| The bombing of Nagasaki as seen from the town of Koyagi about 13 km south taken 15 minutes after the bomb exploded In the foreground life seemingly went on unaffected Wikipedia | MR Online The bombing of Nagasaki as seen from the town of Koyagi, about 13 km south, taken 15 minutes after the bomb exploded. In the foreground, life seemingly went on unaffected. (Wikipedia)

Socialism and Ecological Survival

Originally published: Socialist Action on September 5, 2023 by Charlie WIlson (more by Socialist Action) (Posted Sep 09, 2023)

The recent article Socialism and Ecological Survival in Monthly Review by John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clarke makes three essential points about the past and future of the climate movement, is well worth reading in full and poses some crucial strategic questions that we have to confront and work through in praxis. Direct quotations from the article are in italics.

1. The origin of the ecological movement was inextricably combined with that of the peace movement

Both were at the beginning of the Anthropocene era in the 1950s. Rachel Carson’s publication of “Silent Spring” in 1962 was predated by 8 years by the reaction to the U.S. thermonuclear test at Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954. Due to scientific error, a test intended to have a yield of six megatons hadtwo and a half times as much (and a thousand times the power of bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

The resulting explosion blewten million metric tons of radiated coral into a mushroom cloud 100,000 feet high and seventy-five miles wide,releasingradioactive fallout across 11,000 square kilometres, leaving radioactive tracesacross the whole planet. Global alarm was generated when the crew of a Japanese fishing boat developed radiation sickness after being coated in fallout while supposedly well outside the danger zone.

Although the Eisenhower administration tried to cover this up for almost a year, “alarmed scientists immediately began to research the effects of radioactive fallout and how it was distributed by air, water, and living organisms throughout the global ecosystem”. This showed:

  • how the Earth’s weather system led to fallout being concentrated in the Arctic, even though this is far from the site of the test.
  • how iodine-131 adversely affects thyroid glands.
  • how plants and lichen absorb the radioactive isotope strontium-90, which then concentrates in food chains, and gets incorporated into bones and teeth, leading to cancers.

These studies raised fears of a planetary ecological crisis, whereby the world’s population would share a common environmental fate from the spread of radiation, threatening survival everywhere.

The connection between the threat of exterminism through climate breakdown and nuclear war preparations is explored by Bellamy Foster here and socialists should be campaigning on this link in both movements.

2. Capitalism is locked into exterminism

The climate movements in the Global North have for the most part developed within a social democratic paradigm, envisaging necessary action by a benign state acting within a popular consensus in the common interest in the form of “the environment state”; ignoring the way that all capitalist states operate to serve the interests of capital, not people.

Demands from the climate movement for a Climate Emergency to be declared operate in this framework, presuming that the necessary emergency powers would be exercised in the common interest,

  • with radical curbs on unsustainable consumption by the wealthy,
  • redistribution of wealth and technology from the Global North to the Global South,
  • control taken of private finance and energy companies to direct capital where it is needed,
  • wind down fossil fuel production and ramp up renewables,
  • mass expansion of public transit,
  • revamping our towns and cities around 15 minute neighbourhoods,
  • wholesale and rapid insulation,
  • pulled together by a mass education campaign cum social debate to ensure that everyone knows what is happening, what part they can play and set them up to innovate collectively as a many headed popular genius.

The removal of calls in the draft of the 2021 IPCC Report for “transformational change operating on processes and behaviors at all levels: individual, communities, business, institutions and governments” to “redefine our way of life and consumption” for “coordinated action, massive public mobilization, political leadership and commitment, and urgent decision-making to change the global economy and support an effective and accelerated mitigation-adaptation strategy” underlines that the problem with this is that the states expected to act on the emergency are run by the people who created it in the first place; whose wealth and power is inextricably bound up with maintaining it, and are currently postponing the necessary action while mobilizing massive disinformation campaigns to buy their system time while it drives us off the edge of the cliff.

  • Shell, for example, have just shelved plans to slowly cut oil production by 2% a year, because keeping on pumping creates so much profit, and blithely predict that Net Zero can only be achieved some time in the next century.
  • The Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are currently putting through a “Real Emergencies Bill”, to make sure no climate emergency measures can be taken that would cut into fossil fuel profits; as if the Biden administration had any intention of doing anything of the sort.
  • And in Britain we have the Sunak government trying to open up more oil and gas fields, giving the green light to airport expansion and taking up the cudgels on behalf of “motorists”.

But this does not mean that, when climate and social breakdown has gone far enough, they will not introduce emergency powers to deal with the consequences of having let it rip.

What that will look like was spelled out in the “Age of Consequences” report on the “National Security implications of Climate Change”, published in 2007 by the U.S. Centre for Strategic and International Studies, written by advisers to Al Gore at the time. Their projection for the sort of “severe scenario” we are heading for could not be clearer.

Beyond tipping points, and facing uneven but large scale social and political collapse they say;

Governments with resources will be forced to engage in long, nightmarish episodes of triage, deciding what and who can be salvaged from engulfment by a disordered environment. The choices will need to be made primarily among the poorest, not just abroad but at home.

That is a warning, and a road map, for what is coming. The fossil fuel core of the ruling class, having created the crisis, will try to sustain it as long as possible, then take emergency powers to try to save themselves from the consequences of their actions at the expense of “the poorest”, at “home” as well as“abroad”. Heightened military spending, of course, is an aspect of this.

Bellamy Foster and Clarke’s stark conclusion that, as “the world is now on a runaway train to disaster, rapidly approaching the edge of the cliff… a whole new revolutionary ecological civilization and mode of production, dedicated to sustainable human development, one in which the associated producers regulate the metabolism between humanity and nature, is now necessary for survival and for life” is a crucial one for the climate movement to take to heart as a strategic aim; within whatever mobilisations, blocs and compromises we might have to make at any given point.

3. As part of that process, socialist, post-revolutionary societies are better able to resist the logic of capital

Cuba has developed an ecosocialist model for a society built on “a reduction of unnecessary and destructive production by and for rich countries (and people),” and “exceeds the…growth of production of necessities by and for poor countries (and people).”

Cuba, rather than following the dominant capitalist strategy of promoting maximum energy usage and simply converting to “alternative” energies … has chosen energy conservation, seeking to minimize both energy usage and the resultant negative effects.

Cuba’s Special Period, following the demise of the Soviet Union and its fossil fuel subsidies to Cuba, forced Havana, faced also with a tightening U.S. embargo, to develop agroecology and urban farming at very high levels, resulting in Cuba’s eco-revolutionary transformation into a model of sustainable human development.

It has therefore repeatedly been defined by international indicators as “the most ecological nation on the earth”.

It is also “the one most prepared for disasters” When Hurricane Maria, hit Puerto Rico, a U.S. colony, in September 2017its impact killed almost 3,000 people. When Irma, another category 5 hurricane, hit Cuba the same month, only ten people died.

Cuba’s low mortality was the result of comprehensive disaster protection measures introduced from the beginning of its revolution and built into the entire structure of the society.

They also note that “Although still one of the world’s largest polluters, the Chinese economy has made rapid ecological advances, in line with its goal—outside the capitalist framework—of promoting an ecological civilization, a concept that originated with socialist environmentalists in the final decades of the Soviet Union, and that has now taken on Chinese characteristics.

While still “having a low per capita income relative to the developed capitalist states, China has set 2060 as its target to reach zero net carbon emissions” and ”become the world leader in solar power—both production and consumption—and in reforestation/afforestation”.

China is also setting the pace in investment. Next year, the IEA projects that China’s investment in renewable energy will be double the U.S. and EU combined.

Their conclusion is a crucial guide to how we need to be organising, what we have to aim for and the grim and tumultuous situation in which we have to do it.

A revolt by the world’s environmental proletariat…. in which hundreds of millions, even billions, of people will inevitably take part, is destined to come about in the coming decades as a result of the struggle for ecological survival.

It will lead to new microcosms of existence and an assault on the macrocosm of capital and its state.

But this struggle can only succeed in the end if it takes the form of a revolutionary transformation directed at the creation of a socialist ecological civilization, drawing on the rich reservoirs of human knowledge and community.

Monthly Review does not necessarily adhere to all of the views conveyed in articles republished at MR Online. Our goal is to share a variety of left perspectives that we think our readers will find interesting or useful. —Eds.