De-Growth: The Case for Eco-Socialism
Image Credit / Nature Magazine
Fires, floods, storms, droughts, hunger, conflict, poverty, grief, and anxiety. News headlines since 2020 have been filled to the brim with surges of ecological disaster. It is undeniable – the people of this world face a global climate emergency. Most notably, the 2022 floods in Pakistan attained notoriety internationally and revived the conversation of climate justice. Displacement of over 33 million civilians and ongoing climate destruction led to demands for climate reparations from the Global South. Despite futile attempts at conventions and conferences by government diplomats around the world, few countries have arrived at a conclusion for proper climate policies. The utter lack of administrative action regarding holding corporate entities, wealthy countries, and climate destroyers accountable is responsible for half the destruction. Simple diplomacy and reform will no longer suffice to stop the Earth from keeling over. It’s time to stop dreaming and start doing – a revolution of entire economic systems is the need of the hour.
By 2050 pollution may have been accentuated to a point where fresh air will be sparse. In moments of back-to-back catastrophes, many have adopted a nihilistic worldview. Others keep pushing for climate reforms at worldwide forums. Both approaches miss the point. There is hope. We can still slow global heating and dramatically lessen its impact. But without addressing the root cause and centring the most vulnerable members of society, the conditions for living on Earth will only deteriorate. The two options are either a liveable future or billionaires – not both.
Government inaction did not bring about climate change. They acted – they subsidised fossil fuel companies, gave them leases, spouted misinformation and criminalised protest. The climate crisis of government collusion with capitalists. By the end of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) in 2021, 74 countries and over 600 companies pledged to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century. The Science Based Targets initiative launched a net-zero standard to ensure these targets were rigorous and aligned with the latest climate science. Despite precautions, the pledges were non-binding, allowing for emissions through regulatory loopholes. Future carbon capture undoing emissions are often for direct emissions and not emissions caused by the usage of the product. Supply-chain-related output is neglected. As a whole, planned policies are still formulated in a way in which large companies can escape climate accountability with a bit of thinking. Policymakers regard corporations as neutral players and not the main culprits of carbon pollution – herein lies the central issue. Capitalist profit maximisation and greed for economic growth will stop at nothing to destroy the lives of both people and the planet.
Just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, according to a report in 2017 by Carbon Majors. The report found that more than half of global industrial emissions since 1988 – the year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established – can be traced to just 25 corporate and state-owned entities. The scale of historical emissions associated with these fossil fuel producers is large enough to have contributed significantly to climate change, according to the report. ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron are identified as among the highest emitting investor-owned companies since 1988.
A Carbon Tracker study in 2015 found that fossil fuel companies risked wasting more than $2tn over the coming decade by pursuing coal, oil and gas projects that could be worthless in the face of international action on climate change and advances in renewables – in turn posing substantial threats to investor returns. Investors should move out of fossil fuels, says Michael Brune, executive director of the US environmental organisation The Sierra Club. “Not only is it morally risky, but it’s also economically risky. The world is moving away from fossil fuels towards clean energy and is doing so at an accelerated pace. Those left holding investments in fossil fuel companies will find their investments becoming riskier and riskier over time.” The barrier is the absolute tension between short-term profitability and the urgent need to reduce emissions.
“Environmentalism without class struggle is gardening.”
Chico Mendes, martyred Brazilian labour leader and environmentalist
Middle-class environmentalists have, for years, individualised the climate crisis blaming everyday people for pollution, carbon emissions, toxic wastes, and the mistreatment of nature. Companies were chasing profit incentives while seven billion people in the world were asked to use plastic bags, recycle, and use less water. People pointed fingers at each other for what type of animal product they were eating. If everyone were to magically turn vegetarian tomorrow, no progress has already transformed vegetarian food production into an ecological nightmare. In fact, it has already begun. Tens of millions of bees die each year just to stabilise almond milk production.
There is no way to combat climate change within capitalism. It is socialism or extinction. One person cannot be held responsible for tonnes of greenhouse gases released at an industrial level – they do not own factories. They do not manufacture products on a mass level, fill landfills with toxic waste, or force animals to choke on plastic in the ocean. If anything, the masses of people in this world suffering in poverty in the Global South do not have adequate drinking water, sanitation, or access to disaster relief. Most cannot afford a buck for a plastic bottle of water. Water scarcity is imminent, heightened due to climate change. Starvation suffocates areas in Somalia and Madagascar. The citizens are the victims of the climate crisis, not the perpetrators.
The most densely-populated areas of this world languish under day-to-day floods, droughts, and famines all caused by the wealthiest countries in Europe and America. This last summer, Northern India and Pakistan went face-to-face with an extreme heat wave, putting over a billion people in danger. Al-Jazeera has reported at least 6,500 people dead in India since 2010 due to heat waves and the climate crisis. Pakistan prepared for flash flooding after rapid glacial melting. 7 million continue to be at risk due to melted glaciers in the Himalayas, Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountain ranges. On May 7, 2022, a video surfaced of a bridge breaking in Gilgit-Baltistan due to flooding, which was never to be reconstructed again. Local government negligence is embarrassing enough but global media ignorance of non-stop calamities is frustrating to cope with. While climate activists in the Global North hold “debates” on the validity of climate change, real people on the ground in disaster-prone regions like South Asia have already lost their shelter, food, and source of income – now refugees as they search for a new home.
Image Credit / Scientists Warning Europe
Compared to total annihilation in South Asia, the Global North is relatively safe. There may be the occasional flood or forest fire but funding and properly-staffed executive departments typically handle any issues. In contrast, despite suffering to a lesser extent, these same areas in the Global North inflict damage on other countries due to fossil fuel dependency. A study by Jason Hickle published in the Lancet Planetary Health Journal, in 2020, found the USA and Europe to be responsible for a whopping 92% of carbon emissions, with the Global South contributing 8%. Impoverished countries such as Bangladesh, with a population of around 160 million, cannot be held responsible for the CO2 emissions that are the cause of the disastrous climate change impacts it is experiencing. A Guardian article by Thaslima Begum in July 2022 reports Bangladesh accounting for only 0.3% of the world’s carbon emissions – not much room for cuts there.
Climate activists also tend to be more proactive in these regions. When Bangladesh was hounded by life-threatening floods in the summer of 2022, young people on the frontlines in Sylhet volunteered to restore the lives of victims of floods. Teams were formed, helping bring people in remote areas hit by waters to shelter. When people in Global South countries are trying their best to conserve water and take direct action against their government for sustainability and justice, it is a wonder why everyone is blamed for the climate crisis. Wealthy countries are still not able to admit to empirical evidence that they are at fault. Statistics can be presented to them and yet they will run their eco-fascist mantra about people destroying the planet. “Corporate colonialism” will never escape their tongues.
Abolish the coloniser in your mind. In the 1800s, European empires forced their colonies to become mono-crop plantations tasked with producing one or a few crops or raw materials for the empire’s capital instead of growing food for their own community’s sustenance. Instead of harmonising with their local ecology as they did for aeons, hunter/gatherer and farming communities were violently torn away from their sacred lands and forced to mass produce “products” to meet the empire’s endless wealth accumulation goals. The fertile lands that were once loved and cared for by thousands of years of collectivist, indigenous practices were pillaged and destroyed by colonial corporations pumping toxic fertilisers and pesticides to get the highest genetically-modified crop yield while putting in the least amount of effort to nurture the land themselves. Colonial mono-crop plantation farms erase biodiversity, driving ecological collapse, making us vulnerable to food scarcity and ultimately driving extinction. Farming and labour are intimately tied to climate justice. Until the colonial powers of the world can admit their capitalist extraction of the natural resources of countries in the Global South, we cannot enforce real policies. All countries are not on a level playing field. The dire conditions some regions are in today are a result of colonialism. Penalising the Global South for not being able to comply with environmental regulations when they are already short on money and resources is hypocritical. If indigenous people residing within these countries were left alone hundreds of years ago, perhaps the soil would still be healthy. Perhaps as much flora and fauna would not be considered endangered today.
“The only people with a track record of living sustainably in place for thousands of years and indigenous people, and despite all that has been done to get them out of the way, they are still here fighting for their land.”
Though indigenous people are courageously fighting for land and labour rights around the world, prominent struggles can be pointed out among the Adivasi tribes of India. Through studying the Adivasi people’s struggle for livelihood and ecological justice, models can be created of how to resist. Anti-displacement struggles were major exemplary rebellions against the neoliberal plunder of natural resources and livelihood a decade back. Adivasis had endured the struggles of Singur-Nandigram-Lalgarh in West Bengal, Kalinganagar in Odisha, Raigarh in Maharashtra etc. Anti-displacement struggles raised questions of land and livelihood, resistance against the corporate takeover of Jal-Jangal-Zameen (Water-Forest-Land), formation of people’s organisations against neoliberal plunder and more important questions of ecology and the environment. Recently, anti-displacement struggles come to the fore once again with struggles in many locations within India. One is Deucha-Panchami in the Birbhum district of West Bengal, where an open-cast mine is proposed to be constructed. Another one is Dhinkia in Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha where the land was previously acquired for POSCO and has been again proposed to be transferred to the steel giant Jindal.
Other recent struggles include those from Hasdeo Aranya. Hasdeo Aranya is a dense forest stretch spread across over 1,500 km through central India. The area is home to India’s tribal communities, with an estimated five billion tonnes of coal buried under the dense forests. Mining has become a huge business in the area, leading to protests by the locals and a 300 km march. The Chattisgarh Bachao Andolan, along with the tribals of the region, have maintained that these contradictions and the silence of the state government have paved way for violations of constitutional provisions. The Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) stated that 14 out of the 23 proposed coal blocks in the region should not be given clearance given the dense forest tracks. The study admits, “Mining-related land-use changes will harm forest cover/density, forest type, and forest fragmentation. In addition, forest fragmentation will contribute to decreased patch/corridor connectivity, increased edge effect, change in microclimate and promote invasive species if not taken adequate mitigation measures.” Thanks to the protests of native residents, on July 26, 2022, the Chhattisgarh Assembly unanimously passed the non-official resolution to cancel the coal block allotted in the Hasdeo Aranya, submitted by Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (J) MLA Dharamjit Singh.
In the past few months, Adivasis have been resisting the expansion of multinational billionaire investor Gautam Adani’s coal plants. Adani Enterprises is already the largest private coal mining company in India, with plans for corporate growth. Adani is aggressively acquiring new coal mines, having purchased the rights to dig at least eight new coal mines since 2020. Many of Adani’s proposed coal mines are in forest areas of deep cultural significance to local Indigenous communities and provide a home for some of the world’s most loved and endangered wildlife. Adani is directly supported by investors such as HSBC, Barclays Bank, Vanguard, Black Rock, MUFG, and Citigroup, among others. On 28 March 2022, Adani Watch found over 200 protesters from a tribal group were arrested near Sundargarh protesting against a railway expansion that will displace many of them. Several leaders faced fabricated charges that enabled police to prolong their incarceration without bail. The rail expansion will facilitate the transport of coal from Adani’s Dhamra port to its Godda coal-power station. In all places, local Adivasis have been up in arms against the state. Middle-class environmental activists around the world would do well to amplify and support the fierce efforts of the indigenous people against corporate-colonial exploitation.
Those in power should act now. Better late than never. Halt the nonsense of learning to “live” with the crisis. Nihilistic paradigms will obscure the structural effects of capitalism by calling for individual resilience amidst a supposedly natural “act of God” (and thus unresolvable problem). The climate crisis reveals that civilisation, particularly Western civilisation, has never been organised around science; contrary to the usual enlightenment-era narrative. It is organised around the maintenance of capital. Science is embraced solely when it serves the maintenance of capital and ignored when it does not. Moral vacuousness becomes the best friend of so-called “developed countries” and the uber-wealthy when capital must take precedence over the survival of the Earth. The same obsession with capital led to the plunder of foreign nations now facing the brunt of ecological demolition. The colonial mindset continues today. If greed for wealth, the urge to keep growing and growing and growing the economy while never tending to the environment continues, all will not be well. End the promotion of the most selfish and antisocial state actors in society. Center the most vulnerable. Center the indigenous fighting for their land rights. Centre socialism.
Image Credit / The Hindu
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