Friday 30 May 2014

Ecosocialism: Fracking, Climate and Revolution

I was asked to do a workshop on Marx's Ecology at the Ecosocialism Conference
This is the gist of what I wanted to say:

Marx's Ecology
We've had report after report, haven’t we, from the IPCC, from the UN, from leading scientists, about the fact that human activity is causing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to rise year on year and that this is causing the average temperature of the planet to rise and that this, in turn, is causing the climate to change. And we have witnessed many unprecedented weather events over recent months and years - those floods, storms and droughts seen on our TV screens. The scientists had predicted that more extreme weather will be the result of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And it seems they were right. Many scientists have now linked the recent unusual weather to the burning of fossil fuels.
For more than a decade we had leading members of governments, making a lot of noise about the danger of climate change.  Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair said , in 2002. 'Climate change is the greatest challenge facing humanity'. In 2006, David Cameron then the Conservative opposition leader was photographed posing with huskies in the Arctic to highlight climate change. In the lead up to the 2009 Copenhagen governmental conference on Climate Change, Gordon Brown the then Prime Minister stated  'Copenhagen is our last chance to get international agreement on climate change to reduce emissions'.
We have to hope Brown wasn't right about the timing because they didn't get it.

But what is happening 12 years 8 years, and 5 years after those prime ministerial statements?
Carbon dioxide emissions are going up at an ever increasing pace.
Far from saying that we must cut back (eliminate) CO2 emissions by cutting fossil fuel burning, companies around the globe are scouring the earth for oil miles under the surface of the oceans, in the pristine wilderness of the arctic, out of the dirty tar sands of Canada and are prospecting for fossil gas under the earth everywhere - even fracking mother earth in leafy stockbroker belt Surrey. And the Prime Minister, ministers and departments are fully behind the fracking of Britain.
In this years Queen's speech, Prime Minister Cameron announced that the law would be changed to make it possible to allow fracking companies to drill for oil and gas wherever they want and the pledge, given previously to ensure all post 2016 building must comply with zero carbon rules, was abandoned. Both of those measures will result in more CO2 emissions and consequently, more  global warming.  The British Government are fully behind the burning of more and more fossil fuel, despite the warnings.

If we can force a change in these kinds of policies, there is time to set a course towards a safer planet, but time is running out rapidly.
One reason time is running out is because of the danger of reaching the tipping points identified by many scientists - the albedo affect in the Arctic; the possible release of trapped methane in Permafrost regions as the temperature rises; the reducing carbon dioxide buffer of the sea; loss of biodiversity and its effect on the ecosystem.
If we burn all the oil, all glaciers will melt and the planet will enter the ice free state with sea levels hundreds of feet higher than they are at at present. Future generations will be confronted with a situation that is out of their control. It will not be us that is affected.  It will be our children's children and our children's children's children that will be confronted with an unsurmountable problem.
But, almost unbelievably, the oil companies do plan to burn all of their known reserves and any more that they discover.

Climate change is not the only ecological problem. It is just, perhaps, the greatest life destroyer that capitalism has unleashed upon humanity. Other massive problems - diffusion of toxins into the environment, destruction of the soil by agribusiness, deforestation to list just some also must be dealt with.
So why are governments and companies acting recklessly, and what can we do about it?

Capitalism has always treated the environment as a dustbin and as a source of free resources. 
Karl Marx, a long time ago identified capitalism as an unsustainable system.
This comes about partly from the necessity of capital to continually expand, to break all barriers to the self expansion of capital. Nothing must stand in the way of the drive for profit. That’s why the government has introduced the new infrastructure bill in favour of fracking and of changing laws to allow it despite the absurdity and the destructiveness of fracking. That it destroys the environment is of no matter.
And partly it comes about from the way capitalists have been able to treat on the one hand, unpaid labour, and on the other, nature, the environment, as a free gifts (both being important sources of its profits). So alongside labour, Capital has always treated the environment as if it is free for it to do what it wants with it, whether as a dump or as the scene of the crime for its robbery of nature. Fracking, and all the other combined efforts of the carbon capitalists are an extension of this agenda.  
One of the first historic acts of capital was to drive peasants and farm labourers off the land. The enclosures of the commons. 'The expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, is the basis of the whole process'  [Capital Vol 1, pp 503,4] This created a rift ,or rupture, in what Marx called, the human-earth metabolism. 'Capitalist production, by collecting the population in great centres, and causing an ever-increasing preponderance of town population,... disturbs the circulation of matter between man and the soil, i.e., prevents the return to the soil of its elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; it therefore violates the conditions necessary to the lasting fertility of the soil' [Capital Vol 1 pp 352/3 ]
This act destroys the health of the town worker and the intellectual life of the rural worker - it depletes the land, and pollutes the city.
This pillage continues to this day in underdeveloped parts of the world.

And to this day, essential minerals and micro-nutrients are pissed down the tubes, while the land has to be artificially fortified with industrially produced fertilisers. Modern agricultural techniques (pesticides, insecticides, GM crops) damage the soil further.

Its clear from its works that capitalism is incapable of solving the climate problem. There have been many lost lives, lost livelihoods and communities displaced already as a result of climate disruption. It is incapable of solving this ecological problem because it, capitalism, is the source, the very heart of the problem.

Why can't capitalism solve climate change?
In short, the capitalists think they have too much to lose by converting to clean energy like wind or solar power. The energy companies that make profits from oil, coal and gas are central to capitalism. According to the Fortune 500 report, of the ten most profitable companies worldwide in 2007, six were fossil fuel companies, one was an auto manufacturer, and two were banks. The odd one out was Apple at number 7. At the top was Russia's Gazprom ($44.5B profits), followed closely by the US company Exxon-Mobil ($41B); then comes a bank, The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China ($32B). These concerns are linked by a web of mutual interests. Banks make loans to oil companies for infrastructure like oil refineries, drilling technology etc. Car companies rely on oil and refinery companies to produce the fuel on which their products run. And the oil companies benefit from the constant demand for oil products from the automobile industry.
A wholesale switch to renewable energy would mean a massive amount of stranded investment (equivalent to lost profits) for these fossil and fossil related organisations. And so, renewable energy is seen as a threat to these profit hungry  businesses. This is why they attempt to block or stall the growth of the industry and technologies that can save the planet. To do this they enlist the help of governments. In this country we heard in April this year (2014) the Tory/Condem (and Labour is not different in this) Minister in charge of the department of energy and climate change (DECC) saying 'we will be finishing all subsidies to onshore windpower and no more will be installed because we now have enough onshore windpower', and the compliant BBC Radio 4 Today presenter asking whether we should now be ripping up the existing wind turbines!

We must demand a complete change! and we should, unapologetically, use the phrase that the apologists for capitalism use a lot. It’s the right thing to do!
We need a systematic restoration of the human-earth metabolism. We need an ecological revolution. But this cannot happen without ridding ourselves of the cause of the problem - the capitalist system. We need a social revolution. We need this, not only because of the horror and humiliation inflicted on billions of people worldwide as a result of the way capitalism treats them as an expendable free resource for profiteering, but because only through a revolution can we restore the relationship humans must have with the planet.
But isn't capitalism needed to provide all the stuff that we need in order to live? How can we produce, for example, the energy we need without burning more fossil fuel? Are we not caught in an oily trap we cannot get out of?
No. We can provide all the energy needed from renewable resources.
In all places where people have settled there is many more times than enough ambient energy than is needed. Energy from the sun. And there is also harvestable energy in the tides and in geothermal rocks.

Taking the UK as an example.

If mention of numbers and arithmetic makes your eyes glaze over, relax and don’t worry, you don't need to follow these figures too closely; I just want to demonstrate the power in the wind, and the scale of the task.

The power you can get from a wind turbine depends on a number of factors. Not surprisingly, the windier it is, the more power you can get; and the larger the wind turbine, the more power you can get. The power varies according to the square of the blade length.
Doubling the blade length quadruples the power. The power output is also proportional the cube of the windspeed. If a wind turbine produces 8 units of power at a wind speed of 2 m/sec, at 3 m/sec it will produce 27 units of power and at 4 m/sec, it can produce 64 units of power and so on.
So makes sense, if power is wanted, to install lots of very big wind turbines out at sea where the windspeeds are typically high and are stable.
Could windpower produce all we need?
Take a typical windspeed out in the North Sea of 9 metres per second say.
A 10 MW wind turbine (with a rotor blade length of about 67 metres) at the same location in the North Sea would produce, at that wind speed, about 7MW.
How many of these would we need installed to supply all of the UKs energy and power?
That’s quite an easy calculation to do.

In 2007, the total UK energy consumption was 1856TWh (DUKES 2008).
This includes all forms of energy - solid and liquid fuels like coal and oil and also electricity.
Very roughly, if this energy was consumed at a constant rate (its not, but this is just an illustration) then the continuous power demand would be 211GW (the equivalent of 211 nuclear power stations on at full power) We don’t want nuclear because its dirty, expensive, dangerous has a limited stockpile of fuel and it is very unreliable (most of them are down for maintenance at any one time according to ENDS). So lets replace them with windpower.
Calculations show that, making reasonable assumptions about power losses in the grid cables and equipment, around 23,000 wind turbines will deliver 211GW from a wind speed of 8.7 metres per second.
This number of wind turbines at optimal spacing will take up an area of about 10,000 square kilometres (about half the size of Wales!). This windfarm would be out at sea!
Of course, if the wind speed were to drop to zero, then precisely zero energy would be produced. Zilch, nada, nothing.
 It will be necessary to spread the turbines over a wide area to minimise the chances of them all being becalmed at the same time. And, I believe, it is important (essential) to have a good energy storage system in place if we want to power everything with renewables (which we do!). 
When the wind drops, when the windfarms are becalmed - All the lights will go out!
With a very large internationally interconnected geographically dispersed electricity grid, this problem will disappear, but initially, there will be a requirement for substantial energy storage facilities. 

Energy storage removes the problem of intermittency.
Some modelling I did indicates that, with enough electrical storage, about 45,000 10 MW turbines (taking up a sea-area approximately the size of Wales!) could have satisfied the total UK energy demand in 2007.
We will need the existing energy storage - such as the pumped hydro power station at Dinorwig in Wales and those at other locations around the globe. And more of this type of facility must be built. This is expensive technology however, and, crucially, takes a long time to build so, in the transition period an alternative could be provided by a transport system that becomes increasingly electrified as the renewable generators come on line. 
All electric transport, be it trains, trams, trolley buses, buses, vans, lorries etc must, at least in an interim transitional period, be equipped with electrical storage. This storage will support renewable generators as well as holding the power to run the vehicles.

Transitional Demands.
What are our demands?
We demand that all the oil gas and coal is left in the ground. We demand that all governments and states plan a route to a fossil free energy system. For that we have to use the fossil fuel we have. We have to phase out fossil fuel and phase in renewable generators like wind, wave, solar and tidal. Insulate all buildings so that they require less input energy to keep them warm or cool.
We demand no new coal, no fracking and no new nuclear (nuclear will suck away investment from safe renewables,and it's dangerous etc etc).
We demand that states/governments invest in renewable technology and in all the new training that it requires. So the UK we demand the Government builds and installs, together with the necessary grid strengthening and ancillary equipment eighteen hundred 10MW wind turbines each and every year for the next 20 years. (Six a day) (This is the scale of what is required). Intermittent renewables require energy storage. That must be built in tandem. (this can be done by equipping all electric transport with battery storage - and there are other storage infrastructure projects that can be developed). 
We demand an annually reducing cap on the number of internal combustion engined vehicles that are registered on the road. The reducing fossil transport fleet must be replaced by electric trains, trams, buses, trolleybuses and electric vehicles.
The Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group pamphlet - One MillionClimate Jobs Now argues sets out to some extent, the detail (excluding the storage argument) of what needs to be done in the UK

Big Oil
The big oil companies, coal, gas and nuclear are the problem
But those workers who currently work for big oil, coal, gas and nuclear and for the ICE auto industry are part of the solution. The expertise amongst the car, oil, coal, gas and nuclear workers, their skill set, fits pretty much exactly what is needed in a new renewable energy industry. Where their skills are redundant, they must be retrained.
Jobs and (Energy price)
There will be many millions of new jobs in our new renewable generation era.
Renewable energy will be (unlike claims made for that by nuclear apologists in the fifties) too cheap to meter. It will be cheap, and eventually, virtually free.
At first, building a renewables industry will require millions of jobs (good!). The capitalists 'industrial reserve army' that they like in place because it keeps wages down, will be taken out of their state of humiliation will learn essential skills, and will have good useful jobs. Once the renewable generators have been installed though, they require only a small amount of maintenance. At this point workers will be able retrain to work in other essential areas (and I would like to think, will get more leisure time!) 'From each according to their needs, from each according to their ability' [ Marx, Engels, Selected Works,  p 321] Critique of the Gotha program,  (NB We must critique the Obama/Cameron/Putin program)  
The price of energy will come down once the initial investment has been made. This is because the sun (and the earth in the case of tidal) sends no bills. Once the wind turbines, solar panels, wave machines or tidal stream generators are up and running, the cost of the electricity they produce will plummet (because there will be more than enough for everyone and, under the current system, because of the law of supply and demand) and this is why, of course, that the oil companies do not want wind. The price of oil, gas coal and nuclear energy will come down and profits will tumble. It will make the old energy  technology and fuel sources totally redundant. Capitalists do know this and wrote about it in a CBI report called 'Decision Time' about 5 years ago. They worried about 'negative marginal costs' of wind. They worried about the cost of wind electricity falling to zero and below!
In Germany in April this year, the validity of this worry for them was confirmed when the price of electricity fell to zero momentarily when there was an exceptionally windy and sunny day, and demand for electricity had dipped.
The 'green' levies we are paying for in our electricity bills are actually 'fossil' levies as the oil coal and gas companies attempt to resist what they see as interference in their profiteering and they attempt protect their massive investments in dirty coal, oil, tar and fracking gas. Internationally the corporations and governments are planning in a totally undemocratic way, to push through, to push down our throats, more business as usual fossil fuel burning via the fracking industry. They hope the EU-US trade deal (TTIP) currently being negotiated by the US and EU will allow them to do what they like.

What can we do?
Spread the word by any and all means necessary.
Join groups. Join your local residents association; Join your Trade Union; get them to affiliate to CCC. Agitate in your workplace for action on climate change. Solidarity and Unity in action is where our strength lies. Build links everywhere. Hold demonstrations, vigils, marches. Above all, use the power of our side in the workplace - strikes occupations, picket lines.
Link the struggles. Against austerity, the struggle against low pay and precarious work, the struggle against a debt ridden society, the humiliation of pay day loans - link those struggles with all the other resistance - the resistance to fracking, public service cuts; the list is goes on and on. That we have all these fights, we can turn to our advantage - if we successfully link them. Capitalism is the root cause of all these problems. A successful fight against this system of profit for the few, will be the solution. 
There are many groups concerned about the fracking of mother earth, Groups like Grandmothers against fracking, Frack Off, Youth for climate justice, CCC etc. Get involved, Act.
Oppose big oil ideologically and physically whenever and wherever we can.
Our job could not be more important. We have a closing window of opportunity to change the course of human history. Capitalism is a sinking ship. What interests it is profit only, not what humanity needs. The never ending drive to make more and more profit from the free 'gift' of nature; and the free gift of unpaid labour has taken us to this perilous predicament. The earth has been and continues to be treated like a dustbin and workers have been and continue to be treated as dirt, as a necessary inconvenience. Its interesting to note that, if capital could replace all workers with robots, the capitalists would do that. But they cannot do that; workers are needed by the capitalists so profits can be made from them - from our unpaid labour - at work and in the home and in the community. They need us! - and - and this is the key - we don't need them!
We can build a totally clean and safe planet if our demands are carried out.

7)  Agency for change - us!
A world uprising is required. We will be part of that. We don't know exactly how this can happen; what things might cause the spark. And it's not entirely clear where the epicentre of resistance is likely to be. Therefore we must build wherever we are. We must build here.
We still have time to act.
 TIME to ACT is a CCC  campaign helping to give a timely lead - first to the September 20th 2014 Peoples march for the climate centered in New York and mirrored everywhere - and secondly to the Paris COP 21 next year. We have the chance now to bring together campaigns - from where people are suffering the most - in the global south and in the resistance in the developed world -  against the global corporate fossil fuel profiteers and the whole web of capitalist interests from banks and arms companies with the governments that support these profiteers - against these parasites on what Marx called the human metabolism with nature.
The struggle against austerity and the struggle for a safe planet are part of the same struggle.
We must work together internationally to build a truly sustainable system.
Capitalism has to go, because sustainability under capitalism is an impossibility.

Marx talked of man's inorganic body - by that he meant the environment on which we all depend - the land, the air, the sea, the fresh water, the birds, flowers, plants, animals, bees, and fishes, etc; all life. And although not explicitly stated in Marx, this would also include sunlight and all the essential energy we receive through the atmosphere from the sun. Capitalism is destroying that inorganic body. It has already cut deep into its heart - the heart of us all. It will leave a scar (loss of bio-diversity, extinct species etc) forever. We must stop its incessant advance before the damage is completely irreversible.
Capitalism is doing precisely the opposite of what a rationally run society would do.
Marx wrote  'Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeathe it in an improved state to succeeding generations, as boni patres familias (good heads of household)' [Capital Vol 3, p911]  
 It will not be us that suffer the most damaging consequences of inaction, it will be our children and grandchildren in the generation to come who may find they live in a climate chaos they are unable to control. There is an open window, but the window is now closing. It is time to act.   

Karl Marx Capital (Vol 1), Wordsworth, Hertfordshire, 2013
Marx Capital Vol 3 Penguin, London 1981 
Marx Engels, Selected Works, Lawrence and Wishart Ltd, 1968 
Bellamy Foster, Marx's Ecology, Monthly Review Press, 2000         


Anne Saxon said...

A very readable and developed argument about climate change and what needs to be done. Please pass on to everyone you can. Thanks, I will post this on the internet, Facebook etc. anne

John said...

Thanks Anne.