Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ottawa tar-sands protest: reports and impressions

I participated in the demonstration against the Alberta tar sands outside the Canadian Parliament here in Ottawa on September 26. As was widely reported, the civil disobedience component of the action resulted in over 200 arrests.

I am cross-publishing here two accounts of the day’s events that are much more informative than what appeared in the corporate media. And I follow them with some of my own thoughts about the action.

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Sit-in protests Keystone XL pipeline

Civil disobedience on Parliament Hill results in more than 200 arrests

by Julie Dupuis, for Straight Goods News

(Cross-posted with permission)

OTTAWA, September 27, 2011, Straight Goods News — Nearly a thousand people gathered Monday on Parliament Hill in front of the Centennial Flame to protest the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands crude oil to Texas. Organized by the Council of Canadians, Greenpeace Canada, and the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), the solidarity rally drew participants ready to risk arrest, by attempting a sit-in in the Centre Block or by supporting those engaging in civil disobedience.

Before the main event, several high-profile speakers addressed the crowd. Clayton Thomas-Muller, indigenous tar sands organizer for the IEN, kicked off the event by thanking the Algonquin First Nation for use of the “unceded land” on which lies the parliamentary buildings. First Nation Elder Terry McKay then led the gathering in prayer to the Creator, followed by a drum song.

“Justice!” resounded all around as, to fire up the crowd, Thomas-Muller called, “What are we here for?”

Chief Bill Erasmus of the Dene First Nation and the Assembly of First Nations took the podium, pointing out that people who live downstream from tar sands tailings ponds are dying of cancer.

“Shame!” cried the protesters.

Chief Erasmus noted that it takes four to five barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil.


Chief Erasmus claimed that Canada’s goal is to become the #1 producer of oil.


He said private landowners are concerned about cleaning up spills and that the original Keystone pipeline, operated by the same company that would operate the new proposed pipeline, has had twelve spills in the last fourteen months.


Chief Erasmus concluded with an appeal to President Obama, who will decide next month whether to approve or reject the Keystone XL pipeline: “Obama, come up with a new sustainable way to deal with fossil fuels. We need your help.”

David Coles, President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), said about the pipeline, “It’s a no-brainer and Harper’s got no brains.”

Dispelling greenwashing claims, Coles asked, “What blooming idiot came up with the idea of ‘ethical oil’?”

Chief Jackie Thomas of the Sai-kuz First Nation attended the event as a symbol of solidarity. Her tribe is battling not the Keystone XL pipeline, but the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which would transport tar sands oil from Alberta to BC’s coast. Her message to Enbridge: “Don’t try us.”

Lionel Lepine, lawyer for the Athabasca Chipewyan Dene Nation, said, “They call it the House of Commons. I don’t see any common sense in there.” Lepine said his community is suffering tremendously from tar sands development, its people dying of cancer and other illnesses. The documentary H2Oil demonstrates its plight.

“I vow until my dying breath to continue this fight,” finished Lepine.

Representing Greenpeace Canada and the Lubicon Cree First Nation, Melina Laboucan-Massimo said her family is also ill, but from the Albertan oil spill that was left unreported for five days last spring, until the federal election had passed. Her voice quivered at times as she enumerated her relatives’ symptoms, lamenting that a few individuals are profiting from their pain. Echoing Lepine, Laboucan-Massimo asserted, “This behind me is the House of Commons, not the House of Corporations.”

Former Senate page Brigitte DePape was there representing the Youth Climate Justice Coalition, which DePape revealed is organizing a tribunal to put the Harper government on trial. “This is where change is happening,” DePape told the protesters, saying she was happy to be standing with them and “not in there”, pointing behind her to Parliament. DePape’s parting message was to “organize together for another possible Canada”.

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow referred to an imaginary map depicting current and proposed pipelines, and said, “It looks like a corporate snakes and ladders board game.”

“In my opinion,” said Barlow, “the people crossing the line today are not breaking the law. The people breaking the law are the Harper government.” Barlow cited the Fisheries Act, the Kyoto Protocol, the UN Declaration on the Human Right to Water, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Today we stand on the face of change,” Thomas-Muller had told the crowd.

Sit-in participants lined up behind police fences and, in waves of six people, they crossed the fence to be arrested. The first to cross were Maude Barlow, George Poitras, former Chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, Dave Coles, Tony Clarke, Director of the Polaris Institute, and Elizabeth Bernstein of the Nobel Womens’ Initiative, among others.

Also in attendance at the rally were Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May and Dennis Bevington, NDP MP, Western Arctic. Charlie Angus, NDP MP, Timmins-James Bay, appeared to show his support around three o’clock, while Stéphane Dion, Liberal MP, St-Laurent–Cartierville, arrived at 9 a.m.

More than 200 people were arrested for trespassing, fined between $55 and $75, and banned from Parliament Hill for one year.

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline say the project violates First Nations Treaty Rights. It threatens food and water supplies because it crosses the Ogallala Aquifer, the world’s largest known underground lake, as well as countless farms. The project takes jobs out of Canada and contributes to added tar sands pollution, increasing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

As Dave Coles asked the crowd amassed in front of the Centre Block, “What about energy security for Canada?”

Thomas-Muller gave participants hope that positive change is forthcoming. “This is who we are,” he said, “but this is not who we will continue to be.”

Julie Dupuis holds an MA in English Literature from the University of Toronto (2005) and did post-graduate work in Creative Book Publishing at Humber College (2007). She has been writing for a living since 2006, has published four travel articles, and is the Associate Editor of Public and She is an avid hiker and traveller.

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Over 200 arrested at Ottawa tar sands protest

By Marco Vigliotti | September 27, 2011, rabble,ca

Over 200 protesters objecting to the federal government’s enthusiastic support for Alberta’s tar sands and the Keystone pipeline XL were arrested Monday morning as they attempted to stage a sit-in in the House of Commons.

The protesters wanted the chance to air their grievances with the environmentally reckless policies of the Harper-led Conservatives inside Parliament but were blocked from entering by fenced barricades and over 50 RCMP officers.

The protesters were encouraged by hundreds of boisterous supporters as they passed the media scrum and calmly hopped over police barricades.

Those arrested in the first wave of protesters trying to gain access to the House included chairperson of The Council of Canadians, Maude Barlow, and Dave Coles, the president of Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, along with his executive assistant and blogger Fred Wilson.

Organizers want to deliver a strong message denouncing the Conservative government’s support for the Keystone XL pipeline and continuing tar sands development.

“We’re here today in solidarity with the multiple other NGOs, unions and every day citizens who decided to send a very united direct message to the Harper regime that we will not stand for this anymore,” said rally organizer and tar sands campaigner for the Indigenous Environmental Network Clayton Thomas-Mueller.

“We want energy justice, we want a zero carbon energy economy that doesn’t sacrifice certain communities for the benefit of shareholders of big private oil companies living thousands of miles away.”

No incidents of violence were reported and both sides in the rally behaved civilly, to the point that police placed a small step ladder on the far side of the barricade for protesters to safely descend.

“I think the police have conducted themselves in a peaceful way,” said Thomas-Mueller. “Their decision to only charge folks with trespassing versus a criminal charge, we definitely appreciate that.”

Thomas-Mueller noted the stark contrast of this peaceful protest with the turbulence of recent police and activist confrontations.

“This is a very welcome exchange from what we’ve seen in the G-20 and the Olympic mobilization where police definitely were a lot more hostile” says Thomas-Mueller, “so today was a good day.”

A diverse group of speakers kicked off the protest rally sharing their own personal stories of suffering from the colossal impact of the Alberta tar sands.

Chief of the Dene Nation, Bill Erasmus, spoke of the struggle that his community, which is 800 miles downstream of the tar sands, faces with water contamination and pollution.

“There are tailings ponds that total 700 square miles of toxic waste, that waste goes into the water system, we are downstream we feel it,” Erasmus said. “[Former Chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation] George Poitras spoke of members in his community dying of cancer, we’re only a couple of miles downstream from them and we’re starting to feel it.”

“Canada wants to become the number one world producer of oil at our expense,” added Erasmus.

“It was a changed landscape forever,” said Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Climate and Energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada about her Lubicon Cree community’s struggle with the Rainbow Oil pipeline leak this past spring.

“It consumed a whole stretch of our traditional territory, where my family once hunted, once trapped, once picked berried, once harvested medicine for generations and can no longer do it,” added Laboucan-Massimo.

The speakers shared a sense of frustration of being ignored by the Conservative government despite the scientific evidence and strong opposition against tar sands development.

“It is simply wrong to poison the fish and wildlife which indigenous people living downstream depend on for their livelihood thereby causing unprecedented high incidents of rare cancers in First Nations community, it is dead wrong,” Tony Clarke, the director of the Polaris Institute, said.

“The Harper government has taken its marching orders from Big Oil and has effectively shut out the voices of civil society.”

Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) Union president Dave Coles denounced the Harper government as foolish and incompetent for their Keystone pipeline projects.

“How the hell do you de-link jobs, the environment, the economy, First Nations rights? You can’t, it’s a package and you can’t put it in a pipe and ship it to Texas,” charged Coles. “Stephen Harper’s right, it’s a no-brainer -- and he has no brains.”

Many in the crowd spoke of the need to fight back against the continued development of the tar sands by coming together and strengthening the opposition movement.

“This rally is about bringing a common voice recognizing that the government is ignoring opposition to the tar sands development,” said Andrea Harden-Donahue, the Energy and Climate Justice Campaigner Council of Canadians, “The stronger our movement is the more power we will have.”

With the Conservatives controlling all levers of power in Ottawa, renegade page Brigitte Depape urged activists to use civil disobedience to oppose the Harper government.

“We have tried institutional means and they have failed, and we know change won’t happen in Parliament and we know it won’t happen from writing policy reports,” Depape said. “Change happens when we take action. We may not have the money and resources that government and companies have but we have people power.”

Marco Vigliotti is an Ottawa-based freelance journalist.


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From witnessing to strategy?

A few brief comments of my own on some aspects of this action.

From the outset, the demonstration was explicitly designed to be “one of the largest acts of civil disobedience on the climate issue that Canada has ever seen.” Both the political message and the tactic to convey it were described by the organizers:

Our goal is very simple: to peacefully and responsibly go through the main doors of Parliament to the foyer of Centre Block and sit-down so we can deliver our message: All people in Canada deserve a clean energy future that promotes climate justice, where Treaty and Indigenous rights are respected and the health of our communities and the environment are prioritized. To secure this for future generations we must turn away from the toxic tar sands industry and oppose Harper's reckless climate agenda.

“We are asking each person to make a personal commitment, to weigh all the factors and if you feel it is appropriate, to join with people from across the country in a peaceful, arrestable civil disobedience action on Parliament Hill.

“This is our objective: to enter the house of the people and send our message of hope for the future.”

Predictably, the tactic had to be radically amended. Only a huge mass movement linked in action to sympathizers working inside the building could hope to storm and occupy this holy of holies of Canadian representative democracy. The police foreclosed the plan by erecting a four-foot (1.3 metre) metal fence in front of the steps to the Parliament, with an additional 8 foot metal barrier at some distance behind the first fence — completely shutting down public access to the building. The Commons was closed to the commons.

Nevertheless, as a statement of moral protest against the environmental destruction of the tar sands, I think the action can be considered a modest success.

Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians explains the thinking behind the action:

“I took part in the two week rolling protests held in Washington in late August.... I was deeply moved by the dignified process of non-violent civil disobedience I witnessed there and vowed to help create a similar event in Canada.

“So with Greenpeace, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Polaris Institute, and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (who represent the tar sands workers), the Council of Canadians organized a similar demonstration of civil disobedience and worked with local police forces to make it as dignified and peaceful as possible.

“Over 800 Canadians gathered on the Hill, where we heard the stories of despair from First Nations people living downstream of the tar sands and the need to take our campaigns to the next step of direct action....”

This “direct action” of “civil disobedience” was by its very nature addressed to those already convinced of the enormous danger and destruction posed to humans and our environment by the tar sands operations and determined to manifest their opposition in dramatic fashion. It was designed essentially as a media spectacle, the mass arrests, that would startle public opinion and perhaps stimulate thinking in broader layers about why so many people were prepared to be arrested in this cause.

As Barlow explains, for her — and no doubt for many of the demonstrators — “It was not an easy decision to make.

“The charges could very well have been criminal and impair my ability to do work in the United States, which would have been devastating for me. I chair the board of Food and Water Watch in Washington and serve on advisory boards of several other organizations. I also speak to many American groups and at universities. The merging of the no-fly lists between Canada and the United States is a real and growing concern, as many of us fear such lists will be used to shut down peaceful dissent.

“But the day comes when you have to take a stand beyond the range of your comfort zone and for me, this was the day. I have four grandchildren I love more than life itself and I want them and all children to grow up in a safe and healthy world. I was lucky to have on one side Dave Coles, the fearless president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union and on the other, Fred Wilson, senior adviser to Dave and a wonderful board member of the Council of Canadians....”

As it happened, the police had decided in this instance not to employ the tactics they have so readily used in some recent protests such as the G20 demonstrations in Toronto in 2010. Instead, they turned the potential confrontation into a peaceful pantomime. But, as Barlow reminds us, the outcome could easily have been much worse:

“I was asked three times by a very respectful police officer to go back over the fence and when I refused, he arrested me for obstructing a police officer, a serious criminal charge. I was handcuffed, searched and escorted by an also respectful policewoman and sat, as did my friends, for a long time while they decided what to do with us. Finally, they thankfully decided on the lesser charge of trespassing and we, and the 200 others who followed us over the fence, were given a fine and an edict to stay away from Parliament Hill for a year....

“I realize that at no time was my life in danger as is the case for activists in some other countries or even some groups in our own. But I also for a short time, felt the unnerving experience of being totally and completely out of control of my life and it has left me shaken....”

However, Barlow concludes, she felt personally energized by the experience: “Mostly I feel privileged to have been part of a wonderful experience where people of all ages and from all over the country came together to put themselves on the line.”

Personally, I respect the commitment and dedication of those who engaged in this action. (Like the majority of the demonstrators, I chose not to go over the fence.) Theirs was a strong statement of personal witness, and may well have convinced many others to think more deeply about the issues.

And certainly, the action was a valuable opportunity for many activists from across Canada to connect with each other and establish links that will serve them well in future activities. On the day preceding the action, some 250 of us participated in a nine-hour training session at the nearby University of Ottawa that included a short teach-in on the issues, and group enactments of how to counter anti-climate propaganda and resist police intimidation. (There were few from Quebec, however, the province that has seen the largest environmental protests and mobilizations, most recently in opposition to shale gas exploration.)

Nevertheless, there were in my view some aspects to the action that also merit critical consideration.

An obvious one, to me at least, was the lack of any specific proposal for future action. Instead, the organizers are simply urging supporters to “take the pledge” — the pledge in question, published on their web site, being “to get involved in my own community to help build a clean green energy future where Indigenous rights are respected.”

Similarly, there is no proposal yet for a collective fight against the trespass charges. As the state’s response to the “civil disobedience” objective, these charges may be seen by some as a welcome confirmation of their success. In an email message today to the participants, the organizers say:

“We are currently consulting with lawyers to determine next steps for those who were arrested. At this point please feel free to deal with your [offence] tickets in any way you see fit. We will be communicating a follow-up legal strategy in the near future.”

Also worth noting, in my opinion, is a programmatic deficiency in some of the anti-pipeline agitation.

For example, although it was not publicized — and was even obscured by the organizers — not all of the participants agreed on the need to shut down the tar sands if not immediately, at the earliest opportunity, and to reorient the workers involved toward climate-sustaining employment.

The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) was the major union with a presence at the Parliament Hill action. It represents more than 35,000 workers in the oil, gas and chemical industry in Ontario, Alberta and several other provinces, including the tar sands workers in Alberta. But the union, while strongly opposed to the Keystone and other pipelines that export bitumen from Alberta, does not oppose the tar sands operations as such, although it opposes “additional oil sands development.” The union advocates a Canadian nationalist strategy of fighting to keep oil industry jobs in Canada and promoting “Canadian energy security.”

In a briefing note published by the CEP, the union lists its key demands:

  1. The Canadian government should not support the U.S. approval of Keystone XL....
  2. The Canadian government should develop a strategy to increase the bitumen upgrading and refining capacity in Canada.
  3. The National Energy Board must be compelled to consider the impact on job creation when licensing pipeline projects.
  4. The Canadian government should develop a national energy strategy that promotes energy security, environmental sustainability and job creation in Canada.

What the CEP shared with the other protesters in Ottawa on September 26 was opposition to the Keystone pipeline. In his speech to the rally, CEP president Dave Coles did not mention the union’s support for building refining capacity in Canada.

The CEP position is widely held in the Canadian labour movement. The Alberta Federation of Labour says Canada should “move up the value ladder with our oilsands resources, rather than sell our resources south of the border in their raw form.” The 2008 convention of the Canadian Labour Congress adopted a resolution on the tar sands which advocates:

  • “Regulate” the Tar Sands to “protect the environment”
  • “Minimize” the impact of Tar Sands on aboriginal communities
  • Limit unrefined raw oil exports in favour of refining in Canada
  • Declare a moratorium on “future” Tar Sands projects
  • Support Indigenous peoples struggling against Tar Sands developments.

The New Democratic Party has a similar position. In this year’s federal election, the party said it would “encourage value-added, responsible upgrading, refining and petrochemical manufacturing here in Canada to maximize the economic benefits and jobs for Canadians.”

The NDP gave at best lukewarm support to the September 26 protest. Two or three of the party’s MPs circulated in the crowd (as did Green leader Elizabeth May), although no party representative was invited to speak. In a rather droll gesture, a single NDP MP, Dennis Bevington, was allowed by police to stand between the steel barriers in front of the Parliament building and applaud those who were climbing over the fence to be arrested.

To some degree, these contradictions could be glossed over at the September 26 protest, with its emphasis on the Keystone pipeline. As Maude Barlow puts it, in her article quoted above, “by investing trillions of dollars into these pipelines, governments and the energy industry are ensuring the continued rapid acceleration of tar sands development, instead of supporting a process to move to an alternative and sustainable energy system.”

But what would that process involve? There was really no mention at the rally of any strategy or concrete demands for massive conversion from fossil-fuel dependency to climate-friendly jobs in renewable resource-based industries — despite the clear message from the overwhelming majority of the speakers, in particular the indigenous leaders, who called for not just an end to tar sands exploitation but a radical rethinking of the relationship between humans and our natural environment.

Nationalist appeals that are effectively calls to “keep our climate-killing jobs in Canada” will not build the movement that is needed. It seems to me that there is an urgent need for the labour movement, the NDP, and environmental activists to find ways to develop a coherent alternative program to the program of the government and the oil companies.

In a recent speech to audiences in Australia, the Canadian climate blogger Ian Angus calls for “a new industrial revolution, a new energy revolution.” He adds: “We need to change what we make and how we make it. Entire industries need to be eliminated and others need to be transformed.” And he cites an encouraging initiative by some trade-unionists in Britain:

“One powerful example is in Britain, where trade unionists in the climate change movement are promoting a call for One Million Climate Jobs. Not just loosely-defined ‘green jobs’ that clean up the mess while leaving the causes untouched, but specifically climate jobs.

  • Jobs building new energy sources and a new energy grid.
  • Jobs retrofitting homes and offices for energy efficiency.
  • Jobs expanding public transport and railroads.
  • And more

“In their document calling for One Million Climate Jobs they have documented just what has to be done, and what it will cost. They have shown that it is possible, and affordable, and essential.

“This campaign takes the concept of a ‘just transition’ into new territory – not just protecting current income, but actually fighting for a union-initiated transition to a new kind of economy.”

It is proposals like these that should be discussed and developed within the unions and the climate-change movement as a whole with the objective of developing campaigns around specific energy and job-conversion projects.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The North, the Arctic and the Indigenous national question – A Québécois perspective


In the September issue of the pro-sovereignty newspaper, L’aut’journal, editor Pierre Dubuc writes an interesting account of the geopolitics involved in the northern and Arctic development plans of the Canadian and Quebec governments, and spells out some of the implications for the Indigenous peoples who make up the majority of the inhabitants of these regions.

Dubuc concludes with a challenge to supporters of Quebec independence: Will they oppose the Inuit people as they assert their sovereignty claims, or “will they ally with the Inuit against the federal government, linking their struggle for the sovereignty of Quebec with that of the Inuit, within the framework of what could be a sovereignty-association?”

These are important questions for Québécois sovereigntists, who — like most Quebec and Canadian federalists — have often displayed indifference or even hostility to Indigenous struggles against capitalist “development” and for self-government and sovereignty of their territories and communities within the territory of present-day Quebec (Québec Solidaire is an exception in this regard.) The Parti Québécois leadership has historically devoted much greater attention to its hopes for association with capitalist Canada than it does to developing links of solidarity with the Inuit and the dozen or so other Indigenous nations formally recognized by the National Assembly in the mid-1980s.

Dubuc is a leader of a left-wing ginger group that campaigns for Quebec independence, although it still supports the Parti Québécois: Syndicalistes et progressistes pour un Québec Libre (SPQ Libre). L’aut’journal, which is funded in part by some Quebec trade unions, is widely read in Quebec. It is to be hoped that articles like this will help stimulate further discussion of these issues in Quebec’s nationalist, labour and left circles. The movement for Quebec independence can only succeed as a component of a much vaster emancipatory project.

Dubuc explains in a note attached to his article that much of the information he recounts is drawn from the recent book by Shelagh D. Grant, Polar Imperative, A History of Arctic Sovereignty in North America (Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 2010). Here is my translation of the major part of his article; I have added a few notes of my own for clarification, in places.

– Richard Fidler

* * *

The North, the Arctic and the Indigenous national question

by Pierre Dubuc

The Far North and the Arctic are increasingly important regions for the governments in both Quebec City and Ottawa. In Québec, the Charest government is making its Plan Nord the key to Quebec’s future economic development. In Ottawa, the Harper government is vastly stepping up its trips and initiatives, especially those of a military nature, to guarantee Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic.

The new importance of the Far North and the Arctic is a consequence of the melting of the glaciers, which opens the way to mineral and hydrocarbon development. Up to 20% of the world’s undiscovered reserves of gas and oil are buried in the Arctic soil. The warming of the Arctic also opens the Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic and the Pacific to international trade. It is calculated that a trip from Tokyo to London would be shortened by 14 days in comparison to the Suez and Panama canal routes, saving about a third in fuel costs. Charest’s Plan Nord provides for a deepwater port on Hudson Bay and the shipping of ore to Asia through the Northwest Passage.

Canada wants to affirm its sovereignty over the Arctic — a region that represents 40% of its territory and on which 110,000 persons are living — and more particularly over the Northwest Passage, while the United States, Europe and Asian countries consider it is an international strait linking two oceans.

The United States cannot accept Canada’s position because it could create a precedent for the strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia or the strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, but Washington understands that Canada cannot renounce its claims and is legally bound to ensure that the waters in question are used safely. The two countries have therefore reached an agreement not to agree.

That did not prevent the Canadian government from announcing in 2010 the purchase of a fleet of six to eight offshore patrol vessels at a cost of $9 billion, in addition to the $720 million for the future icebreaker John G. Diefenbaker and some military bases to supply these ships. Parallel to this, Canada plans to increase its Ranger force from 900 to 5,000 men under the command of the Northern Joint Task Force, and to supply them with state-of-the-art material and equipment including stealth snowmobiles.

Journalists and experts query the relevance of these expenditures, noting that Canadian sovereignty is not threatened by foreign countries. But more seasoned observers know that the threat exists and that it comes from within. The Inuit of Nunavut and Nunavik are following with great interest the evolution toward complete independence of their brothers and sisters, the Inuit of Greenland, now scheduled for 2021.

During a consultative vote in November 2008, 75% of the Greenlanders voted in favour of independence. The referendum reinforced their position in their negotiations with Denmark on self-government. In this regard, the preamble to the Danish parliament’s legislation on Greenland stipulates that “the inhabitants of Greenland are recognized as a people under international law, with the right to independence if they so desire after the holding of a referendum and negotiations with Denmark.” At present, the Greenland government holds all powers except over foreign policy, security, the Supreme Court and the coast guard.

Coveted territories

There is nothing new in this interest in the Far North and Arctic. They have been the scene of wars between France and Great Britain, and rivalries between Canada and the United States. It is significant that the treaty for the purchase of Alaska from Russia by the United States was signed on the very same day [in 1867] that Queen Victoria placed her signature at the bottom of the British North America Act. In 1869, the United States was also thinking of purchasing Greenland and Iceland with the goal of acquiring the Arctic lands claimed by Canada.

It was under the governments of Sir Wilfrid Laurier (1896-1911), but mainly Pierre-Elliott Trudeau (1968-1984), that Canada sought to secure its sovereignty over the Arctic — the United States, in the latter case, having taken advantage of two world wars and the Cold War to install its radio and radar stations and airports in the Arctic.

Under Laurier, Senator Pascal Poirier proposed the adoption of the sector theory, according to which, for any country possessing a shoreline on the Arctic Ocean, two lines pointing to the North Pole were traced respectively from the most western and eastern points, with everything falling within this pie shape pertaining to its jurisdiction. Laurier officially rejected the idea, but at the time, on several Canadian maps of the Arctic, the borders appear defined according to the sector principle.

The United States rejected this theory — there is no island to the north of Alaska — and considered the High Arctic as a terra nullius, that is, not belonging to any country. However, Russia and Norway adopted the sector theory.

Petroleum and territorial claims

In 1968-69, the discovery of significant quantities of petroleum in Alaska was to alter the course of history in the Arctic. To enable development to occur, the U.S. and Canada were going to have to settle the issue of aboriginal titles as well as their differences over the marine frontiers of the Beaufort Sea and the use of the Northwest Passage.

The discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic coast of Alaska had the Canadian oil companies drooling in hopes of making similar discoveries in the Beaufort Sea and the Mackenzie River delta. 1968 was also the year of Trudeau’s coming to power. It was the end of the “goodwill” policy with the United States and the emergence of a new Canadian nationalism, which would also be expressed in the Arctic. Gone was the time when the United States could consider its differences with Canada over the Arctic as a domestic issue that could be settled among civil servants. The Trudeau government would make these political issues.

The first challenge occurred in October 1968, when Humble Oil announced that its tanker converted into an ice-breaker, the SS Manhattan, would try to cross the Northwest Passage. Instead of prohibiting access to these waters, Canada proclaimed its right to control pollution in the Arctic waters, invoking its responsibility to uphold this fragile environment and ensure respect for the indigenous peoples who inhabit it. The fact that the two U.S. icebreakers accompanying the SS Manhattan needed assistance from a Canadian icebreaker, and that the Manhattan struck an iceberg, gave some credibility to the Canadian approach.

In 1970, the Trudeau government tabled two bills in the House of Commons. The first, Bill C-202, entitled the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act (AWPPA), created a zone of 100 nautical miles over which Canada would have authority to apply its anti-pollution regulations. The second, Bill C-203, amended the Territorial Sea and Fishing Zones Act to extend the limits of the territorial waters from three to 12 miles.

President Nixon immediately reacted by announcing that he was reducing the import quotas for Canadian oil and he threatened Canada with other retaliatory measures if the legislation was adopted. Simultaneously, the SS Manhattan undertook a second voyage through the Northwest Passage, and although Humble Oil had acquiesced with the list of stipulations issued by the Canadian government, including prior inspection of the vessel by the Canadian authorities, the U.S. government refused to recognize Canadian authority over the Northwest Passage. The House of Commons replied by unanimously adopting the bills and the Canadian Senate approved them in eight days.

But before the Senate adopted the legislation the United States proposed the holding of a multilateral conference on the Arctic waters, based on their priorities. Canada was invited to participate, but was not consulted on the list of invited countries or on the agenda. Ottawa lobbied actively against the project and found enough allies to abort it.

On the other hand, the Manhattan’s voyage occurred without incident. A Canadian observer was aboard the vessel and it was accompanied by the icebreaker John A. Macdonald, whose captain was instructed to end the voyage if the situation so required. Canada had won a battle, but the dispute was now on political terrain.

The sector theory

[At this point, Pierre Dubuc digresses to cite at length an episode he says occurred in 1971, when Jacques Parizeau, a leader of the Parti Québécois, was summoned mysteriously to Chicago and then taken to a meeting at a Wisconsin retreat attended by leading U.S. military and diplomatic personnel. While discomforted Canadian officials looked on, the Americans questioned Parizeau as to his opinion on the sector theory, and whether a sovereign Quebec would apply it. It seems that Washington was concerned that applying the sector theory to Quebec’s boundaries might give it a claim to sovereignty over most of Baffin Island, which at the time contained the second largest U.S. air base after Thule, Greenland.

The biography of Parizeau from which this account is taken apparently does not indicate what his reply was to the Americans — although it says he reassured them that a sovereign Quebec under the PQ would be part of NATO and NORAD.[1]

Dubuc concludes:

“The United States clearly showed the Trudeau government that they were prepared, in order to counter Canadian claims on the Arctic, to lend their support to the idea of Quebec independence, if its promoters did not recognize the sector theory.”[2]

But he adds:

“In 1995, Jacques Parizeau realized that the converse situation could occur when the Crees campaigned in New York and around the world against the Grande Baleine [Great Whale] hydro-electric project. On the eve of the 1995 referendum [on sovereignty], he announced the abandonment of the project.”]

Toward self-determination

In 1976, the U.S. courts recognized a form of self-government for the Indigenous peoples of Alaska, after six coastal villages with a population of 6,000 joined together following a referendum. Immediately, the new entity levied a tax on each barrel of petroleum produced. The money was used to improve the living conditions of its inhabitants, but also to finance the first meeting of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), held at North Slope, Alaska, in 1977.

In 1983, during the third general meeting of the ICC, the United Nations recognized the organization as an NGO and later the ICC played a key role in drafting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The ICC promotes the right to self-determination as a means of protecting the environment.

In 1979, following a referendum, the Greenlanders obtained Home Rule, a status of self-government. At the time, that was the most advanced form of self-government granted to a predominantly indigenous population.

In Canada, the indigenous relied on the recognition granted to them in Pierre Trudeau’s 1982 Constitution to demand what would become Nunavut. Section 35 of the Constitution Act confirms the recognition of indigenous rights, which allowed the Inuit to negotiate instead of having to resort to the courts. An agreement in principle was signed in 1990 and finalized two years later after a referendum was held in which the population approved by 85% the redrawing of the boundaries. On April 1, 1999, the Parliament of Canada adopted the Nunavut Act. In 2008, when a protocol was signed on the devolution of powers, it was obvious that they were heading toward provincial status.[3]

In 1997, the Inuit of Quebec resumed negotiations for the creation of Nunavik on territory formerly known as Nouveau-Québec, covering about 507,000 sq. km., a third of the territory of Quebec. The administrative centre for the population of about 11,000 persons in Nunavik is Kuujjuaq. The region is managed by the Kativik Regional Administration, created by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. An agreement was signed on December 1, 2006, creating the Nunavik Inuit Settlement Area, which includes 80% ownership of Quebec’s offshore islands and waters, with annual royalties paid by the federal government for natural resource development. On December 5, 2007, a new agreement in principle was signed. It seemed at the time to constitute a supplementary step toward the formation of a government of Nunavik. It provided for an elected, non-ethnic government under the jurisdiction of the province of Quebec. But the Inuit rejected this proposal in a referendum on April 27, 2011, because, it seems, they want an ethnic government independent of Quebec’s jurisdiction.

Some fundamental issues for the independentists

In the coming years the melting of the ice cap is going to make natural resource development possible in the Far North and Arctic. This has important implications for Canada. For example, the London Mining Company hopes to extract iron from a mine in Greenland and ship it to China via the Northwest Passage. Greenland, which already shares with Denmark the revenues from the development of its natural resources, sees an opportunity to end its financial dependence on Denmark and accede to political independence. The Charest government also wants to ship ore mined in the Far North through the Northwest Passage, and its Plan Nord provides for the construction of a deepwater port on the banks of Hudson Bay.

Nunavut and the other regional governments in Canada will be sure to pressure Ottawa for a more favourable distribution of revenues from natural resources.

The Arctic promises to be one of the political hot spots of the globe during the 21st century. Thus, while Ottawa promoted the idea of Nunavut as a means to obtaining recognition of Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic, the Inuit see it instead as a step toward accession to their own sovereignty.

Quebec is currently the major arctic province of Canada, as a mere glance at a map will show. Nunavik covers a third of Quebec’s territory. But under the Canadian Constitution, Quebec’s territory stops at the shoreline, which leads to the absurd situation that islands situated a few hundred metres offshore, and frequented since time immemorial by the Inuit of Quebec’s Nunavik, are not part of Quebec. However, these Inuit hold rights over the waters and islands bordering Quebec that were granted to them by the federal government.

The Inuit of Nunavik maintain close ties with their brothers and sisters of Nunavut and Greenland. In some articles published in l’aut’journal, André Binette, a lawyer who co-chaired the study commission on Nunavik self-government (1999-2001), has clearly described Greenland’s process toward political independence, which appears inevitable, and in particular the possible bandwagon effect on the Inuit of Nunavut and Nunavik[4] — a phenomenon the Canadian government is perfectly aware of and which doubtless is a better explanation for the deployment of military forces in the Arctic by the Harper government than the existence of a foreign threat.

André Binette wrote: “Moreover, in the public meetings that I co-chaired in a dozen or so villages of Quebec’s Nunavik and in my conversations with political leaders in that region it was soon evident that for many Quebec Inuit the dream of a single country composed of Greenland, Nunavut and Nunavik was quite substantial, and that the independence of Greenland, the creation of Nunavut in 1999, and the establishment of a future autonomous government in Nunavik were perceived as major steps in that direction.”

Added to this is the fact that the United States does not recognize Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic waters and that nothing prevents them from supporting the claims of the Inuit, just as they flirted with the Quebec sovereigntists in 1971 to counter the northern policies of Pierre Trudeau, witness Jacques Parizeau’s trip to Chicago.

The situation could become extremely complex and the Quebec independentists will have to think carefully before taking a position on the Inuit claims. Will they make common cause with the federal government in opposing them, and defend Canadian unity, or will they ally with the Inuit against the federal government, linking their struggle for the sovereignty of Quebec with that of the Inuit, within the framework of what could be a sovereignty-association? The debate is open.

[1] Dubuc writes that he is quoting from Laurence Richard, Jacques Parizeau, un bâtisseur (Montréal: Éditions de l’Homme, 1992). A very similar account of this meeting is found in the major biography of Jacques Parizeau by Pierre Duchesne, Tome I, Le Croisé (Montréal: Québec Amérique, 2001). However, Duchesne dates the meeting in 1969, as does Jean-François Lisée, in Dans l’oeil de l’aigle. Washington face au Québec (Montréal: Boréal, 1990). And Duchesne reports that Parizeau told his questioners that “he was in full agreement” with the sector theory (pp. 595-96).

[2] For a less sanguine interpretation of US views of a sovereign Quebec, see Anne Legaré, Le Québec otage de ses alliés: Les relations du Québec avec la France et les États-Unis (Montréal, 2003). Legaré represented the Parti Québécois government in New England and in New York and Washington from 1994 to 1996. She quotes (p. 26) a statement by Parizeau himself, in his book Pour un Québec souverain (Montréal: VLB éditeur, 1997), on the obstacles the United States posed to Québec sovereignty: [Translation] “While, in the Department of Commerce in Washington, the State Department and the National Security Council of the White House, they readily agreed that Quebec could not be excluded from NAFTA, from there to recognizing Quebec as a sovereign country there was not only a step to be taken but an abyss to be crossed.”

[3] The actual chronology differs from this account. According to the National Library of Canada,

“An agreement-in-principle was finally reached in 1990, a final version of which appeared in December of 1991.... It was then put to a plebiscite in October of 1992, and saw a record turnout of voters. The Agreement passed the plebiscite with an overwhelming majority of 84.7%. Once past this hurdle, matters moved quickly. The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act, ratifying the agreement, and the Nunavut Act [], which created the new territory, were both passed on June 10, 1993....

“As with the ratification of the Nunavut Act in 1993, the actual birth of Nunavut on April 1, 1999 became an international news story. Parties, speeches, fireworks, traditional Inuit games and dances, and other activities marked the occasion.”

[4] See “Scottish, Québécois reactions to Greenland’s vote for autonomy”.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Daniel Tanuro: The Delusion of Green Capitalism

Further to yesterday’s post, “Foundations of an ecosocialist strategy,” here is an interview with the same author, Daniel Tanuro, based on his book, soon to be published in English. Its working title, I am informed by the publisher Resistance Books (U.K.), is The Delusion of Green Capitalism. The translated interview, with my introduction, was first published in January 2011 on Ian Angus’s excellent blog Climate & Capitalism.


Daniel Tanuro’s new book, L’impossible capitalisme vert, is a major contribution to our analytical understanding of ecosocialism.

Tanuro, a Belgian Marxist and certified agriculturist, is a prolific author on environmental history and policies.

Addressed primarily to the Green milieu, as the title indicates, this book is a powerful refutation of the major proposals advanced to resolve the climate crisis that fail to challenge the profit drive and accumulation dynamic of capital. Much of the book appears to be a substantially expanded update of a report by Tanuro adopted in 2009 by the leadership of the Fourth International as a basis for international discussion. That report was translated by Ian Angus and included in his anthology The Global Fight for Climate Justice.

Tanuro’s book includes much additional material elaborating his central thesis that climate degradation cannot be dissociated from the “natural” functioning of capitalism as a system and that a valid “emancipatory project” to confront and overcome the impending crisis must recognize natural constraints and aim for a fundamental redefinition of what we mean by social wealth.

Among the topics of particular interest to readers are extended critiques of popular writers on climate crisis ranging from Jared Diamond to Hans Jonas and Hervé Kempf, as well as his critical assessment of the contributions of Marxist writers such as John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett. Tanuro makes a compelling case against many ill-conceived nostrums such as the Sierra Club’s campaign for immigration controls, or such cost-efficiency based market mechanisms as carbon trading and ecotaxes.

A major feature of the book is its cogent explanation of how Marxist value theory explains the ecological crisis and points to its solution. He also addresses what he considers a major deficiency in Marx’s ecology, an inadequate appreciation of the crucial implications of capitalism’s reliance on non-renewable fossile-fuel resources. This aspect is explored in detail in Tanuro’s article “Marxism, Energy, and Ecology: The Moment of Truth,” published in the December 2010 issue of Capitalism Nature Socialism.

We hope that this outstanding book will soon be published in English and other languages.

In the following interview, Daniel Tanuro outlines some of the major themes in the book. My translation from the French, À propos du capitalisme vert.

Richard Fidler

* * *

Concerning Green Capitalism

Daniel Tanuro, you are the author of L’impossible capitalisme vert, published by Les empêcheurs de penser en rond/La Découverte. You are also the founder of the NGO “Climat et justice sociale.” What is “green capitalism”?

D.T.: The expression “green capitalism” may be understood in two different ways. A producer of wind turbines may boast that he is engaged in green capitalism. In this sense — in the sense that some money is invested in a “clean” sector of the economy — a form of green capitalism is obviously possible and quite profitable. But the real question is whether capitalism as a whole can turn green, that is, whether the global action of the numerous and competing capitals that constitute Capital can respect ecological cycles, their rhythms, and the speed by which natural resources are reconstituted.

That is the sense in which my book poses the question and it answers in the negative. My main argument is that competition impels each owner of capital to replace workers by more productive machines in order to achieve a superprofit greater than the average profit.

Productivism is thus at the heart of capitalism. As Schumpeter said, “a capitalism without growth is a contradiction in terms.” Capitalist accumulation is potentially unlimited, so there is an antagonism between capital and nature, as the latter’s resources are finite. It may be objected that the productivity race leads capital to be increasingly resource efficient, as expressed for example by the observed decrease in the quantity of energy necessary for the production of a percentage point of GDP. But this tendency to increased efficiency obviously cannot be prolonged indefinitely in a linear way, and empirically we find it is more than offset by the growing mass of commodities that are produced. Green capitalism is therefore an oxymoron, like social capitalism.

This observation opens a debate between two opposing strategic conceptions. For some, the spontaneously ecocidal functioning of capitalism can be corrected through political action within the system by resorting to market mechanisms (taxes, fiscal incentives, tradable emission rights, etc.). For others, including me, our policy must be to break with capitalism because if the environment is to be saved it is absolutely indispensable to challenge the fundamental laws of capitalism. This means daring to challenge private property of the means of production, the foundation of the system.

In my opinion, the debate between these two lines is decided in practice by the example of the struggle against climate change. In the developed capitalist countries, we are confronted with the obligation to abandon the use of fossil fuels almost completely in barely two generations. If we exclude nuclear power — and it must be excluded — this means, in Europe for example, dividing by about one half the final consumption of energy, which is possible only by reducing to a substantial degree the processing and transportation of material.

The transition to renewables and reduction in energy consumption are linked and necessitate major investments which are inconceivable if the decisions remain subordinate to the dogma of cost efficiency. The alternative to cost efficiency can only be democratic planning focused on social and ecological needs. And such planning in turn is possible only by breaking the resistance of the oil, coal, gas, automobile, petrochemicals, naval and aeronautic construction monopolies, for they want to burn fossil fuels for as long as possible.

Climate change is at the center of your book. You interpret this change as a “climate tipping” [basculement climatique]. What do you mean by tipping, and why do you consider it to be otherwise more disturbing than a mere change?

D.T.: The expression “climate changes” (and I do mean changes, in the plural) suggests the repetition of climate variations analogous to those in the past. But between now and the end of the century, in a few decades, the Earth’s climate risks changing as much as it has during the 20,000 years that have elapsed since the last Ice Age. There is now no doubt that we are not very far from a “tipping point” beyond which it will no longer be possible to prevent the eventual melting of the icecaps formed 65 million years ago. The word “tipping” is indisputably more adapted to describing this reality than the word “changes”! The speed of the phenomenon is unprecedented and poses a major threat, for many ecosystems will be unable to adapt. This applies not only to the natural ecosystems but also, I fear, to some ecosystems engineered by human beings.

Look at what is happening in Pakistan: designed by the British colonizer to serve their imperialist interests, the water management mechanisms of the Indus using dams and dikes which supply an extensive irrigation system are proving inadequate in the face of exceptional floodwaters. And this risk is increasing because the warmer climate disrupts the monsoon regime and increases the violence of the downpours.

It seems to me illusory to hope that this race will be won by reinforcing the existing infrastructures, as the World Bank and the big capitalist groups specializing in public works propose. Instead of building dikes it would be more reasonable to restore the flexible management of water levels that was practiced prior to colonization. That is what is proposed by the International Rivers Network: allowing floods to clear the sediment and prevent the silting up of the basin, feeding the Delta, stopping deforestation, accommodating zones liable to flooding, etc.

But that requires a complete overhaul of the mechanisms over more than 3000 km, with major implications for territorial management, agricultural policy, urban policy, energy production, etc. Socially, such an overhaul, to be achieved in two or three decades (that is, very quickly for work of such scope!), means challenging the power of the landed oligarchy and the development programs that the IMF and World Bank impose through the debt. And this debt must be canceled or else the reconstruction will be heavily mortgaged and the country strangled, in danger of entering history as the first example of a regressive spiral in which global warming mutually links all the mechanisms of underdevelopment and multiplies their negative effects.

We see clearly in this how the social and environmental questions are interpenetrated. In fact, the fight against climate tipping requires a policy shift toward another model of development centered on the satisfaction of peoples’ needs. Without that, further catastrophes, even more terrible, may well result, and the poor will be the major victims. That is the warning emerging from the tragedy in Pakistan.

You think the countries of the South should “skip” the fossil energy stage in managing their development and go directly to that of renewable energies. What is your answer to those who object that renewable energies are not (technically and quantitatively) able to do this?

D.T.: I tell them they are wrong. The solar energy flow that reaches the surface of the earth is equivalent to 8 to 10 thousand times the planet’s energy consumption. The technical potential of renewable energies — that is, the share of that theoretical potential that is usable through known technologies, independently of cost — represents 6 to 18 times the world’s needs, according to estimates. It is certain that this technical potential could increase very rapidly if the development of renewables were finally to become an absolute priority in energy research policies, which it is still not at present. The transition to renewables certainly poses a host of complex technical problems, but there is no reason to think they are insurmountable.

The major obstacles are political. One: without exception, renewable energies remain more expensive than fossil energies. Two: the transition to renewables is not the same thing as changing fuel at the pump: it is necessary to change the energy system. That requires enormous investments and, at the beginning of the transition, these will necessarily be consumers of fossil energy and therefore additional generators of greenhouse gas; these additional emissions must be offset and that is why, in the short run, the reduction of final consumption of energy is the sine qua non condition for a passage to renewables which, once carried out, will open new horizons.

I repeat: there is no possible satisfactory solution without confronting the dual combined obstacle of capitalist profit and growth. This means, in particular, that the clean technologies controlled by the North must be transferred free of charge to the South, on the sole condition that they are implemented by the public sector and under the control of the local population.

You advocate a social ecology which you call ecosocialism. What is an ecosocialist? And how does he or she differ from a “plain and simple” ecologist or socialist?

D.T.: An ecosocialist differs from an ecologist in that he analyzes the “ecological crisis” not as a crisis of the relationship between humanity in general and nature but as a crisis of the relationship between an historically determined mode of production and its environment, and therefore in the last analysis as a manifestation of the crisis of the mode of production itself. In other words, for an ecosocialist, the ecological crisis is in fact a manifestation of the crisis of capitalism (not to overlook the specific crisis of the so-called “socialist” societies, which aped capitalist productivism). A result is that, in his fight for the environment, an ecosocialist will always propose demands that make the connection with the social question, with the struggle of the exploited and oppressed for a redistribution of wealth, for employment, etc.

However, an ecosocialist differs from the “pure and simple” socialist, as you say, in that, for him, the only anticapitalism that is valid today is one that takes into account the natural limits and the operational constraints of the ecosystems. This has many implications: a break with productivism and consumerism, of course, within the perspective of a society in which, the basic needs having been satisfied, free time and social relations constitute the real wealth. But also contestation of technologies and of harmful productions, coupled with the requirement of reconversion of the workers. Maximum decentralization of production and distribution in the framework of a democratically planned economy is something else that the ecosocialists stress.

One point that it seems to me important to stress is the need to question the traditional socialist vision that sees any rise in productivity of agricultural labour as a step toward socialism. In my opinion this conception does not allow us to meet the requirements of increased respect for the environment. In fact, an agriculture and a forestry that are ecologically more sustainable necessitate more labour, not less. To re-create hedges, groves, wetlands, to diversify crops and fight for organic produce, for example, implies an increase in the share of social labour invested in tasks of ecological maintenance. This labour may be highly scientific and highly technical — it is not a return to the hoe — but it is not easily mechanizable.

That is why I think that a culture of “taking care” (I borrow this concept from Isabelle Stengers) must permeate economic activities, in particular those that closely affect ecosystems. We are responsible for nature. In a way, this means extending the logic that the left applies in the area of personal care, education, etc. No socialists would argue that nurses should be replaced by robots; we are all conscious of the fact that we need more nurses who are better paid so that patients are better cared for. Well! The same applies, mutatis mutandis, to the environment: if it is to be better cared for, there needs to be more labour, intelligence and human sensibility. Contrary to the “pure and simple socialist”, and even though it is difficult, the ecosocialist, because he is conscious of the urgency, tries to introduce all of these questions into the struggles of the exploited and oppressed instead of postponing them until after the revolution.

Many, including myself, are convinced that an effective struggle against climate change necessarily entails a break from productivist capitalism. To this effect, you appeal to “socialized man, the associated producers.” Who are they, and what specifically can they do?

D.T.: You are alluding to the quotation from Marx that serves as an epigraph to my book: “Freedom … can only consist in socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature….” We must realize that in Marx’s thinking the rational regulation of exchanges is conditional on the disappearance of capitalism. Indeed, on the one hand the struggle of all against all permanently undermines attempts by producers to associate; on the other hand, a significant fraction of producers — the waged workers — are cut off from their means of production. The latter, including natural resources, are appropriated by the bosses. Deprived of any power of decision, the workers are unable to rationally regulate anything at all concerning production, let alone rationally regulate interchange with the environment!

To constitute social beings, producers must begin to join together in the fight against their exploiters. This struggle in an embryonic way points to the need for collective appropriation of the means of production and collective usufruct of natural resources. These in turn are necessary but not sufficient for a more harmonious relationship with nature.

That said, we can answer your question about concrete action by examining how different groups of producers understand — or don’t — the need to rationally regulate the interchange between humanity and nature. At present, it is striking that the most advanced positions of an ecosocialist type emanate from indigenous peoples and small farmers mobilized against agribusiness. This is not accidental: both groups of producers are not, or not completely, cut off from their means of production. Therefore they are able to offer concrete strategies for rational regulation of their interaction with the environment. Indigenous people see the defence of the climate as an additional argument in favor of preserving their precapitalist lifestyle in symbiosis with the forest.

As for the Via Campesina peasant movement, it has developed a whole program of concrete demands on the theme that “the peasants know how to cool the climate.” In contrast, the labour movement is lagging behind. This is of course due to the fact that each individual worker is inclined to wish for the smooth operation of the company that exploits him, in order to maintain his livelihood.

Conclusion: the greater the retreat in worker solidarity in the face of the neoliberal offensive, the harder it will be to develop environmental awareness among workers. It’s a big problem, because the working class, by its central role in production, is called on to play a leading role in the fight for the anticapitalist alternative needed to rescue the environment. Indigenous peoples, peasant organizations and youth have an interest in trying to involve more and more unions in climate campaigns — increasing collabouration, rank-and-file contacts, etc. Within the labour movement itself, the task is to promote demands that address the concerns about jobs, income and working conditions while helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

An important issue in this regard is the need for a generalized radical reduction in hours of work without loss of pay, with a drastic reduction in the pace of work and additional hiring to compensate. Another aspect is the extension of a public sector under the control of workers and users: free, first-rate public transportation, publicly owned energy services, public insulation and building renovation firms, etc. Ecosocialists have a role to play in promoting the emergence of such demands.

With L’impossible capitalisme vert, you do not seem to fear being accused of undue alarmism by those who have yet to understand that we have entered the Anthropocene Era, and that it is man that is primarily responsible for runaway warming, especially since the industrial era. Doesn’t green capitalism, like “sustainable development” and “greenwashing”, reflect a desire to deny this responsibility and to “continue as before”? If we are to abandon productivist capitalism, shouldn’t we first alter our behavior as consumers and producers?

D.T.: I am not an alarmist. In my book, I relied almost exclusively on the reports of the IPCC which, in terms of the diagnosis on global warming and its possible impacts, appear to me, whatever is said about them, to be an excellent summary of “good science”, subjected to peer review. It is true that the IPCC lags a bit when it comes to recent discoveries, but this does not change much in its findings.

In fact, I dread the discourse of panic and exaggeration. Too often, it tends to obscure the real threats and real responsibilities. Climate tipping easily lends itself to eschatology, and there is no shortage of gurus to claim that “the planet is in danger”, that “life is in danger”, that “humanity is in danger,” that the “photosynthetic ceiling” will fall on our heads, or whatnot. All of this is excessive. The planet fears nothing, and life on Earth is a phenomenon so tough that humanity, even if it wished, could probably not come to an end, even with atomic bombs.

As to our species, climate change, by itself, does not jeopardize it. The danger it poses is more circumscribed: around three billion people risk substantial degradation in their living conditions, and hundreds of millions of them — the poorest — are threatened in their very existence. Policy makers know this and do nothing — or almost nothing — because it would cost too much, and thus impede the smooth operation of business. That is the naked reality.

Too often, catastrophic discourse serves to obscure the potential barbarism and dilute the issues in a vague overall sense of guilt: “Don’t waste time quibbling about the responsibilities,” “we are all guilty,” “we must all agree to make efforts”, etc. Meanwhile, the energy lobbies quietly continue burning coal and oil non-stop.

This leads me to the second part of your question about changing our behavior as producers and consumers. Following on what I said earlier, it is worth noting that employees are incapable of changing their behavior as producers. Who produces, how, why, for whom, in what quantities, with what social and environmental impacts? In everyday life, only the bosses have the power to respond to these questions and, ultimately, they respond according to their profits. Employees can only try to have a say in management in order to challenge it and recognize their ability to do better, according to criteria other than profit. This is the dynamic of workers’ control, and ecosocialists should think about how this old demand may be revisited in order to encompass environmental concerns.

In terms of consumption, I think it is necessary to distinguish between individual changes and collective changes. All in all, it is certainly better if someone who travels by plane offsets his CO2 emissions in one way or another, but this offset will mainly allow him to buy a good conscience on the cheap while diverting him from the political struggle for indispensable structural changes. To promote this kind of behavior is to engage in “greenwashing” and it actually means to “continue as before.”

Collective changes are a different matter. They help to validate another possible logic, favour the invention of alternative practices, and contribute to the realization that structural changes are necessary, and will come about through social mobilization. Those changes, such as group purchases of organic produce from farmers, or urban community gardening, are to be encouraged.

Can we fight against climate tipping regardless of the financial and social costs that it represents? Is it urgent to build another model and risk jeopardizing the entire society? Between nature and civilization, what choice is there?

D.T.: To say that another climate policy would jeopardize the entire society in the name of some priority of nature over civilization is to stand reality on its head! What happens in reality is that the present policy jeopardizes civilization while causing enormous and irreversible damage to nature, which is our common heritage. This policy is completely subordinated to the dogma of cost efficiency, and we see what that produces: peanuts. We are heading straight toward the wall.

Of course, a different policy cannot pretend that the cost of various measures is of no importance: between two equivalent strategies to reduce emissions, it is reasonable to choose the one that will be of least cost to the community, all other conditions being equal. But at bottom there must first be a different policy, guided by criteria other than cost, and especially qualitative criteria. In technical terms, an essential criterion is that of energy efficiency at the systemic level.

The great American ecologist Barry Commoner advanced this argument more than twenty years ago. It is thermodynamically absurd, he said, to transport coal over thousands of kilometres to produce electricity which, then conveyed over hundreds of kilometers, will be used to heat household water, something that can easily be done with a solar water heater. In social terms, a major criterion must be the protection of people and their well-being, particularly the protection of the poorest. This criterion today is widely ignored, hence the tragedy in Pakistan, among others.

Finally, do you think your ecosocialist project is feasible in the near future?

D.T.: The feasibility of this project depends entirely on the balance of forces between capitalism on the one hand, and the exploited and oppressed on the other. This balance of forces currently favours capital, we should not kid ourselves. But there is no third way possible: the attempts to save the climate through market mechanisms consistently reveal their ecological inefficiency and their social injustice. There is no way other than resistance. It alone can change the balance of forces and impose partial reforms pointing in the right direction. Copenhagen was a first step, a second was the summit in Cochabamba. Let us keep going, let us unite, let us mobilize and build a global movement to save the climate in social justice. This will be more effective than all the lobbying efforts of those who nourish illusions about a green capitalism.

October 7, 2010

Articles in English by Daniel Tanuro may be found at

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Foundations of an ecosocialist strategy

The following article by a leading European ecosocialist, Daniel Tanuro, was written especially for the latest issue of the Montréal-based journal Nouveaux Cahiers du Socialisme (NCS), which features a number of articles on what is commonly referred to as the ecological crisis (not yet on-line). Tanuro is the author of an important book-length Marxist critique of “Green Capitalism,” L’impossible capitalisme vert, soon to be published in English. Other articles by Daniel Tanuro, in both French and English, may be found at Europe solidaire sans frontières. I have translated below the French text of this article as published by NCS.

Richard Fidler
* * *

Foundations of an ecosocialist strategy

by Daniel Tanuro

Contrary to the false but extremely popular Easter Island metaphor advanced by Jared Diamond,[1] the environmental deterioration we are now observing is not at all comparable to the damage that may have occurred in previous historical periods. The differences are not only quantitative (the seriousness and global scale of ecological problems) but also and above all qualitative. While all the environmental crises of the past stemmed from social tendencies to chronic under-production, hence the fear of shortages, the current problems originate in the converse tendency to over-production and over-consumption, which is specific to generalized commodity production.
Consequently, the expression “ecological crisis” is inappropriate. It is not nature that is in crisis, but the historically determined relationship between humanity and its environment. This crisis is not due to the intrinsic characteristics of the human species but to the mode of production that became dominant about two centuries ago — capitalism — and the modes of consumption and mobility that it entails. The serious damages to ecosystems (climate change, chemical pollution, swift decline in biodiversity, soil degradation, destruction of the tropical forest, etc.) constitute one dimension of the global systemic crisis. Together, they express the incompatibility between capitalism and respect for natural limits.

Productivism without limits
The fundamental reason for this incompatibility is straightforward. Under the whip of competition, every owner of capital is permanently seeking to replace living labour by dead labour, that is, to replace workers with more productive machines, since the latter procure surplus profit in addition to the average profit. Needless to say, this operation would be meaningless for the capitalist if it were not accompanied by an attempt to eliminate his weaker competitors through the increase in the mass of commodities placed on the market at low prices. The innovation, in this mode of production, lies not in the reduction in the volume of labour but in the never-ending accumulation of capital.
Accordingly, the capitalist’s constant search for new fields of added value leads him to produce a never-ending quantity of useless and harmful commodities which, to produce surplus value, must constantly create increasingly artificial outlets and needs. “Productivism” — producing in order to produce — necessarily implies “consuming in order to consume” and is part of the genetic code of this mode of production, just like commodity fetishism. Capitalism, said Schumpeter, “not only never is but never can be stationary.”[2] Indeed, if capitalism were to be stationary, it would be necessary to abolish competition between the numerous capitals that make up Capital, which is obviously absurd.
But, it may be objected, if efficiency in the use of resources were to increase more rapidly than the mass of commodities produced, the expanded reproduction of capital would not be accompanied by an increased depletion of natural resources. Capitalism would then be ecologically sustainable. Indeed. That is the thesis of the decoupling between GDP growth and the ecological footprint. It is illustrated by the so-called Kuznets bell curve, according to which the environmental impact of a given society will increase to a peak, then decline with the increase in its wealth and therefore the development of its productive forces.
True, of all the modes of production that have existed in history, capitalism is the one that has most spectacularly increased the productivity of labour and thus efficiency in the use of resources. That is because the quest for surplus profit that prompts mechanization simultaneously favours increased savings in the use of natural resources. However, this observation does not challenge the ecocidal nature of the system, and the Kuznets curve is false. On the one hand, the increase in efficiency is necessarily asymptotic, not a linear function of the increase in fixed capital — otherwise one would have to conclude that perpetual movement is possible since, if carried to an extreme, labour could be performed without loss of energy. (This glaring error was committed by the experts who assessed the share of European electricity consumption that could be covered by the Desertec solar power project in the Sahara.[3]) On the other hand, empirical observation shows that increasing the volume of production does more than offset the increase in efficiency, which is only relative. A striking example is the case of the automobile: the efficiency of the engines increases, but the global needs for hydrocarbon fuels and the greenhouse gas emissions explode as a result of the never-ending increase in the number of vehicles. Growth-obsessed capitalism inevitably implies a growing consumption of resources, which is irreconcilable with their finite nature and their rates of renewal.
The alarming increase in serious ecological problems poses the question of the theoretical limits to capitalist growth and consequently capitalist degradation of the environment. To answer this, we must clearly grasp that capital is not a thing, it is a social relation of exploitation, the development of which was historically made possible by the prior appropriation of natural resources (land, water, forests, etc.) by the ruling classes on behalf of profit. This appropriation then entailed that of the labour force, transformed into a waged commodity. The pillage of resources and exploitation of labor — when it is considered from the social standpoint — are therefore the two sides of the same coin.
However, leaving aside its social component (cooperation and its forms), human labour power can also be considered from the thermodynamic angle, as one among other natural resources (the human body is a converter of energy). In this case, pillage and exploitation are in fact but one and the same process of destruction, and surplus labour can be described as a quantity of energy monopolized by the employer.
Once this is recognized, it is possible to answer the question about the theoretical limits of capital. On the one hand, the expropriation of the direct producers, their alienation from the nourishing earth, has created a social class whose only means of subsistence is the sale of its labour power in return for a wage. On the other hand, the worker who is hired as an employee finds ready-made, placed at his or her disposal by the employer, the necessary ingredients for his or her productive activity — tools, buildings and energy — that are directly or indirectly derived from resources taken from nature through labour or transformed by it.
In this context, and taking into account the fact that the increase in efficiency is only relative, it goes without saying that the incessant quest for surplus profits through capitalist productivism weighs on both the variable and constant fractions of capital, so that it must inevitably consume an ever-greater absolute quantity of labour power and natural resources even though it favours their relative economy. Seen in this light, Marx’s enigmatic formula that capital has no limit other than capital itself simply means that this mode of production will stop on its own terms only after it has exhausted the only two sources of “all wealth: the land and the labourer.”[4]
This conclusion leaves so little room for optimism that some people desperately cling to the idea that some endogenous mechanism not yet identified might block the system before it has reached this theoretical limit. However, we must resign ourselves to noting that there is nothing of the kind, nor can there be. The reason, once again, is straightforward and has to do with the fundamental laws of capitalism: this mode based exclusively on the law of labour value has as its sole purpose the production of exchange values, not use values. Since value is determined by the labour time socially necessary for production, it is obvious that capital does not have any means that would enable it to account spontaneously for the resources that nature gratuitously puts at the disposal of humanity. The money form — the symbol and essence of value — by its very abstraction and the complete reversal of perspective that it engenders (money seems to give value to commodities, although it is commodities that give money its value) creates the illusion that unlimited material accumulation is possible.
It should be explained that capital, although it counts and measures everything, is incapable of taking natural resources into account both qualitatively and quantitatively, as is shown by the irresponsible insouciance with which it irreversibly destroys the stocks of numerous resources despite warnings of all kinds. This madness has even found its theoreticians in the person of ultraliberals who — in the face of all the evidence — defend the absurd thesis of the complete substitutability of natural resources by products of human activity.

A political answer?
Of course, SOME capital is invested massively in the green sector of the economy, for the profits there are attractive, thanks especially to public subsidies. But “green capitalism” as such is an oxymoron. The only meaningful issue is to what degree the ecological blindness of the commodity mode of production might be offset by policy measures exogenous to the strictly economic sphere. In view of what was said earlier, the answer is obvious: the efficiency of ecological policies depends entirely on the determination with which those who advocate them dare to challenge the freedom of capital, and to construct the necessary relationship of forces to impose them (which in turn involves linking the solution of the ecological question to the struggles of the exploited: the fight against unemployment, poverty, social inequality, discrimination and deterioration of working conditions).
And this is where the shoe pinches. Tim Jackson, for example, is probably one of the non-Marxist authors who best understands the productivist logic of capitalism as the fundamental cause of environmental degradation. In Prosperity Without Growth, rejecting superficial explanations, he writes perceptively that “the throw-away society is not so much a consequence of consumer greed as a structural prerequisite for survival,” for the system needs to “sell more goods, to innovate continually.”[5] But Jackson sidesteps the conclusion to be drawn from his own analysis: instead of challenging the mode of production, he veers toward questioning a “desire for novelty and consumption” that in his view is part of human nature. As a result, the mountain gives forth a mouse:
On the ecological side, Prosperity Without Growth pleads for government to set harsh limits on the use of resources subject only to environmental constraints. And that is what should be done.... However, one cannot pretend to ignore, as Jackson does, that the business class successfully opposes all drastic environmental regulation, even in those cases where the need for it is questioned the least;
On the social side, Jackson has the merit of arguing for a reduction in labour time, but he subordinates this measure to the maintenance of corporate competitiveness, so no figure is assigned to it. In his view, the reduction in labour time is in fact a form of flexibility, not an immediate collective response to unemployment or a tool for redistributing the wealth produced (without reduction in wages). He envisages it only as a last resort, whenever the conversion of economists to a new “macro-economic model” would not suffice to simply displace the focal point of economic activity from the value producing sector to dematerialized services.[6]
Generally, all of the proposals advanced to politically remedy the ecosuicidal nature of capital trip over the same obstacles: the logic of profit and the class nature of the institutions.[7]

Mirage of internalization
Einstein is reputed to have said “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” This theorem is perfectly applicable to the idea that capitalism could embark on the path of sustainability if some political authorities assigned a price to natural resources. Since the ecological crisis is a consequence of generalized commodity production, the destruction of the environment cannot be stopped by “commodifying” water, air, carbon, genes or any other natural resource. Not only does this “internalization of externalities” not bring us any closer to a solution, it takes us in the opposite direction. Needless to say, the transformation of natural resources into commodities implies their appropriation by capital. Accordingly, the matter is settled because capital, by subjecting them to the law of labour-value, thereby tends to remove them from any governing principle other than profit.
In any case, independently of these considerations, and even more fundamentally, attempts to assign a price to natural resources come up against an insurmountable theoretical difficulty: how to evaluate in monetary terms properties whose production is not measurable in hours of labour, and which therefore have no value, and whose destruction is, moreover, deferred in time? Liberal economists attempting to answer this puzzle squabble over the current conversion rate and question to what degree consumers are willing to pay for the environment or to accept its degradation. The price of natural resources varies, then, according to whether the persons who are questioned are wealthy or poverty-stricken. Pushed to the limit, this method clearly reveals its absurdity: what commodity value should be given to sunlight, knowing that life on Earth depends on it?
The impasse of commodity calculation appears clearly in the proposal for a carbon tax to make fossil energies more expensive than renewables and consequently reduce carbon gas emissions. As we know, to have a reasonable chance of not overly exceeding a 2oC increase in temperature from the pre-industrial era, these emissions must decrease by 80 to 95% by 2050 in the developed capitalist countries, and by 50 to 85% world-wide, with the inflection point being reached by no later than 2015.[8] These ranges — and it would be prudent to aim for the higher figures — mean abandoning fossil fuels within two generations, although these energy sources account for 80% of our present energy needs (and petroleum is the raw material of the petrochemical industry).
In fact, the scope of the reductions to be achieved, given the urgency and the size of the difference in cost between fossils and renewables, is such that even a tax of $600 a ton would not suffice (it would simply allow a reduction in global emissions by one-half by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency.[9] Since the combustion of a thousand litres of fuel oil produces 2.7 tons of CO2, it is understandable that such a measure would be socially inapplicable in reality: employers could accept this only if it were wholly transferred to the ultimate consumers, while the majority of the population, infuriated by the austerity that has prevailed for 30 years, will obviously oppose any such deterioration in its conditions of existence.
That is why, in practice, and notwithstanding all the sophisticated theories of ecological economics, the policy proposals for internalization of the costs of pollution are both ecologically insufficient and socially unsustainable. Supposing that the theoretical and practical obstacles can be lifted, the effectiveness of internalization would remain unpredictable because price is a purely quantitative indicator, incapable of capturing the qualitative differences between tons of CO2 avoided by methods as different as the insulation of a home, installation of photovoltaic panels, a tree plantation, or the suppression of a Formula One Grand Prix. Quantitatively, there is nothing to distinguish one ton of CO2 from another. But the qualitative differences are decisive in developing adequate ecological strategies in which the means implemented are consistent with the end — the passage without social destruction to an energy sparing and decentralized system based solely on renewable sources.

Rational management of the metabolism and class struggle
The ecosuicidal nature of capital has been a reality since the beginning of this mode of production. In the 19th century the founder of soil chemistry, Liebig, was already sounding the alarm: as a result of capitalist urbanization, human excrements no longer returned to the field, and this break in the nutrient cycle threatened to cause serious impoverishment of the soil. In the course of his work, Marx raised the issue to the conceptual plane by posing the general need “to govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way.”[10] Then, armed with this ecological concept (before the term existed), he returned to the issue of soils in order to advance a radical programmatic perspective: abolition of the separation between town and country, the indispensable complement in his view to the gradual disappearance of the separation between manual and intellectual labour.
It must be stressed here that the expression “rational” management should not give rise to confusion. Nature, for Marx, is “the inorganic body of man.” The correct metabolism of the whole is not achieved by a bureaucracy of green technocrats but by the suppression of social classes. Indeed, the division of society renders impossible any conscious and organized mastery of exchange of matter with the environment. Not only because the drive for profit impels the bosses to pillage natural resources but also because their capitalist appropriation means that the resources are arrayed against the exploited as hostile forces from which the latter are alienated. Added to that is the competition between workers and the fear of unemployment, which encourages each, individually, to desire the profitable operation of “his” or “her” company, and thus to collaborate involuntarily in productivism. Finally, based on a certain level of development of capital, commodity consumption gives the workers a certain number of meager compensations for their alienation from production. None of these mechanisms can be broken except by the development of class solidarity on an ever-broader scale. That is why, for Marx, the rational regulation of the social metabolism can be realized only by the “associated producers.” And Marx explained that it is this alone that provides “the only possible freedom.”
Although Lenin referred to it in some positions he took on the agrarian question,[11] and Bukharin made an intelligent presentation of it in his handbook on Historical Materialism,[12] the Marxist concept of rational regulation of material exchanges subsequently sank into oblivion. No Marxist thinker assigned it the importance it deserves, and in fact none of them saw its relevance when the ecological question became a social issue in the 1960s. This is not the place to inquire into the reasons for this discontinuity in revolutionary Marxism.[13] Suffice it to warn the reader against simplistic interpretations: Stalinism is not the sole culprit, although in this field as well it did signify a terrible theoretical regression.[14] Rather, we will emphasize the fact that there is an urgent need to assign “Marx’s ecology” a central place in the theoretical thinking and programmatic development of the Marxists.[15]
The problem of global warming illustrates this need. The saturation of the atmosphere in CO2, mainly due to the combustion of fossil fuels — that is, a short-circuit in the long cycle of carbon — is a flagrant case of irrational management of material exchanges, and this irrationality confronts humanity with a terrible dilemma:
  • On the one hand, three billion people live in disgraceful conditions. Their legitimate needs can only be met by increasing material production, and thus processing resources removed from the environment. This means consuming energy, 80% of which is of fossil origin today, a source of greenhouse gas;
  • On the other hand, the climate system is on the verge of a heart attack. If we are to avoid irreversible catastrophes (the major victims of which will be among the three billion people aspiring to a dignified existence), greenhouse gas emissions must be radically reduced. This means reducing the consumption of the fossil energies now needed for the processing of the resources taken from the environment, and reducing material production.
Within the short period of 40 years now left to us, according to the IPCC — and absent an extraordinary scientific revolution in energy — there is simply no acceptable capitalist solution to these simultaneous equations. A system based on competition for profit is quite simply incapable of satisfying non-solvable human needs on a mass scale while sustainably reducing the consumption of energy and material production. Attaining either of these objectives separately is already incompatible with the logic of capital, so how can they be achieved in conjunction? That this is not possible is clear from an examination of the climate scenarios proposed by governments and international institutions. The Blue Map scenario of the International Energy Agency, for example, aims at a reduction in global emissions of 50% by 2050.[16] It is more than probable that this objective is insufficient; in any case, it could be achieved only by massive recourse to nuclear energy, agrofuels and so-called “clean coal” (not to mention shale gas and oil sands). Blue Map would involve the construction each year, for more than forty years, of 32 nuclear power plants with a 1,000 MW capacity, and 45 new “clean” coal-fueled plants with a 500 MW capacity. There is no point in going further: the terrible catastrophe of Fukushima, Japan, is enough to show the aberration in such projects.
The strategic choice is therefore the following:
  • either we leave capitalism behind by radically restricting the sphere and volume of capitalist production and transportation, and it is possible to limit to the maximum the damages of global warming while guaranteeing a quality human development based exclusively on renewable energies within the perspective of a society based on some other economy of time;
  • or we remain within the capitalist accumulation logic, and climate deregulation radically limits the right to existence of hundreds of millions of human beings, while future generations are condemned to cope with the problems originating in the project creep of some dangerous technologies.
Obviously, we will opt for the first solution, but it must be emphasized that strict environmental constraints will subject the transition to socialism to some previously unforeseen conditions. There is no over-estimating the scope of the challenge. In the European Union, for example, reducing emissions by 60% (they should be reduced by 95%!) without resort to nuclear power would necessitate a reduction of about 40% in final energy demand.[17] It is not easy to gauge the cascading implications on material production and transportation, but it seems obvious that the objective will not be achieved simply by eliminating unnecessary and harmful production (weapons, advertising, luxury yachts and private planes, etc.), fighting the planned obsolescence of products, or reducing the ostentatious consumption of the wealthiest layers of the ruling class. More radical measures will be needed, and these will have some effects on the population as a whole, at least in the developed capitalist countries. In other words, the transition to socialism must be made in conditions very different from those of the 20th century.
One indication is provided by the estimate of the share of agribusiness in total greenhouse gas emissions. According to the campaign “Ne mange pas le monde,” from 44 to 57% of greenhouse gas emissions are due to the present model of production, distribution and consumption of farm and forest products. This figure is obtained by adding together emissions due to strictly agricultural activities (11 to 15%), deforestation (15 to 18%), and the handling, transportation and storing of foods (15 to 20%) and organic residues (3 to 4%).[18]
The fight for the optimum possible climate stabilization cannot be limited, therefore, to the expropriation of the expropriators-polluters-squanderers. The change in property relations is only the necessary — but not sufficient — condition for an extremely profound social change involving a substantial modification in social modes of consumption and mobility. These modifications — travel otherwise, eat less meat and consume seasonal vegetables, for example — must be placed in perspective now, for they are urgently needed and they have immediate implications. This is possible, for they apply cultural and ideological mechanisms that have a certain autonomy in relation to the productive base of society. Although they themselves do not involve any structural change, they must be considered an integral part of the anticapitalist alternative. To the degree that they lead to collective practices, they can promote increased consciousness and organization.

A new period
The Transitional Program written by Leon Trotsky in 1938 begins with the statement that “The economic prerequisite for the proletarian revolution has already in general achieved the highest point of fruition that can be reached under capitalism.” It concludes that “The objective prerequisites... have not only ‘ripened’; they have begun to get somewhat rotten. Without a socialist revolution, in the next historical period at that, a catastrophe threatens the whole culture of mankind.”
The founder of the Red Army refers firstly, of course, to the historical context: the victory of fascism and Nazism, the crushing of the Spanish revolution, and the imminent world war. His judgment on the putrefaction of the objective conditions, however, seems to have broader historical implications. This theme reappears, moreover, in Ernest Mandel’s writing: “Growing productive forces with growing commodity-money relationships can in fact move a society farther from the socialist goal instead of bringing it closer.”[19]
A remarkable quotation, the strategic implications of which deserve to be explored. For this is, in fact, the unprecedented situation with which we are confronted: in the developed countries, capitalism has gone too far in the growth of the material productive forces, such that a worthy socialist alternative implies no longer an advance, but a form of retreat. (We are speaking of the material forces, and not questioning the need for developing knowledge and cooperation among producers, of course.) It is this new historical conjuncture that is expressed in the pressing need to produce and transport less, in order to consume much less energy and totally eliminate fossil CO2 emissions by the end of this century.
The fact that the development of the material productive forces has begun to move us objectively further from a socialist alternative is the major fact on which the new concept of ecosocialism is founded and justified. Far from being only a new label on the bottle, this concept introduces at least five novel aspects, which I have outlined in my book L’impossible capitalisme vert, and which I will briefly recall here:[20]
1. The notion of “human mastery of nature” must be abandoned. The complexity, the unknowns and the evolving nature of the biosphere involve an irreducible degree of uncertainty. The systemic social and environmental interrelationship must be conceived as a process in constant movement, as a production of nature.
2. The classic definition of socialism must be completed. The only possible socialism now is one that satisfies actual human needs (freed from commodity alienation), democratically determined by the interested parties themselves within the limits of the resources and by carefully questioning the environmental impact of these needs and the way in which they are satisfied.
3. It is necessary to go beyond the compartmentalized, utilitarian and linear vision of nature as the physical platform on which humanity operates, as the store from which it draws the necessary resources in the production of its social existence, and as the dump in which it unloads its garbage. Nature is at once the platform, the store, the waste receptacle and the set of living processes which, thanks to the contribution of solar energy, circulate material between these poles while constantly reorganizing it. Wastes and their mode of deposit must therefore be compatible in quantity and quality with the capacities and rhythms of recycling by the ecosystems. In other words, the proper functioning of the whole depends on biodiversity, which must be protected.
4. Energy sources and the methods of conversion that are used are not socially neutral. Socialism, consquently, cannot be defined, as Lenin did, as “soviets plus electricity.” The capitalist energy system is centralized, anarchic, wasteful, inefficient, dead-labour intensive, based on non-renewable sources and oriented toward accumulation. A socialist transformation worthy of the name necessitates its gradual replacement by a decentralized, planned, thrifty, efficient, living-labour intensive system, based exclusively on renewable sources and oriented toward the production of durable, recyclable and reusable use-values. This concerns not only the production of energy in the narrow sense but the entire industrial apparatus, agriculture, transportation, recreation, and land development and planning. This extremely profound transformation can only be achieved on a world scale.
5. Going beyond the threshold from which the growth in the material forces of production complicates the passage to socialism involves a critical attitude toward increasing the productivity of labour. In a number of fields the implementation of an anticapitalist alternative respectful of ecological balances necessitates the replacement of dead labour by living labour. This is clearly the case in agriculture, where the ultra-mechanized agribusiness system, a huge consumer of inputs and fossil energy, will have to give way to another mode of operation that is more intensive in human labour. This applies as well to the energy sector, for decentralized production based on renewables will necessitate a lot of work, particularly in maintenance. Generally speaking, the quantity of living labour must increase radically in all fields directly linked to the environment. A parallel can be drawn with personal care, education and other sectors in which the left considers the development of public employment as a given: human intelligence and emotion, combined in a culture of “care-taking,” are in fact necessary in matters directly pertaining to interaction with the biosphere.
Some dogmatic minds will fear that these thoughts open the door to a revision of revolutionary Marxism in the form of concessions to the austerity offensive against the working class in the developed countries. There is no truth to this. It is not a question of yielding the least parcel of terrain to the guilt-tripping discourses that use the ecological crisis to try to disarm the labour movement and its representatives. One line of demarcation between ecosocialism, on the one hand, and the political ecology of degrowth, on the other, is the attitude toward the class struggle. We remain firmly convinced that the exploited learn through the experience of collective struggles, which begin with the defense of wages, jobs, and working conditions. Every struggle of the workers, even the most immediate, must be supported and considered as an opportunity to increase consciousness and orient it toward a socialist perspective.
Within this strategic framework, the observation that the socialist transition must now operate under environmental constraint does not weaken anticapitalist convictions; on the contrary, it reinforces them. However, only the truth is revolutionary. We cannot hide the fact that the socialist transformation will very probably involve renouncing certain goods, services and habits that profoundly influence the daily life of broad layers of the population, at least in the developed capitalist countries. The task, then, is to advocate objectives capable of compensating this loss by a substantial advance in the quality of life. In our view, the priority should be given to the pursuit of two such objectives: (1) gratuity of basic goods (water, energy, mobility) up to an average social volume (which implies the extension of the public sector); (2) a radical reduction (50%) in working time, without loss of salary, with proportional hiring and a decrease in the pace of work.
In the last instance, said Marx, all economics comes down to economy of time. To affirm the necessity of producing and consuming less is to demand the time to live, and to live better. It is to open a fundamental debate on the mastery of social time, on what is necessary and to whom, why, and in what quantities. It is to awaken the collective desire for a world without wars, in which we work less and otherwise, in which we pollute less, in which we develop social relations, in which we substantially improve welfare, public health, education and democratic participation. A world in which the associated producers re-learn how to “dialogue” collectively with nature. That world will not be less rich than the present world (as the Right says), nor “as rich for the great majority of the population” (as a certain Left says). It will be infinitely less futile, less stressed, less hurried — in a word, richer.

[1] Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive (London: Penguin Books, 2005). Among the criticisms of Diamond’s thesis, see Benny Peiser, “From ecocide to genocide: The rape of Rapa Nui,” Energy and Environment, Vol. 16, No. 3-4 (2005); Terry L. Hunt, “Rethinking Easter Island’s ecological catastrophe,” Journal of Archaeological Science, No. 34, pp. 485-502 (2007); and Daniel Tanuro, “Catastrophes écologiques d’hier et d’aujourd’hui: la fausse métaphore de l’île de Pâques,” Critique Communiste, No. 185 (December 2007).
[2] Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 3rd ed. (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008).
[3] L. Possoz and H. Jeanmart, “Comments on the electricity demand scenario in two studies from the DLR: MED-CSP & TRANS-CSP,” ORMEE & MITEC engineering consultancy, Belgium, on-line at
[4] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Section 10.
[5] Tim Jackson, Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet (Earthscan, 2009).
[6] Daniel Tanuro, “Prospérité sans croissance”: un ouvrage sous tension.
[7] This applies, in particular, to the proposal for alternative or complementary indicators of GDP. Clearly, GDP does not measure the quality of the environment; that is not its purpose, nor the purpose of capitalism. GDP measures the accumulation of capital. It is therefore perfectly adapted to capitalism. To claim that altering the measurement tool would suffice to change the logic of the system is evidence of naiveté if not intellectual fraud.
[8] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report, 2007.
[9] IEA, Energy Technology Perspectives 2008- Scenarios & Strategies to 2050.
[10] Marx, Capital, Vol. 3 (New York: Vintage, 1981), p. 959.
[11] V.I. Lenin, The Agrarian Question and the “Critics of Marx”, chapter IV.
[12] Nicholae Bukharin, Historical Materialism, A System of Sociology (New York, 1965).
[13] Daniel Tanuro, “Marxism, energy and ecology: The moment of truth,” Capitalism Nature Socialism, December 2010, pp. 89-101.
[14] Daniel Tanuro, “Le lourd héritage de Léon Trotsky”.
[15] See J.B. Foster, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (New York, 2000).
[16] IEA, op. cit.
[17] Wolfram Krevitt, Uwe Klann, Stefan Kronshage, Energy Revolution. A Sustainable Pathway to a Clean Energy Future for Europe (Stuttgart: Institute of Technical Thermodynamics & Greenpeace, September 2005).
[18] Reported by Esther Vivas, “‘Ne mange pas le monde’: Une autre agriculture pour un autre climat,” French translation of an article published in the Catalan daily Publico.
[19] Ernest Mandel, “Ten Theses on the Social and Economic Laws Governing the Society Transitional Between Capitalism and Socialism.”
[20] Daniel Tanuro, L’impossible capitalisme vert (Paris: La Découverte, 2010).