Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ecosocialists should fight for a ‘green new deal’

By Martin O’Beirne
Green Left Weekly
Sunday, September 25, 2011

Newly released figures confirm unemployment is going through the roof, austerity measures are causing global unrest, huge strike action has occurred recently in place like Chile and the biggest strike in Britain since 1926 seems increasingly likely in November with plans for sustained industrial action into the new year.

At the same time, we are becoming desensitised to news of whichever freak weather condition, flood, forest fire or natural disaster has just occurred in whichever country.

In the Pacific Ocean, small islands are disappearing under rising seas, oceans are acidifying and greenhouse gases are being pumped into the atmosphere apace.

The miserably inadequate cap-and-trade system, a new market that commodifies the atmosphere, was supposedly designed to deal with harmful emissions and avert catastrophic climate change.

But designed by whom? By the Wall Street money men that caused the economic collapse and the mass transfer of wealth from the public purse to the parasitic elite.

These parallel trends (environmental and social) show no sign of slowing.

So is there a strategy that seeks real solutions? Yes, its called ecosocialism, but generally ecosocialists are better at pushing the desired outcome of the movement than they are the transition.

The goal is a world in which the state eventually withers. A free association of producers, where use value replaces exchange value. A society geared to an ecological rationale and the restoration of the commons.

But outside of this appetising prospect, what can we embrace here and now? How do we move forward?

There are no hard and fast rules, but the seeds of ecosocialism are finding increasingly fertile conditions within various social movements and political groupings.

Talk has began of a fightback against austerity in Britain involving coordinated industrial action that may involve 6 million or more workers, including various unions.

Many of these unions are waking from relative slumber: notably the British Medical Association, which balloted members on industrial action and received overwhelming support (87%).

Neoliberal austerity is pushing unemployment in Britain to more than 2.5 million — out of a total population of 60 million. Similar trends are taking place in many “advanced” countries.

This increase is in large part due to youth unemployment. The outlook for young people is increasingly bleak with debt, housing, job insecurity and climate change all worsening.

All of this has been handed down from the earlier, profligate generation. Many of those that have secured higher education have found that their striving has worsened their financial woes.

Student debts have risen to up to £30,000 and few jobs are available. The myth of meritocracy is being laid bare.

It is not just the youth — the suffering is across the board. Many older workers face the prospect of long-term or permanent unemployment.

This has other, extra-economic effects. The clinical symptoms of unemployed people are so surprisingly uniform that medical professionals have adopted the term “unemployment depression”.

When we consider all of these factors, it seems appropriate to draw on lessons from history and talk about a “new deal” — as was the response to the great depression caused by the Wall Street financial crash in 1929.

But there is, of course, a difference. The 21st century new deal would have address both the social and ecological crisis.

At the dawn of the current economic meltdown in 2008, Green Party of England and Wales leader Caroline Lucas used the great depression of the 1930s and subsequent new deal to introduce the idea of a green new deal.

She said: “First, strictly regulate the cause of the problem — the greedy and feckless finance sector; second, get people back to work” and “finally, fund this in part by an increase in taxes on big business and the rich — a measure which also has the positive effect of dramatically decreasing inequality …

“A ‘carbon army’, recruited from those in the region who are at present unemployed or wanting to improve their existing skills, could be trained for the low to high skilled jobs required.

“To reduce carbon dramatically will require skills ranging from energy analysis, design and production of hi-tech renewable alternatives, large-scale engineering projects such as combined heat and power and offshore wind, through to work in making every building ‘energy tight’, fitting more efficient energy systems in homes, offices and factories.”

My feeling is that ecosocialists must embed the fight for a green new deal as a core strategy.

No, it’s not the whole picture, and in isolation it will not achieve the ecosocialist vision. But it is an important part of the transition and it is something we can fight for here and now.

And lets face it, some of us (me in particular) can talk all day about topics like how capitalism is no way to run a planet, what an ecosocialist world would be like or manifestations of 21st century socialism in Latin America.

However, when it comes to advancing concrete strategies for transition something is often lacking.

Unions and political parties are pressing ahead with green new deal initiatives but they need support.

Many of us feel a more natural affinity for grassroots movements. I know I’m not the only one. The truth of the matter is that the transition to ecosocialism will be multi-focal — and that’s fine, the question is when will it become systemic.

Caveats aside, this transition will come sooner if we engage with unions and political parties: green or socialist (ideally green-socialist).

Major alarm bells ring when we consider the fact that despite massive and hard fought gains for the new deal of the 1930s, with several million jobs created, in essence the project provided a crutch for capitalism.

That is, a green new deal is not how we overthrow capitalism. It is a near-term strategy made more significant by the decreasing time available to make meaningful changes.

As David Schwartzman said in the September Capitalism Nature Socialism journal: “What the green new deal can accomplish is very significant, indeed critical to confronting the challenge of preventing catastrophic climate change.

“Humanity cannot afford to wait for socialism to replace capitalism to begin implementing this prevention program.”

Also, we must heed the consequences of the Jevon’s Paradox, which readers of John Bellamy Foster will be well acquainted with.

William Jevons was an English economist, a pro-capitalist who argued in his 1965 book The Coal Question: “It is a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.”

Foster gives examples of how, under capitalism, more efficient refrigerators lead not to fewer being made, but more, with increased demand and with each unit increasing in size.

The history of the automobile industry is similar. More energy-efficient cars have led to an increase in the demand for driving, which has led to higher fuel consumption and more cars being made.

In this regard, various green sector jobs could also play into the hands of that mother of contradictions, green capitalism.

In addition, wasteful sectors that would be virtually redundant in an ecosocialist world such as advertising may still benefit under a green new deal.

The success of a green new deal project depends on the trajectory it takes: on what jobs are created and what purpose they serve, on how products are made and how much in total is produced.

There would be need for constant re-evaluation to deal with the prospect of overproduction and waste.

The renewable energy sector is key. But the most powerful application of the green new deal would be to re-appropriate jobs from the military, to “retool” military personnel.

It is easy to forget when we consider the human cost of war that the military — whether its engaged in occupations, terror campaigns or on training missions — is the single biggest emitter of CO2.

Dealing with the cessation of the military could be considered a “green new deal plus”, with the prospect of peace but also of enormous funds and skills that could be diverted toward the fight against climate instability.

Another potential benefit is that during the struggle for the green new deal a significant parts of the population (such as the unemployed, although not exclusively) could be engaged in green political action for the first time. Or rather, they will get involved if we push it hard enough.

If successful, vast numbers of workers will be directly engaged in the green movement, increasing education and awareness. This is vital if we are to transition to ecosocialism. In turn, it is also vital that ecosocialism becomes mainstream.

The original 'new deal' occurred because it was embraced by the masses. It created jobs and significantly improved conditions for working people. The green new deal adds to this a strategy to avert potentially catastrophic climate change.

The concept is powerful but will also likely be subject to “greenwash”. It is not about a think-tank making a proposal and delivering it to a neoliberal government that may or may not deliver some minor changes. The notion of the 'new deal' is not theirs to own.

Like the original new deal, it has to be about mass participation, about people power and about riding the wave of protest that has resonated around the world since the Arab spring.

To acknowledge this, is to acknowledge the prospect that many will become ecosocialists on the journey toward an ecologically and socially rational world.

Not everybody agrees with the idea of a green new deal and, as I said earlier, it’s constraints as a strategy need to be appreciated. But it is undoubtedly a debate that ecosocialists should engage in.

In Britain, a green new deal — headed by the 1 million climate jobs campaign — was embraced by the Green Party at the recent conference.

[Please add your name to the petition site here. A U.S initiative the blue-green alliance can be found by clicking here. This article first appeared at The Ecosocialist.]

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