The Ecosocialism debate at the Socialist Resistance meeting of November 2020.

The resolution below – Ecosocialism: the strategic debate – was submitted by the editorial board, moved by Alan Thornett, and adopted

Those of us who inhabit planet Earth in the 21st century face a huge problem. Our own species, homo sapiens (modern humans), are trashing the planet at an ever increasing and more destructive rate.

If this continues, the ability of the planet to sustain life (human life in particular) could be gone within decades. We are the first with the information to understand the full depth of this crisis, and we are likely to be the last with the chance to do anything about it. No other generation has faced such a challenge or such a responsibility.

Science is telling us that we have 10 years to hold the global temperature increase to a maximum of 1.5°C. After that a dangerous and irreversible feedback process could take control.

Temperature records continue to be broken with frightening regularity. Floods, droughts and wild fires are more intense and more frequent. At the time of writing the west coast of the USA was facing catastrophic wildfires that had consumed over 3 million acres – described by a Senator from Oregon as “apocalyptic”. A similar catastrophe is taking place in the Brazilian Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland, where thousands of wildfires are burning out of control.

Artic sea ice will soon be gone. Parts of Antarctica are warming 5 times faster than the rest of the planet. Both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are destabilising – the melting of which would raise the sea level by up to 20 metres. This would obliterate swathes of the most densely populated parts of the globe. The world’s permafrost is now melting 50 per cent faster than was previously thought – with the potential to release vast quantities of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas (GHG). Here in Britain, this summer, we have seen a record number of days in excess of 34°C.

The starting point for addressing all this is an ecosocialist world view. But there is a long way to go. Whilst the concept is more widely accepted today than ever before, there is, as yet, no common view as to what exactly it implies. To some it simply means taking the environmental struggle more seriously, to others (including us) it redefines the socialist project. We are no longer engaged in a struggle ‘simply’ to end capitalism and replace it with a democratic and socially just society. The task today is to replace capitalism with a society that is sustainable for the long term and capable of constructing a new, and none-exploitative, relationship between human beings and nature.

Meanwhile a major opportunity to decarbonise the global economy is being squandered as we speak. It is a crime against humanity. Trillions of dollars are set to be spent by governments to rebuild from the Covid crisis. Instead of grasping the opportunity to start to build a sustainable low-carbon future, with a new relationship with nature, this money is being used (scandalously) to replicate the same disastrous paradigm with growth as the central objective. As the global economy grows – assuming it survives Covid 19 – so does global warming and environmental destruction. Natural resources are over-exploited to the point of exhaustion. More waste is being dumped into the biosphere than it can absorb, leading to dysfunction and collapse.

The nature of the crisis

Some on the left argue that we face a triple crisis: i.e. the biggest economic crisis for 300 years; an existential ecological crisis; and a medical crisis arising from Covid-19. There are, however, two important caveats to such an analysis.

First, if we have just 10 years in which to reach zero carbon, after the revolution will be too late. Socialism can’t be built on a dead planet. Our task, therefore, is to force the elites to make major structural changes, in the here and now, whilst capitalism still exists – including the complete decarbonisation of the global economy and its replacement by renewable energy.

Second, we must insist that Covid-19 is not in a separate medical category but is a fundamental part of the ecological crisis itself. The definition of ‘ecology’ is, after all, the relationship between living organisms.

Such an approach allows us to locate the increasing danger of zoonotic spillover pathogens from other species where they belong. They are a product of the trashing of nature, on an industrial scale, by both Western industrialised agriculture – not least, intensified meat production and deforestation – and by Asian wet markets and the bushmeat trade. These factors are compounded by rising population density – particularly urban density, which increases at twice the global rate. This is further boosted by unprecedented levels of global connectivity that now exist – particularly air travel.

This approach also allows us to recognise that such pandemics can only be prevented, ultimately, by a completely different relationship between human beings and the natural world than exists at the present time. Whilst the current relationship continues (or anything like it) there will be no solution. Scientists estimate that we could soon be facing up to 5 potentially deadly pathogens crossing over from other species every year, any one of which could escalate into a disastrous pandemic.

Multi-dimensional

This complexity is compounded by the multi-dimensional nature of the ecological crisis itself – which cannot be reduced to climate change, important as it is. The ecological crisis takes the form of a series of parallel crises each capable of threatening life on the planet in its own right. These crises have been identified by the Stockholm Resilience Centre as ‘planetary boundaries’ – the crossing of which can do irreversible damage to the ecosystems of the planet.

Other species are becoming extinct at a rate of between a 100 and a 1,000 times faster than the ‘natural’ or ‘background’ rate. This is now recognised as the ‘sixth mass extinction’ – the biggest extinction event since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The World Wild Fund (WWF) 2020 Living Planet Report, published in April this year, reveals that mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish have suffered a two-thirds decline in less than half a century. 

The demand for fresh water has long outpaced replenishment. By 2025 (according to the UN), an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas facing serious water shortages, with two-thirds of the world’s population living in water-stressed regions. As rivers dry up, conflicts over water become more intense. In just three countries – India, China and Pakistan – farmers pump out around 400 cubic kilometres of ground water a year.

(At the time of writing, in Mexico, farmers are throwing petrol bombs, setting vehicles ablaze, blocking highways, and attacked highway toll booths, over the diversion of water from the La Boquilla dam to the USA whilst Mexico is itself is experiencing severe drought.)

The problem of feeding today’s 7.6 billion people, and potentially 10 billion by the end of the century, without destroying the biosphere of the planet in the process, remains unresolved. Industrialised agriculture uses 70 per cent of all available fresh water and is responsible for 60 per cent of global biodiversity loss and 70 per cent of deforestation. It is also using ever greater quantities of nitrogen fertiliser with ever diminishing efficiency. As a result, a greater proportion than ever before is washing into rivers and oceans with catastrophic results.

Remarkably, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (CO2 and methane) generated by meat production are greater than those generated by the entire world-wide transportation system combined: cars, trucks, trains, ships and aircraft!

The run-off from the nitrogen fertiliser used in cattle feed for meat production is creating oceanic dead zones – a frightening new form of pollution. There are now 405 dead zones covering 95,000 square nautical miles in which everything is dead in the lower layers due to lack of oxygen. Add to this the rising sea temperature and oceanic acidification, and the scale of the problem is clear. Coral reefs, for example, one of the most prolific echo-systems on the planet could disappear within a few yearsThe meat industry, we should remember, is not just polluting our oceans, destroying our soil, and damaging our health; it is facilitating the spillover of dangerous pathogens that threaten our very existence.

We have to demand the end of such agriculture and its replacement by “food sovereignty”, a term coined by Via Campesina in 1996, which would empower those who produce, distribute, and consume the food, to control the mechanisms of production and distribution.

We welcome the trend towards reduced consumption of meat and dairy products given their impact on the natural world and the level of GHG emissions and water consumption involved. Whilst veganism and vegetarianism on their own are not enough, we support policies to make affordable, healthy alternatives to animal products widely available e.g. in schools and hospitals.

Climate change

The Paris COP22 in December 2015 took place in the shadow of the failures of Kyoto and Copenhagen. In the run up to it, mass mobilisations took place around the world demanding decisive action. London saw its biggest climate demonstration ever, with 70,000 people on the streets. There were demonstrations and protests in Paris itself during COP, despite the imposition of a state of emergency by the French Government following terrorist attacks which killed 130 people the month before.

The main proposition put to the Paris COP was to restrict global warming to a maximum temperature increase, over the preindustrial level, of ‘well below 2°C’. This was an advance over the Copenhagen target which had been to restrict the increase to not more than 2°C. It was, however, bitterly resisted by those countries and island states at greatest risk from rising sea levels, some under imminent threat of submergence. They were organised into what they called the High Ambition Coalition, which was led by the Marshall Islands. They put up a ferocious fight for a maximum increase of 1.5°C rather than 2°C, around the slogan ‘1.5°C to stay alive’.

In the end there was a fudge, and both 1.5°C and 2°C were accepted though not with equal status. The main target would be ‘well below 2°C’ with a further limit of 1.5°C accepted as an ‘aspiration’: ‘recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change’. It was still, however, an important gain. Once adopted, even in the flawed version it was, it would not go away.

Paris was also the first time there had been a unanimous recognition of what climate scientists and campaigners had been saying for many years: that anthropogenic climate change is a real and urgent threat and will have disastrous consequences for hundreds of millions of people if the burning of fossil fuels is not stopped. Also for the first time, at a COP, neither the scientific basis of global warming, or its anthropogenic character, was disputed. This was an important step forward and a big blow to climate scepticism.

These gains, however, were not reflected in the practical decisions taken in Paris. The INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) adopted were totally inadequate and would result not in global temperature increase of 2°C by the end of the century – far less of 1.5°C – but in a disastrous 3.4°C from which there would be no way back. Since fossil fuel emissions have risen by a further 4 per cent since then they would have to fall by 7.6 per cent every year from now until 2030 to stay within the 1.5°C ceiling. We, therefore, have a mountain to climb in Glasgow next year when the INDCs are due to be upgraded into something that can actually tackle the problem.

The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming

Two years later, in October 2018 the IPCC, in its Special Report on Global Warming, officially supported the 1.5°C target from Paris. It concluded that limiting warming to 1.5°C is indeed possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but would require unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society. It also warned that we have just 12 years to do something about it, since a 1.5°C increase could be reached as soon as 2030.

The response of the movement was to adopt the slogan ‘net zero by 2030’ – which was adopted by the 2019 LP conference for example – with the ‘net’ bit hotly disputed. The resolution was supported by the UNITE union. Extinction Rebellion (XR) adopted it with a date of 2025. We should reject ‘net’ but campaign for zero carbon by 2030 as the slogan in Glasgow.

Zero carbon by 2030, however, is a major challenge. It means forcing major structural changes at every level of society very quickly. It means demanding massive governmental investment in energy systems based entirely on renewables. It means a major transfer of wealth to the impoverished countries to facilitate their transition and lift them towards western levels of development. It also means major reductions in energy usage/wastage to go alongside the introduction of the new system.

The IPCC Report put it this way: “Pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no (or limited) overshoot would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options.”

It also means, it should be said, rejecting the concept of ‘net-zero’ carbon (i.e. taking offsets into account), which is simply an escape clause the get around important targets.

The role of the left

The left, however, will need to raise its game substantially if it is to play a significant role in this struggle. Its current level of commitment is far from an adequate response to an existential threat to life on the planet. This reflects the disastrous record of the left in the second half of the 20th century, when it not only shunned the emerging environmental movement in the 60s, 70s, and 80s – often dubbing those involved as middle-class liberals – but it fully signed up to the dominant growth and productivist agenda of the day, only starting to break from it in recent years. This applies to both the radical left and the social democratic left in the Labour Party and the trade unions.

In the 1970s – 14 years after the publication of Rachel Carson’s game-changing Silent Spring – The Alternative Economic Strategy, the bible of the Bennite left in both the Labour Party and the trade unions, was based entirely on growth and productivism. Its key chapter ‘A Policy for Expansion’ opens tells us that: ‘The essential basis for any alternative economic strategy must be a policy for planned economic expansion’. The environment, on the other hand, was not mentioned once in its 150 pages.

There were challenges to this position – not least from Raymond Williams whose work through SERA in the 1980s took a very different tack. Unfortunately it is the AES approach which is still largely followed when unions like UNITE are confronted today with redundancies in the aviation or cars sector, policies of ‘Just transition’ don’t get a look in.

Today the radical left remains behind the curve. It still has no exit strategy from fossil energy that goes beyond appeals for global system change. It also continues to shun a transitional approach – which is the key strategic element in the ecological struggle.

A transitional approach

A transitional approach would recognise that the actual strategic challenge we face today is not system change within 10 years but an all-out struggle to force the elites (however reluctantly) to make the structural changes needed to halt global warming in the 10 years we have left. It is a struggle that we should, and would, carry out in the context of a longer-term struggle to end capitalism and establish a sustainable ecosocialist society.

Reforms are not necessarily reformist. The most effective road to revolutionary change is via the struggle for partial and transitional demands – zero carbon by 2030 being a prime example. The struggle for such demands generates both self-organisation and ecological consciousness and can take the struggle to a higher and more radical stage. In any case, if we are unable to build the kind of movement capable of forcing capitalism to make big changes, how are we going to build a movement capable of its expropriation by revolutionary means? We cannot end capitalism just by calling for it to end – however often we repeat ourselves.

We fully support revolutionary change. But to gamble the future of the planet on such an unlikely scenario as global revolution within 10 years is reckless in the extreme. There are no signs that such a revolutionary wave is on its way, and there are no proposals from its advocates as to how to bring it about. Politics, internationally, is still moving to the right. Some comrades talk about creeping fascism – there is certainly creeping authoritarianism.

Derek Wall puts it very well in his new book Climate Strike, where he says the following:

“The challenge is that if the economic system, indeed the basic social system, needs to be transformed to protect humanity and the rest of nature, this cannot be achieved easily or quickly. Climate change and less visible environmental threats demand almost instant action, so interventions are necessary immediately. Therefore, the politics of climate change needs to take a seemingly contradictory approach, intervening directly and immediately to slow emissions but working in a more fundamental and long-term way to promote the creation of a different way of life with all the complexities and institutions and practices that this demands.” (p. 2)

Interestingly, the radical left does not propose social revolution as a prerequisite to other major arenas of struggle, so why with the ecological struggle? In the women’s movement, for example, the left engages in the struggle (often successfully) for major change here and now, whilst capitalism still exists. It sees the struggle for reforms as a part of the overall struggle against capitalism itself – including the struggles against poverty wages, racism, homophobia, and for civil and human rights.

Key demands

Some on the left, who call for global system change as the immediate solution, then oppose many of the key demands for radical change in the here and now. Such changes are often seen as not revolutionary enough, dismissed as ‘green wash’, or rejected on the basis of a defect that is found to be unacceptable. Many of these comrades would argue that they do indeed support a transitional approach, but just not this particular transitional approach, whilst failing to put forward any alternative.

Road transport, which accounts for around 20 per cent of global CO2 emissions, is a prime example. The World Health Organisation has identified motor vehicles emissions as the single biggest environmental outdoor health risk in the world, contributing to 3.7 million deaths a year. Yet many on the radical left oppose electrification, a measure that would have an immediate benefit – even if this means the continuation of the internal combustion engine (ICE).

Even the decision of an increasing number of governments to make the internal combustion engine (petrol and diesel) illegal within between 10 and 40 years – 10 years in the case of the UK – which has spelt the end of the internal combustion engine, the greatest polluter of the 20th century – is shunned by many on the left. Automotive manufacturers – after decades of blocking electrification in alliance with the oil producers – are now scrambling to introduce electric models. An article on electric cars can be found here.

Many on the left have also been opposed to congestion charging (i.e. pollution charging) in city centres. SR supports Congestion Charging, as well as Low Emission zones to reduce urban traffic and pollution – SR also campaigns for accessible, free, safe and reliable public transport available 24-hours a day and staffed by unionised and well-paid workers.

Another major no-no on the left has been any notion personal environmental responsibility for our own carbon and ecological footprints: i.e. paying more attention what we eat, particularly meat, the means of transport we choose, and the amount of energy we waste, and the amount of waste we generate. This was called for by the IPCC Report that recognised that whilst the main responsibility for such change is institutional and governmental, there is also an important personal responsibility involved – in the rich countries in particular. Personal responsibility and behaviour is something supporters of, for example, the women’s liberation movement have always taken seriously – the personal is political – and expect standards of behaviour in people’s personal lives.

Opposition to putting demands on governments or governmental institutions – such as the UN or the COP process – is another feature of this, which has recently emerged again in the shape of the Glasgow Agreement in advance of the Glasgow COP.

Make the polluters pay for the solution

Forcing major structural change against the will of the elites will need a powerful mass movement, something most effectively generated by high impact demands that can command mass support, not just amongst environmental activists but amongst the wider population as it is impacted by the crisis.

The key to this is to make fossil fuel far more expensive than renewables by means that are socially just, that redistributes wealth from the rich to the poor, that can bring about a big reduction in emissions in the time available, and (crucially) is capable of commanding popular support. This means heavily taxing the polluters to both cut emissions and to ensure that the polluters fund the transition to renewables.

One proposal on the table in this regard is James Hansen’s fee and dividend proposition. It provides the framework for very big emissions reductions, here and now whilst capitalism exists, and on the basis of a major transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor (as argued above) in order to drive it forward. It would need, as he recognises, to go alongside a crash programme of renewable energy production to meet the demand that his incentives would create. It would also need a major programme of energy conservation, a big reduction in the use of the internal combustion engine, the abolition of factory farming and a big reduction in meat consumption.

It might be expected that the left would support such taxation – since it supports taxing the rich – but this is not the case. Most on the radical left oppose carbon taxes with a ferocity that is hard to understand. Interestingly they don’t call for the repeal of the already existing carbon taxes on petrol and diesel, for example. This is presumably because they don’t want to be associated with what is in fact a right-wing climate denialist agenda.

It is sometimes argued that taxation can be regressive – which is indeed true. If it is however, we should oppose it. We should only support such taxes if they are introduced as a part of an overall taxation system that is socially progressive that compensates the poorest people when they are disproportionately affected by a particular tax. It is perfectly possible to do this; it is a political choice.

There is a crucial political point involved in this as well. This is that cutting emissions this way is in the end the only progressive/democratic way of doing it since it means that such taxation can be carried out within the framework of an overall taxation system that is heavily progressive. The other alternatives, often advanced by the left, such as production cuts by government decision or rationing do not work, indeed can have serious consequences. Such action would generate a popular backlash along the lines of the yellow vests, and rationing would create a black market.

Progressive carbon taxes, properly applied, however, can be the driving force that can bring down carbon emissions rapidly and open the door to wider change. We should not insist on Hansen in all its detail. There may well be other proposals on similar lines now or in the future that could be considered—but let’s have the discussion.

Major carbon taxes already exist in most countries in the form of taxes on petrol and diesel for road usage that is not part of a progressive agenda, or not sufficiently so. It is important that the left defends the need for carbon taxes and presents them in the context of a redistribution of money from the rich to the poor.

Aviation and maritime fuels, however, remain completely untaxed, although they account for a rising share of global energy-related carbon emissions (currently at 4 per cent). These fuels were explicitly excluded from the Kyoto Protocol and they are not subject to the taxes widely applied to road transportation fuels. There have been some important campaigns around this, led by Oxfam and the WWF for example.

At the same time, we need to reject economic growth and productivism and demand the abolition of the debt in the dependent countries. The current rate of growth globally of 3 per cent per year (that has been the average for the past 60 years) would grow the world economy by a factor of sixteen in the course of a century and by a factor of 250 over the course of this century and the next. Such growth rates are completely unsustainable.

Is real change possible?

The notion that nothing significant can be changed whilst capitalism still exists is not only inhibits the struggle but is not historically accurate.

The level of popular consciousness on the environmental crisis has been transformed in recent years.

Many important changes have been won while over the past 50 or 60 that amount to very significant change. There have been victories against nuclear power, for example in Germany and Japan – also against airport expansion. The international campaign to save the whales in the 1970s and 1980s resulted in the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling and massively reduced the slaughter that had been taking place since the middle of the nineteenth century. Currently, Japan, Russia, and a number of other nations continue to oppose this moratorium.

The hole in the ozone layer has also been repaired, for now at least, by an 80 per cent reduction in the use of CFCs since the signing of the Montréal Protocol in 1987. Fracking in Britain has been halted after a long campaign. The recent decisions to impose charges on plastic bags can make a huge difference in terms of plastic pollution. Just look at the impact of BBC TV’s Blue Planet II on the plastic pollution and biodiversity debate. Even the inadequate level of renewable energy now being generated would not exist but for decades of campaigning by environmentalists. In fact, the chance to make fundamental change is created in the course of the struggle for partial and immediate change.

The agency for change

Stopping climate change and environmental destruction will require the broadest possible coalition of forces ever built. It should embrace Naomi Klein’s Blockadia, in which she includes what she calls ‘the new climate warriors’– those in the forefront of struggles against the extractive industries in particular, pipe-lines, open caste mining, and fracking.

It must include those defending the forests and the fresh water resources and those that are resisting the damming of rivers that destroy the existing ecosystems. It must include the indigenous peoples who have been the backbone of so many of these struggles along with the young school strikers, and those supporting them who have been so inspirational over the past 2 years. And it should include the activists of XR who have brought new energy into the movement over the same period of time.

It will also need to embrace the more radical Green Parties alongside the big NGOs such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, WWF, the RSPB, which have grown and radicalised in recent years alongside the newer groupings that have come on the scene such as Avaaz and 38 Degrees. These organisations have radicalised, particularly in the run up to Paris, and have an impressive mobilising ability. Such a movement has to look wider, to embrace the trade union movement, and also the indigenous peoples around the world along with major social movements, such as La Via Campesina and the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST),

The involvement of the trade unions is crucial, though it remains difficult in such a defensive period. Progress has nevertheless been made via initiatives such as the campaign for a million green jobs in Britain, which has the support of most major trade unions and the TUC, and the ‘just transition’ campaign (i.e. a socially just transition from fossil fuel to green jobs) which has the support of the ITUC at the international level, and addresses the issue of job protection in the course of the changeover to renewable energy. In this way it opens the door for a deeper involvement of the trade unions in the ecological struggle.

The real test, however, will be whether, as the impact of the crisis unfolds, Blockadia can embrace a much wider movement drawing in the many millions who have not been climate activists but are driven to resist by the impact of the crisis on their lives and their chances of survival. This means precisely demands, such as outlined above, that can link rapid reductions in GHG emissions to a transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor.

Meanwhile the campaigning focus over the next year has to be COP 26 in Glasgow, which has the task of transforming Paris into something that works. We have to mobilise to demand that it does so exactly that, and reject those who argue that governments and international institutions should not be our focus. The COP conferences have been a rallying point for many years and this one is the most important yet. The task for ecosocialists, and indeed for the wider movement, is to demand its full implementation, and to build the movement and advance the struggle in the process. Anything less would be to deny the movement its best chance to take the struggle forward.

The model for challenging the elites on all this has been provided in spades by Greta Thunberg, and the movement she has led. This was to demand that they act to reverse this situation and reject their excuses for not doing so. This is the stance we must take in Glasgow next year – demand that they act. Environmentalists are right to point out that governments can make major changes fast when they decide to do so – for example, wage war. They can transform their economies within months. The Covid crisis itself has also taught us is that governments can find vast sums of money when they decide to do so.

In the end, if capitalism is faced with the destruction the planet’s capacity to sustain human life, and with increasing environmental disasters in rich parts of the world, they will finally act to resolve it. The problem is that they will leave it until it is too late to avoid massive destruction; and they will carry it out by dictatorial means and at the expense of the most impoverished people on the planet. The struggle to save the planet, therefore, can be defined more precisely as a struggle to save the planet in a way that is democratic, socially progressive, and ecologically sustainable.

 

 

Ecosocialism: The Starting Point is Anti-Capitalism. An alternative text submitted by Phil Ward but not adopted.

This document is written as a response to the Socialist Resistance Editorial Board resolution “Ecosocialism: the strategic debate” (ETSD).  Although that document starts with a generally good account of the ecological crisis facing us – threatening the future of humanity in particular (not “the planet” as such) – the contention in this response is that it doesn’t concretely address with the magnitude of the economic and social changes required to respond to that crisis. Consequently, it overestimates the ability of the capitalist system to mitigate the desperate situation it has created.  This overestimation means that the document establishes a framework that allows it to categorise the “radical left” as having “no exit strategy from fossil energy that goes beyond global system change” and engages in an unwarranted attack on the politics of the whole of the rest of the left.  That is such a broad statement about the left that it needs to be backed up with a wealth of evidence, which is not provided in ETSD.  This document hopes to show that the statement is unjustified and sectarian and to provide a new (actually, old) framework for addressing the ecological crisis.

Some Initial Comments on SARS-CoV-2

Firstly, it might be useful to deal with a couple of issues that may not appear directly connected to the main thrust of this document.  In the discussion of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the spread of the virus is partly attributed to the “rising population density – particularly urban density which is increasing at twice the global rate”.  This statement obscures the class dynamics of the pandemic.  There are plenty of highly densely populated urban areas where the spread of the virus has been very low.  Manhattan is a case in point.  It was already known in April that levels of infection and death rate there were half those in the Bronx, despite it having twice the population density.  More recent data confirm that this disparity has not altered.  What has also not changed is that Manhattan has over double the mean household income (see the April paper above), so we can suggest these differences are due to overcrowded living conditions and the jobs the people in the respective boroughs do.

A granular examination of these boroughs would produce an even greater (inverse) correlation between income and infection/death rates.

The argument about population density doesn’t even work at a whole country level.  Some of the places least affected by the virus (so far) are in the top 20 most densely populated in the world, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea (Vietnam, with incredibly low levels, is 30th and the UK 32nd).

A further problem occurs with the discussion of the trade in and consumption of wild animals.  Clearly, the trade should be eliminated.  As Andreas Malm[i] has shown, it is largely driven by the very rich (pangolin meat served in restaurants costs about $1,000 a kilo: in the UK, shark’s fin soup costs up to £180 a bowl) and there will be super-wealthy gangsters running this trade.  But it is necessary to be more circumspect about indigenous peoples dependent on wild animals for staple food.  Yes, there are risks for them of zoonotic transfer, but they are more at risk from mining and forestry and the accompanying roads that also nourish the wildlife trade itself.

Eating wild animals might seems distasteful to some, but – as Malm points out – this is done in the Global North too (in the UK venison and grouse – 700,000 of the latter), while the ruling class also partakes of the curious phenomenon of “rewilding” and then shooting pheasants and partridge (57 million and 13 million respectively released in 2016 and 18 million and 5.9 million shot). And of course, there is a massive trade in live wild animals as pets from the tropics to the west.

If wild animals are one of your only sources of food, as they are for up to 350 million indigenous people, then you are very likely to be the best conservators of your environment.  This difference of perspective is the root of the deep dispute between Survival International and the WWF over conservation areas and related issuesA Correction on Eutrophication

Oceanic dead zones are not a “frightening new form of pollution”.  Eutrophication, which results in dead zones in coastal waters, lakes and rivers, is caused by excessive nutrients: fertiliser run-off and – more frequently in the past – phosphate-containing domestic detergents and industrial and municipal wastes, including sewage.  The dead zones in the Baltic and Lake Erie were first noted to be an issue in the 1960s.  The topic is in the syllabus of several exam boards.  Even socialists were aware of the issues: the book “Murderous Providence” (1972), by Harry Rothman, the son of the Kinder Trespass campaigner Harry, has a chapter on detergents, eutrophication and the attempts of the industry to resist removing phosphates from their products. Barry Commoner, in “The Closing Circle” (1971) studied water pollution due to nitrogen fertilizers and their effects on human health, proved the pollution in lakes was due to run-off and linked this with eutrophication in his 1990 book “Making Peace with the Planet”

(I first noticed the effects of eutrophication in the sea while swimming in a bay near Santiago de Cuba in 2003.  The coral was covered with a beige fibrous growth, with no associated life forms, not at all like to corals I had seen in East Africa in my childhood – brilliant white and teeming with fish.  They didn’t look as healthy as this article claims.  I immediately thought it was the result of run-off coming down the Mississippi, rather than the results of Cuban agriculture, but if the article is right, it may have been a localised phenomenon).

It is important to get these things right.  If a pollution issue has been known about for over 50 years and – instead of remedying the problem – the system is allowing things to get worse, that is information was can use in getting a realistic understanding of the system’s ability to change its practices.

The Attack on the “Radical Left”

The two sections of ETSD, “The Role of the Left” and “Nevergoodenoughism”, illustrate well what is wrong with it.  They are replete with phrases that it attributes to other socialists, or suggests characterises their approach, while providing no evidence for its claims.  Here are some examples:

“[The radical left] has no exit strategy from fossil energy that goes beyond appeals for global system change.”

“We cannot end capitalism just by calling for it to end – however often we repeat ourselves.”

“to gamble the future of the planet on such an unlikely scenario as global revolution within 10 years is reckless in the extreme.”

“the radical left does not propose social revolution as a prerequisite to other major arenas of struggle, so why with the ecological struggle?”

“Some on the radical left, who call for global system change as the immediate solution, then oppose some of the key demands for radical change in the here and now….. We could call it nevergoodenoughism.  Many of them would argue that they do support a transitional approach, but just not these specific proposals, whilst failing to put forward demands to illustrate this.”

“The left appears totally indifferent to [governments’ proposals to scrap the internal combustion engine]”

“Another major no-no has been any notion of personal environmental responsibility for our own carbon ecological footprints…”

Now, I’m not intending to defend the records[ii] of every – or even any – left organisation in the environmental struggle.  Most of what they contribute is just words anyway.  But that is not what is being criticised here.  Rather, the attack is on the left’s fundamental approach to revolutionary politics and it is claimed that they make no intermediate demands on ecological questions.  This contention beggars belief, is arrogant and it demeans our organisation to use such slurs.  (In Alan Thornett’s recent book “Facing the Apocalypse”, he gives the example of the SWP at a demo with a poster saying “System Change, not Climate Change, Only Solution, Revolution”.  Clearly, that is pretty stupid, but I do not think it means they renounce intermediate demands on climate change[iii]).

Do the comrades who voted for this text really think the rest of the left make no demands for renewable energy, or an end to or controls on intensive agriculture, or expansion of/free public transport etc.?  I think the answer to that is actually, no, and that a straw person is being set up.  (We might not agree with the demands they do raise, but that is another matter).

This argument, which previously was categorised under the rubric “maximalism” has been used before, both in the abortive debate on population and ecology about 9 years ago and in a debate in 2016[iv].   In that, Alan stated that Michael Löwy was  “simply [making] the assertion that capitalism is the problem and socialism is the answer”, because Löwy – in the opening words of the preface to his 2015 book “Ecosocialism: A radical alternative to capitalist catastrophe” – observes that “ecosocialism.. is based on an essential insight: that preserving… ecological equilibrium… is incompatible with the expansive destructive logic of the capitalist system”, arguably rendering the rest of the book redundant.   In his book (pp 95-100), Alan reproduces quotes from some of the major theorists of the ecological struggle, Joel Kovel, Fred Magdoff & Chris Williams and John Bellamy Foster to the effect that capitalism cannot solve the ecological crisis and uses that to claim that these authors do not support struggling for any reforms under capitalism, arguing that this approach is to “deprioritise the struggle for change in the here and now, and so to demobilise the left”.

Alan then goes on the argue (and ETSD contains similar statements) that “the struggle for reforms can offer the only real road to revolutionary change”, which no revolutionary Marxist would argue with.

What Capitalism can and can’t do

The real disagreement that ETSD should have addressed is about the extent to which capitalism can solve the ecological crisis.  The estimate of ETSD is that it is possible “to force the elites to make major structural changes in the here and now, while capitalism still exists – including complete decarbonisation of the global economy and its replacement with renewable energy”.  This is to be done in 10 years.

Notes in lieu of completion

  • Replacement of the current fossil economy is impossible. It would require construction of a new electricity generation, supply (and storage) infrastructure several times larger that the existing one, which has taken over 120 years to construct.  The demand for materials for this will be huge and the ecological destruction commensurately so.  The major capitalist economies, which are the ones using the most energy, have no automatic right to these materials.  Environmental considerations, political instability and anti-extractivism movements are likely to severely limit the supply.
  • Further home insulation and reducing energy intensity of GDP are unlikely to have a major effect on energy demand. External/internal cladding on old housing is often impractical, expensive and also demanding of materials.
  • Energy demand can only be reduced significantly (e.g. by 75%) through a massive, permanent contraction of economic activity (not just “military and advertising”), especially in the larger economies and amongst the ruling classes in all countries. This is incompatible with capitalism which requires growth and competition, not planned contraction.  On a world scale, energy demand has been increasing for 200 years.  In most of the major economies, it is declining slowly, but this is more than compensated for by the embodied energy in imports.
  • There is a limit as to how far a mass movement against climate change can force a government or ruling class to implement reforms – even if in self-preservation. Although we can’t know in advance where this limit is, the revolutionary upheavals of the 20th century testify to this.
  • A mass movement against ecological destruction needs to have a set of demands (an action programme) that is adequate to the needs of the situation. Central to that action programme is a planned economic contraction, carried out under conditions of radical social and economic equality and protection of the basic needs of humanity (as defined by the universal declaration of human rights – plus the right to means of communication).
  • If this programme is not realised human society will descend into barbarism.
  • Not adequate are calls for “electric cars” etc. without an understanding of the need to end private and fleet ownership of cars[v]. Governments have not committed to “making the internal combustion engine illegal”.  Announcements about sales of ICE have been made – Norway by 2025, Iceland, Denmark and Ireland by 2030 and others later.  In the UK it is just an announcement by Boris Johnson so far, not a law and this applie to most of the other as of May 2020.  The industry is fighting back and of course many tens of millions of ICE cars will remain on the road after that.
  • The claim in ETSD that “many on the radical left oppose electrification…even if this means continuation of the ICE” is based on a misunderstanding of the document by Jakob Schäfer, who is clearly arguing that replacing all ICE cars with electric ones is “not the answer”, on all kinds of ecological, and health and safety grounds, not that there should be no electric cars. Patrick, in his document, makes similar useful arguments concerning extractivism.  This is very important: I have heard socialists argue “what we need is electric cars”.  This is just miles from an answer and grossly miseducates people about the nature of the crisis.  It is a tech fix that would be immensely environmentally and socially destructive.
  • The advocates of the carbon fee and dividend do not explain how it can contribute significantly to carbon reductions in a shrinking economy. In fact, it is designed to preserve economic growth (and to appeal to conservatives – which it does).  The spreadsheet model of the tax has very little impact on the demand for gasoline (due to price inelasticity of demand) and model has utterly unrealistic timescales for the complete replacement of the (US) electricity generating system.  This “redistributive” tax ceases to function in a no-carbon economy (which, admittedly, the model does not achieve), because in that case it will be raising no revenue.  The fee and dividend is not a measure that a workers’ government would introduce and it is therefore not a transitional demand.
  • Rationing has been shown to work in protecting lives and conserving resources in situations of extreme social stress. It does not automatically lead to a parallel economy.  That phenomenon is the product of inequality.
  • The SARS-CoV-2 crisis has shown that the working class and its allies is willing make major sacrifices for the social good when it understands the stakes and perceives others to be in the same situation, but as Andreas Malm explains, a legal framework is still required. When that breaks down (Cummings), a situation of conflict and mutual recrimination results.  Inequality and racism exacerbate the divisions. The authorities blame the people for their “failure to follow the rules” and individuals start blaming one another.
  • This observation provides the context for how to approach people’s individual responsibility for their carbon emissions and other ecological impacts. Clearly, it is difficult to pontificate about the environment while being indifferent to one’s own impact, as Al Gore has found to his cost.  But it can go too far, leading to interpersonal disputes[vi].  It also suits the authorities to devolve responsibility for the environment onto “the people” – and blame them – so that they can evade their responsibilities.  In fact, this is pretty much how the system currently operates.  (The government does this over other issues as well, such as obesity).
  • The action programme needs to encompass other areas such as housing (under-utilisation, gross inequality, inheritance, forcing people to live in bourgeois nuclear families, excessive “modernisation” with its huge demand for polluting materials – plastics, resins, cement), food and agriculture (banning meat and dairy, rationing, neighbourhood canteens, intercropping, reductions in intensity – more labour, rewilding, urban agriculture).
  • I think most activists in the climate movement understand the gravity of the situation, at least at an intellectual level. Coming to terms with it emotionally – a not negligible aspect of political consciousness – is another matter.  We need to start a discussion on how these matters affect the political consciousness and politics of the movement and the masses in different locations and situations[vii].

Finally, I will return to the issue of capitalism’s inability to resolve the ecological crisis.  SR’s founding document, “Savage Capitalism” (2007) includes a scorching indictment of productivism and the waste and destruction wrought by capitalist overproduction.  Its conclusions are admirably clear:

Our conclusion is that the fundamentals of inequality, power and wealth cannot be addressed in the advanced countries without a revolution in work, education, leisure and culture – not only in equality of reward, but in the nature of what is produced and how it is produced. Getting off the treadmill means leading a more human life with different priorities, different products, different sources of energy – and a different set of relations between people. A human society which defends the environment is incompatible with capitalism.”

Our strategic conclusion on planetary crisis should start with the following assumptions:

  1. Creating a sustainable civilisation requires a wholesale conversion of production and consumption, and this is incompatible with capitalism. Not only are the corporations and government unwilling to act against short-term capitalist interests, but as we explained above a sustainable environment is contrary to the inbuilt productivist bias of the capitalist mode of production.
  2. Environmentalism without class, without anti-capitalism, has massive limitations which invalidate it as a long-term strategy. Indeed the kind of green politics which attempts to counterpose itself to left and right can be positively damaging to the kind of alliances necessary to confront eco-catastrophe.
  3. As is traditional in our politics we do not counterpose reforms to anti-capitalist transition. However we do point out the extremely small gains which are likely to be made on climate change without national and international planning and without a massive social and economic conversion.
  4. The decisive force on a world scale for anti-capitalist struggle remains the workers’ movement. A central fight for Marxists is that to win the workers movement to an environmentalist (and hence eco-socialist) perspective. A massive aid to this is the example of environmentally friendly mobilisation and policies of Cuba, and to a lesser extent Venezuela.

The document calls for the drawing up of an action programme, which I think unfortunately has never been done collectively in the group.

End notes

[1] Andreas Malm “Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency” Verso, 2020 pp  55-60 and also here: “In the last years BC, one could find zebra steaks in Germany, crocodile sausages in Norway, marsupials and camels and pythons in the meat halls of Sweden – imports exploding in the 2010s, the pythons going for 120 dollars per kilogram – not to mention whale in Japan or turtle in the US; in California, white abalone entered the vortex in the early millennium, its population driven down by 99.99 per cent. The extinction market is part of how the one per cent lives, not the essence of any national culture. What really set off the vortexes in China was precisely the integration of the People’s Republic into globalised capitalism: circuits of capital spinning in the markets, wildlife from all continents newly accessible through the ligaments of trade.”

[1] Indeed, I would argue that SR and its antecedents have their own problems here, something Alan points out in his book.  I first raised the issue of climate change in a wide-ranging “strategic” document in 1989 – 31 years ago (“The ecological crisis and its consequences for socialists”).  I think it still stands up pretty well to scrutiny and it even discussed issues that are missing in ETSD, such as how to approach economic growth and some ideas for how the ecological crisis challenges the existence of the bourgeois nuclear family.  It was completely ignored, even though this was the year the Green Party (EW) got 15% of the votes in the European elections.  The ISG started to discuss ecology in about 2000 over a decade later.  The FI did a similar thing, “provisionally approving” the document “Ecology and Socialist Revolution” at the 13th World Congress in 1991.  This was finally adopted a mere 12 years later, at the 15th World Congress.  Although it did include an action programme, it was weak on climate change and its connection to economic growth.

[1] See for example this article:  https://socialistworker.co.uk/art/48369/Fight+for+Green+New+Deal+but+dont+stop+there I don’t agree with the way that it approaches the issue, but at least it supports struggling for a green new deal.

[1] AT “Ecosocialism for NC”, July 2016 and Phil Ward “Climate change, growth and capitalism’s limitations”, 2016

[1] See the approach to car in my document (note 2): “It is not necessary for there to be 400m cars in the world (most of which are stationary at any one time) for everyone to be able to use one when they need to. All that is required is a change in patterns of ownership and control (say by local authorities, as with library books), free public transport, and changes in the way we organize our commuting, shopping, leisure activities etc., so that we do not need to resort to the use of cars in the way that we do now.”

[1] I’m sure a lot of us have had the experience of a rather frosty response when we indicate even mild disapproval of friends’ accounts of their frequent skiing (etc.) trips.  I have frequent exchanges with my partner about filling the kettle, standing with the front door open talking to people (which as happened much more under CoViD), the temperature of the house, use of the car and so forth.  She knows about all the issues and I’m not sure how productive these “discussions” are and the fact that they happen indicates that personal responsibility about environmental issues is by no means analogous to personal behaviour towards women, or conducive to improving it.

[1] My document, referred to in note 2, has at its end a useful quote from Hans Magnus Enzensberger from 1974 on how the ecological crisis might impinge on working class consciousness.

 

 

Some critical comments on Ecosocialism: The Strategic Debate. This was submitted to the discussion by Paul Metcalfe from London.

To start off there is much in the document Ecosocialism: The Strategic Debate that I agree with, principally the failure of much of the left including the Marxist left to take environmental issues seriously in the 20th Century and the existential crisis humanity faces if nothing is done to halt global warming. So, I will take up the areas where I disagree with the document and why at the very least, we should have further discussion.

Regarding the so-called green transition to electric vehicles. Clearly the author(s) of the document are not unaware of some of the problems of electric vehicles and these have been raised previously in Alan’s article The electric cars revolution. Despite this I still think that Alan and other comrades underestimate many of the real problems that will be caused to communities in the global south by such a transition if all that happens is the replacement of fuel powered with electric vehicles but the number of vehicles globally remains broadly the same or increases. We should support the transition to electric vehicles which in Britain at least is happening anyway. But only within the framework of a reduction of the number of vehicles on the roads. This can only really be done by a rapid expansion of public transport simultaneous with an equally rapid decrease in private car ownership, and by rapid we need to think along the lines of a 90% decrease or more. The document though suggests a ‘stagist’ approach to this problem, first make the transition to electric vehicles then reduce the number of vehicles on the roads at some unspecified point in the future, I think this approach is wrong.

Obviously if all the fuel powered vehicles in the world were replaced by electric vehicles then in urban areas the air would be a lot cleaner and healthier to breathe. However, the batteries for electric vehicles require the metals cobalt, lithium and nickel, and an electric vehicle requires about four times as much copper as a fuel powered vehicle of the same size. And of course, electric vehicles will create an increased demand for electricity. Do Britain and other countries have the existing capacity to produce enough electricity to satisfy the increased demand without building more power stations and wind farms? I am not so sure. Without a rapid decline in the number of vehicles on the world’s roads a transition to electric powered vehicles will lead to an exponential increase in the global demand for the metals that go into them. As things stand this increase in demand could well lead to global shortages in cobalt, copper and nickel in several years’ time. To the extent that the possibility of deep-sea mining has even been mooted as a way of overcoming these shortages!  If deep-sea mining projects happen, they will inevitably cause environmental damage and pollution to local marine ecosystems. But global shortages or not the large-scale extraction of metals for electric vehicles will inevitably lead to substantial environmental damage from the extractive process, especially in the global south where environmental legislation is generally weak or non-existent.

To take one example, most of the world’s known lithium reserves reside in the so-called ‘lithium triangle’ of the salt flats of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. When it exists in salt flats the lithium must be extracted from saltwater brine, but this process creates waste and can also deplete the local fresh water supply. In Bolivia this has led to opposition to lithium mining in the Salar de Uyuni salt flat from the local indigenous population who are likely to gain nothing from the mining apart from pollution of the land they live on whichever government is in power.

To take a second example, in 1972 the Australian mining company CRA (in which the British mining multinational Rio Tinto – Zinc had a majority shareholding) started production at the Panguna copper mine on the Pacific Island of Bougainville. The islanders gained nothing from this apart from land and water pollution caused by toxic waste from the mine. Local opposition led to a group of islanders sabotaging the mine in 1988. This and subsequent acts of sabotage led to the closure of the Panguna mine in 1989 but also to a ten year long civil war on the island against the state of Papua New Guinea of which it was a part, a war resulting in the deaths of up to 20,000 islanders. The Panguna mine has remained closed to the present day. Therefore, the struggle by the Bougainville islanders to defend their island is one of the very few examples of a successful environmental struggle against western imperialist interests, though victory came at a very heavy price in the form of the civil war. How many more Bougainvilles exist or will be created in order satisfy the increased global demand for copper and other metals arising from the increasing numbers of electric vehicles produced?

Whilst the oil industry remains a powerful force within the ruling classes of all the major imperialist powers especially the United States there is also an emerging and growing ‘green’ wing of capital. Mining is one of the most environmentally destructive industries on the planet, yet many multinational mining companies have come out as the most enthusiastic supporters of the green transition, not surprisingly as the increased demand for metals going into electric vehicles will lead to greater profits for them. This is especially important within the British context. The London Stock Exchange is probably the most internationalised stock exchange in the world, as measured by the proportion of profits to companies on the exchange originating from outside the domestic economy. About 70% of profits for companies making up the FTSE 100 Index come from abroad. Furthermore, London and the London Stock Exchange have traditionally been and remain the leading global centre for raising mining capital. The world’s two biggest mining companies BHP, and Rio Tinto (both FTSE 100 companies) have a primary listing on the London Stock Exchange. Compared to much of the world there is little mining in Britain today, not least because most of what can be mined has been mined. 99% or more of the profits of British based mining companies come from abroad. So, in terms of the internationalisation of profits BHP, Rio Tinto and other mining companies represent the ‘tip of the spear’ of British imperialist capital.  In other words, a substantial proportion of the wealth of the British ruling class is tied up in mining capital, much more so than other imperialist ruling classes. Therefore, in part at least we can see the policy of the current Tory government to end the sale of new fuel-powered vehicles by 2035 as a reflection of the pressure from the mining industry within the British ruling class.

Regarding green taxes. The problem I and other comrades have with green taxes is the danger that they could force the cost of the green transition onto the working class. To examine a hypothetical situation, any government that had the political will to do so could substantially reduce private car ownership quite easily. A ‘green tax’ approach could simply be to raise the annual vehicle tax to £10,000 for private owners making car ownership prohibitively expensive for 90% or more of the population. But for obvious reasons this would hardly be a socially just way of making a green transition. An alternative and socially just approach could be to develop a licensing system for private car ownership where to gain a license individuals would have to prove that they genuinely needed a car for their own personal use, for example if someone was disabled or lived at a remote location in the countryside. Developing a system of rationing, for example for the purchase of fuel, or air travel, or meat and dairy products etc. also needs to be seriously considered as part of a green transition, but the document totally rejects this. Green taxes though could be supported if they sought to impose punitive taxes on the profits of environmentally harmful companies and their shareholders, for example by imposing a higher rate of corporation tax on oil companies than other companies and/or imposing a tax on dividend payments to their shareholders in addition to other taxes levied on them.

Finally, the document appears to view electric vehicles as a lesser evil to fuel powered vehicles and obviously this is true in a certain sense. The problem though in my opinion is that it fails to adequately situate the green transition it proposes within the framework of the imperialist system and the continued imperialist domination of the global south. With a global transition to electric cars we in the imperialist countries may find ourselves receiving the ‘lesser’ part of this lesser evil in the form of cleaner air. But in the global south for the reasons I have outlined many may also find themselves forced to endure the ‘evil’ part in the form of the environmental devastation and pollution of their communities.

28 October 2020

 

 

The electric vehicles debate – a reply by Alan Thornett

This document is a response Jakob’s text entitled: ‘A complete turnaround of the transport sector is absolutely imperative’ written for the FI ecology commission September 2019 and now submitted to the preconference discussion in response to Paul Metcalfe’s contribution.

Although Jakob’s text is in the framework of the global transport system – road, rail, maritime, and aviation – it is mainly about road transport: i.e. cars, buses, vans, and trucks (HGV’s) with a central theme of opposition to the electrification of road vehicles including passenger cars and vans.

I argue (below) that this is wrong. In fact it is ill-informed, and reckless. The electrification of such vehicles is a crucial step towards cutting both carbon emissions and atmospheric pollution in order that people can breathe properly in the streets. Major cities around the world are coming to a standstill as their inhabitants choke on ever increasing levels of pollution pumped out by the internal combustion engine (ICE). The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that motor vehicles are the single largest environmental outdoor health risk there is, contributing to 3.7m deaths a year.

The rise of the ICE

There are now 1.4 billion vehicles, cars vans, trucks and buses (excluding off-road vehicles or heavy machinery) on the global roads, and growth rate is astonishing. In 1976 there were just 342 million ICE powered vehicles on the roads which rose to 670 million by 1996 – i.e. doubling 20 years. With such a growth rate, if nothing changes, we can expect to see around 2.8 billion such vehicles on the roads by 2040. At the same time the engine capacity of vehicles is increasing. Last year SUV’s were a staggering 36 per cent of global passenger car sales. Such a rate of expansion is catastrophic for the planet.

Two countries, Finland and Andorra have already surpassed a density of more than one car per inhabitant. They are closely followed by Italy at 0.84, the USA with 0.83, Malaysia with 0.80. These are followed by Luxembourg, Malta, Iceland, Austria, and Greece with between 0.73 and 0.75 vehicles per person.

After it had replaced water and steam, by the middle of the 20th century, the ICE became the mightiest power source in history. Today in America, car, bus, and lorry engines have the capacity to produce ten times the energy of its power stations. Modern society has been shaped (grotesquely in most cases) to the requirements of the ICE.

The ICE has reshaped human society, in the Global North in particular. It spawned the development of suburbia and the drive into the city to work. City centres and neighbourhoods were blighted with concrete highways that soon became permanent traffic jams with, with people pushed to the side-lines choking on exhaust fumes. Today 85% of Americans commute to work by car. This destructive legacy will need huge investment to reverse.

Today road traffic accounts for about 20 per cent of all global carbon emissions. In the USA it is 29 per cent and in Britain 27 per cent. Cars account for more than half this. Emissions from public transport (rail and bus) account for just 5 per cent.

Nor is it just carbon emissions that are involved. Road vehicles generate pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides that are major contributors to acid rain, which impacts massively on biodiversity. Particulates, from brakes and tyres can also effect breathing and trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. Some compounds emitted are potentially carcinogenic.

The rate of growth of the ICE is even higher in the Global South. By 2017 China had not only overtaken the USA (with over 300 million vehicles on its roads) but its lower per-capita penetration left a lot of room for further growth. Today there are 40 Chinese cities that have car ownership of more than 1 million and in eleven cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Tianjin, car ownership exceeds 2 million.

An article in the Shanghai Daily on 28 January 2018, entitled ‘China’s Maturing Auto Market Gives Rise to Car Culture and Individuality’, says that: ‘In 40 years China has transformed itself from a land of bicycles to a global automobile market, where a wide range of car brands and models can be seen on the road. It has become common for Chinese families to purchase a second or a third car. Automobiles have greatly extended the sphere of Chinese people’s lives. But more than that, they have become a symbol of individuality.’

Nor is it just China. According to Statista, car sales in Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East, have almost tripled in 12 years from 15.1 million in 2005 to 40.5 million in 2017. In South America car sales also held strong in 2018, despite the global average declining for the first time since 2009 – just after the international financial crisis.

Opposition to electrification

It is against this background – remarkably – that Jakob opposes the electrification of road vehicles. He defends this on the (entirely bogus) basis that electric vehicles (EVs) are more destructive to the planet than the ICE. He puts it this way: ‘Mainstream media, parts of the bourgeoisie and large parts of the general public consider the switch to electric vehicles a solution to the problems produced by greenhouse gas in the transport sector. But there are fundamental reasons why this does not work and why this may even add to the ecological problems we already have.’

This is not true. Multiple studies have found that EVs, and ULEVs (ultra-low emission electric vehicles powered solely by electricity), are more efficient and less polluting than either hybrids or solely ICE vehicles. For example:

  • The US National Resources Defence Council concluded that ULEVs already emit 54 per cent less carbon than ICE vehicles even with the existing level of technology of both vehicles and grid systems. This, they say, can improve further as LV technology becomes more developed and the grids increasingly decarbonised.
  • An EU study based on expected 2020 technological performance found that an electric car using electricity generated solely by an oil-fired power station would use only two-thirds of the energy of a petrol-powered car travelling the same distance.

Jakob argues that EVs generate much more carbon in their manufacture than ICE vehicles. Whilst there is some truth in this, the difference is quite small. According to greenage the carbon generated in the manufacture of a mid-sized ULEV is about 15 percent more than with an equivalent ICE vehicle. This difference, however, is likely to be cancelled out with future developments in battery technology. (see below))

The eradication of the ICE

The truth is that that the twin issues of global warming and atmospheric pollution has spelled the inevitable end of the ICE. The writing is on the wall and we prolong its live at our peril. Recently nine countries and a dozen cities or states have announced a ban on new sales at various future dates, putting the industry on notice. Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City have said they will ban new ICE cars by 2025. Norway has said the same and France by 2040. In Britain Johnson has just reduced Britain’s target from 2014 to 2035, as window dressing for the Glasgow COP. Most of these targets are entirely inadequate, but the direction of travel is clear.

Fully electric cars (i.e. ULEVs) with no gearbox and fewer moving parts, are simpler and cheaper to build and maintain than ICE vehicles – and they last longer. They are also much cheaper to run, with electricity a tenth the price petrol or diesel. This is because EVs powered solely by an electric motor (i.e. not a hybrid) is around 90 per cent efficient in turning electricity into traction whilst and internal combustion engine will never get beyond 50 per cent with most at the moment at around 35 per cent because they waste so much heat in the process. Also, charging EVs from power stations is more efficient than burning fuel in separate units.

The eradication of the ICE, however, is a huge challenge involving a major restructuring of society itself including the redesigns of towns and cities, and a big expansion of bus and rail services – both passenger and freight. It means localising destinations, for work or leisure, and making them accessible by public transport. It means the provision of free public transport – both inside towns and cities and between them. Something that is increasingly being considered by city administrations who are facing ever increased traffic and air pollution. It also means looking at the way we live and the resources we consume. We have to drive less and think carefully about the trips we decided to make.

The idea that this can be achieved without an electrification stage is fantasy land. JC Vessilier, in his text  circulated, quotes Andre Gorz (from 50 years ago) saying the following about the rise of the car: ‘The truth is that nobody really has a choice: one is not free to have a car or not because the suburban universe is arranged in function of it – and even, more and more, the urban universe. This is why the ideal revolutionary solution, which consists in eliminating the car in favour of the bicycle, the tram, the bus and the taxi without driver, is no longer even applicable in motorway cities like Los Angeles.’

This correctly reflects the scale of the problem. The notion that 1.4 billion ICE vehicles can be removed at a stroke, without creating global chaos in the process, is beyond belief. You cannot remove the ICE without an exit strategy – and the only one available is electrification. This does not mean replacing 1.4 billion ICEs with 1.4 billion LVs. It means rapidly reducing ICEs, alongside the introduction of EVs, resulting in a much smaller overall number of vehicles that would be electric. Some cars and small vehicles will be necessary – though not necessarily privately owned.

Passenger cars are easier to replace than freight vehicles, but there is an alternative. It involves (particularly in the Global North) reducing the amount of stuff we need, getting rid of unnecessary production and localising it as much as possible, and also getting as much freight as possible off the roads and on to rail.

There is an important caveat, however. There is no such thing as zero-impact form of transport that requires an energy source – whether it is fossil fuel, electric, hybrid or hydrogen fuel cells. Even LUEVs pollute. With a global population of 7.6 billion and rising rapidly the issue of transportation and the environment is a major challenge. The question that arises, however, is not whether LUEVs are the ultimate answer: they are not. The question is whether they represent a substantial improvement over the ICE, whilst the search for the ultimate solution goes on – and of that there is no doubt.

Remaining problems with EVs

There are, indeed, unresolved problems with EV technology – which is unsurprising given that its development has long been sabotaged by the fossil fuel industry. Fossil industry sabotage, however, cannot be allowed to delay the introduction of this technology, or it will too late. We don’t have the luxury of waiting for perfection or the 10 years science is going us will run out. Many of the problems could well be resolved as R&D is stepped up and the economies of scale cut in, others will have to be fought for.

The grid

The national grid systems will face increased capacity as EVs come in, it will not, however, have to take the entire impact of electric EVs since such vehicles can benefit from cheaper night-time off-peak power that would otherwise be wasted, and because of the increased efficiency of electric power. Also smart chargers which will be able to select the cheapest energy from the 24-hour period.  EVs will add between 10 and 15 per cent demand to the grid systems.

Most grid systems are out of date. We, therefore, have to demand the introduction of smart grid technology that can enhance both efficiency and capacity in order to control and manage energy streams with more accuracy.

Most grids are only partially decarbonised – though it varies from country to country. We have to demand full (none nuclear) decarbonisation of the grid systems in the shortest possible time. The advantages of EVs will only be partial until this is completed. (In Britain the National Grid claims that it will be providing 90 per cent renewable energy by 2030, at the present time 48.5 per cent, though both of these figues includes nuclear and biofuel, which are unacceptable. In Germany the target is at least 80 per cent by 2050.)

Battery technology

Battery technology also remains inadequate, restricting the range per charge available to EVs. At the moment only the highly expensive Tesla offers a range per charge of over 200 miles. There is now a late scramble to upgrade battery technology that has been retarded for decades. A small army of scientists are now working on it.

EVs are significantly heavier than their ICE counterparts because of the current state of battery technology, which is the lithium-ion battery. Lithium was a major step forward when it was originally developed for laptops computers and mobile phones and then adapted for motor vehicles but it is now out of date. A lithium-ion battery giving a range of 200 miles weighs around 700 kilos – which is twice the weight of a tank of petrol or diesel at the point of refuelling. This makes an electric car around 20 per cent heavier than its ICE equivalent – and the longer the range the bigger the battery

According to Autopia-The Future of Cars, the next step change in battery technology is likely to be solid state batteries (where liquid electrolyte is replaced by solid state material). This is being developed by Dyson and Toyota, and are around five years away. These batteries will not only be lighter but more fire resistant and work normally over a wider temperature range.  Another approach being developed in the Lithium air battery which at the moment could be as much as 10 years away. Recycling also remains under developed at the moment but both Lithium and cobalt are recyclable and become more so as volumes increase.

EVs are still more expensive to purchase than ICE vehicles, but sales of EVs are increasing all the time. When battery costs have come down to the point where the whole car is the same price as an ICE vehicle, and battery technology has reached the point where the whole range of electric cars can offer 200 miles plus on a single charge sales will really take off – depending on the level subsidies.

Mineral extraction

Increased mineral extraction is also a concern – cobalt extraction in particular. Cobalt is a component in lithium-ion batteries that power EVs (as well as laptops, mobile phones) and demand for it is expected to skyrocket. Cobalt is mined all over the world, but over half of the global supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo under unacceptable human rights conditions. Increasing demand, however, is likely to boost global exploration and diversify supply whilst further development in battery technology may reduce its further usage in that regard. Lithium is produced from brine reserves and is also used in pharmaceuticals. The demand for copper will also rise sharply, since copper is (unsurprisingly) used throughout electric vehicles, charging stations and supporting infrastructure.

Conclusion

Opposition to the electrification of road vehicles on the radical left is in sharp contrast to the wider environmental movement where electrification is widely accepted. In the recent general election in Britain both the Labour Party and the Greens called for big investment in electric road vehicles to replace the ICE. Most of the environmental NGOs, Friends of the Earth for example, take a similar position. The FI should think again about this. As ecological crisis deepens and the options narrow the radical left could pay an ever higher price for these kind of maximalist positions.

I first came across Jakob’s position at the last FI ecology commission meeting, when I realised that the whole meeting (apart from myself and one other) was opposed to electric cars. We were told that petrol powered cars should be abolished at a stroke with no EV replacement, even for an interim stage. People should just manage without such vehicles. Just imagine it! As mentioned above 82 per cent of Americans get to work by car. This is ultra-left sloganising in the extreme.

The FI, I accept, is not the only radical left organisation that opposes electric vehicles. In fact, it is the default position of the radical left and stems from the same maximalist (one solution revolution) overall approach. It is not, however, ‘reformist’ to advocated the electrification of road vehicles. It is an essential step, along with a big reduction of such vehicles, in defending the planet against pollution and global warming.

If there is any doubt that Jakob’s text is ultra-left sloganising just consider the proposals it makes not to put demands on governments, which seems to be more akin to anarchism than to Marxism. It puts it this way: ‘By putting forward our demands we don’t appeal to governments (or to the ruling class as a whole for that matter) but we clearly spell out the changes we thing are necessary to fight for. This fight has to be waged from below by all the dominated classes.’

This reflects the view that the answer to global warming is the revolutionary overthrow of global capitalism, or system change not climate change, in the next 10 years, but it is not the way to build a fight-back, in the here and now, whilst capitalism still exists.

 

 

A reply to Phil Ward by Alan Thornett

It has been good to have had two rounds of membership discussion in advance of the conference on eco-strategy because it has allowed more discussion and also an important debate to emerge in the form of Phil W’s document Ecosocialism – The Starting Point is Anti-Capitalism which was discussed at the preconference discussion on Sunday November 1.

The document itself is deeply pessimistic and his verbal presentations even more so. I have therefore transcribed Phil’s introduction, plus my own and his response to the discussion, which are reproduced below so that they can that they can be more adequately discussed.

In arguing, in his verbal introduction, for a much smaller economy – an objective I agree with – Phil describes the social conditions he expects would be generated by it. It is going to be very uncomfortable, he says, “and we should be honest about it… Only our basic needs will be satisfied, and some of them, like for example the need for warmth and comfort, in a country like ours, will be very difficult to satisfy. And we need actually address this”.

He made similar points in his reply to the discussion: “What do I think is going to happen? I think the most likely thing that is that human society will collapse in a mass of starvation, war, and general decrepitude, OK. I think this is quite likely… and that it will go a significant way in that direction before the masses actually rise up and do something about it.”

But the masses will not just rise up spontaneously against such conditions – at least not in a progressive direction unless the conditions for such a rising have been established, in struggle, in advance. Such a rising would be more likely to go to the right than to the left. The same can be said about impoverishment. Only a mass movement with a strong progressive content can defend people in such a situation. And the bleak perspective that Phil advances will not take people with it and therefore is not the basis for a mass movement.

The conduct of the debate

Phil regards my challenge to the existing consensus on the ecological left on some key strategic issues as “very arrogant”. Like the actions of an arrogant upstart. I don’t agree. It is true that I have made such a challenge – particularly regarding a transitional approach. But I make no apologies for that.

He points to examples in my book where I take up JB Foster. This is true but there is nothing remotely abusive about it. My first mention of him is to thank him for dragging me out of the ecological dark ages with his 2000 book Marx’s Ecology. I do indeed critique his 2009 book The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet, which I think was undeniably maximalist and which I presented in the following terms:

“Even John Bellamy Foster, who has done more than anyone else to drag the radical left (including me) out of its ecological dark ages, is not immune from this either. In his 2009 book The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet he says the following: “My premise in this book is that we have reached a turning point in the human relation to the Earth: all hope for the future of this relationship is now either revolutionary or it is false.”

Foster accepted that this was based more on hope than expectation, and Ted Benton made a similar critique in his review of the book in March 2010.

The other reference I make to Foster is to applaud the strong support he has given to Hansen’s fee and dividend proposition in the landmark book The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth he wrote along with Brett Clark and Richard York – in contradiction to my comments on Making Peace. In the chapter on ‘Transition Strategies’ they say the following:

“Hansen’s emergency strategy, with its monthly dividends, is designed to keep carbon in the ground and at the same time appeal to the general public. It explicitly circumvents both the market and state power in order to block those who desire to subvert the process. In this there is the hope to establish a mass popular constituency for combatting climate change by promoting social redistribution of wealth towards those with smaller carbon footprints (i.e. the greater part of the population) …”

They go on: “Such a proposal would mean that the rich nations would have to reduce their carbon emissions very rapidly by levels approaching 100 per cent, and a massive global effort would be needed to help countries in the global south to move towards emission stabilisation as well, while not jeopardising sustainable human development.”

They conclude that:“In reality, the radical proposals discussed above, though ostensibly transitional strategies, present the issue of revolutionary change. Their implementation would require a popular revolt against the system itself. A movement (or movements) powerful enough to implement a full-scale social ecological revolution.”

Foster returned to the issue three years later in a Monthly Review article entitled ‘James Hansen and the Climate Exit Strategy’. He argued that: “The advantage of Hansen’s fee and dividend scheme from a climate change standpoint is that it is directly aimed at making the fossil-fuel companies – those who take the fossil fuels out of the ground – pay, while increasing the price of carbon to decrease consumption in every nook and cranny of the economy.” (Pages 164-166 of my book)

 

 

Response by Phil Ward

I will try and deal with some of the points that Alan has made to start off with. I think Alan has a blind spot with the arguments being made. I have never said I am opposed to electric cars what I have said is that I am opposed to the private ownership of cars and I have done since 1989. And I think we should look at motor transport in that kind of context.

I don’t support the radical left in its record in relation to the environment, what I am saying, and I will come back to this later, is that the people who say that correcting all the ecological problems under capitalism is something that capitalism can’t do and therefore requires socialist revolution is an argument worthy of discussion even the argument that capitalism can do very little is an argument worthy of discussion, and Alan actually uses the arguments made by other people on the left, including the quote in his book where John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff Joel Kovel make this point that you can’t cure this problem without socialist revolution that doesn’t mean that they don’t fight for reforms. In fact, they see that as an absolute necessity for achieving socialist revolution as I do, and I think that it is just going around in circles in this discussion is actually doing us no good and we are not going forward.

On the question of population density this is a minor issue. It you look up population density in Wikipedia or whatever is seen as a geographical concept and I was trying to say that is an issue of not how many people are living in an area but the conditions they are living in and I noticed that the quote that Alan read from Mike Davies actually mentioned the word poor and population density together which is precisely the point I am trying to make. It’s about wealth and its about overcrowding and of course poor people tend to be overcrowded along with the occupation they are doing.

On wet markets I have changed my position on this. I don’t think the origins of the virus was the Wuhan wet market but it could have been. I now understand that there is no need for those things because they serve mainly the rich particularly where wild animals are imported from other countries would we stop indigenous peoples hunting animals such as the peoples of the Amazon where they have been doing it for thousands of years in a sustainable way – absolutely not. That is the only point I was trying to make.

Alan says that the decision to move to electric cars can’t be reversed. I am not sure about that. VW says in a recent publication that the internal combustion engine is not dead and has got a long life left in it. That’s an article from this year. And the car lobby has fought all kinds of things about emissions and so on and so forth. Most of these things are not enshrined in law yet anyway, so we will wait and see.

So to the nub of the question, which is economic growth. Capitalism requires economic growth and therefore if it were to try to tackle the environmental problems it faces, particularly in agriculture, energy and transport it would have to replace what already exists and at the same scale that it exists with renewable energy or 2 billion cars or whatever it would have to do that and I don’t think we can support that at all. I think it is unsustainable it is inequitable. Why should there be 25 million cars for 60 million cars in this country and say 2 million cars for 60 million cars in Kenya, for example.

That’s basically my point. We have to have a much smaller economy. And we will have to use much less energy. And it is going to be very uncomfortable and we should be honest about it. This is something new because Marxists have always said we will be living in a socialist paradise where all our wants will be satisfied, and we have to say absolutely not. Only our basic needs will be satisfied, and some of them, like for example the need for warmth and comfort, in a country like ours, will be very difficult to satisfy. And we need actually address this. We have to say how are we going to deal with this. What kind of action programme we should have that is going to address this really serious and difficult problem.”

 

There was then a discussion from the floor followed by two replies to the discussion.  

 

Phil Ward

On the question that Terry raised, that capitalism can be forced to do things that are against its own interests, yes absolutely it can. In fact this relates a bit to the discussion as to whether or not you need a socialist revolution to overcome the ecological problems. Again I want have a discussion about that, not just assertions, abuse, and insults against the rest of the left. Let’s discuss it.

Now clearly capitalism cannot concede everything that is demanded of it otherwise there would not have been any revolution, right, I think I am just going to leave it there. No I am not just going to leave it there. In 1989 I made a distinction between the whole in the ozone layer and fossil fuels they are completely different things. The capitalist system does not have to depend for its day-to-day running on CFCs. There are very simple replacements for CFCs, and before CFCs were invented other things were used like ammonia and hydrocarbons. So if capitalism has all these incredible abilities why is it not happening?

Capitalism still has not significantly broken from fossil fuel. It has known about climate change for 30 years and still 90 per cent of energy is generated by fossil fuel. And still fossil fuel usage is rising not declining. This was the graph I put up in the last discussion. So if capitalism has all these incredible abilities why it is not happening? This suggests that you would need one hell of a mass movement to force capitalism, in fact Alan say this, and if so why would that mass movement not bring about a socialist revolution as well?

So the counter argument to what Alan says in his document… I really think this document must be rejected, and the people who support it should read it again. Let me just say something about the way it deals with the left, I just think it is very arrogant. This horrible coined word nevergoodenoughism why do we have to make these insults about other thinkers. Does this apply to John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff and others? Is this really what we want to say about these people? I just think it is completely unfair and it does not help the debate at all.

Now let’s get to the main issue. What do I think is going to happen? I think the most likely thing that is going to happen is that human society will collapse in a mass of starvation, war, and general decrepitude, OK. I think this is quite likely, and this is to do with things, like consciousness and so forth, that it will go a significant way in that direction before the masses actually rise up and do something about it.

So when we talk about things like rationing and so forth, and that we don’t want to alienate people, we have to talk about two things: what is objectively necessary in order to protect the environment from disruption by capitalism. It is objectively necessary (for example) for the world economy shrinks to probably to one quarter if not less than it is now. In some countries it might need to expand but it does not need to expand in a lot of the cities – the wealth needs to be distributed a lot more evenly, obviously – but how are we going to deal with this requirement? Capitalism cannot, nor could a workers state, run an economy the size it is now with the level of production and consumption we have now without completely trashing the environment.

It is therefore objectively necessary that it shrinks, and we have to say that, if it alienates people, and I don’t think it would alienate people because I think a lot of people in the environmental movement have a sense of despair about the situation that we face, and understand that the situation is very difficult and almost impossible and want answers and for the answers have to be realistic and within the limits of what the ecosystems of the world can actually stand, and that is nothing like the level of economic activity that exists at the moment.

So, when I say we will have to have rationing I mean it. Yes. And we have to have a programme and a set of demands that take that into account. We need to get around to discussing this and not all the other stuff that is being bandied about as some kind of shibboleth that we have been stuck on for the last 10 or 15 years, and I have been arguing this for that long and now I am saying it in a really angry way. So, I think that people should really think about this, read the documents, put some of their own ideas in writing, that would be a really good thing to do and let’s move forward and develop an action programme for an economy that is far smaller and far more egalitarian than the one we have now.

 

 

Alan Thornett

This is indeed the key debate – and Phil is wrong on it in my view. I have been having the same debate with Roy Wall on the website. I agree with Phil that we are heading for a major societal breakdown by mid-century or before. Everything including the speed of the ecological crisis points to that. The question is what to do about it… and if you are going to do anything you have to take people with you – and that is a big ask. If we get to a societal breakdown, sometime before the middle of the century leading to chaos the only beneficiary will be the right-wing. The left will be thrown on the back foot if nothing has been done before then.

In fact the most important reason for demanding that the left take the ecological crisis seriously today is because if it does not it is going to be nowhere is this struggle. If we arrive at a societal breakdown with a strong left that has grasped the issue, has put forward demands in the interests of the majority against the crisis and against capitalism, we can be a player in the situation. We have a chance of playing a role. That is why Steph’s point is so important. You have to carry people with you to have a chance – and you can only do that if you are doing things that benefit their situation.

This is why fee and dividend, or something similar, is absolutely key. It is not enough when the breakdown comes to be able to unite the campaigns and the Greens parties and everything else. You have to have a way of reaching beyond that to the global population.

You have to be able to propose putting something in place that can both cut emissions rapidly and at the same time transfer large sums of money from the rich to the poor in order to make sure that the right people benefit. You need a high-profile demand that can address millions of people. Phil says everybody (on the left) puts forward demands. Well of course everybody puts forward demands, I don’t question that what-so-ever, what I am questioning is whether they put forward demands that are up to the job relevant to the situation and can play a role, and that is a different matter altogether.

This is the key issue we have to address. What will the balance of forces by when society breaks down and the ecosystems start to break down? What is the balance of forces going to be then? This is why sit back and wait is a disastrous approach – if anyone is proposing it and sometimes it appears to be implied. That is why we have to build a big movement that is versed in all these debates.

When Phil talks about a miserable future he argues that the NC document does not deal with the future at all. That’s not true. The NC document does deal with the future, but let’s correct one thing: it is a revolutionary text. It overall objective is the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of an ecosocialist society. The aspect that is being seized on is its recognition, which I think it has to, that revolution is not a solution in terms of stopping global warming in the next 10 years. It is the solution of the whole of the ecological crisis over a longer period of time – it has to be. The only solution to global warming over 10 years, however, is to force capitalism to make major changes in the here and now, because, as the document says, you can’t build ecosocialism on a dead planet.

Unless we address the next ten years there is nothing left to address. The feedbacks will be cutting in and the whole thing could go out of control with a societal crisis by mid-century in which the left has nothing to say and no role to play.

We have to recognise (in any case) that capitalism will in the end resolve this crisis. Don’t think they can’t do it, if they have to they will. They will introduce renewables and get rid of fossil fuel – but they will do it with tanks on the streets and on their terms – and with the left out of the picture. If this happens the poorest on the planet will pay a very heavy price. The struggle we are involved in is a struggle to ensure that it is done on democratic terms with the poorest fully protected.

On taxation no one is in favour of regressive taxes. I put another word in front of taxes every time I say it which is progressive taxes. They have to be progressive. As Allan T has pointed out (with the example of taxing plastic) progressive taxes are a very powerful weapon. We have to make the polluters pay for the crisis and start to pay for the answer, I can’t imagine why anyone on the left would object to that.

Phil says that it would create (economic) growth, well so would taxing the rich, but it doesn’t have to create growth because you would not introduce fee and dividend on its own. It has to have a fiscal and political framework in order to implement it and you use that to prevent growth whilst you use fee and dividend to cut emissions and transfer large sums of money from the rich to the poor in order to ensure that the least well off are protected. And it can do it very fast, and if it is done under conditions where the majority of people are benefitting then you are in with a chance of getting support.

We can’t support regressive carbon taxes, that is what the yellow vests were about. Macron introduced an additional carbon tax under conditions where the poorest were required to pay the bill. The result was yellow vests on the streets for many months. That is always a likely result if it is introduced in a progressive way. If Macron had transferred money from the rich to the poor at the time there would have been no yellow vests.

Could the rush towards electric vehicles be reversed? I am having this debate with Roy W as well. The reason I say you can’t reverse it is because it takes the automotive industry around 10 years to develop a new model. Since this happened they have all switched right over to EV development. Forget what VW say in public statements. VW are hell bent to produce the most saleable EVs they possibly can. They will not reverse this now. It would throw the industry into even more chaos…

 

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