Category Archives: Ecology

Against Climate Exceptionalism

Today, members of Unity and Struggle, along with comrades from Sloths Against Nuclear State and Barnard Columbia Divest for Climate Justice * will be engaging in the People’s Climate March in New York City.  We wrote a short pamphlet to share with people who are engaging in these struggles, and who are working through questions of reform and revolution in regards to climate change and environmental destruction.

“Climate Change is Not an Environmental Issue”
It’s easy to forget the roots of climate change.  For many people, climate change and environmental destruction are synonymous with human society, or population growth.  Non-profits, academics, and even some radicals blame environmental destruction on the “anthropocene” and “human intervention.”  But we want to call the origin of the crisis what it is. We are not only dealing with an environmental crisis.  The same root cause that creates climate change is behind inequality, poverty, many contemporary illnesses, homelessness, and everyday alienation.  This root cause is not humans, or “human society” writ large.  It is instead a particular form of human social relations: capitalism.

Capitalism is the organization of society around production purely for exchange and profit, as opposed to use.  Capitalism requires overproduction, debt, endless growth, and most important of all, inequality. Capitalist social relations are inherently anti-democratic. Whether you work for an NGO or for an energy company, you are working for something that exists outside of your direct control.  Without inequality, there would be no workers to exploit, no land to grab, and no rents to raise.  Without hierarchy, capitalist production would become obsolete–as the people formerly on the bottom would take democratic control over the means of production, and end exploitation.  Inequality, hierarchy, exchange, misery, and alienation are all sources of life for capitalism, and sources of death for working and poor people.  The state (congress, the police, local civic bodies, courts) exist to maintain inequality and hierarchy, and work out conflicts within the ruling class. Continue reading Against Climate Exceptionalism

Green capitalism seeks sustainable misery.

by JF

On the eve of the “People’s Climate March” 2014, a member of U&S NYC offers up some theses for discussion. It has been rightly observed within U&S that these theses do not engage directly with the crisis itself, and its particular relationship to capitalism. In this regard, they can be understood as supplementary reading to the excellent pamphlet “Why Climate Change is Not And Environmental Issue“. A more rigorous engagement with these questions is forthcoming.

 

I. The first person to fence off a piece of land and say “this is mine” was the original “climate criminal”. The first person to defend this right was the forebear of today’s “green capitalist”.

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II. Green capitalism tells us that the “environmental crisis” can be resolved within capitalism, by capitalist means — legislation, lobbying, fundraising, protest parades, and direct actions that “speak truth to power” and get the wheels of reform turning. Talk of “climate criminals”, the nefarious “Wall Street”, and the need for “climate justice” is perfectly consistent with green capitalism. For green capitalism, the solution to the climate crisis is more effective capitalist democracy, fairer capitalist justice, “Main Street not Wall Street”, or in other words: better capitalism.

 
III. Branding oneself “anti‐capitalist” hardly makes one any less capitalist; quite the opposite. A savvy eye to niche marketing makes the “anti‐capitalist” promoter of green capitalism a capitalist, par excellence.

 
IV. Green capitalism parcels out ecological crisis from the struggles we face in our daily lives and forces us to fight for “the environment” in abstraction from the fight for control of our lives. Torn from our everyday experiences of capitalist exploitation (wage labor, austerity, racism, gentrification, patriarchy, sickness, depression…), we are transplanted to the specialized site of the “environmental” struggle: whether through petitions in the halls of power, the theatrics of the ballot box, or long train rides to spectacular demonstrations in neighborhoods where nobody but a “climate justice” non‐profit director could afford to live.

 
V. Green capitalism seeks not to empower people to take control of their daily lives, but to manage peoples’ outrage into channels deemed acceptable in advance. These parameters are typically defined by legality and adherence to the institutions of the capitalist state, but also allow for a measured illegality as a means of blowing off a little steam. This type of management is intrinsic to the “non‐profit” form, to the political party (reformist and revolutionary), and to all organizations which do not accept the secondary role they play to facilitating independent activity outside of and exceeding their control.

 
VI. Speaking truth to power, and thus recognizing its legitimacy, offers access to official society as an acknowledged leader, favorable coverage in the press, book deals, “political” credibility in academia, cushy NGO jobs, and even access to ruling class representative politics when one should decide their days of sewing wild oats to be over. Building counterpower — defying self‐appointed movement managers, forging bonds across struggles resistant to leadership from above, and helping to push situations beyond the bounds of any recuperation — offers none of this, as it threatens the ruling class, rather than flattering it.

 
VII. If the central, albeit unspoken demand of Occupy Wall Street was the right of return to the middle class by those freshly expelled from it, green capitalism offers that possibility to a milieu of young activists who want to put their technocratic smarts to use and be the change they want to see in the world. In this perverse way, the middle class aspirations of Occupy may succeed for its most dedicated partisans, on an individual basis. Whether or not this rope ladder to social mobility is accepted (has and) will determine which side of the class line young activists fall in today’s struggles and the struggles ahead.

 
VIII. Green capitalism needs a “media strategy” because it has no desire to engage people by any other means. Through spectacular “actions” neatly staged for the press cameras, green capitalism summons modernity’s most effective tool for imposing disempowerment and isolation — capitalist mass media — to “get out the message” in the exact manner of the Ford Motor Company. For green capitalism, the alienation of struggle from daily life becomes the struggle to determine the form alienation should take: green capitalism needs alienated consumers of… green capitalism. It’s no coincidence that so much of “the movement” is preoccupied with what kind of consumers people should be.

 
IX. Green capitalism deliberately separates tightly-controlled lawful demonstrations from the sanctioned illegality of the “disobedient” direct action. The illegality of the latter allows for the movement-policing of the former, and is a source of its legitimacy. Thus there is a symbiosis, reinforcing their exclusivity. Even in illegality, human activity is tightly managed from above by green capitalism. Meanwhile “civil” illegality itself is scrupulously codified, and put to work peacefully in the service of an improved legality. Illegality which refuses to speak to power, adopting instead a language of its own understood only by its participants, is deemed illegitimate, divisive, and devoid of content. Occupy briefly challenged this dynamic, but many brave blockaders of the Brooklyn Bridge soon amended their story to become victims of a police plot.

 
X. The specter of the proletariat taking decisive action on its own terms, generalizing its daily struggles toward the struggle against environmental ruin, and pushing beyond the conservative parameters of “the environmental movement” is the nightmare of green capitalism. When this day comes, the self‐appointed leaders of “climate justice” will either suppress the movement back into neatly parceled channels, or will be left on the sidelines to order each other around while the class moves on its own. And there will be no question of willfully turning oneself over to the state for symbolic arrest. How we relate to green capitalism today will partially determine which direction is taken at this coming juncture, though the thrust of this movement will be (thankfully) out of anyone’s hands.

 
XI. Green capitalism seeks sustainable misery. Its dubious dream — of capitalism surviving ecological crisis and prolonging its project to degrade and disfigure humanity for thousands of years to come — is more horrifying than the prospect of humanity ceasing to exist altogether. Wrong life cannot be lived rightly.

BP’s oil spill on the backs of the working class and planet earth

The collapse of British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico continues to tear through both working class lives, and the ability of the Gulf’s ecosystem to create and sustain life.

Eleven workers lost their lives in the accident, and now the livelihood of more working class families are threatened.

A mechanism that should have sealed the well in the event of a blowout failed, and now hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil are spilling out, threatening to create another dead zone in the Gulf.

A device, known as an acoustic switch, could have prevented this massive spill. But despite earning almost $6 billion in profits, BP resisted regulation that would have required these devices to be installed on deep sea oil rigs.

While the entire coastal region is threatened, a state of emergency has been declared in Louisiana.  Wetlands and marshes along the coast, already under stress due to capitalist land use planning, are now being threatened with collapse.

In addition, hundreds of families who make a living in the fishing industry are losing work due to the contamination.  BP is recruiting them for “paid volunteer work” to assist in the cleanup, but are denying them basic safety equipment and compensation for either injury or damage to their equipment.

The extant of the devastation is being described as a Hurricane Katrina redux.  There is a general sense of helplessness and malaise, as some held signs demanding help from Obama along the road as he drove through Louisiana.

Capital’s global crisis, thought to be slowing down, is not hovering; it’s dropping like a hammer on both the working class and planet earth.  The profit demands of the current energy infrastructure based overwhelmingly on coal and oil have proved to be an obstacle to transition towards an ecologically sustainable energy production.  Obama’s expansion of offshore drilling, the maintenance of a coal-centered energy production via Copenhagen, and the expansion of nuclear energy production in the US in over 30 years are just the most recent examples.

But as the spill in the Gulf demonstrates, this energy economy is inextricably bound up with the ability of capital to attack and exploit the working class and ecological systems.  Complex life requires more complex ecosystems to survive, but capital has long demanded that we forfeit the very conditions of life for it to grow.  The future of free life on this planet will depend on the working class’s ability organize itself against these attacks.

Below are two articles on the catastrophe.

Continue reading BP’s oil spill on the backs of the working class and planet earth

Avatar: A Contradictory Movie for Contradictory Times

by Mamos

**Spoiler Alert**

Avatar reenvisioned (from the Kasama blog)
Avatar Reenvisioned - From the Kasama blog

There has been a lot of debate about James Cameron’s movie Avatar. This film describes a private mercenary force like Blackwater colonizing a forest planet named Pandora sometime during the 22nd century. The indigenous people of this planet, the Navi’i, rise up and drive them out; in the process some of the colonizers switch sides and join the rebellion. Some see this story as a “noble savage” myth that perpetuates racist stereotypes of indigenous people. Others see it as a criticism of ecological destruction and a warning of what will happen if we don’t learn how to live in harmony with the natural world. Some see it as a white guilt fantasy and an example of liberal racism because it involves a white man leading a revolt of oppressed people.  Others see it as an inspiring story of anti-colonial armed struggle; (an Anti-War activist friend of mine said that Cameron was able to do what the anti-war movement has not been able to do: to encourage millions of Americans to root for the defeat of the US military.) In any case, this movie has been seen by millions of people and has broken records as a holiday blockbuster, so it is clearly striking a chord with everyday people  in this time of economic crisis, ecological fear, and colonization efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and elsewhere. For that reason, it is important for activists to carry on these debates because if we misunderstand the appeal of this movie we could be misunderstanding where our coworkers, friends, and neighbors are at right now.

Continue reading Avatar: A Contradictory Movie for Contradictory Times

The Ecology Movement, Climate Change & US Empire

There has been a lot of excitement by the left and the ecology movement lately, particularly around the G20 protests in Pittsburgh, the climate bill proposed by the House and recently amended by the Senate, and finally around the upcoming UN climate talks in Copenhagen.  But it’s worth noting how the broader political terrain today forms the hot topics of the ecology movement if we’re to effectively plan our campaigns and strategies.

This past spring, despite the hopes of environmentalists that lined up behind Obama’s presidential campaign, the EPA okayed over 40 mountain-top removal coal-mining projects without scrutiny. This form of coal mining is one of the more the ecologically destructive methods of coal mining.  The process dumps tons of chemicals and unwanted material down the sides of the mountain. burying wildlife and vegetation on the sides, and contaminating local water supplies.  It also allows mining companies to lay-off workers and cut labor costs because less people are needed than traditional forms of mining.

But just before labor day the EPA released a letter that indicates that the Obama administration and the EPA are seeking to block one of the largest mountain top mining permits issued, citing violations of the Clean Water Act.

Around the same time, the NYTimes began a series on water pollution noting violations of the Clean Water Act by coal mining companies.  The piece sites the lack of oversight and enforcement as a major problem, with companies dumping as much as 1000% of the allowed chemical concentration into local water systems in W Virginia.

So why the about-face?  Is Obama finally fulfilling his campaign promises to the environmental movement?

Continue reading The Ecology Movement, Climate Change & US Empire