ZNet, August 13, 2015
One of the oddest things about being a “radical” eco-socialist is the way it tends to pigeon-hole you as some of kind of wild-eyed child caught up in a terrible and irrational tantrum. In reality, “radical” eco-socialists just want their fellow human beings to grow up enough to do something conservative: save prospects for a decent, environmentally sustainable future.
Growing up means acknowledging some harsh realities, some of which – like the inevitability of an individual’s ultimate weakening and death – are unavoidably written into existential reality. Death is an inescapable fact of life. Other harsh realities like the consignment of billions of people to deep poverty while others live in luxuriant opulence, the incarceration of 2.4 million disproportionately Black people in the so-called land of liberty (the United States), the massive provision of economic resources to destructive militarism and empire in a world of vastly unmet need, or the setting up of workplaces where most people perform mindless, alienating, socially useless and (often) harmful tasks under authoritarian direction are not inherent existential facts of “life.” They are products of human agency and “socially constructed” inequality and oppression.
“Radical” eco-socialists want their fellow humans to grow up about and respond with maturity to four harsh realities that are about human agency and social construction and oppression, not human existence as such. The first such reality is the escalating prospect of human extinction in the historical near-term future thanks to a growing environmental crisis driven first and foremost by the dramatic warming of the planet. The signs of this mounting crisis are starkly evident right now. It is happening in real time, not at some point in the distant future. It’s not just about “our grandchildren” (though those children certainly will be facing some very dreadful environmental prospects if “radical” changes are not introduced soon). I will not fill up this essay with quotes and references from the voluminous and increasingly dark scientific literature on this frightening topic. For those who take science seriously, the calamitous projections are beyond serious doubt, notwithstanding the constant propagandistic efforts of the climate denial industry, funded by the fossil fuel corporations.
The second harsh reality is the basic core responsibility of homo sapiens for climate change – hence the term “anthropogenic global warming” (AGW). This is thanks to humanity’s creation of what basic junior high science calls the Greenhouse Effect through the wildly excessive extraction and burning of fossil fuels. Here again I will bypass references from and to the vast scientific literature. For those who take science seriously, the human agency behind current warming trends and their terrible consequences (including rising sea levels, increasingly destructive storms, epic heat waves, horrible droughts and more) is beyond serious doubt, notwithstanding the constant propagandistic efforts of the climate denial industry, funded by the fossil fuel corporations.
The third harsh reality is the special responsibility of capitalism – the profits system – for AGW and the related impossibility (to be perfectly frank) of averting environmental catastrophe under the rule of that soulless system, which is addicted to endless growth and accumulation and incapable of the coordinated social and global planning required to bring human economic life in line with the ecological requirements of survival. This is something that I have written and spoken about at no small length in the past. Instead of repeating or even condensing all that here, I will give here links to a long talk I have given on this topic to the Open University of the Left and to a number of citation-heavy pieces I’ve done on ZNet:
I am all aware that for many Americans and others, “capitalism” falls into the category of an “inescapable existential fact of life.” The profits system for them stands outside human beings “sphere of influence” and belongs in the category of “things I cannot change” in Alcoholics Anonymous’ well known Serenity Prayer
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
It is indeed foolish to spend a lot of energy fretting about things one cannot change – like, say, the inevitability of individual sickness and death or the reality that people are not equal in all their inherited physical and mental attributes. But it foolish, irresponsible, and childish to place capitalism in that category. The profits system is a human, social, and historical creation and the same would and indeed must be true of its undoing and transcendence. I say “must be” because changing our socioeconomic system is not only something we can do but something we must do if I am correct that the salvation of livable ecology cannot happen under the rule of capital (and I am about 95% sure on that score). Going beyond capitalism is an existential imperative for homo sapiens.
The fourth harsh reality is we need to act very, very soon to move off of fossil fuels and towards water, wind, and solar if we want to save prospects for a decent future. How soon? Yesterday. I am reminded of the old Howling Woolf (Chester Burnett) blues lyric:
I should have quit you, long time ago
I should have quit you, long time ago
Then I wouldn’t be here
Down on this killing floor
Think of the “you” here as fossil fuels. We needed to move off those fuels (and nuclear) and on to wind, water, and solar in at least the 1970s, when “energy crisis” and “environmental crisis” both held prominent places in US public consciousness. We needed that transition after the long US and global capitalist expansion of the post-WWII “golden age” generated the beginnings of a visible ecological catastrophe (one of many reasons not to sentimentalize that lost Keynesian growth era)
Recent science indicates that AGW is now moving faster than even the direst early prognostications warned. If nothing substantial is accomplished in the way of radical carbon emission reduction in the next 10-20 years, indeed, it appears likely that humanity will turn runaway global warming into an in fact unavoidable existential reality – possibly beyond meaningful human intervention at the level of causation (there will always remain basic existential human agency at the level of response, adaptation, mitigation and the like) – by setting off the planet’s own internal methane and other carbon “bombs.” If I am correct that capitalism has no more than a 5% chance of being capable of permitting and making the necessary environmental adjustments, the betting odds are pretty high that we have to begin a process of radical and democratic socioeconomic restructuring well….now or at least very, very soon. It’s eco-socialism or barbarism if we’re lucky, and soon, to paraphrase and update Rosa Luxembourg and Istvan Meszaros. When I say eco-socialism instead of just socialism, I mean to underline that it will not suffice to introduce a popular and democratic economic system relies on the rapacious extraction of fossil fuels and other natural resources to power its development. Eco-cide with a socialist face will of course not save us.
It’s past time to kick capitalism and extractivism out of the Serenity Prayer and grow up to reclaim our commons from the eco-cidal masters of profit and growth. Let Goddess or whatever spiritual power we prefer give us the courage to conserve livable ecology and hopes for a decent future by radically transforming both our relations with each other and with the planet before it’s too late. We can do it. We must do it.