had the guns. Overcoming the state could never be a question of force alone. It had also to be a matter of ‘making the troops yield to moral influences’ by agitating among them so they became ‘more and more infected with socialism’. Future revolutions, such as the Russian Revolution of 1917, would more than bear out the value of this insight.

Engels was a revolutionary democrat and a revolutionary realist. He knew that revolutions could only be successfully made if the great majority was ‘in on it’, not least because this was the surest way of morally influencing the army and ensuring the revolution would be carried out with the minimum of force. He had seen in Manchester the damage capitalism did to people and had concluded that only a revolution could undo it by transforming people while they were carrying it out. This is the kind of wellgrounded faith in people we could do with more of today.