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The path to climate justice passes through Caracas

Originally published: CounterPunch (March 11, 2019)   | 

This is an updated/revised version of our article which appeared in CounterPunch on March 11, 2019

We dedicate this contribution to the heroic defenders of the Bolivarian Embassy in Washington DC.

For now the U.S. regime change agenda has been defeated as a result of the mass mobilization in April and May of the Venezuelan masses in defense of their Bolivarian Revolution, a mobilization which succeeded in marginalizing the opposition led by U.S. puppet Juan Guaido, demonstrating how pathetic his claims of legitimacy were. However, the Venezuelan people have suffered grievously from the U.S. instigated economic warfare.(1) Global solidarity must be strengthened, as the imperialist threat remains. To build this solidarity it is critical to understand how blocking the regime change agenda with respect to Venezuela is integrally connected to confronting the challenge of climate change.

In this deeply complex and decisive historical moment, we share the humility of Lenin when he said:

I don’t know how radical you are, or how radical I am. I am certainly not radical enough. One can never be radical enough; that is, one must always try to be as radical as reality itself.(2)

We too would like to witness the demolition of the bourgeois state, and the abandonment of the rentier petroleum and mining economies which are a legacy of colonialism. But we don’t believe a new mode of production can emerge by making demands and denunciations. We are not particularly outraged that Chavez and Maduro have failed to reverse 500 years of colonialism in a couple decades of a constitutional revolution. We struggle for solidarity with a path towards the future based on the realities of the world we live in today. Our 2015 proposal for the solarization of the Venezuelan economy and Mercosur (“An Ecosocialist Horizon for Venezuela; A Solar Communist Horizon for the World”) outlines such a proposaz.(3)

The Green New Deal in World-Systemic Perspective

One of us has been writing extensively for over a decade about how a Green New Deal (GND) should be embraced by ecosocialists as a site of class struggle.(4) Now that the GND is getting a lot of attention as a potential prevention program to avoid catastrophic climate change, it is important to note the contributions of the Green Party of the United States (GP) to making the link between the GND, climate change and the U.S. imperial agenda. Howie Hawkins, an ecosocialist, ran for Governor of New York with a GND in his platform starting in 2010, and the two Presidential campaigns of Dr. Jill Stein, which brought the vision of a GND to the attention of millions, made a significant impact. The GP’s GND includes cutting the military budget and ending the imperial U.S. foreign policy which is in utter contradiction to the agendas of both the Republican and Democratic Party leadership. Nevertheless, there is growing dissent in Congress with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) vigorously challenging Elliot Abrams in a recent hearing, along with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) standing out. And because of the assassination of Khashoggi and their murderous war in Yemen, the U.S./Saudi alliance is now under attack in Congress.

But in the Western Hemisphere, foreign policy consensus still prevails, so the Democratic leadership is currently giving a pass to the Trump coup threat to Venezuela. Only someone completely brainwashed by the imperial mass media can believe that this regime change agenda is actually in place because of humanitarian concerns–with Trump, Pompeo, Bolton and the war criminal from the Reagan era Elliot Abrams at the helm, noting that Venezuela has the biggest oil reserves in the world. There is little doubt that these political instruments of militarized fossil capital want this oil extracted. In an interview on Fox Business, Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton was open about the U.S.- led coup in Venezuela being motivated by oil and corporate interests. Bolton said,

We’re looking at the oil assets…We don’t want any American businesses or investors caught by surprise….we’re in conversation with major American companies now that are either in Venezuela, or in the case of Citgo here in the United States…It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela. We both have a lot at stake here making this come out the right way.(5)

Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world:

With 300,878 million barrels of proven reserves, Venezuela has the largest amount of proven oil reserves in the world. The country’s oil is a relatively new discovery. Previously, Saudi Arabia had always held the number one position. The oil sand deposits in Venezuela are similar to those in Canada. Venezuela also boasts plenty of conventional oil deposits. Venezuela’s Orinoco tar sands are significantly less viscous than Canada’s, so the oil sands there can be extracted using conventional oil extraction methods, giving it a considerable advantage over the Northern American rival in terms of capital requirements and extractions costs.(6)

Extraction of this huge reserve would be a climate killer, while defeating the imperial agenda driving the Venezuela coup will potentially make an important contribution to global climate security. Venezuela must be left to determine her own destiny, making possible an alternative scenario, upon which the fate of the biosphere may hinge: that most of the oil reserve will stay in the ground, while a small fraction will be used as an energy source for a solar energy transition for Latin America. While Venezuela’ leaders may continue brag about their huge reserve, they surely know that most of it must remain in the ground to be consistent with Venezuela’s own ratification of the Paris Agreement, not to mention its own Plan of the Homeland, recognizing that much more radical curbs on greenhouse gas emission than presently committed are imperative to keep warming below the goal of 1.5 degrees centigrade.

As a major oil producer, Venezuela has the potential to significantly contribute to a solar energy transition, using this fossil fuel with the lowest greenhouse gas emission ratio to energy consumed as an energy source to replace itself. Venezuela could lead a wind/solar power transition in Latin America using a small fraction of her liquid petroleum reserves, while still gaining revenue from oil exports as well as contributing to the same energy transition globally. Implementing this approach would be a critical component of Venezuela’s self-identified path of ecosocialist development. The proven reserves of conventional light to heavy oil in Venezuela are estimated to be 39 billion barrels, (excluding 259 billion barrels of extra heavy oil in the Orinoco basin),(7) although the further expansion of this reserve has been neglected in recent years, particularly since the downturn in the economy following the sharp fall in the price of oil and sanctions regime imposed by the U.S. We have estimated that it is possible to reach the goal of ending energy poverty–necessary for a high quality of life for 400 million people in what were the Mercosur countries–and moreover that this can be achieved in 15 years or less, using 0.15 billion barrels of this oil per year to create a solar power infrastructure.(3)

But of course militarized fossil capital has other plans–namely the destruction of the Bolivarian Revolution, coupled with extracting this huge oil reserve, regardless of the climatic and environmental consequences. And Cuba is explicitly next on the list for regime change; the fossil empire continues to plot the elimination of this example of ecosocialist transition, noting her vigorous conversion to agroecologies and cooperative ownership.(8)

And not coincidently, the U.S. imperial regime change agenda is also aimed to Iran, which ranks 4th in proven oil reserves with 158,400 million barrels, behind U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Canada.(6) Europe is resisting U.S. pressure to terminate the Iran nuclear deal, but in a reprise of the Monroe Doctrine, Europe is now supporting the U.S. regime change agenda.

Only a resurgent global movement can block this outcome. This challenge should be considered by climate and energy justice activists, and all those supporting the GND initiative in the U.S. Congress, the growing Sunrise movement in particular. Finally, blocking the Trump coup against Venezuela would be an important step to undermining the power of the Military Industrial Complex. The U.S. military is both the biggest polluter(9) and also the biggest obstacle to freeing up resources necessary for a robust GND and creating a global regime of cooperation–so necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change in the ever-shrinking time we have left.

However, we must be on our guard, and be careful students of history. Like the New Deal before it, the GND’s devils are in its details. The New Deal famously left out women and African Americans, and less famously sealed the systematic de-radicalization of the U.S. labor movement.[10] Similar dangers present themselves to climate justice activists today in the context of the GND. All the more reason to engage in the debates and struggles around and for the GND, as we have insisted from the beginning; not as a compromise, but as a class struggle.

Conclusion

Over a decade ago, one of us wrote:

The path to climate security must pass through Gaza, i.e., climate security for humankind will only be achieved with the end of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, termination of Israeli apartheid regime, and the full realization of the individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people.(11)

The argument still stands, more than ever. Today, noting the historic solidarity between the Venezuelan revolutionary process and the Palestinian people, we must add that the path to climate justice must pass through Caracas; i.e., climate justice for humanity will only be achieved if the world’s largest reserves of fossil fuels are mobilized for a continental and then global energy transition; that this is only possible with the termination of the U.S. war of counterinsurgency and destabilization against the Venezuelan government, allowing them to focus their attention on the full realization of an ecosocialist mode of production. The legal, scientific and spiritual mandates for this ecosocialist revolution are articulated by the government in the Plan of the Homeland (2013-2019)(12) by an independent coalition of scientists in the National Strategy for the Conservation of Biodiversity (2010-2020)(13) and by the global grassroots alliance constituted in the First Ecosocialist International (2017-2517).(14)

Does anyone who is serious about global climate justice have another proposal? Those who demand “neither Guaido nor Maduro” are not forthcoming with a strategy to prevent climate catastrophe. Venezuela is the only country in the world with the energy resources and political-legal structure necessary to launch a revolutionary global energy transition against its class enemies. (Perhaps those who despise Maduro would prefer to trust the infrastructure development necessary for climate justice to the royal family of Saudi Arabia?) The international left has still not awoken to the fact that the largest oil reserves in the world are under the legal control of an ecosocialist government, whose current supreme power is neither Guaido’s national assembly nor Maduro’s executive government, but a constituent assembly composed of representatives of the working classes. It’s past time to wake up.

Those of us around the world who are looking for a way to save the biosphere, from Extinction Rebellion to the Sunrise Movement to the Green New Deal, should make it a top priority to join in concrete solidarity with both the revolutionary process of Venezuela and the government it has repeatedly elected. The farcebook spectacle of dueling proclamations of “I stand with” / “I stand against” (when it is obvious to all concerned that everyone is in fact sitting down in front of their computers) would be amusing if the stakes weren’t so high and the consequences so tragic. Not only history, but the geologic record itself, will record our actions and inactions in defense of climate justice, whose fate is played out today in Caracas. Meanwhile, the people of Haiti have shown the world what real international solidarity looks like–thousands of people in the streets.(15)

The path to climate justice passes through Caracas, but it doesn’t stop there. It passes through and into the countryside, where a radical rural renaissance is taking place with the formation of ecosocialist communes in every bioregion.(16) A new socio-territorial order, as called for by Chavez in his final “Strike at the Helm” speech to his ministers,(17) and a return to Mother Earth, as articulated in the Combined Strategy and Plan of Action of the First Ecosocialist International, awaits the solidarity it deserves.(18)


David Schwartzman is the co-author of The Earth is Not for Sale.(19)

Quincy Saul is the editor of The Emergence of Ecosocialism: Collected Essays by Joel Kovel (20)

Endnotes.

  1. Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela, By Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs* April 2019, Center for Economic and Policy Research, cepr.net.
  2.  greenleft.org.au
  3. Schwartzman, D. and Saul, Q. (2015). An Ecosocialist Horizon for Venezuela: A Solar Communist Horizon for the World, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 26 (3), pp. 14-30. Similar version at ecosocialisthorizons.com.
    The current production of crude oil in Venezuela (January 2019) is 1.5 million barrels/day, equivalent to 0.5 billion barrels/year, a decline from 0.9 billion barrels/year in 2016; tradingeconomics.com
  4. “Green New Deal: An Ecosocialist Perspective,” by David Schwartzman, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 2011. See also the presentation “Green New Deal: System Change and Energy Transition,”2014, among others.
  5. thegrayzone.com
  6.  worldatlas.com
  7. IESA (2016). Venezuela Energy in Figures 2014-2015, Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administración, Venezuela, p. 21.
  8. See chapter 8 in Schwartzman, P. and D. Schwartzman. 2019. The Earth is Not for Sale: A Path Out of Fossil Capitalism to the Other World That is Still Possible. Singapore: World Scienti!c.
  9. ecowatch.com
  10. “Whose New Deal? The New Deal from the Standpoint of its Victims,” by Quincy Saul, Smashthisscreen, 2011 smashthisscreen.blogspot.com
  11.  stopthejnf.org
  12.  links.org.au
  13.  issuu.com
  14.  venezuelanalysis.com
  15. “Haiti’s Unfolding Revolution is Directly Linked to Venezuela’s,” by Kim Ives, Haiti Liberte, February 2019: haitiliberte.com
  16.  www.telesurtv.net
  17.  monthlyreview.org
  18.  ecosocialisthorizons.com
  19.  theearthisnotforsale.org
  20.  amazon.com

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