George Monbiot on the unholy trinity of ideologies trashing our planet

Is another form of capitalism possible? And can new social movements like Extinction Rebellion escape the ideologies that pervade our lives?

Campaigner and journalist George Monbiot

Campaigner and journalist George Monbiot.  John Russell/Flickr, CC 2.0

 

If you get into debt buying your child branded trainers, if you fear redundancy, if you suffer anxiety about the future of the planet and you blame yourself for all of these things then you are showing symptoms of drowning in the “insidious” and “sinister” ideology of neoliberalism.

The escalating environmental and social crises that confronted us – climate breakdown, collapse in biodiversity, the threat of war – are all failures of a worldview that puts profit making, the markets and economic growth ahead of human happiness. This is George Monbiot’s prognosis.

The journalist and campaigner will be speaking at a three-hour special event at the Gillian Lynne Theatre in London on 11 February 2020 under the title The Invisible Ideology Trashing Our Planet. The tour will continue on Thursday, 12 March 2020 at the UBSU Richmond Building in Bristol.

The invisible ideology referred to is neoliberalism. But when I caught up with Monbiot at his home in Oxford this month he had already extended the scope of his speech to include capitalism and consumerism. This is the holy trinity: capitalism is the father, consumerism the son and neoliberalism the holy ghost.

Monbiot argues that capitalism now is neoliberal capitalism. And, unusually, that capitalism and consumerism are ideologies as much as neoliberalism is. “Part of the insidious power of these ideologies is that they are the water in which we swim – the plastic soup in which we swim. They are everywhere. They affect our decision making every day, they affect the way we see ourselves. They are difficult to see not because they are so small but because they are so big. The most powerful ideologies never announce themselves as ideologies. That is where their power lies. Our first step is to recognise them as ideologies.”

The blasphemy of attacking capitalism

Why did it take Monbiot so long to come to attacking capitalism head on?

“There was an element of fear involved. Directly attacking capitalism is blasphemy today. It’s like pronouncing that there is no god in the 19th century. But of course we recognise those who did so as pioneers whose voices were necessary. I suddenly realised that for years I had been talking about variants of capitalism. I had been talking about corporate capitalism, neoliberal capitalism, crony capitalism. But then it suddenly struck me that maybe it is not the adjective, but the noun. It makes a difference, the form of capitalism, but all forms drive us to the same destination, albeit at different rates. So neoliberal capitalism accelerates natural destruction. But Keynesian social democratic capitalism still gets us there, but maybe a little more slowly because it has more regulatory involvement and less inequality.”

Neoliberalism, broadly, asserts that free market capitalist is the best mechanism for making decisions in our modern, complex societies. The state should not intervene. This means fewer regulations, from banking to food. It means not providing health and social care. It means cutting taxes. Neoliberalism dominates the thinking of the world’s leaders, at a time when it undermines the efficacy of the state to deal with climate breakdown.

So is a non-neoliberal capitalism now possible? Could John Maynard Keynes, the influential economist who advocated government management of the economy, make a return? Can we stage a tactical retreat? Or has capitalism reached a point where neoliberalism red in tooth and claw is necessary for capitalist profit generation?

“We cannot go back to [Keynes],” Monbiot responds. “It is growth based. The whole point of Keynesian economics is to maintain the rate of growth – not too fast, not too slow – and we know that even a steady rate of growth is progress towards disaster. But also, in its first iteration in the years after the Second World War it was very effectively destroyed, principally by finance capital working out ways to destroy capital controls, foreign exchange controls. The idea that we can relaunch a Keynesian capitalism and not have it destroyed by people who have already destroyed it once, who have not forgotten those lessons, and who are in a much more powerful position to destroy it today….that’s just dreaming. That is magical thinking. You cannot go back in politics, you have constantly to devise new models.”

On Extinction Rebellion, citizens’ assemblies, and the taking of political positions

I ask Monbiot what all this means for current debates around climate advocacy and campaigning and particularly for Extinction Rebellion (XR).

He hesitates for a moment, not wanting to “abuse” his position as Britain’s most influential environment journalist to sway the climate direct action movement.

“As I see it, XR tried very hard to remain a single issue movement and to say, ‘we are not taking a justice position, we are not going to take a political position, we just want people to respect the science and introduce the policies that are in accordance with the science’. I understand that, because they wanted to reach as many people as possible.

“But there is obviously a tension between that and the intersectionality that our many issues demand and the necessity to understand the political context in which we operate and the political change required in order for us to operate. I do not think we need to flinch from the fact that to take effective action on climate breakdown requires a change of leadership, a change in government, it requires political change and it very much requires ideological change. We fool ourselves if we think we can change the policies without attending to the political framing in which these policies are discussed.

He adds: “These have to be political campaigns as well as environmental campaigns. There is a lot of recognition [within XR] about where the constraints have been and lots of intelligent people having great conversations about how it evolves. It cheers me to see so many interesting discussions happening.”

So, I ask, does XR need to be anti-neoliberal?

“Obviously, if anything XR wants to happen is to happen, then we have to overthrow neoliberal ideology. The idea of government being so activist that it is going to transform our whole economy and go to zero carbon by 2025, and change our political system, even acknowledge the importance of a political system in making decisions, all that is directly counter to neoliberalism. If a political scientist was to analyse XR’s three demands and its charter they would say, this is a profoundly anti-neoliberal programme’.”

I asked whether neoliberalism also presents a challenge in terms of the XR proposal to have a citizens’ assembly with members chosen through sortition (which is similar to the way we select members of a jury in the criminal justice system). If neoliberalism is hegemonic, is all pervasive, then even the great British public will be trapped within its assumptions. Monbiot points out that the civil service will also be immersed in, and will have an interest in upholding, neoliberal ideology.

“I have never been in favour of a pure sortition system,” Monbiot responds. “What it does is give tremendous power to the civil service, because the civil service are the permanent officials who understand how the system works, who have a long term stake in that system, whereas the people who are chosen by sortition haven’t. T[he citizens] are not trying to get in at the next election – they will not have a long term political programme. That makes the bureaucracy tremendously and dangerously powerful. A mixed system – in the widest possible sense – has got more to say for it.”

Can we ever escape ideology?

So the question arises: can we ever escape ideology? Karl Marx, the philosopher communist, believed that through a rational, logical, analysis of the economy and of society he had punched through “bourgeois” or capitalist ruling class ideology and glimpsed momentarily a non-ideological reality. But if we argue that we are not ideological, that we are free entirely of any illusions, is this not proof positive that we are so deeply immersed that we cannot even see the edges of our own delusion?

“I don’t think you can be [ideologically free]. We’re so governed by our social environment, and our social environment will always be saturated by ideology. To be ideology free would be to become an island, you would have to be completely isolated from all other human beings – and even then you would probably create your own ideology. You often hear people stand up and say, ‘I have no ideology’. And that is just self-deception.”

Monbiot presents a compelling argument. We say our goodbyes and I am back out on the street, reflecting that I am even now contained entirely within ideology, neoliberal ideology. I am willing to believe that we will never escape ideology – a grand narrative that explains who we are, where we are, what we are. If this is the case, we as individuals and as a collective humanity must choose our ideology wisely. SOURCE

If defending life on Earth is extremist, we must own that label

Police say climate groups such as Extinction Rebellion are a ‘threat’. They’d have done the same for the suffragettes and Martin Luther King

Extinction Rebellion protest at Heathrow airport, December 2019. Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock

t’s not an “error” or an “accident”, as the police now claim. It’s a pattern. First, the Guardian revealed that counter-terrorism police in south-east England have listed Extinction Rebellion (XR) and the youth climate strikes as forms of “ideological extremism”. Then teachers and officials around the country reported that they had been told, in briefings by the anti-radicalisation Prevent programme, to look out for people expressing support for XR and Greenpeace.

Then the Guardian found a Counter Terrorism Policing guide to the signs and symbols used by various groups. Alongside terrorists and violent extremist organisations, the guide listed Greenpeace, XR, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, CND, the Socialist party, Stop the War and other peaceful green and left organisations. Then the newspaper discovered that City of London police had listed XR as a “key threat” in its counter-terrorism assessment.

The police have always protected established power against those who challenge it, regardless of the nature of that challenge. And they have long sought to criminalise peaceful dissent. Part of the reason is ideological: illiberal and undemocratic attitudes infest policing in this country. Part of it is empire-building: if police units can convince the government and the media of imminent threats that only they can contain, they can argue for more funding.

But there’s another reason, which is arguably even more dangerous: the nexus of state and corporate power. All over the world, corporate lobbyists seek to brand opponents of their industries as extremists and terrorists, and some governments and police forces are prepared to listen. A recent article in the Intercept seeks to discover why the US Justice Department and the FBI had put much more effort into chasing mythical “ecoterrorists” than pursuing real, far-right terrorism. A former official explained, “You don’t have a bunch of companies coming forward saying ‘I wish you’d do something about these rightwing extremists’.” By contrast, there is constant corporate pressure to “do something” about environmental campaigners and animal rights activists.

One of the two authors of the Policy Exchange report, Richard Walton, is a former police commander. A report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission said he would have had a misconduct case to answer had he not retired. The case concerned allegations about his role in the spying by undercover police on the family of the murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence. The purpose of the spying operation, according to one of the police officers involved, was to seek “disinformation” and “dirt” on the family, and stop their campaign for justice “in its tracks.”

The home secretary, Priti Patel, has defended the inclusion of XR on the police list of extremist ideologies. But it seems to me that people like Patel and Walton pose much greater threats to the nation, the state and our welfare than any green campaigners. Before she became an MP, Patel worked for the company Weber Shandwick, as a lobbyist for British American Tobacco (BAT). One of her tasks was to campaign against the EU tobacco control directive, whose purpose was to protect public health. A BAT memo complained that the Weber Shandwick team as a whole “does not actually feel comfortable or happy working for BAT”. But it was pleased to note that two of its members “seem quite relaxed working with us”. One of them was Patel.

In her previous government role, as secretary of state for international development, Patel held unauthorised and undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials, after which she broached the possibility of her department channelling British aid money through the Israeli army, in the occupied Golan Heights. After she was not candid with the prime minister, Theresa May, about further undisclosed meetings, she was forced to resign. But she was reinstated, in a far more powerful role, by Boris Johnson.

Our government is helping propel us towards a catastrophe on a scale humankind has never encountered before: the collapse of our life-support systems. It does so in support of certain ideologies – consumerism, neoliberalism, capitalism – and on behalf of powerful industries. This, apparently, meets the definition of moderation. Seeking to prevent this catastrophe is extremism. If you care about other people, you go on the list. If you couldn’t give a damn about humankind and the rest of life on Earth, the police and the government will leave you alone. You might even be appointed to high office.

It is hard to think of any successful campaign for democracy, justice or human rights that would not now be classed by police forces and the government as an extremist ideology. Without extremists such as Emmeline Pankhurst, who maintained that “the argument of the broken window pane is the most valuable argument in modern politics”, Patel would not be an MP. Only men with a certain amount of property would be permitted to vote. There would be no access to justice, no rights for workers, no defence against hunger and destitution, no weekends.

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr, subjected to smears very similar to those now directed against XR and other environmental groups, noted: “The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”

Good citizens cannot meekly accept the death of the living planet. If seeking to defend life on Earth defines us as extremists, we have no choice but to own the label. We are extremists for the extension of justice and the perpetuation of life. SOURCE

 

The left must stand against capitalism. Now.

Andray Domise: People who hold left-leaning ideals have to quit kidding themselves by believing that capitalism exists as a benevolent or even neutral social arrangement

Time for the left to quit capitalism

Norms are so warped that being forced to live in an RV is an accepted consequence of rising city rents (Photograph by Jen Osborne)

Late last year, I got an unusual request. A person identifying themselves as an environmental activist sent me a direct message asking if I would recommend a few books, as the organization they worked with was having trouble connecting its protest movement with the working class, especially people of colour. They were specifically looking for books related to decolonization, and after a few recommendations, I suggested they consider reading through the Communist Manifesto to see if any passages regarding exploitation leaped out.

They thanked me for the suggestion, but as for that brief volume by Marx and Engels, the response was this: “I don’t want to scare them off.”

If a group of activists can be “scared off” by a nearly 200-year-old critique of capitalism, while the externalities of capitalism itself pollute oceans with plastic, fill the air with smog and accelerate climate change via carbon emissions, something is terribly wrong.

READ: Naomi Klein on ‘disaster capitalism’ in Puerto Rico

There’s no way around a simple reality for people who consider themselves to be on the left side of the political spectrum, the people who strive for widespread and radical, if not revolutionary, change—we’re getting our tails kicked. There’s no putting an end to that if people who hold left-leaning ideals cannot quit kidding themselves by believing that capitalism exists as a benevolent or even neutral social arrangement. If the left intends to win these fights, it must also stand in principled opposition to capitalism. 2020 is the year to do it.

“It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” goes an observation by, depending on your sources, either Fredric Jameson or Slavoj Žižek. And the frightening thing is, not only does the world’s end become easier to imagine with each passing day, there is also a politically active bloc that intends to keep squeezing profits until the music stops.

Only a few months ago, Joe Oliver, once Canada’s minister of natural resources before assuming the federal finance portfolio, penned a column in the Financial Post extolling the possible benefits of climate change to Canadians. “Assuming a one-degree Celsius temperature rise,” Oliver wrote, “[bond rating agency] Moody’s calculates that our economy would be unaffected in 2048. A rise of 2.4 degrees would increase GDP by 0.1 per cent and four degrees would boost it by 0.3 per cent.” The benefit to farming, Oliver went on to say, is that the resultant permafrost retreat would—not could, but would—massively expand Canada’s arable land, and open up farming opportunities.

READ: The Left is constantly trying to out-woke itself. That’s a problem.

Not one word about the resultant cost to human life in countries hardest hit by climate change, nothing in the column about the massive outpouring of climate refugees in Oliver’s scenario. Just the profit motive.

Environmental policy is not the only one where norms have become warped to the point of immorality. In Toronto, where nearly half of renters are paying costs categorized by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation as “unaffordable,” it can take between two and 14 years to be placed into social housing. The situation is equally dire in Vancouver, where rising rents force tenants into recreational vehicles, and then the eventual possibility of being kicked out of RV camps en masse.

How does the federal government address any of this? By offering financial assistance and incentives to bolster people with tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars stashed away to buy a home. Which of course helps the real estate industry, helps mortgage lenders, and does nothing for people pressed ever further into the reaches of poverty. Condo towers sprout up all along Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway and tent cities underneath it are bulldozed, while the earth continues to pirouette carelessly on its axis.

What has capitalism given us in return? An economic environment in which multinational enterprises, according to Statistics Canada, compose 0.8 per cent of Canadian companies yet own 67 per cent of all assets. And income inequality, according to the Institute for Research on Public Policy, has been increasing for the past 40 years. With near-limitless amounts of private capital aligned against the interests of working-class people, nothing short of an organized, large-scale resistance will put the brakes on these trends.

Our political, business and media class would like nothing more than to pretend that these are natural outcomes, that none of it is avoidable, and that the world is and always has been shaped according to the capricious whims of that unknowable free market.

But the truth of the matter is this: 58 per cent of Canadians have a favourable view of socialism, and 77 per cent of us believe the world is facing a climate emergency. Most Canadians find income inequality to be fundamentally un-Canadian, and there are, numerically, more of us than there are bankers, landlords, brokers and executives put together. The only way for the left to win this fight is for its political vision to expand beyond capitalism, and to capture the widespread desire to move on from its exploitative limits.

We’ve lived in that world for long enough. Time for it to end. SOURCE

 

Lowe’s layoffs expose the rot at the heart of our economic system

We don’t need an economic system that rewards only the very few at the top at everyone else’s expense.

Image result for lowes store closures

Lowe’s, one of Canada’s largest hardware retailers, announced this week it was closing 34 of its stores across the country.

You might expect that store closures signalled trouble with the company. Far from it. Last year Lowe’s brought in $3.4 billion USD in profit, and its share price has spiked over the past couple days.

Lowe’s is a healthy, growing, profitable business. So why are hundreds — could be thousands — of workers about to lose their job?

The answer is simple: our economic system pushes corporations to do whatever it takes to eke out an extra dollar of profit in the short-term. If a CEO of a company can scrape up a few extra bucks for the people who own the company, they do it. Even when it means firing thousands of people, shutting down stores, and undermining the long-term economic health of the business.

This is not how most people understand business to operate. Sell something, make a profit, hire workers, grow — that’s the standard story of a successful business. In this telling, everyone appears to win. But this isn’t how the corporate world actually functions anymore.

What actually happens in our economy often starts with something called private equity. A private equity firm is a business with a big pool of money. They take a chunk of that money and borrow cheap credit against it to do a “leveraged buyout” of another business. Usually they target a large company that is profitable but growing slowly.

Once they own the company, the private equity firm installs a friendly management team who will do what they say. Then they saddle the newly-acquired business with much of the debt they took on to buy it in the first place.

The new managers then go about “cutting costs” — what this means in reality is firing people, closing stores, and delivering a lousier product.
In the short term, this all works great: profits go up. But in the long term, customers get sick of bad customer service and products. They take their business elsewhere. Meanwhile, the business can’t invest in growth or expansion because of their new debt load and it enters into a death spiral. Its losing customers and can’t invest to bring them back.

This process of decay can take years. By now, the private equity firm that ran the business into the ground has likely resold the company at a healthy profit. In a worst case scenario they have taken fees and profits every step of the way and still come out ahead.

If this story sounds familiar, it might be because this is exactly what happened to Sears. Throughout the 90s, Sears was a profitable retail business, though it struggled to compete with emerging competitors. An American hedge fund owned by Eddie Lampert purchased it in 2005, and immediately set about “cutting costs”.

Lampert’s cuts boosted profits in the short-run, but customers began leaving Sears because of bad customer service and dilapidated stores. At the same time, Lampert’s fund loaded Sears up with $2.6 billion in debt and took back $400 million of interest and fees.

The end result of this strategy? Sears lost nearly $6 billion in its last 5 years. Lampert closed 1,000 stores and fired 175,000 people. Then Sears filed for bankruptcy, and welched on its pension obligations. It left thousands of retirees with nothing.

Lampert and his hedge fund made out fine, of course, with any losses from the bankruptcy more than offset by the interest and fees they took from their “loans” to Sears.

The Lowe’s story is somewhat different, but contains important similarities. Across our economy, corporate owners are sacrificing the long term health of the business and the economy to create short term profits for themselves.
“Get rich quick, and screw everyone else” is the mantra of capitalism in 2019. Nobody benefits from this except for the tiny number of people who own the vast majority of corporate shares.

But there is no law of physics that says profitable businesses need to lay off workers and close stores to become a little bit more profitable. There is no commandment written in stone that says the principles of vulture capitalism are the only ones on which an economy can be organized.

The closure of 32 Lowe’s stores is not a natural disaster, impossible to predict or prevent. It’s a perfectly natural consequence of how we have organized our economy. If we want these things to stop happening — if we want our economy to be guided by principles other than “make the rich even richer” — then we need to change the rules of the game.

We have forgotten that the economy is not imposed upon us by some higher power, infallible and unchangeable. We make the rules, and we decide how it works and who it benefits. Right now, we have setup our economy to distribute most of the money to a very small number of people at the top. We could decide otherwise. SOURCE

 

Saving Earth From Disaster: Scientists Have Come With A Crucial Plan

Disastrous climate change, the burning of Amazon forest, the land clearing, air pollution, food resources getting low, and others – all are driving to a very gloomy scenario for our planet. And the saddest part is that most if not all of these aspects exist due to human intervention and selfishness.

Scientific studies themselves are warning humanity that we need to take better care of our planet. No wonder Elon Musk and scientists are thinking seriously about the possibility of colonizing Mars.

We need to change our economic systems

A background document for the United Nations’ (UN) draft Global Sustainable Development Report 2019 claims that we need drastic changes to our economic systems.

“The economic models which inform political decision-making in rich countries almost completely disregard the energetic and material dimensions of the economy,” the researchers wrote.

“Economies have used up the capacity of planetary ecosystems to handle the waste generated by energy and material use.”

This background document for the chapter of the report called Transformation: The Economy has been written by some guys who know what they’re talking about. Among them are scientists from environmental fields, such as Jussi Eronen from the University of Helsinki, who is specialized in ecosystem problems. There are also economic, business, and philosophy researchers, like the economist Paavo Järvensivu from Finland’s independent BIOS research unit.

The document warns humanity that the current economic systems are causing critically widening gaps between the rich and the poor, which leads to unemployment and debts.

Support nature, not wealth

Journalist Naomi Klein is the author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs the Climate, and she stated “we humans are capable of organising ourselves into all kinds of different social orders, including societies with much longer time horizons and far more respect for natural life-support systems.”

“Indeed,” she continues, “humans have lived that way for the vast majority of our history and many Indigenous cultures keep Earth-centred cosmologies alive to this day. Capitalism is a tiny blip in the collective story of our species.”

The goal seems to be learning from previous times when records of longevity have been proven to emerge. This doesn’t imply to abolish technological advancements, although some of them are making us dangerously comfortable.

The ball is on our side of the terrain: we can choose either to seek wealthness and not care about the environment or the future of our offspring, or we can make drastic changes to our lifestyle without thinking about wealth. After all, maybe it’s true what they say that money can’t buy happiness. SOURCE

Protests against climate change increase, but blame put on wrong miscreants

Global Climate Strike in London, March 2019. Image: Garry Knight/Flickr
Image: Garry Knight/Flickr

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old environmental activist, made headlines at the recent United Nations climate summit. In a fiery speech, she berated the world’s governments for their persistent failure to curb climate change.

“How dare you steal my dreams and my childhood with your empty words?” she demanded.

Thunberg is one of the more prominent young activists who have taken to the streets to protest this political dereliction. While this latest feeble UN climate summit was being held, thousands of schoolchildren were staging protests in front of legislatures around the world. They waved placards demanding that governments finally get serious about averting an environmental catastrophe.

As I watched the demonstrations on my TV screen, I applauded these young people, but couldn’t suppress a doleful sigh and shake of my head. They are among the billions who suffer from a huge blind spot in their perception of the planet’s mounting malaise.

They are directing their wrath against the wrong perpetrators of climate change. It’s not the world’s governments; it’s the world’s big multinational corporations, to whom governments have become meekly subservient.

The planet is being polluted by air-borne and water-borne industrial waste — the detritus of the prevalent capitalist economic system. Its core operating function is based on the irrational assumption that infinite economic growth can be maintained indefinitely on a planet with finite natural resources.

Perpetuating a colossal myth

It’s a colossal myth that is being perpetuated because, without it — without unchecked global warming, depletion of natural resources, deforestation, wildlife extinction, air and water pollution — capitalism could not long survive. It’s eventually doomed, anyway, of course, if it’s permitted to keep demolishing the planet and most of its inhabitants. That permissiveness, however, can only be withdrawn by the world’s governments, which still show no sign of becoming the world’s saviours.

Political leaders, far from restraining corrosive corporate greed, lavish its CEOs and major investors with massive tax cuts and billion-dollar subsidies. Our governments’ blatant pretence to be sincerely concerned about Earth’s declining viability shouldn’t fool any intelligent person. MORE

As Society Unravels, the Future Is Up for Grabs

As civilization faces an existential crisis, our leaders demonstrate their inability to respond. Theory of change shows that now is the time for radically new ideas to transform society before it’s too late.

Image result for resilience: As Society Unravels, the Future Is Up for Grabs

Of all the terrifying news bombarding us from the burning of the Amazon, perhaps the most disturbing was the offer of $22 million made by France’s President Emmanuel Macron and other G7 leaders to help Brazil put the fires out. Why is that? The answer can help to hone in on the true structural changes needed to avert civilizational collapse.

Scientists have publicly warned that, at the current rate of deforestation, the Amazon is getting dangerously close to a die-back scenario, after which it will be gone forever, turned into sparse savanna. Quite apart from the fact that this would be the greatest human-made ecological catastrophe in history, it would also further accelerate a climate cataclysm, as one of the world’s great carbon sinks would convert overnight to a major carbon emitter, with reinforcing feedback effects causing even more extreme global heating, ultimately threatening the continued existence of our current civilization.

Macron and the other leaders meeting in late August in Biarritz were well aware of these facts. And yet, in the face of this impending disaster, these supposed leaders of the free world, representing over half the economic wealth of all humanity, offered a paltry $22 million—less than Americans spend on popcorn in a single day. By way of context, global fossil fuel subsidies (much of it from G7 members) total roughly $5.2 trillion annually—over two hundred thousand times the amount offered to help Brazil fight the Amazon fires.

Brazil’s brutal president Bolsonaro is emerging as one of the worst perpetrators of ecocide in the modern world, but it’s difficult to criticize his immediate rejection of an amount that is, at best a pittance, at worst an insult. True to form, Donald Trump didn’t bother to turn up for the discussion on the Amazon fires, but it hardly made a difference. The ultimate message from the rest of the G7 nations was they were utterly unable, or unwilling, to lift a finger to help prevent the looming existential crisis facing our civilization.

Why Aren’t They Doing Anything?

This should not be news to anyone following the unfolding twin disasters of climate breakdown and ecological collapse. It’s easy enough to be horrified at Bolsonaro’s brazenness, encouraging lawless ranchers to burn down the Amazon rainforest to clear land for soybean plantations and cattle grazing, but the subtler, and far more powerful, forces driving us to the precipice come from the Global North. It’s the global appetite for beef consumption that lures Brazil’s farmers to devastate one of the world’s most precious treasure troves of biodiversity. It’s the global demand for fossil fuels that rewards oil companies for the wanton destruction of pristine forest.

There is no clearer evidence of the Global North’s hypocrisy in this regard than the sad story of Ecuador’s Yasuní initiative. In 2007, Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa proposed an indefinite ban on oil exploration in the pristine Yasuní National Park—representing 20% of the nation’s oil deposits—as long as the developed world would contribute half the cost that Ecuador faced by foregoing oil revenues. Initially, wealthier countries announced their support for this visionary plan, and a UN-administered fund was established. However, after six years of strenuous effort, Ecuador had received just 0.37% of the fund’s target. With sorrow, the government announced it would allow oil drilling to begin.

The Yasuni National Park is now open to oil exploration, following the Global North’s inaction. (Audubon/Neil Ever Osborne)

The simple lesson is that our global leaders currently have no intention to make even the feeblest steps toward changing the underlying drivers of our society’s self-destruction. They are merely marching in lockstep to the true forces propelling our global civilization: the transnational corporations that control virtually every aspect of economic activity. These, in turn, are driven by the requirement to relentlessly increase shareholder value at all cost, which they do by turning the living Earth into a resource for reckless exploitation, and conditioning people everywhere to become zombie consumers.

This global system of unregulated neoliberal capitalism was unleashed in full fury by the free market credo of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, and has since become the underlying substrate of our politics, culture, and economics. The system’s true cruelty, destructiveness, and suicidal negligence are now showing themselves in the unraveling of our world order, as manifested in the most extreme inequality in history, the polarized intolerance of political discourse, the rise in desperate climate refugees, and a natural world that is burning upmelting down, and has already lost most of its nonhuman inhabitants.

How Change Happens

Studies of past civilizations show that all the major criteria that predictably lead to civilizational collapse are currently confronting us: climate change, environmental degradation, rising inequality, and escalation in societal complexity. As societies begin to unravel, they have to keep running faster and faster to remain in the same place, until finally an unexpected shock arrives and the whole edifice disintegrates.

It’s a terrifying scenario, but understanding its dynamics enables us to have greater impact on what actually happens than we may realize.  MORE

This Is Not the Sixth Extinction. It’s the First Extermination Event.

What we are witnessing is not a passive geological event but extermination by capitalism.
What we are witnessing is not a passive geological event but extermination by capitalism. NASA’S SCIENTIFIC VISUALIZATION STUDIO

From the “insect apocalypse” to the “biological annihilation” of 60 percent of all wild animals in the past 50 years, life is careening across every planetary boundary that might stop it from experiencing a “Great Dying” once more.

But the atrocity unfolding in the Amazon, and across the Earth, has no geological analogue — to call it the “sixth extinction event” is to make what is an active, organized eradication sound like some kind of passive accident. This is no asteroid or volcanic eruption or slow accumulation of oxygen in the atmosphere due to cyanobacteria photosynthesis.

We are in the midst of the First Extermination Event, the process by which capital has pushed the Earth to the brink of the Necrocene, the age of the new necrotic death.

For some 500 years, capitalism’s logic of eco-genocidal accumulation has presided over both the physical eradication of human and non-human life and the cultural eradication of the languages, traditions and collective knowledge that constitute life’s diversity. It necrotizes the planetary biosphere, leaving behind only decay. It burns the practically unrecoverable library of life and eradicates its future masterpieces simultaneously. It inflicts not just physical destruction, but psychological grief and trauma as people witness their lands go under the sea, get immolated by fire, and drown in mud. The First Extermination Event has now produced such a nightmarish world that even temperature maps scream in agony.

The specter of the First Extermination might haunt us all but it does so with stark disparities, mapping the geography of capital’s historical inequities.

Small island states formulate plans to relocate their populations already existentially threatened by rising sea levels. Extreme weather events like Hurricanes Katrina and Maria disproportionately affect low-income and communities of color, producing far higher causality rates comparative to other disasters of their magnitude and whose effects are often doubly disastrous, as nearly half of these communities live in proximity to toxic “sacrifice zones.” Droughts and famines, such as in Syria and Yemen, exacerbate conflicts and force mass migrations of people — the vast majority women and children — while eco-fascists mobilize the affective politics of grievance to turn capitalism’s “climate emergency” to their own advantage, sloganeering about “trees before refugees” while calling for mass murder.

Yet, most popular discussion of the sixth extinction still indulges in sweeping catastrophist pronouncements about “humanity” writ large, often failing even to mention the word “capitalism,” much less account for its centrality to the historical production of mass extinction.

Environmental historian Jason W. Moore’s work has shown that capitalism is not merely an economic system, but a world-ecology searching to exploit “cheap natures,” a process that must perpetually reassemble life to penetrate more and more frontiers of potential profit. Capital must reproduce its means of production through its perpetual destruction.

The fundamental importance of the search for cheap nature and unpaid labor to historical capitalist development has been well explored by scholars. It was not the industrial revolution and its production of the “doubly free” wage laborer, but racialized enslavementmass witch-hunts, and destruction of Indigenous peoples and ecologies that produced the conditions for capital to thrive.

Through to the present, accumulation of capital has proceeded by the violent dispossession or outright murder of peoples, followed by the necrotic extraction of resources that destroys its local ecology for the sake of accumulation. The cumulative results of this process, replicated across the globe, have come to affect deep-time transformations to life at the planetary scale through its very erasure. MORE

 

Radical new economic system will emerge from collapse of capitalism

Political adviser and author Jeremy Rifkin believes that the creation of a super internet heralds new economic system that could solve society’s sustainability challenges


 Current economic system is headed for collapse says Jeremy Rifkin. Photograph: Linda Nylind

At the very moment of its ultimate triumph, capitalism will experience the most exquisite of deaths.

This is the belief of political adviser and author Jeremy Rifkin, who argues the current economic system has become so successful at lowering the costs of production that it has created the very conditions for the destruction of the traditional vertically integrated corporation.

Rifkin, who has advised the European Commission, the European Parliament and heads of state, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, says:

No one in their wildest imagination, including economists and business people, ever imagined the possibility of a technology revolution so extreme in its productivity that it could actually reduce marginal costs to near zero, making products nearly free, abundant and absolutely no longer subject to market forces.

With many manufacturing companies surviving only on razor thin margins, they will buckle under competition from small operators with virtually no fixed costs.

“We are seeing the final triumph of capitalism followed by its exit off the world stage and the entrance of the collaborative commons,” Rifkin predicts.

The creation of the collaborative commons

From the ashes of the current economic system, he believes, will emerge a radical new model powered by the extraordinary pace of innovation in energy, communication and transport.

“This is the first new economic system since the advent of capitalism and socialism in the early 19th century so it’s a remarkable historical event and it’s going to transform our way of life fundamentally over the coming years,” Rifkin says. “It already is; we just haven’t framed it.”

Some sectors, such as music and media, have already been disrupted as a result of the internet’s ability to let individuals and small groups compete with the major established players. Meanwhile, the mainstreaming of 3D printing and tech advances in logistics – such as the installation of billions of intelligent sensors across supply chains – means this phenomenon is now spreading from the virtual to the physical world, Rifkin says.

Climate change

The creation of a new economic system, Rifkin argues, will help alleviate key sustainability challenges, such as climate change and resource scarcity, and take pressure off the natural world. That’s because it will need only a minimum amount of energy, materials, labour and capital.

He says few people are aware of the scale of danger the human race is facing, particularly the growing levels of precipitation in the atmosphere, which is leading to extreme weather.

“Ecosystems can’t catch up with the shift in the planet’s water cycle and we’re in the sixth extinction pattern,” he warns. “We could lose 70% of our species by the end of this century and may be imperilling our ability to survive on this planet.”

Convergence of communication, energy and transport

Every economy in history has relied for its success on the three pillars of communication, energy, and transportation, but what Rifkin says makes this age unique is that we are seeing them converge to create a super internet.

While the radical changes in communication are already well known, he claims a revolution in transport is just around the corner. “You’ll have near zero marginal cost electricity with the probability of printed out cars within 10 or 15 years,” he says. “Add to this GPS guidance and driverless vehicles and you will see the marginal costs of transport on this automated logistics internet falling pretty sharply.”

Rifkin is particularly interested in the upheaval currently rippling through the energy sector and points to the millions of small and medium sized enterprises, homeowners and neighbourhoods already producing their own green electricity.

The momentum will only gather pace as the price of renewable technology plummets. MORE

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