Will capitalism survive climate change?

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George Victor
Will capitalism survive climate change?


George Victor

This April 3 item by Walden Bello seemed a natural for discussion, but I cannot find a peep, anywhere.

What forum might this be offered in with some hope of it not getting lost in the robust back and forth of party politics?

Robust is good, but looking at what we (Homo sapiens) have to tackle might best be accomplished with the economy in mind? At least, that seems to be the conversation stopper, whenever the pocketbook, the prospect for life in the golden years, etc., comes round.

Or am I imagining a silence of the lions in this area? And that anyway, guessing at - and debating - the meaning of head counts in opinion polls among the great unwashed has an important function. Simple, therapeutic release in this tightly-sphinctered world? Too-serious won't fly?

[img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]


Definitely environmental justice. Thanks!

George Victor

I was rather hoping, chief interlocutor, that you, or someone, was going to say that a reading of the April 3 article suggests that one should NOT separate politics, economics and environment.

I stil can't believe that such a seminal question goes undebated!

The historic approaches to questions of either politics or economics, dealt with them under the heading of political economy. That went out of fashion gradually - the U. of T. held out longest in maintaining a department of political economy, but finally capitulated to the econometric bean counters ("scientists").

Environment is the new ingredient, of course, although old F.Engels said in reply to a friend's letter (about Malthus) that when the western hemisphere and eastern European lands were all taken up - that would be the time to sound the alarm.

Could we not take a shot at dealing with the April 3 article question with all three perspectives in mind? Place our political parties against that question and rank them?

NOT reduce to a peurile back and forth in the frustration that must come from statistics and polls among the great unwashed?

Will capitalism survive and what do we do without it?

Would the wartime economy work? Is there any other answer?


Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

Do you have a link to that article?

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

Okay, read [url=http://www.rabble.ca/news_full_story.shtml?x=69628]it[/url].

I think there is a bigger question:


Very few people outside of climate scientists and climate activists even know about Hansen's polar ice melt hypothesis and what it means to each of our distant and more immediate futures. There is probably a scientific debate raging in labs and symposia about this new and compelling vision of climate change, but since publics globally remain, surrealistically, almost completely uninformed, how would we know?.

For example, Andrew Revkin, the NY Times expert and dean of American climate science reportage, mentioned the Hansen et el latest paper, "Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?" only through his Dotearth blog with no coverage in the Times newspaper at all. At Dotearth he quotes from the paper's summary:

Humanity today, collectively, must face the uncomfortable fact that industrial civilization itself has become the principal driver of global climate. If we stay our present course, using fossil fuels to feed a growing appetite for energy-intensive lifestyles, we will soon leave the climate of the Holocene, the world of human history. The eventual response to doubling preindustrial atmospheric CO2 likely would be a nearly ice-free planet.

Humanity's task of moderating human-caused global climate change is urgent. Ocean and ice sheet inertias provide a buffer delaying full response by centuries, but there is a danger that human-made forcings could drive the climate system beyond tipping points such that change proceeds out of our control. The time available to reduce the human-made forcing is uncertain, because models of the global system and critical components such as ice sheets are inadequate. However, climate response time is surely less than the atmospheric lifetime of the human-caused perturbation of CO2. Thus, remaining fossil fuel reserves should not be exploited without a plan for retrieval and disposal of resulting atmospheric CO2. Paleoclimate evidence and ongoing global changes imply that today's CO2, about 385 ppm, is already too high to maintain the climate to which humanity, wildlife and the rest of the biosphere are adapted.

But the vast majority of New York Times newspaper readers, Americans in general and people globally have never even heard of this emerging vision of climate change, let alone been informed and educated by critical commentary from those with relevant expertise.

Hansen's emerging climate change vision and climate change A are almost mutually exclusive. Today's nascent climate change mitigation measures, including carbon taxes and cap and trade, remain completely within the gradual, linear, conventional wisdom. This level of mitigation does not address the big ice sheet melt as a crucial tipping point. No governments anywhere - not even those governments that have led in acknowledging climate change as a real and serious problem - are even remotely considering mitigation measures of an immediacy and scale needed to try to return atmospheric CO2 emission levels below 350 ppm. Climate change B is an impossibility within our present political and economic systems.


Capitalism is not just a problem when confronting global environmental degradation. It is the one biggest, and most resolute obstacle.


If you have trade and you have interest on loans, then you have capitalism. It's been around for thousands of years, will probably be around in some form until the end of time. Trade and interest are things which arise quite naturally. There may be other systems that supercede these two for some time, as during the era of feudalism in europe or state capitalism in the USSR.



Originally posted by 500_Apples:
[b] Trade and interest are things which arise quite naturally. There may be other systems that supercede these two for some time, as during the era of feudalism in europe or state capitalism in the USSR.[/b]

COMECON trading nations also made use of barter. People have participated in truck and barter for centuries.

The Soviets sent oil and other raw materials to countries like Cuba and Vietnam for what would have been considered by capitalist countries to have been exchanged at a net loss for the source countries. Soviets also sent humanitarian aid and technical expertise to satellite countries in
exchange for raw materials and food staples.

What happened with Cuba's sugar exports after 1959 wasn't by design so much as necessity. Previous arrangements between big sugar companies under Batista and U.S. mainland companies operated on a quota system, which wasn't as exemplary of free markets as it was central planning. The Soviets agreed to accept Cuban sugar in exchange for oil and other necessities.

George Victor

Okay FM.
We agree that capitalism is the "biggest and most resolute obstacle" to dealing with climate change causal factors.

And we know that not all folks out there are in agreement with us (but concensus builds).
What do we have to offer them (and let's not forget us) as a way out, once the believers are in the cat bird's seat?

To break the ice:
In September of 1939, the political parties of Canada, Australia and the mother nation had to begin to decide to act as one - in the name of survival - and that is where we are going to have to go again, in the not too distant future.
And looking at the activities of political parties up to that time - and for a year or so into the war there was still some restiveness - one could not have imagined societies pulling together in that fashion. But look at the historical accounts!

The article by Walden Bello is a very precise Marxist evaluation of the economic situation facing us. But, unfortunately, he hints at a class struggle to come in the face of Apocalypse.

I believe we can leave that imagined scenario in favour of tried behaviour, control of those means of production, consumption, and, yes, distribution (recall the Bevridge Report of 1943 tht gave us social welfare).
We've built some additional dependencies vis a vis capital accumulation in the intervening half century, but a command economy can find means of social support not available in "the market".

That is, we could not all begin to take in each other's washing (that famous nonsense example of a solution to unemployment and sagging economic growth)_but we could quickly learn to accept (then enjoy?) the production of the necessities again.

It would not be a return to some ancient capitalism, 500 Apples. Adam Smith (then Marx) showed us how capitalism imposed itself on mercantalism. Smith and Hume and their cohort (see "How the Scots Invented the Modern World")gave us an understanding of modernity based on changes in production etc. etc. Gotta be precise, even if we don't agree completely with their 18th Century conclusions.

And I'm sorry I missed your posting, M.S. I'm realy doing not too badly for an old born again Luddite on these infernal machines.

Would love to hear something of the institutional needs of a society needing to bring this off. And dramatic changes will obviously be needed. But this isn't composing science fiction. It's coming at us down the pike, and today's radical thinking will be tomorrow's orthodoxy.But it's gonna hafta go beyond party battles for the hearts and min..well, the hearts of the great unwashed. That's a never-ending merry go round without some input into what they read and hear. Chomsky's concern.

Better stop for a mo' before the chief reminds us that this thread started out trying to determine its parentage.

And is it an orphan?Is the discussion legitimate?

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

I think it is legitimate. But my views are well known on this.

We, in fact, have three problems coming down the pike simultaneously:

[LIST][* Climate Change][* Energy Depletion][* Water Scarcity][/LIST]

All of these issues are global in scope and there is no national or limited multinational approach to addressing them. The only approach is a truly global approach and I fear that is too little, too late.

The full gravity of what we face as a global community I don't think is fully appreciated on a scale approaching a critical mass of understanding.

The current world population is only possible as a result of fossil fuels extending the carrying capacity. As the era of cheap, easily accessible fossil fuels becomes visible in the rearview mirror, as has begun, the carrying capacity of the planet will diminish and famine will become common place.

Meanwhile, our best efforts to mitigate that disaster will be undermined by both climate change, growing water scarcity exacerbated by climate change, and an increasing cost for energy.

Fossil fuels are the life blood of our modern, global, industrial economy and there is no substitute or series of substitutes. But electricty is the critical energy system upon which our cities and civilizations depend. They, the powers that be, will do whatever is necessary to keep the lights on including, and especially. coal plants regardless of the greater cost.

The truth of the matter is that we, as a species, are upon a cross-roads where we are faced with the choice of abandoning consumer capitalism and reorganizing ourselves to weather the coming storms or continuing along business as usual. We have already made the choice.

The key is that we are proceeding as though 1) climate change is a linear process with which we have plenty of time; 2) oil depletion and water scarcity are separate unrelated problems, and; 3) we can have our earth and eat it too.

Already the foundations of our global, capitalist civilization are beginning to quake. Global capitalism and the civilization is supports depend upon three things. Cheap energy, plentiful grains, and unlimited resources including water and base minerals. All three are in decline and climate change complicates the picture in ways we can't even yet fully imagine.

This is the legacy of capitalism and, at the risk of being accused of being nihilistic, there is no systemic solution for what is a systemic failure.

Within the lifetime of the current generation a new era will be thrust upon us.


man....you guys just remind me of how Un-educated i actually am [img]wink.gif" border="0[/img]


And probably teach us a few things in the bargain.

George Victor

"We have already made the choice."

Don't think so, FM. In fact, the knuckle draggers and their conservative followers are "unmaking" their choice in a comedic (it would be hilarious if the subject were not so critical) scramble to revise recent history. They lay claim to the moral highroad while frantically counting the numbers of newly conscious voters. They can't count quickly enough.

I hate the use of "we" for the above reason, but WE (you and I and a growing collectivity) could say we are emerging into the era of The Great Concession on the part of all those desperate to preserve their (superior) lifestyle.

Some of us have tried to speed the process of recognition since the late 60s, and would not, with general enlightenment in sight, deliver a negative verdict on the collective world view NOW. We got kids.

There was one helluva slippage in consciousness in the 1970s and 1980s as Buck Rogers gave way to the "technological fix" that was put forward by bright people who should have known better; then "sustainable" came to replace the demand for end to growth.

Those apologies for answers no longer fly, and their previous proponents, beginning with the techno' fixers, are heading for the hills.

So here we are, looked to for answers. That is why this thread came into being. There has not been as large an audience looking for answers to this question ever before. Ever!

You speak of linear thinking. Of course straight lines are bad - even in Utopian schemes that have trouble telling us how to get from here to there. We're not talking Utopia. Tom More ain't in it. How does "wartime" planning constitute a straight line in capitalist history?

Linearity, it seems to me, is expressed by those who do not look at ACTUAL EXAMPLES of breaks with, say , systems of economic thought. Look what our expatriate J.K.Galbraith did to pricing in the U.S., even before they entered war (see his biography by Richard Parker). David Hume's demand for an empirical base for our decisions.

Total war calls for total mobilization of all resources, all people. And, again, this is what happened in democracies where the contrarians and libertines were invisible at election time. We have come to be frightened by the prospect of that kind of democracy, but, again, a close reading of history does not leave room for that concern.

And we do have to think of new roles for Homo sapiens in the grand scheme, eh?

It's gonna be difficult. Look at Obama this morning, defending himself against Hillary's charge of "elitism" in telling it like it is about folks' consciousness up in the hills of Pennsylvania (where, apparently, the term "blather" was coined).

And it's not just the Hillaries. Look how our nascent neo-cons use populist language among the great unread.

And, here, the amazin' thing about M.Dion is not so much that the party chose him as leader. THE amazin' thing is that an aware youth element at that convention, many with young families, KNEW that his environmental position was the only honest one in that party's house.

And no, this old subversive is NOT of that ilk, but some concessions are possible. :-)

But, could we proceed in a working exchange toward that light at the end of the tunnel? I don't really believe it's a mirage either.

Oh, and thanks for your forbearance on this fragile, rather threadbare thread, chief.

[img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

[ 13 April 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

The Wizard of S...

"Chief?" I didn't know we had any First Nation leaders on the board. Right on!

George Victor

I did say "chief interlocutor" in the first instance.
I suppose that must continue to be the formula (I hold no grievance or hidden agenda for any culture except that of the intolerant stone throwers).
[img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

The Wizard of S...

I think this whole topic is just wishful thinking by those so desperate to see capitalism fall that they're linking it to the eco-fad curently in vogue.

To think that you can affect the natural warming and cooling cycle of the planet by bankrupting it's people is just silly. It's like taking all your money out of the bank and burning it in a bonfire to try and stop night from coming. It makes no difference but in the end you're broke. As long as it's just all cloud talk, I'm sure you can get all sorts of people to go along. But when their kids start going hungry so "Gaia" can be pure again, I think you'll find the cult of the two square toilet paper users collapses pretty damn fast.

The real question should be: "Will the current eco-fad survive the downturn in the world economy?" I mean, I was around in '89 when that whole Exxon-Valdez bugaboo took place. Everyone was all upset. That "If I Had A Rocket Launcher" guy wrote a song and everything. Then the recession hit, and everyone quit playing make-believe and went back to the business of making a living. That's the lesson of the Nineties.

Watch for Paris Hilton to jump on the bandwagon. That's probably a good indicator that the eco-fad is nearly over. Don't worry. It'll be back in a few years when the next batch of college freshies catch First Year Syndrome and think they know everything. Then they'll graduate and find out that the real world is different than it is on MTV. It's funny how making student loan payments puts everything in perspective. Apparantly, the bank doesn't take payment in "carbon credits." Or tulips.

Le T Le T's picture

That is one of the most ignorant posts I have ever read, Wiz.

George Victor

"Silly" and "wishful thinking", of course, must apply to anyone who heard the leading executives of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (the biggest industrialists) admit last year that climate change has to be the first concern of Earth's inhabitants - and then suggest that it's all part of a plot to destroy capitalism.

Or to someone who professes a knowledge of science that surpasses that of the vast majority of scientists (Exxon-supported cranks and contrarians excepted)who think differently.

One can appreciate such chutzpah, but can the NDP and "socialism" survive it?

Remember, so far, we come here, not to praise Walden Bello's position but to bur...to appreciate it for analysis that gives empirical grounding of our economic condition - but not necessarily for the implied resolution in revolution.

Hang in there friend and see what we can come up with? [img]wink.gif" border="0[/img]

John K

An excerpt from the Bello article:


the global reduction of 80 percent in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 that many now recognize as necessary, will have to translate into reductions of at least 150 to 200 percent on the part of the global North

Um, a 100 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would mean zero emissions. Going below 100 per cent is a mathematical impossibility.



Originally posted by The Wizard of Socialism:
To think that you can affect the natural warming and cooling cycle of the planet by bankrupting it's people is just silly.

Keep up there Wiz. No one is talking about the natural warming and cooling cycles. They are talking about anthropologic warming.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

This is the second author that I have read recently who writes about non-capitalist markets. The other is Ellen M. Wood who wrote a very interesting book about the origin of capitalism.

It seems totally appropriate that this new author is writing about capitalism's demise. You gotta look at things from both ends to figure them out.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

I wish I shared your optimism, George.

I have been following the so-called green economic movement for quite some time. The latest comes from a fellow who has been working to help Wal-Mart green their image. He calls it [url=http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/4/11/153519/830/]BLUE[/url].

Essentially, he calls for a new, improved capitalist consumer culture where we can feel good about shopping till we drop and without any thought for what we buy, how it was produced, by whom, or how it reached us (albeit with a few rules and we know we all look at the label to ensure what we buy is union made in Canada and sweat free, right?).

And whenever I listen to the newest and latest arguments and debates and ideas about a new economy it is always focussed on how we keep the old, dirty economy running. Even here on babble, where we are blessed with such progressive minds as the Wizard of Socialism above, discussion tends to focus on alternative energies or technologies for sustaining the automobile culture - as though the effort is not on redeeming our souls but on keeping the devil happy so that he doesn't come collecting.

You mention Dion and I will admit to being thrilled when I heard he won. But then as I read on him that initial feeling of thrill was replaced by disappointment and eventually the familiar dread.

Dion is no different in outlook than Harper in real, fundamental terms. He does not speak of hard caps on emissions or tough requirements on vehicle fuel standards, for one example.

For another example, he does not speak in terms of using federal transfers to cause municipalities to address land use and urban sprawl. He doesn't speak about ending tax transfers and subsidies for roads and highways. He doesn't talk about taxes on parking lots and he doesn't talk about reinvigorating local economies.

He does talk about clean coal and carbon capture as does Bush, Harper, and all the other "business as usual but let's pretend" capitalist politicians.

If there is to be real change, and I do think it is too late but I could be wrong and I am always open to trying something new, it must come from below.

[ 13 April 2008: Message edited by: Frustrated Mess ]



Originally posted by The Wizard of Socialism:
[b] It's funny how making student loan payments puts everything in perspective. Apparantly, the bank doesn't take payment in "carbon credits." Or tulips.[/b]

Neither does the IMF and banking cabal think eco-socialism is viable. And so thirdworld countries will just have to continue clear-cutting forests and allow big agribusiness to rape the land in aid of cash crop capitalism. It's either that or go deeper into debt to the banksters. Same here. Our stoogeocrats pursue powerlessness instead of telling Exxon-Imperial and friends to shove off in order to create our own national energy policy. It's invisible hand dogma all over again, and it's fakery. They really aren't as powerless as they want us to believe, and that's why our two old line parties couldn't manage 24 percent of the eligible in the last election.

We need to democratize Canada because it's feasible and doable. And the U.S.S.A. will officially implode on itself someday soon. Empires just don't last.

George Victor

Well FM, the optimism ebbs and flows, depending on whether I'm reading James Lovelock or Tim Flannery, James Howard Kunstler or George Monbiot.
They come to mind immediately, pairing as being more or less "optimistic" or its opposite.
You'll hafta pardon the book references - I'm a library board member and promoter of old-fashioned sources of knowledge.

If you've read Kunstler, you'll know he's more "end of oil" than CO2 inspired, and his latest little novel, World Made by Hand, is a nice little, not too nasty bit of futurism.

You're right. The major parties, including the Greens of course (see the Green candidate's ad at the bottom of this screen yesterday!!!) see capitalism surviving end of oil and CO2 saturation, but the statistics you've put forward - and Lovelock said it 25 years ago - are incontrovertible. They will come to be accepted across the board by the sheltered unread. And then what?

That's what this little exercise in thought provocation is all about. Monbiot has done it rather brilliantly in Heat, of course. But in Canada we have an extra stair to climb as Tim Flannery points out in his first chapter of An Explorer's Notebook, "Outside Canada Looking In". Canada is as bad as they get.

Of course, it has to do with the gutting of the top third of Alberta. And that, as we "eastern bastards" have come to understand, is a particularly intractable political problem. I began fomenting about western oil in the early 70s. A bit early for political audiences even from a simple conservation perspective, as it turned out. :-)

Western alienation and farm grievances everywhere equals political stasis.

But here in enlightened (and dependent) old Ontariario, we can try to sail around the ad-dependent media to get the message out. (I was asked recently by the library board chair and CEO if I "really felt that library board membership" was a comfortaable fit for my interests.)

But, of course, that's where we're at. The library board members are not about to read the heavy stuff. Avoid it like the plague. Denial comes in many forms.

But "the message" can't be just a litany of woe.
Neither must we allow the Greens to get away with a simple message like "leave it up to the market". I told Jim Harris last fall just what a copout that was. No wonder they rise in the polls. Just leave it to God and "the market". Oh, and as Monbiot points out, ignoring the poor who can't pay those carbon prices just isn't going to (and shouldn't) fly.

"Change must come from below?"

My, how nice that would be. But I'm afraid it's the "belows" who are considered most problematic each time the leadership and candidates of any party consider what they can safely get away with. Same with the media.

That's why it's taken us until now to begin to formulate real political agendas. And science itself is just catching up to the leaders like Lovelock, who only a decade back convinced the world's leading biologists that his account of Earth's ability to provide a thermal balance for the biosphere was correct. He went from "that GAIA guy" to world leading scientific innovator.

But look at how his acceptance of nuclear energy is still treated by Greens and New Democrats, who are in a neck-and-neck race for the fealty of the 21st Century's beautiful people (sans flowers).

But we beaver away on the edge of things, making ourselves a pain in the derriere (hope that's roughly the spelling and area of the anatomy) to both the status quo and the great unread. Not ready to just sit in The Wasteland (in April or any other month).

Optimistic? We can't know, to what degree. Not just yet, eh? One does what one can, my new friend?

[ 14 April 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]And again five minutes later on another name. Must check the glasses.

[ 14 April 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

George, I gave up on television a long time ago and I have read all those authors. Lovelock is my least favourite. I found his book entirely disappointing not least because he contradicts himself almost from the get-go. I find Lovelock is a victim of his culture. For him, it is a given that we are headed toward catastrophe, and therefore all efforts should be put to ensuring he lives out his lifetime in the manner and comfort to which he is accustomed.

I must go ... have a meeting. I will return later.

remind remind's picture


Originally posted by Frustrated Mess:
[b]I must go ... have a meeting. I will return later.[/b]

Oh sure I have been waiting all day for you to start the contrast and compare FM, and had have to content myself with exposing cueball's Liberal propaganda.


Okay, I'm moving this to environmental justice.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

Anyway, with Lovelock, he started out with a strong statement saying we can no longer speak in terms of sustainable development, but instead we must speak about an end to development. And shortly thereafter, he says, but we must invest our future in nuclear technology to ensure a continued supply of cheap, available energy - as though he fails to see the connection between continued development and the ready availability of cheap energy.

What became clearer, as I continued to read, was that Lovelock has written off the planet (and they call me a nihilist) but wants to maintain all the comforts of modern life, to the greatest extent possible, for his own dying generation. And after that, what does it matter?

He is also incredibly arrogant and self-assured for a fellow who has gotten it wrong so often. For example, it is well known he developed a device that could detect CFC particles in the atmosphere. But he isn't credited with discovering the hole in the ozone layer because we was so damned sure CFCs were benign. He never bothered to check. He is, of course, equally damned sure that monoculture and GMOs are equally benign and anyone who suggests otherwise is an nutty environmentalist.

I did read Kunstler's World Made By Hand and I was pleasantly surprised. He is a story teller.

I was less enamored with Heat than you seem to be, but of all the books, I think Flannery's is my favourite as he makes the science accessible and easily understood while explaining the implications in a very understated, non-dramatic tone. I loaned that book out and it has never returned. I hope it isn't sitting on a shelf.


But "the message" can't be just a litany of woe.

See, I keep hearing that and I have to tell you it is really beginning to bug me. What do we say? The oceans are acidifying, the coral reefs are dying, rain forests are falling down, and CO2 is all around, but don't let it get you down! Don't worry - Be happy! Always look on the bright side of life ...

You know, you're down on the Greens. I'm down on all of them. And they all sound the same. Which party is advocating something other than market based solutions? Is a green car really the answer?

Kunstler has argued that the suburban lifestyle is the greatest misallocation of resources in human history and that efforts to build a green car, or to develop alternative fuels like ethanol, are merely efforts to perpetuate that wasteful way of life. And he is right.

All the parties say the same thing: We can't just have tales of woe. And yet, the status quo is dependent upon messages of false hope whether the message be that God will save us from ourselves or technology will save us from ourselves.

The current example of food riots and spreading global hunger demonstrates quite readily the limits of technology and resources in a natural world of limited resources and of appetites unrestrained by moderation.

As much as I think Lovelock is a selfish buffoon, I do think his Gaia theory, that of the planet as a living system, is correct. And if it is a living system, we humans are systematically attacking all its vital organs without much concern for the planet's continued viability. We have placed our own immediate and selfish interests ahead of the life system upon which we all depend.

Every now and then I wake up to a beautiful sunny morning after a late night among like minded people and I see a horizon of hope. And then I go out to witness the Hummers and F150s all driving in and out of the Wal-Mart parking lot and I can't even buy a stinking can of mushrooms at my local independent grocer that hasn't been shipped from China.

I said we have made our choice. I stand by that. The choice we have made is Lovelock's. Me first. Me only. The rest of can all go fuck themselves.

[ 15 April 2008: Message edited by: Frustrated Mess ]

George Victor

Right Michelle.
A forum by any other name can be used to just as sweetly wrestle with thorny little questions such as - how do we respond to threatened species extinction, etc.

Long as we can maintain the discussion around the original assumption that economic and political solutions must jointly come into play in the face of what we're doing to the only planet we've got to live on. No academic constraints here, such as confronted Lovelock and Homer-Dixon in their respective disciplines.

I agree, MS and NB, that the market we know ain't likely in the solution to our incredibly wasteful systems. I'm going to try to get a gander at Ellen Wood's work, but I'm also going to go back to Heilbroner and others from the 1970s who tried hard to give shape to economic systems that did not require growth.We were so hopeful before stagflation struck and we were jeered off the scene.

It seems to me that, with the IMF and World Bank conceding that they've not been able to help, but only harm the third world, we're about to see change. Like the collapse of globalization - the end of your canned mushrooms from China, FM -that John Ralston Saul predicted a couple of years back in Harper's. (And also see their February 2008 issue on economic bubbles past, present and the one just beginning to replace mortgages - alternative energy).
All very predictable, eh? But how do we intervene, politically, when all the Greens are investing all their life's savings in alternative energy??????

Is that a touch lamb-like on the part of the Greens, with some ignorance of the political implications for well-meaning actions in our market economy?????

Yep, I keep mentioning Greens, for I've always understood that if people get on board a train that's heading in the opposite direction to its designated station, well, that's about as counter-productive as you can get! (Feels good to be in a forum where I don't have to explain that wonderful, hyphenated, telling concept.)


I will never, ever use a word like "woe" again. We evaluate our life chances through different worldviews gained from different experiences and intellectual intake.

I must rush to the defence of Lovelock, however.The 88-year-old's first science was medicine, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine during Second World War.

For a couple of hundred bucks he put together in his basement the atmospheric monitoring device to measure atmospheric CFCs.

How we made use of the information he revealed - whether it was CFCs or the accumulating carbon he warned about first in 1979 - that's always been our "little red wagon" (sorry, a favourite expression of my late brother's. He did not expect much from his fellow human beings, was a bit cynical, but was always helping the disadvantaged and physically challanged anyway.)

Income from Lovelock's inventions allowed him to develop his theory of GAIA (given the name by his then neighbour, William Golding, the Lord of the Flies guy) independent of an academic community that had narrowed its focus to the point they were peering up their own posteriors and didn't know it.

He's now accepted as orthodoxy, but he had to fight to get them to even read his work. How did Margaret Mead (sort of) put it - its always been about the individual with the guts to break through the chatter?

In The Times of London, March 29, he was quoted as saying "It's not impossible we might find a way out" (shrugging)"but I wouldn't put your shirt on it."

It sure as shootin' won't come about if we continue to burn fossil fuels instead of turning to nuclear power "to keep the lights of civilization burning" (The Revenge of GAIA) while we try to achieve power from fusion and a downsizing of the earth's population to one billion from the present six plus.

The breath of 6.7 billion people put out "four times as much CO2 as all of the airlines put together" (The Times).

It is whispered that it was Lovelock's hard-nosed science that convinced Britain's defence planners (in his absence) to maintain a nuclear fleet of submarines with nuclear weaponry. He predicts the island will be the only viable European agricultural area as the Sahara crosses the Mediterranean. Gwynne Dyer said last year, speaking at the U.of W., that it was that kind of prediction that prompted the defence move.

Dyer also said the U.S. midwest grain growing area will not be too healthy in a couple of years. Lovelock, in The Times, says the U.S. population will move north.

I don't know about you, but to me that sort of waters down our concerns for the future exports of our H20, presenting a kind of political quantum leap from the concerns of Maude Barlow eh?

Anyway, those seem to be some of the "practical" political and economic aspects of the environmental conundrum that are coming to the fore.

I just continue to be amazed that, in this brave new world of communications technology, the above is not common knowledge.

We won't be able to respond worth a fiddler's fart if we don't act out of that knowledge!

[img]wink.gif" border="0[/img]

[ 15 April 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]There's no "u" in Golding, AND no "e" on the end of Mead.

[ 15 April 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]



Um, a 100 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would mean zero emissions. Going below 100 per cent is a mathematical impossibility.

But there is such a concept as carbon negative, meaning more carbon is sequestered than emitted.



Originally posted by George Victor:

The breath of 6.7 billion people put out "four times as much CO2 as all of the airlines put together" (The Times).

Technically correct, but irrelevant. Airlines put extra carbon into the atmosphere as they take carbon which has been stored deep in the ground for millions of years (and therefore not part of the natural cycle) and spew it into the air.

Humans when we breath on the other hand are taking part in the natural cycle: plants inhale CO2 thereby taking it out of the atmosphere and store it within their walls. Humans or other animals eat that stored carbon and exhale it thereby returning it to the atmosphere. We don't create carbon ourselves.

Obviously more humans means more stored deep carbon reserves are exploited and returned to the atmosphere after being outside of the natural cycle for millions of years, however the actual process of respiration is not one of them.


We'll just have to create fuel-efficient humans so the airline industry can survive.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

[url=http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174930/bill_mckibben_the_defining_moment... Last Chance for Civilization[/url]
By Bill McKibben



Even for Americans, constitutionally convinced that there will always be a second act, and a third, and a do-over after that, and, if necessary, a little public repentance and forgiveness and a Brand New Start -- even for us, the world looks a little Terminal right now.

It's not just the economy. We've gone through swoons before. It's that gas at $4 a gallon means we're running out, at least of the cheap stuff that built our sprawling society. It's that when we try to turn corn into gas, it sends the price of a loaf of bread shooting upwards and starts food riots on three continents. It's that everything is so inextricably tied together. It's that, all of a sudden, those grim Club of Rome types who, way back in the 1970s, went on and on about the "limits to growth" suddenly seem… how best to put it, right.

All of a sudden it isn't morning in America, it's dusk on planet Earth.

There's a number -- a new number -- that makes this point most powerfully. It may now be the most important number on Earth: 350. As in parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A few weeks ago, our foremost climatologist, NASA's Jim Hansen, submitted a paper to Science magazine with several co-authors. The abstract attached to it argued -- and I have never read stronger language in a scientific paper -- "if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm." Hansen cites six irreversible tipping points -- massive sea level rise and huge changes in rainfall patterns, among them -- that we'll pass if we don't get back down to 350 soon; and the first of them, judging by last summer's insane melt of Arctic ice, may already be behind us.

So it's a tough diagnosis. It's like the doctor telling you that your cholesterol is way too high and, if you don't bring it down right away, you're going to have a stroke. So you take the pill, you swear off the cheese, and, if you're lucky, you get back into the safety zone before the coronary. It's like watching the tachometer edge into the red zone and knowing that you need to take your foot off the gas before you hear that clunk up front.

In this case, though, it's worse than that because we're not taking the pill and we are stomping on the gas -- hard. Instead of slowing down, we're pouring on the coal, quite literally. Two weeks ago came the news that atmospheric carbon dioxide had jumped 2.4 parts per million last year -- two decades ago, it was going up barely half that fast.

And suddenly, the news arrives that the amount of methane, another potent greenhouse gas, accumulating in the atmosphere, has unexpectedly begun to soar as well. Apparently, we've managed to warm the far north enough to start melting huge patches of permafrost and massive quantities of methane trapped beneath it have begun to bubble forth.

And don't forget: China is building more power plants; India is pioneering the $2,500 car, and Americans are converting to TVs the size of windshields which suck juice ever faster.


Maybe a good time to start a company to haul pine beetle killed BC trees to the Ocean and sink them to the Ocean floor. To prevent those trees from going up in flames (CO2). And sequestering carbon at the same time. The Tarsand babies will be the losers because there will be more money to be made sponging carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it then extracting fossil fuels.

I am sorry, but I suspect capitalism will survive and probably thrive when faced with these desasters.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

An important contribution to the discussion about how to build an effective movement to fight climate change:

Excerpts from [url=http://www.zcommunications.org/zmag/viewArticle/18060]Economics, policy, and vision for fighting global warming[/url] by Gar Lipow


Nobody, except for a small lunatic fringe, still disputes that human-caused climate chaos endangers all of us. Further, most serious scientific and technical groups who have looked at the question have concluded that [b]we have the technological capability today to replace greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels with efficiency improvements and clean energy[/b]—usually at a maximum cost of around the current worldwide military budget, probably much less. The question therefore is: [b]what's stopping us?[/b]

To answer that we need to look at the causes of global warming—not the physical causes, but [b]the economic and political flaws in our system that have prevented solutions from being implemented[/b] long after the problem was known.

One driver is [b]inequality[/b] and the maintenance of power that keeps inequality in place produces perverse incentives in resource use. An example of this is a usual economic suspect behind global warming, the lack of full social pricing. Fossil fuel use imposes all sorts of costs on others. A tax that recovered some of these costs would reduce emissions, though how much is arguable….

A second obstacle is [b]deliberate obstruction[/b] by various bad guys in both business and government. These are not trivial…. .

But the flaws that cause continuing resource waste extend far beyond low prices and bad guys….

Why does a market based system ignore chances to make large profits? The answer is that there are other side-effects of inequality that also lead to resource waste.

One of those side-effects is [b]the three way tug-of-war between owners, workers, and managers.[/b] This type of conflict leads to missed opportunities for increased labor productivity, opportunities that don't require additional resource inputs. Thus, they represent lost resource efficiency as well….

Waste also arises as a side effect of positive things that we don't want to lose. For instance, division of design labor leads to optimizing system components in isolation from one another, resulting in sub-optimal systems….

Just as the dark side of specialization is information scattering, the dark side of price-driven decision making is information aggregation. Advanced energy efficiency features are typically offered only in models with other advanced features the customer may not want. For example, the most efficient washing machines may only be available in models with decorator features that add hundreds to the cost. This is sometimes referred to in the energy field as "gold plating," and in general economics as "lumpiness."…

Each of us affects all of us and all of us affect each of us. [b]The social divisions and power hierarchies that prevent us from understanding and acting on that are root causes of global warming. The battle against climate chaos is part of the battle for social justice and cannot succeed separately from that fight. The best policies to tackle climate chaos need to increase equality and strengthen social solidarity….[/b]

[b]Large-scale public investment[/b] can help transform our infrastructure, but we need [b]rule-based regulation[/b] too. We need to restrict emissions if we want them to drop….

If we want to levy emissions taxes, we have to do so in a way that does not hurt poor and working people. Someone who can afford a $50,000 dollar SUV is not going to be hurt all that much by higher gas prices. Someone driving an 11-year-old Ford Escort may have trouble affording a full tank at $5 per gallon….

So far we've looked at three types of policies to prevent as much global warming as we can: public investment, regulation, and putting a price on emissions. One of those three policies, public investment, will also help us survive and thrive in spite of the global warming already locked in.

Challenges we face include loss of some of the most densely populated coastal cities in the world, decreased agricultural production from various side effects of warming, and increased risk of disease from many of those same effects. Thriving will require aid for climate refugees. It will require levees, dams, and so forth to protect those areas we can. We will need improved disaster response, as well as healthcare for all and improved public health to catch and treat epidemics while they are small. We will also need to invest in conversion to low input agriculture which not only reduces emissions, but can also survive the unavoidable decreased climate stability. We will need to invest in water efficiency, and probably in desalinization as well.

Quite a number of other social justice issues contribute to human impacts on climate. For example unequal access to education, lack of affordable urban housing, and racism all contribute to [b]scattering the population to resource inefficient suburbs.[/b] Similarly, many trade agreements weaken the ability of governments to fight global warming; one WTO ruling that undermined CAFE regulations in the U.S. in 1990s undermines Japanese auto efficiency standards today.

This does not touch on other international issues, such as the obligation of rich nations to pay the cost of poor nations choosing a clean development path, plus compensation for the damage that climate chaos has already caused and will continue to cause them. This probably could be paid for from cuts in military budgets, just as we could pay for internal public investment. Similarly, there are serious climate justice issues within the global north where the poor have borne many of the social costs of extracting and refining fossil fuels and now suffer many of the climate consequences that follow.

Obviously, [b]an agenda for fighting global warming blends into a general social justice agenda. By the time we start supporting large public works programs, regulation to improve human well being, huge cuts in military spending, massive international economic aid, and begin opposing corporate globalization it makes sense to support others who work on the same and related issues. In this context, helping to build a larger progressive movement is practical environmental politics….[/b]

A climate justice coalition would have a lot to offer a general movement for freedom and equality—including a massive green jobs program, and strong secondary reasons to support most types of equal rights….

I think you are starting to see two types of awareness seep into left and progressive political consciousness.

One, after a long period of downplaying and denigrating class, we are starting to see real [b]awareness of class issues….[/b]

Second, there is even [b]awareness of a middle class[/b], a class between labor and capital, roughly identifiable by having made above the $84,000 income bracket in 2000….

Middle class is not a matter of income. That is merely a key indicator. Just as capital is defined by ownership, the middle class is defined by relationship to work. The middle class tends to work in technical, managerial, or bureaucratic jobs, to have more control over their work life than ordinary workers, to have more pleasant, less rote jobs. Being a manager or lawyer or even an artist is no constant round of joy. There is still labor involved, but a lawyer lives a very different life from a grocery clerk. Ask a lawyer who puts in 60 hours a week if she would rather put that same 60 hours in as a grocery clerk for the same money. Owners are still the dominant force in our society. But there is a real separation in interests and way of life between the middle class and the working class….

So the problem is not how the environmental movement gains support for technical and political solutions to global warming, but how some sort of alliance or coalition or informal network between labor, feminists, GLBT, anti-racists, peace activists, the disability rights movement, and environmentalists can combine with others to win a larger agenda. This problem then divides into three questions. Can we really come together? Can we move beyond upper middle class leadership? Can we win if we do?

No single issue can motivate the kind of unity we need, but the common simultaneous emergencies may. More and more, varying groups are trying to reach out to one another. In the long run the question is not just one of building a coalition, but a movement—one with a core of shared values, programs, and strategies that is more than just a laundry list of multiple single-issue viewpoints. We need to find [b]common visions….[/b]

One thing that will help working and middle class activists work together is vision. [b]A common dream is a great unifier.[/b] Besides, progress is easier if we have at least some idea of which direction we wish to travel. In addition, vision is important in organizing….

While we consider these economic examples, it is important to understand that [b]economic[/b] visions are not the only ones that could contribute to reducing environmental degradation. Many toxins disproportionately impact women compared to men. Much toxic pollution occurs in communities of color, because they have less power to fight back. Environmental racism and environmental sexism are both cases of injustice. I doubt a society that managed to eliminate or greatly reduce racism and sexism would accept a redistribution of poisons. Industry would find they couldn't force anyone to tolerate current levels….


One thing that is clear that much like we don't let the free market determine on its own the money supply or aggregate demand (and all but the most rabid of conservatives accept that), we can't let the market set the global scale of resource use and emission of globally-important pollutants. That's a big change to capitalism, if not necessarily its end.

[ 13 August 2008: Message edited by: Doug ]


Actually I find the understanding that the world is headed for some crisis very wide spread. People in generally have focused on the facts the population is headed for 9-10 billion while cheap energy and non-renewable resources are running out. They are saying that it's a one baby per family world now, families of three. That's sort of their answer. Todays new born has a chanse of living to the 21st where things were very different. People that I talk to are additionally focused on wage disparity, which is too large in Canada at this time. They are willing to accept some inflation to adjust this. Reducing wage disparity will make economic growth more difficult. The idea at hand is growth would be minimal if limited to better jobs.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

[url=http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-har...'t kill the planet in the name of saving the economy[/url]


Last year, all the EU leaders agreed to carry out the bare minimum scientists say we need to prevent catastrophe. By the year 2020, they agreed to a 20 per cent cut in carbon emissions, a 20 per cent rise in energy efficiency, and to get 20 per cent of our energy from renewables. This meant the EU could stroll into the talks for a successor treaty to Kyoto in the strongest position to pressure the world. The continent that gave the world the Enlightenment and modern science was upholding those values – and offering our species the path out of a dead-end.

Until last week. At the EU summit to bail out the banks, several leaders began to quibble about bailing out the climate. The British Government has been trying to punch holes in it, demanding exemptions for aviation and other accounting tricks. The eastern European bloc – led by Polish PM Donald Tusk – said the deal was "too much" during a recession, but they need a Western European country if they're going to totally break the deal. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi took a break from finger-printing gypsies to say: "We don't think this is the moment to push forward on our own like Don Quixote. We have time."...

This is, perversely, a dazzling time to be alive: every human being who ever lives will deal with the decisions we make here. If we disregard the voices of denial, Europe has a chance to do something extraordinary. We could be the people who saw this threat to our species coming and remade our societies to stop it. The story of Europe's 2020 vision could be heroic, but only if we fight now to save it from the vandals.

George Victor

Thanks for refreshing this thread, MS. How typical of Berlusconi to be using a mythical figure to demonstrate his own ignorance of literature as well as of science:


Until last week. At the EU summit to bail out the banks, several leaders began to quibble about bailing out the climate. The British Government has been trying to punch holes in it, demanding exemptions for aviation and other accounting tricks. The eastern European bloc – led by Polish PM Donald Tusk – said the deal was "too much" during a recession, but they need a Western European country if they're going to totally break the deal. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi took a break from finger-printing gypsies to say: "We don't think this is the moment to push forward on our own like Don Quixote. We have time."...

Of course there is time before the Sahara advances across the Mediterranean to work its wonders on Italy, centimetre by centimetre up the boot to convince the great unread of that newly-emerging fascist state the true meaning of fallacy.

But I don't believe Berlusconi envisions that happening in his lifetime, and for his kind, that's all that matters. What we need is a very accurate description of the European (and all temperate zone countries) by those strategic dates "2020" and "2050" - not stopping at describing an ice-free summer in the Arctic by 2013. Really bring it home to the ignorant bastards (although, of course, they would see any serious response as tilting at windmills).

But we have to go on working at change and believing, like Johann Hari:


This is, perversely, a dazzling time to be alive: every human being who ever lives will deal with the decisions we make here. If we disregard the voices of denial, Europe has a chance to do something extraordinary. We could be the people who saw this threat to our species coming and remade our societies to stop it. The story of Europe's 2020 vision could be heroic, but only if we fight now to save it from the vandals.

[ 21 October 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]


Tonight, Oct 21

On PBS Front Line


George Victor

I missed it, but how was "Heat", transplant?

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

It was a repeat, and you can watch it all [url=http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/heat/view/]here online.[/url]


[url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8272013.stm]Fidel Castro praises Obama for admitting U.S. had been slow to act on climate change[/url]

The former Cuban President Fidel Castro has praised US President Barack Obama's speech before the UN General Assembly for its words on climate change. [...]

But he added that the American capitalist system was incompatible with a clean planet. [...]

He praised the American president for saying that the US had been slow to act on climate change and that richer countries had to take the lead since they had caused much of the damage.

No other US president, he said, would have had the courage to make such remarks.

But the 83-year-old revolutionary criticised what he called America's aggressive military foreign policy which threatened the survival of our species.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

[url=http://www.tni.org/detail_page.phtml?act_id=18103&[email protected]'s a working link to the Walden Bello article mentioned in the Opening Post.[/url]


[url=http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/17095]Here's another.[/url]

M. Spector M. Spector's picture


The fundamental way we live — how we generate our power, get around, grow our food — is not decided by us but by the big corporations. Without the rule of corporate capital we could set in place radically different, ecologically sustainable arrangements.

For example, the cars most of us use are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. But what choice do we really have? We don’t favour private cars over public transport because we are a society of petrol-heads; it’s a consequence of the deliberate policies of capitalist governments protecting the interests of their big-business masters. The auto industry and its associated sectors make up a very large part of many national capitalist economies and oppose moves to improve public transport-.

Trying to stabilise — and indeed reduce — the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere is a life-and-death challenge for humanity. We need to phase out fossil fuels and all the problems that go with them (carbon dioxide emissions and the fact that they will not last forever). But big business thinks it can make a few adjustments and carry on as usual. The changes required are simply too fundamentally in contradiction with huge economic interests to be easily contemplated. - [url=



They do talk about environment and economics. Maybe I just don't get the question, but your topic inspires me to want to write about a couple of things.

From the mouth of the CEO of Canada's biggest pipeline and energy company: "it is wrong to risk the health of our economy over something that might not be real such as global warming". He may be wrong, but it is all about economics and environment.

The response I give to the CEO is:"It is the economic risks that are probably not real, whereas global warming is more or less a certainty". But at least we are still talking!!

   I do go on, of course: it is wrong to say there is a risk to the economy, it is only a risk to oilmen ; even the energy industry will do just fine even if we reduce emissions and use less fossil fuels.

  A gradual change from fossil fuels to renewables will stimulate the economy, plus it will eventually result in LOWER energy costs as the installations get paid off and are producing power without any further input costs [such as shovelling coal into a burner for every kilowatt of power produced]. To do nothing about emissions just to protect the vested interests of some of the wealthiest people on the planet is purely criminal.

  Spreading the wealth around is purely "anti-capitalist", but it is DEMOCRATIC. We have to try to balance the two. Where energy costs can be lowered it will benefit the average person, but it takes away from the staunchest capitalists amongst us - the oilmen. No wonder they fight it and pretend that global warming is not real.

One more thing - the Canadian economy is not a purely capitalist economy. It is a mix of socialism and capitalism.There is probably no purely capitalist economy anywhere. Even in America the government is the biggest employer - one in three jobs is a government job. Consider the US Army - obviously a "government program" - it is also the biggest consumer of fossil fuels in the USA, and so even that great hallmark of capitalism - the oil industry - is closely tied to government.

Capitalism, such as it is, will survive climate change, yes. There are allways public concerns to be addressed by government, which is just our way of being organised when we need to address issues that affect us all, like needing an army.


M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Working for a capitalist government is no different than working for a capitalist private firm. Government workers are still required to produce surplus value that is appropriated by their employer for its own use.

Are you seriously suggesting, for example, that the U.S. Army is a socialist enterprise?

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

N.Beltov wrote:
This is the second author that I have read recently who writes about non-capitalist markets. The other is Ellen M. Wood who wrote a very interesting book about the origin of capitalism.

The best book I have read about the role of markets in post-capitalist societies is Against The Market by David McNally. His main target is the concept of so-called "market socialism" but he demonstrates quite effectively how market economics stalls the development of socialism by perpetuating alienation, inequality, and all the other effects of commodity production.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

The current obsession with GDP growth at all costs must be abandoned, shifting the emphasis to human welfare in a post-growth strategy where jobs, communities and environments are no longer sacrificed. Likewise, a shift to a post-consumer society is needed. So is a shift to much more participative and popular forms of democracy, capable of joining up environmental and social issues to tackle climate change coherently and urgently.

So says James Gustave Speth, the author of a new book, [url=http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2008/0809/1218206284125.html... Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability[/url] (Yale 2008).

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

George Victor wrote:
This April 3 item by Walden Bello seemed a natural for discussion, but I cannot find a peep, anywhere.

I actually posted a link to it [url=http://www.rabble.ca/babble/environmental-justice/ecosocialism-ii#commen..., two days before it even appeared on rabble.ca.


M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Welcome to babble, Chris.

Stick around, and you'll learn fast enough. [img]http://archive.rabble.ca/babble/wink.gif[/img]