- mass, public, zero carbon housing;
- mass, free, zero-carbon transit;
- bringing private, investor-owned energy utilities under public, democratic and community control, as well as transitioning them to renewable energy sources.
These policies address environmental ills and social ills at the same time, while also freeing our political system from the clutches of planet-killing corporations. And, by challenging property (often theft too) and profit, they would put us on the path towards a society centered on human need and ecological sustainability.
This piece is a response to “We Don’t Have Time to End Capitalism—But Growth Can Still Be Green.”
We need to act as quickly as possible, and we need to target the root causes of climate change. But we can, and should, do both simultaneously.
This piece is a response to “We Don’t Have Time to End Capitalism—But Growth Can Still Be Green.”
While the question of whether we should address capitalism first or climate change first is often posed in sequential terms, it is a false choice—though a compelling one.
One can cogently argue, as Tobita does, that the timeline to avert the worst of climate chaos is exceedingly short, much shorter than the time it would take to overthrow and replace capitalism. But one can also argue, as Ashley does, that the climate crisis is historically a symptom of capitalism, and that this has intensified since the post-war Great Acceleration of globalized production and consumption. Accordingly, the reasoning goes, we can’t deal with the climate crisis without first dismantling capitalism.
Both of these sequential framings, however, miss an important truth: The path to democratic socialism and the path to a livable planet are one and the same.
My argument recognizes what is correct in each of the sequential framings: We need to act as quickly as possible, and we need to target the root causes of climate change. But we can, and should, do both simultaneously.
We can see that environmental destruction is rooted in the imperatives of capitalism: profit-seeking, competition, endless growth, exploitation of humans and nature, and imperial expansion. The most transformative approaches to addressing climate change would also bring us closer to a socialist society.
There are many examples of such a transformative approach: mass, public, zero carbon housing; mass, free, zero-carbon transit; bringing private, investor-owned energy utilities under public, democratic and community control, as well as transitioning them to renewable energy sources. These policies address environmental ills and social ills at the same time, while also freeing our political system from the clutches of planet-killing corporations. And, by violating the sanctity of property and profit, they would put us on the path towards a society centered on human need and ecological sustainability.
Perhaps most importantly, fighting both climate change and extreme inequality simultaneously is adept political strategy. For one, wealthy countries and wealthy individuals contribute a disproportionate share of emissions. And if economically precarious people do not think they have something to gain from taking urgent action on climate change, they will never commit to the scale or militancy of mobilization that is required. Just look to France’s ideologically inchoate Yellow Vests movement, sparked in response to a gas tax, to see that neoliberal climate policy without social justice at the center is a political dead end.
This is not to say that an ecosocialist strategy has no political tensions or challenges. There will necessarily be changes in habits of consumption, habits that are by no means confined to the affluent. We need to catalyze a change in social values, wherein communal activities such as recreational sports, dancing, art projects and book clubs as well as forms of collective consumption—not only of transit and housing but of food, theater, film and much more—become valorized. We must eat less red meat, and devalue the consumption of plastic junk and latest-model cell phones and other tech that not only contribute to social alienation but are tremendously destructive to the planet: manufactured for obsolescence, shipped across great distances in carbon-spewing ships and trucks, and relying on neocolonial patterns of cheapened nature and labor in the Global South. And we need to ensure that redistribution and the public provisioning of goods and services like transit and healthcare would offset the increased costs of some consumer items.
The greatest challenge will be building a mass movement ready to take militant action to threaten and disrupt economics and politics as usual, with all the backlash from the ruling class and neoliberal establishment such a movement will provoke. There are inspiring examples to draw on, from pipeline resistance at Standing Rock to the recent wave of teachers’ strikes, some of which directly involved climate demands such as taxing extractive companies or investing in green spaces.
If we fail, there will still be a future—just an awful one, full of social conflict, dislocation and violence. The impacts of climate change will be felt unequally, intensifying inequality along the lines of class, race, nationality and geography. The national and global 1% will protect themselves from rising seas, extreme temperatures and resource scarcity by any means necessary, erecting border walls and fortresses while the rest of us suffer. The question of climate change, as the editors of n+1 have pointed out, is who gets to live—and under what circumstances.
The choices are ecosocialism or eco-apartheid.
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Thea N. Riofrancos is assistant professor of political science at Providence College and serves on the steering committee of the Democratic Socialists of America’s ecosocialist working group. Her forthcoming book is Resource Radicals: From Petro-Nationalism to Post-Extractivism in Ecuador.
We Can’t Beat Climate Change Under Capitalism. Socialism Is the Only Way.
April 17, 2019 by Common Dreams Bernie Sanders ‘Raises the Bar Even Further’ on Climate With Vow to Ban Fracking, All New Fossil Fuel Projects: “That is exactly the kind of leadership we need if we hope to stop the worst impacts of climate change.”on
Bernie Sanders won praise from environmental groups after releasing a climate platform that calls for a complete ban on fracking, a moratorium on all new fossil fuel infrastructure, an end to oil exports, and a Green New Deal.
“Climate change is the single greatest threat facing our planet,” the Vermont senator and 2020 contender wrote on the climate page of his website, which was unveiled this week.
If elected president, Sanders said, his administration will work to:
- Pass a Green New Deal to save American families money and generate millions of jobs by transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels to 100 percent energy efficiency and sustainable energy. A Green New Deal will protect workers and the communities in which they live to ensure a transition to family-sustaining wage, union jobs.
- Invest in infrastructure and programs to protect the frontline communities most vulnerable to extreme climate impacts like wildfires, sea level rise, drought, floods, and extreme weather like hurricanes.
- Reduce carbon pollution emissions from our transportation system by building out high-speed passenger rail, electric vehicles, and public transit.
- Ban fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure and keep oil, gas, and coal in the ground by banning fossil fuel leases on public lands.
- End exports of coal, natural gas, and crude oil.
Sanders’ climate platform comes just days after fellow 2020 hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) vowed that her administration would ban fossil fuel drilling offshore and on public lands on day one.
Environmentalists celebrated the senators’ bold climate positions and urged other 2020 contenders to follow suit. “I love this competition!” tweeted David Turnbull, strategic communications director at Oil Change International.
The ACLU’s Phil Aroneanu said Sanders’ call for a total ban on both fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure “raises the bar even further.”
Collin Rees, senior campaigner at Oil Change U.S., said in a statement Tuesday that any presidential candidate who is serious about confronting climate change must be willing to take on the fossil fuel industry.
“That’s why it’s great to see Senator Sanders’ new climate platform hit the industry where it hurts by banning new fossil fuel infrastructure, stopping fracking, banning fossil fuel leases on public lands, and ending polluting exports,” said Rees.
“Along with Senator Warren’s commitment to ban new fossil fuel leases on public lands on day one,” Rees added, “this plan from Senator Sanders means we’re seeing the bar for climate leadership raised to new heights.”
Sanders and Warren unveiled their bold proposals amid a growing push for Democratic presidential candidates to hold a climate-specific debate during the primary process, in an effort to force candidates to detail how they would tackle the ecological crisis.
As Common Dreams reported Wednesday, the U.S. Youth Climate Strike team’s petition demanding a climate debate garnered over 30,000 signatures in just 48 hours.
“With the magnitude of the oncoming climate crisis, it’s no longer sufficient to have a single token environmental question that 2020 candidates get to brush off with a soundbite,” the petition reads. “We need an entire debate on environmental policies.”