We outline why we believe that political parties and governments cannot be used to improve our lives, and why we think that the only way meaningful change can occur is if we as ordinary people get together at the grassroots and make them happen.
In practical terms this means that instead of appealing to our leaders for change, or forming political parties to take state power, we make the changes we want – ourselves – and from the bottom up.
We call this direct action, and we think that this is the best way for us to win better, more fulfilling existences. Direct action is a oft-misused term – in ourGlossary it is defined as “action taken directly by people themselves to make changes they want in the world, without appealing to the government, political parties or bosses. Most mass direct action is in the form of strikes, non-payment of unjust taxes, and blockades.”
Direct action has won countless gains for working people the world over. We used to have to work 14-hour days, seven days a week until workers came together and organised in trade unions and other associations, faced up to savage repression and successfully won the much better (but still totally inadequate) conditions and wages we have today.
Mass direct action in this country only a little over ten years ago defeated Maggie Thatcher’s Poll Tax, while electoral efforts were fruitless .
While electoral (“political”) activity ensures that we all become accustomed to following leaders and letting them act on our behalf, we support direct action as the best available means for preparing ourselves to manage their own personal and collective interests.
Libertarian communists therefore argue that we need to reclaim the power which has been concentrated into the hands of the state. That is why we stress direct action. Through direct action, the people dominate their own struggles, it is we who conduct it, organise it, manage it. We do not hand over to others the task of self-liberation. That way, we become accustomed to managing our own affairs, creating alternative, libertarian, forms of social organisation which can become a force to resist the state, win reforms and, ultimately, become the framework of a free society. Such organisations often appear in times of struggle as community assemblies, factory committees, workers’ councils, and so on. These organs of direct-democracy have been the most important element of revolutions over the past 250 years, although they were often usurped into representative institutions or crushed militarily.
|The embryo of a new society – community assembly in the Argentine uprising of 2001. One third of the population participated in the assemblies.|
We are in favour of collective, mass action. There is nothing more isolated, atomised and individualistic than voting in elections. It is the act of one person in a box by themselves, the total opposite of collective struggle. The individual is alone before, during and after the act of voting. Indeed, unlike direct action, which, by its very nature, throws up new forms of organisation in order to manage and co-ordinate the struggle, voting creates no alternative organs of workers’ self-management; nor can it, as it is not based on nor does it create collective action or organisation. It simply empowers an individual (the elected representative) to act on behalf of a collection of other individuals (the voters). This will hinder collective organisation and action as the voters expect their representative to act and fight for them – as if they did not, they would not vote for them in the first place!
In other words, the idea that socialists standing for elections somehow prepares working class people for a new world is simply wrong. Utilising the state, standing in elections, only prepares people for following leaders – it does not encourage the self-activity, self-organisation, direct action and mass struggle required to build a better society. Moreover, use of elections has a corrupting effect on those who use it. The history of radicals using elections has been a long one of betrayal and the transformation of revolutionary parties into reformist ones. Thus using the existing state ensures that the division at the heart of existing society (namely a few who govern and the many who obey) is reproduced in the movements trying to abolish it. It boils down to handing effective leadership to special people, to “leaders,” just when the situation requires working people to solve their own problems and take matters into their own hands. Only the struggle for freedom can be the school for freedom, and by placing power into the hands of leaders, utilising the existing state ensures that socialism is postponed rather than prepared for.
On a more practical level, electoral activity is stacked towards the rich and powerful. To even register on the public radar requires multi-million pound advertising, and coverage in the corporate media. Trying to get an independent candidate elected into office is massively time-consuming and expensive – time which could be used building up a working class counter-power, in the forum of organisations based on solidarity between people, where we can stick together and force the state to give in to our demands.
Governments only grant demands to the people when their very power is threatened – for example the introduction of social housing following the mass workers’ and ex-soldiers’ squatting movement after World War 2, or nationalisation of the coal industry following massive strikes. In Latin America today, left-wing governments in countries such as Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil are granting large-scale land and social reform. This is not due to their benevolence, however – it is due to the massive social movements which have been using direct action for years to make the changes themselves. Landless and homeless movements have been occupying land and buildings, workers have taken over bankrupt factories, and communities have blockaded roads to stop privatisation and sell-offs of natural resources. If the governments had not granted these reforms, they would have been overthrown! In fact, many governments only ratify changes which workers have already made, such as in Argentina legalising already-occupied factories and in the Spanish and Russian revolutions giving official sanction to land collectivisations already undertaken.
|Chile 1973 – Soldiers round up dissident workers in the National Stadium following the coup against the democratically-elected left-wing government.|
In many countries the two-party system making it almost impossible for progressive parties to get elected, since if you vote for the most radical you will split the progressive vote and maybe let the conservative or reactionary government in. In the rare instances where radical parties who claim to want to make improvements for the majority (for example by taxing or taking into public ownership large corporations, or introducing strict environmental or workers’ rights laws) become large, one of the following always happens:
▫ They sell out their principles in order to receive backing from corporations or the mass media – also owned by huge corporations – which is necessary in most countries to even get elected. Good examples of this would be New Labour, and Green Parties in power in Germany and Belgium.
▫They get in power, try to implement progressive policies and find themselves at the mercy of larger economic forces. For example if one country introduces a good minimum wage, or high taxes corporate profits there will be capital flight – businesses will just shift overseas. This was demonstrated very strongly by the capital flight during the 1974-79 Labour government which tried to carry out a pro-worker program .
▫ They get in power, try to implement progressive policies and are overthrown by force by domestic or foreign forces backed by business interests. The CIA-backed coup against the left-wing Chilean President Allende in 1973 (see picture above) being a case in point; another example almost occurred in Italy after World War 2, where the right-wing secret army, Gladio was to launch a coup if the Communist Party entered government.
We want a world where we are all in control our own lives, our own communities, and our own destinies, and where we are free to live out our dreams and desires. We recognise that many people who are members of political parties share our goals, but we sincerely believe that electoral activity is a massively costly (in both time and money) exercise which ultimately is counter-productive.
Politics is a game set up by the rich and powerful, without a level playing field, and as ordinary people we are best off using our energy to organise ourselves and build solidarity amongst all workers to fight for our own interests. Of course we welcome all progressive government reforms, but none our ever handed down – we must fight for them, all the while continuing to build the new world within the shell of the old.
For libertarian communists, while we would like to live in a classless, stateless, free society whether we get there or not in our lifetimes does not matter. We believe that our ideas and tactics are the best for winning better lives for ourselves in the here and now as well. Apart from direct action and solidarity being the most effective methods of winning improvements to our communities, our environment and our work, they are even beneficial to the individual participant’s mental health, and the bonds which are formed between people in such activity  can never be forgotten.
The apocalypse looms like a dark tempest on the horizon. Things are serious now. If we are to get through this Crisis we have to forget all old grudges and past wrongs, leave behind all dissent and rebellious activity, and gather in support of our leaders. “Come,” they smile at us in the green-shimmering full-page advertisements from a future where new technology and new markets have saved the planet, “only together can we solve this”.
But wait a minute… Their proposal for how we are to be saved from ruin seems sickeningly familiar. Haven’t we heard all this before? What is it they are hiding? What is it they are trying to distract us from?
As the faith in the proposed future crumbles, an increasingly clear line is becoming visible between those that believe that a solution is possible within the capitalist system, and those that don’t. While the world is shaken by crises, a growing number of people on the earth can be found on the side of those doubting the current structures of power and capital. When this zine goes to press, preparations are in full swing on both sides for the next big event in this drama: The 15th Conference Of the Parties of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, better known as the COP15.
The crowd preparing to oppose the summit is a diverse bunch. The Climate Crisis seems to have opened the possibility of uniting a broad range of struggles against capitalism: from indigenous peoples to workers unions, from the landless to the european autonomous, from climate campers to youth from the suburbs of the metropolis, from anti-industrialists to anarcho-syndicalists. Just as big is the scope of the strategies, tactics and dreams.
The radical class struggle movements have just recently started to join in. In spite of the division between them and the environmental oriented movements, it´s getting more and more clear that whoever wants to have any influence on the upcoming development of the future needs to start addressing the topic.
By putting together this zine, we wanted to look for the connections: What common interests can we find faced with the “Climate Crisis”? How can it be understood in the context of the Capitalist system? How will the changes to the climate and the proposals at the COP15 influence our fighting and living conditions in the future? And the inevitable question: How can the devastation be stopped?
Some of these articles were written specifically for this zine, while others have been printed elsewhere. Some authors are well known, others wish to remain nameless. We hope that you find the following texts thought-provoking and inspiring. See you in the streets!
Love, The COP 15 zine crew. October, 2009
It is a testament to the horror, the boundless horror of capitalism, that after decades of its triumph, of changelessness, of the end of history, of a famine of other possible futures even in the minds of children, that those of us alive today who will see this world change forever cannot count ourselves lucky. We stand at the brink, and all the petty squabbles, all political programs and narrow affinities fall into insignificance. The estimate vary as to exactly when we reach the point of no return, it could be 2015, it could be 2020, but climate scientists have reached a consensus that since the Industrial Revolution humans (I would be more direct and say capitalists) have caused global surface temperatures to raise 0.7 degrees Celsius, and that at a certain point not so far off, additional global warming will trigger a number of feedback loops that will cause the global temperatures to rise even more.
Tested climate models  suggest that within ten years, we will have released enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to cause 20°C of warming. At that point, the melting of the polar ice caps (which currently reflect large amounts of solar radiation), the release of methane currently stored beneath the Siberian permafrost (methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2), the increase in atmospheric water vapor (which also acts to trap heat from the sun), and the additional release of CO2 currently stored in the oceans as their absorption rate decreases with warming, will have a cumulative effect to raise global temperatures by five to six degrees by the end of the century. Few species alive today have survived such a hot world in the past, and we will all have to adapt or go extinct, as the oceans acidify, desert regions expand, and coastal areas flood.
There are a number of possibilities: the very best is that within the next ten years, waves of revolt overthrow the State, which is the chief defender and administrator of the structures of fossil fuel-based capitalism; all coal power plants are shut down; all cars are taken off the road excepting perhaps a small number that can run on vegetable oil; airline travel is abolished; electricity is abandoned or produced locally with small scale renewables; agriculture transitions from the current industrial petroleum-driven variety to traditional methods or permaculture, meaning a huge portion of the human population will have to concern themselves once again with growing their community’s food; and a massive amount of carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere through the reforestation of abandoned highways, commercial areas, golf courses, and other spaces, and through the rewilding of the planet’s extensive commercial tree plantations (the greatest amount of carbon stored by a forest is in the layer of leaves and other organic debris on the ground, which is part and parcel with a biodiversity that does not exist in tree plantations). This is also what needs to happen if we pass the point of no return, but in that case it will be much less pleasant for all of us.
We are not faced with a collapse, but with a deepening of the misery beyond what any of us can imagine. The climate crisis will not destroy capitalism. As blind and insanely idiotic as the powerful are, they are also looking towards the future. At the recent NATO summit in Strasbourg, the world government discussed its solution to the impending disaster: militarized borders and stricter internal security measures like biometric IDs and surveillance. I don’t see these as naively unrealistic non sequiters so much as codewords for the full realization of the New World Order. The powerful are well informed that a sharp decrease in agricultural productivity caused by global warming will coincide with a projected peaking of the human population at nine billion, resulting in mass starvation that is predicted to claim between three and six billion lives. Already 300,000 people die every year, nearly all of them in the Global South, due to the results of climate change: desertification, droughts, more violent storms, greater spread of tropical diseases, and crop failure. Human populations are already beginning to migrate on an enormous scale in search of survival.
The NATO solution is to close the border, to seal the door of the gas chamber that now encompasses the greater part of three continents. This is the new jewel in their crown — they are planning the greatest mass murder in human history. There are already confirmed reports of killings in the desert between the US and Mexico and eerie rumours of naval boats sinking rafts full of Africans in the Mediterranean when the press isn’t there to take some humanitarian photos of dramatic rescues at sea — in fact, just the reported deaths on the borders of Fortress Europe between 1988 and 2006 total 14,000. This will become policy. This will become open war. Of course, the border will not be hermetically sealed. NATO will probably maintain military colonies in key fuel- and food-producing regions, especially in areas of low population density like Saudi Arabia where control will be easier.
Domestically too their answer is already becoming visible: totalitarianism. Unintegrated immigrant populations and youth who have not yet consented to the murder of our futures present a constant internal threat to this order that has manifested in numerous revolts and insurrections, as well as countless quieter negations and the creation and diffusion of new social models — I mean our protests, our social centers, our permaculture farms, hacklabs, counterinformation groups, DIY health collectives, bicycle workshops, and other self-organized projects. When coupled with a will to destroy the existing system and an attempt to overcome the separations imposed by government and media to create real solidarity, these movements evidence a superhuman optimism that may be the only hope for the future.
And it is apparent that the State feels threatened. Under the rubric of anti-terrorism, the constellation of leading governments have begun instituting systems of total control. Infiltration and provocation in anarchist groups and Muslim communities throughout the US, as well as the curtailing of gun rights and the imprisonment for up to 22 years of activists trying conscientiously to save the planet; biometric IDs across Europe; in France mandatory DNA sampling as a consequence for over a hundred criminal offenses including graffiti and illegal protest, and psychological tracking and databasing of delinquent, potentially criminal characteristics of all children from as young as three; in the UK, thousands of surveillance cameras with facial recognition and automatic license plate-scanning technology deployed across the whole of public space as well as most bars; in Germany, the criminalization of self-defense from surveillance by wearing masks in demonstrations, and the government prerogative to declare any radical political group a criminal organization and imprison anyone said to be associated with it; in Spain, the extension of the torture and high security isolation prisons long used against the Basques to anarchists and squatters; in the Netherlands, the installation of a new system requiring one to use a personal ID/bank card to get on or off the bus, rendering one’s movements through the city trackable; and everywhere, the use of cellphones to listen to people’s conversations and log people’s movements.
The world governments may also try to mitigate the disaster by proliferating nuclear power plants and deploying particles in the atmosphere or orbital shields to reflect some of the sun’s energy, with unknown consequences for the future, as usual.
Capital and the white supremacist states are preparing to manage the apocalypse they have brought down on all of us. We need to develop our ability to survive, undermine, and destroy them. We cannot do this alone; in fact, we must overcome the isolation they impose on those who resist. Non-integrated immigrant communities and anti-authoritarians who have been privileged with citizenship must increase communication and build networks of solidarity that overcome racism, national boundaries, and otherification, and all active people must engage in a Herculean campaign of communication with everyone outside the movement to challenge the legitimacy of the State. There is a need to remind people that the politicians and capitalists created this problem. For years, they worked hard to silence it, and they have been repressing those of us trying to do something about it. The problems of the future will be much easier if everyone feels as we do — that as the lifeboat starts to sink, those responsible should be the first to go overboard. A vital task is to intervene publicly in the discourse on terrorism, to show that we are the people being persecuted as terrorists and the war on terror is actually a war of social control, and that the state is crying wolf and none of its security measures make us feel safe. People need to be comfortable with resistance, not with surveillance. If we can achieve this, we will have deprived the State of a tool it desperately needs to survive the coming storm.
The end result of this communication must be a consciousness that the State and capitalism are suicidally insane and a complementary desire to organize our own lives free of their management; an acknowledgement of the central role racism and colonialism and their attendant genocides have long played in this insanity; and an understanding that the earth is not a mechanical, dead agglomeration of materials and processes that exist for us to exploit but rather a living, sacred thing that gives us life and meaning, of which we are a small and dependent part. No future with the mentality of control and exploitation is possible: this mentality is responsible for enslavement, genocide, and the destruction of the planet. No peace with the State and capitalism is desirable: we are reclaiming our power to create the world we want to live in.
This is the change we face: total revolution or a new totalitarianism installed to preside over mass extinction, the murder of billions of people, and the deepening enslavement of those who by citizenship or skin color are marked for survival.
Every year we are seeing thousands of people fleeing their countries of origin in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, hoping for a better life. Whilst the majority will move to nearby countries, a few will attempt the long and dangerous journey to Europe. It is impossible to determine exactly how many people are forced to migrate directly by climate change. However, what is clear is that the position of wealth and privilege in the global north is, to a large extent, the result of the exploitation of land, people and resources of two-thirds of the world, the very same processes that have driven industrial capitalism and caused climate change.
The world’s poor did not cause climate change, but they are more vulnerable to its effects because of both where and how they live. Whether it’s in agricultural areas or city slums in the global south, they have fewer options available to them for adapting when things go wrong. Africa and South East Asia, for example, are some of the most geographically vulnerable places on the planet in terms of droughts, rising sea levels and extreme weather events like hurricanes and floods. But this is not exclusive to the global south: when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans it was the poor, black neighbourhoods that were hit hardest and have been excluded from where they used to live ever since.
Political systems, willing to place one group of people above another, are already responding to the potential impact of climate change. With the “war on terror,” security politics and nationalism flourished globally; climate change is being used to give further legitimacy to the concepts of “national preservation” and “homeland security.” So the Indian state is currently building a perimeter fence around its entire border with Bangladesh, a country more at risk than almost any other from the devastating consequences of rising sea levels. The fence has been explicitly talked about as a barrier to migration. If sea levels rise and Bangladeshi people are driven from their homes, they will now find themselves trapped inside this ring.
The extreme-right British National Party in the UK gives very serious attention to questions of environmental damage, peak oil, famine and food supply. For fascists like them, climate change provides the perfect opportunity to try and argue their view of the world that humanity consists of races and nations in constant conflict and competition.
What these people might advocate in the face of the effects of climate change does not bear thinking about.
This year, in April 2009, the NATO war alliance celebrated their 60th anniversary with a summit to discuss NATO’s new strategic direction. A strategy paper published in April 2007 stressed the need for a more “proactive approach,” in which the pre-emption and prevention of threats are central. To the NATO strategists an array of threats exist in today’s uncertain world, from terrorism and transnational crime to unrest following food crises, extensive migration to the countries of the NATO alliance and social conflicts as a result of climate change. The paper maintains that proper “defense” requires the concept of “homeland security”, which entails a “comprehensive approach” of the military, police, politicians, researchers, academics and civil society and the continued blurring of internal and external security to build up a “global security architecture.” We can already speak of a global market boom in databases, biometric readers, data mining programs and other new technologies of control, with multinational corporations poised to make huge profits.
In Autumn 2009, under the Swedish presidency, interior ministers met in Stockholm to decide the next five year framework on internal security in the EU. “The Stockholm Program” will foster more surveillance of the internet, common access to European police databases and more cross-border police collaboration to fight “illegal migration”. It will force countries outside the EU to take back their citizens who enter the EU without a visa and it will push the use of biometrics and radio-frequency identification (RfiD) and enlargement of the police agency Europol and the EU border watchdog Frontex.
Freedom of movement is a contested common right. Understood as a form of grassroots globalization, migration is contained, managed and restricted by a top-down process of transnationalization. And with an increase in mobility and migration, irregular migration is being perceived as a threat to the world-order and to the integrity of the nation state. “Project Nation State” is challenged by an unregulated globalism. Borders are an attempt to limit and privatise freedom of movement as a common right. Wherever physical migration occurs, new borders are erected where one is “processed,” “profiled,” “sorted,” “filtered,” “contained,” or “rejected”. The border is a site of unequal power relations where a selection is made between the useful and unwanted in relation to market demands. The border is a site of conflict that is costing yearly the lives of many who try are trying to cross borders in spite of the latest technological advances in security, surveillance and control. These people are suffocating in containers, drowning in rivers and seas, exploding on mine fields, or being shot by border guards.
‘No Borders’ is a clear antiauthoritarian position that fights for the freedom of movement for all and the abolition of borders, while recognizing the massive injustice which exploits people and resources around the world for the benefit of few. The immigration system of Fortress Europe is designed to preserve this division. And while the EU is working towards One Europe, “Project Nation State” continues far outside the EU borders. New borders are created and existing borders are transformed to also exclude from Europe the growing group of climate refugees.
A crucial part of the No Border fight is supporting and building a radical climate change movement which challenges the idea of using threats of climate chaos as an excuse for even more draconian migration controls. The radical climate action movement critiques responses to climate chaos offered by governments and corporations, such as carbon rationing that would de-facto lead us blindfold into a police state, agrofuels that would take land and food from the global South to feed cars and airplanes in the North, and carbon trading which applies market logic to solve a market problem. No Borders has at its core this same resistance to intrusion on our liberties and sees that government systems of control which are often tested on migrants will affect us all. Those who have promoted and profited from our carbon dioxide intensive lifestyles are not only responsible for the current concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but they are also the ones who are aiming to maintain their positions of wealth and privilege by getting ahead in the new ecotechnologies and green capitalism, whilst always fortifying the walls around them.
Climate change is not a question of carbon emissions. The depletion of water, soil and mineral resources and the decimation of biodiversity and ecosystems now being experienced across the planet — primarily in marginalised and poorer areas — are the result of an utter bankruptcy in the relationship between human economic activity and the rest of life on earth. It is now clear that if this relationship is not drastically altered in the coming years the consequences will be disastrous.
What is this borne of? The very language we use and metaphors we draw upon to describe the ecological crisis — that of exhaustion, degradation and exploitation, are all familiar to us as trade unionists and working class activists. The world over, workers are subject to overwork and exploitation to the point of physical and mental collapse. The reality we face now is that exploitation has increased in so many different ways that the planet itself faces such a collapse. The force that drives the stripping of rainforests and the poisoning of the atmosphere is the same force that drives the exploitation of one human being by another: the logic that profit should be the basic imperative of human activity, the logic of capitalism. We should draw no distinctions between its willingness to wreck human life or its willingness to wreck the lives of any other living thing.
We are creative and dynamic enough to be able to build societies that do not put themselves in a state of perpetual warfare with the other beings and living things that we share a planet with. We can see evidence of this in local and indigenous communities across the world which do not respond to the logic of profit. But right now we are not the ones in control of our own creativity or dynamism; our capacity to produce. The basic question of who decides what people’s work and efforts are applied towards is the key to understanding environmental damage. Wresting back the control of our own work from the class of bosses who have squandered and wasted generation upon generation of both people and resources must be fought for with a fire and passion that reflects the knowledge of the fact that in this struggle, everything is at stake. Revolutionary change and the adoption of a new set of imperatives for our labours is needed to create any sort of genuine sustainability.
The movement against environmental racism, which started with people of colour in the U.S. struggling against environmental injustices, confronted the racial discrimination in environmental decision-making. Later on, it started to be identified as not only a race struggle but also as a class struggle, since regulations and laws (international treaties in this case) were being enforced with a deliberate impact on marginalized communities in terms of toxic waste disposal, implementation of heavily polluting industries, or mega projects that produce ‘clean’ energy for someone else.
So what? It is easy enough to say that you won’t ever get a sustainable capitalist society. We cannot be part of a movement that is happy to say ‘we’ll sort out the environment after the revolution,’ nor ‘forget the revolution; we need to save the planet.’ Any analysis of both the already happening and likely future impacts of climate change makes it clear that more and more, it will start to have massive implications for the daily lives of huge sections of the world’s population — and of course, the first and worst hit will be the poorest sections of every society.
Examples of how this might begin to play out are everywhere. Last year there were riots in Mexico, Morocco and the Philippines over a jump in food prices caused almost entirely by increased global use of biofuels. The great hidden factor behind recent conflicts in Somalia and Darfur has been the vast reduction in the areas of arable land as a result of water shortage and desertification. When we think of both the forces that have generated this disaster (and more to the point) the people who will pay the consequences of it, the class divisions are openly exposed. It will not be those with the money and technology to move from the worst affected areas or pay for measures to adapt. The worst affected will be those who now bear the least responsibility: those without economic or social power.
It is clear that ecological destruction and the results of it are and will increasingly become a central point of real class struggle. There is no better example of the complete bankruptcy of capitalism as a way of organising our society for its long term survival and benefit than the fact that it now threatens the very ability of the planet’s ecosystems to support complex life such as ourselves.
The basic principle of Workers Climate Action is that in all instances you make solidarity with the oppressed; in the case of an environmentally damaging industry there is therefore a contradiction to be grappled with. While the short term economic need of the workers is for the expansion and continuation of that industry, the wider interest of the working class and of the world is that their skills are applied to another role. The only principle that can break through this problem is that of solidarity: solidarity with people and planet regardless of any distinction.
Workers of the world unite! Save it!
The text below was written collectively by Manchester No Borders for Shift Magazine. It is a result of discussions in the group, and of the debates at the 2008 Camp for Climate Action, where we hosted a workshop on the topic. We have received lots of support/interest when we started engaging with the ‘over-population’ argument and would welcome further discussion of it within the No Borders network and beyond.
From when we started being active as a No Borders group in Manchester, we have been frustrated with a lack of radical analyses and critiques (anti-state, anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, anti-discrimination etc.) of climate change, particularly as we became aware of a ‘greening of immigration controls’. There appears to be an increasing tendency for green politics to lean towards repressive measures as solutions to the environmental crisis.
More specifically, in discussions with other (environmental) activists, we have recently found ourselves in disagreement over the issue of ‘overpopulation’. A common green orthodoxy today is that there are too many people on this planet, and that we need to do something about it. (Although as we gave a well-attended workshop at the Climate Camp on this topic, we were positively surprised how many of the participants were critical of this stance.)
In this article, we want to spell out the dangers of the ‘the planet is full’ argument and argue that ‘overpopulation’ is not the root cause of climate change. People are not the problem, but society. Human beings per se are not the problem, but the way our social life is organized: capitalism.
There are two levels to our criticism of the ‘overpopulation’ argument. One, the argument quite simply plays into the hands of governments, nationalists and anti-feminists who are quite happy to step up demographic controls, people management and anti-immigration policies. Two, interpreting population growth as the root cause of the climate crisis completely disregards the systemic nature of the problem and thus lets capitalism off the hook.
So where is the problem? The UN projects that world population figures will rise from today’s 6.8 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050. For the prophets of demographic doom, Britain, in particular, is under threat. Government projections are that the UK population is to rise from 60.6 million (mid-2006) to 77 million in 2050. Obviously, demographic modeling contains lots of cultural and political assumptions, and its observations should be treated as politically informed rather than neutral. Human population behaviour is very random and unpredictable, not something that can be forecasted as unproblematically as tomorrow’s weather, say (and you know how inaccurate that is!).
Whatever the assumption, an increasing amount of global players (from government agencies to international organizations, think tanks, and celebrities) conclude that the planet is full. They argue that any such densely populated area as Britain would be unsustainable in terms of food production, housing and energy needs.
Also, within the green movement this is not a marginal position, and it is no longer limited to ‘deep ecologists’. The green-nationalist think tank ‘Optimum Population Trust’, for example, estimates that the UK can only sustain less than half its current population level. And they demand a national population policy that first stabilizes the number of people in the UK and then gradually brings it down to 30 million.
The fact is, however, that the UK population is growing primarily because of immigration. The argument thus is threefold. First, immigration puts pressure on national resources such as water, energy, food and land. Second, new migrants tend to have more children than the national population, thereby accelerating the problem. Third, migration to ‘first world’ countries turns previously low-impact consumers into high-impact consumers, thereby increasing their ecological footprints. It comes as no surprise to us, then, that the BNP calls itself the ‘real Green Party’.
The government’s chief green advisor, Jonathan Porritt, has also time and again argued this point. But what to do? Porritt’s suggestion is straightforward: zero net immigration! David Cameron also agrees that rapid population increase will put pressure on our natural resources. And again, his solution is to lower net immigration: “my focus today is on population, and here we should note that only around thirty per cent of the projected increase in our population by 2031 is due to higher birth rates and longer lifespans… the evidence shows that roughly seventy per cent — more than two thirds — of the increase in our population each year is attributable to net migration. Of that increase, forty-seven per cent comes directly from people to moving to Britain, and the rest from higher birth rates amongst immigrant populations.”
It becomes clear that in a sexist, imperialist, capitalist world, it is impossible to separate discussion of population control from hierarchies of oppression. Which population is going to be “controlled” and how will this control come about?
Any form of population control risks seriously impinging upon women’s right to bodily autonomy. State-enforced population control programs, such as China’s ‘one-child policy’, are usually enacted upon women’s bodies; it is women who are forced to have abortions, to undergo sterilisation, or to take long-term birth control products (often with serious health repercussions). Rarely are men forced to undergo vasectomies, despite the relative easiness of this procedure when compared to tubal ligation.
However, not all women will be affected equally; those from the Global South, ethnic minorities, those perceived as disabled, and the working class have historically borne the brunt of population control policies. Eugenicists in Victorian England were very clear about which segments of the population needed controlling: the poor and the disabled.
More recently, black British feminists in the 1970s and 1980s wrote about the need to campaign for abortion rights while at the same time also fighting for their right not to have abortions and not to be pressured into sterilisation. At the same time, dangerous forms of birth control, like early experimental forms of Depo-Provera, were being tested upon women in the Global South (and in predominantly African-American areas of the US) before being allowed for sale in the Western world. Today, women in the Global South are often ‘encouraged’ by NGOs to use long-term forms of birth control, like implants, that require a medical attention to stop (as opposed to something like the pill, which can be stopped at any time by the woman taking it). This history cannot be ignored today when discussing population control in the UK. As single working-class mothers, immigrants and ethnic minorities (particularly Muslims) find themselves being increasingly demonised; any population control policies will target women from these groups.
Throughout its history, the overpopulation argument has been used to present people and children as the source of inherently social problems, thus letting capitalism off the hook. The argument always goes like this: there are too many of us and the planet can’t hack it. Whether it’s the poor, the Jews, women, or migrants, all have been used strategically as scapegoats for an irrational and unproductive use of space and resources within a capitalist economy.
One of the most prominent writers on overpopulation was Thomas Malthus, a 19th century cleric of the Church of England. His treatise on overpopulation “A summary view of the principle of population” was printed in 1830, but is still read widely today. Malthus stated that whilst population increased at a geometric rate (1, 2, 4, 8, 16…), doubling every 25 years, food production increases at an arithmetic rate (1, 2, 3, 4, 5…). Malthus believed this disparity between food production and population growth was the root cause of “checks to (human) growth” such as war, famine and disease.
The strong strand of prejudice within Malthus’ work, however, often goes unacknowledged by neo-Malthusians. He saw poverty as deserved rather than produced and blamed the poor for their “lack of moral restraint”, thus making them the primary focus of population policy. The inherent conservatism and class prejudice hidden behind a veneer of scientific objectivity has made Malthus a popular source of intellectual legitimacy for various conservative and authoritarian positions.
In the late 19th century, Eugenicists began utilising and expanding on Malthus’s critique of the rapid population growth of the poor. Eugenicists argued that this lack of restraint was genetically inherited and posed a threat to the future of the nation (one prominent Eugenicist was Winston Churchill). Many discriminatory laws were passed to attempt to influence the outcome of breeding. Once again, systemic problems were naturalised and projected upon the very people most negatively affected by them.
Many anti-migration authors have also propagated Malthusian ideas. These arguments have relied upon an analysis of national resources as closed and finite systems and exaggerating rates of migration. Proposals for the closing of borders are contrasted with images of swarms of migrants exhausting national resources like locusts. One example of this nationalist position, which supports the competitive nature of states, is this quote from the journal Population and environment:
“Countries that are in the lead in reducing their populations should not give in to advocates of growth by allowing massive immigration. This rewards those who multiply irresponsibly.”
As environments change due to climate change, the monster of ‘overpopulation’ is being resurrected as a security issue. As we are seeing with climate change, environmental issues provide a space for the legitimisation of conservative and authoritarian policies.
Perhaps one of the most influential of these authors was Garrett Hardin, whose 1968 essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” masked a pro-private property stance beneath a veneer of scientific objectivity. Hardin believed that without private ownership of natural resources, unchecked population growth would lead to their exhaustion.
The same arguments were used to support the 20th century ‘green revolution’, and are appearing again with the G8 leaders in Japan agreeing to extend research into GM crops to deal with ‘overpopulation’. ‘Overpopulation’ is used as a convenient argument to support the agendas of specific political and economic actors.
But let’s not attack a straw man here. None of the green progressives here in the UK argue for more stringent migration controls (in contrast to parts of the green conservationist movement in the US). Nonetheless, we have witnessed population graphs being used in climate change presentations, which could have lead to knee-jerk reactions and dangerous political conclusions when taken out of their left-wing context.
The climate action movement of course recognises the repression faced by migrants and the fact that the groups of people who are hit hardest by climate change are in the Global South. However, even with the best intentions of warding off ecological destruction and creating better lives for people in the face of climate chaos, the ‘overpopulation’ argument still ignores the systemic logic behind climate change: capitalism.
The central flaw to Malthusian thought is its a-systemic nature. Regardless of the economic system or social organisation, it views the root cause of most human suffering as population growth, and in particular the threat of the poor becoming richer (and thus consuming more). Poverty however, is produced not bred, and by projecting systemic flaws onto those it most affects, neo-Malthusianism both helps to protect the status quo from criticism and construct vulnerable social groups as legitimate targets of control.
As relatively rich Western countries consume the most energy, it is often argued that it is their populations, in particular, that should be curbed, whether by authoritarian state control or by individuals in the West simply realizing it is their moral responsibility not to reproduce. But to imply that the Earth should come before a child can lead down a dangerous path. It may lead to a resentment of those social groups that migrate or reproduce more often than others. Besides, social, economic, and cultural pressures to have or not to have children cannot be tackled through individual lifestyle choices and guilt trips.
An emancipatory response to climate change requires a political and social solution. We should be attacking capitalism, not children and families. In a world where children are killed over oil and exploited at the hands of multi-national corporations, it isn’t surprising that children will eventually be blamed for capitalism’s fuck-ups. Capitalism doesn’t make sense and neither do capitalist solutions. The ‘overpopulation’ argument ignores the contradictions inherent in capitalism that mediate the relationship between human beings and the environment and already limit our freedom and desires on a real everyday level.
Instead of acknowledging the unprecedented global disasters that seem to spiral as capitalism grows and spreads its destructive wings, the ‘overpopulation’ argument asks not for a new form of social organisation (that might see land and resources accessed and shared more evenly, contributing to less poverty, more sustainable lifestyles and fewer wars), but takes the shameful and hopeless route of asking people to have fewer children. In a world where we are repeatedly screwed over, we are now being asked not to screw!
For some years now everyone is talking about climate change — Angela Merkel, the G8, the World Bank, Al Gore, CEO’s, the farmers organization “Via Campesina”, all of them have something to say about the climate. Except the radical left.
Many in the Radical left often dismiss climate politics as a fashion topic of alternative leftists, to be of interest mainly to the green bourgeoisie. In this context ecological issues are quickly equated with the simple call for a renouncement of consumption, which will produce nothing but an individualization of the problem. For good reasons the need to distance oneself from the homeland security type of environment protection, as well as from a bourgeois approach of an individually healthy, carbon-neutral life based on organic food, is enormous. But this cannot lead the radical left to the conclusion to simply renounce dealing with the issue.
For the radical left, the debate about ecological issues requires mainly a radical critique of economic growth and technology. If it was possible in recent years to avoid facing this discussion, it will become harder when talking about greenhouse gas emissions. What’s clear is, that the effects of capitalist growth can only be solved socially, not individually.
But it has to be equally clear that the “Everything for everybody” policy we have propagated so far runs the risk of becoming an empty and arrogant phrase of the metropolis, considering the dramatically decreasing resources and the ecological burden distributed so unequally across the planet. What could this “all” be in the future, that is to be equally distributed? In our opinion the radical left in Germany has to search for a political reorientation, if she doesn’t want to loose the connection to the global left critical of the system pretty soon.
In the next years climate change will have drastic ecological, social and political effects — and this not only in the global south but also here in Europe. All parts of the radical left should confront themselves with these effects, if they want to have any influence in the upcoming conflicts of society. For example: What will happen, when the border regime we face today collapses under the mass of refugees and then gets replaced by the military? And what will happen by the time petrol gets so expensive that the average citizens cannot afford to fly to Mallorca for holidays anymore or drive to work with their cars? For the radical left this offers the chance to scandalize the social failure of capitalism, and to dismantle it ideologically and practically. Right now the effects of climate change are shifted on to the poor people of the world without restraint and in open public — and only little dissent is to be heard from the rich metropolis…
Climate change does not only pose a threat, it is also a chance. By the time adjustments to climate change have been made, it will have lead to drastic economic and social instability, and the question will no longer be if there will be radical political changes, but which changes these will be.
(excerpts from a text originally written in German)
Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?
Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption — changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much — and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.
Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.
Or let’s talk energy. Kirkpatrick Sale summarized it well: “For the past 15 years the story has been the same every year: individual consumption — residential, by private car, and so on — is never more than about a quarter of all consumption; the vast majority is commercial, industrial, corporate, by agribusiness and government” (he forgot military). So, even if we all took up cycling and wood stoves it would have a negligible impact on energy use, global warming and atmospheric pollution.”
Or let’s talk waste. In 2005, per-capita municipal waste production (basically everything that’s put out at the curb) in the U.S. was about 1,660 pounds (753 kg). Let’s say you’re a die-hard simple-living activist, and you reduce this to zero. You recycle everything. You bring cloth bags shopping. You fix your toaster. Your toes poke out of old tennis shoes. You’re not done yet, though. Since municipal waste includes not just residential waste, but also waste from government offices and businesses, you march to those offices, waste reduction pamphlets in hand, and convince them to cut down on their waste enough to eliminate your share of it. Uh, I’ve got some bad news. Municipal waste accounts for only 3 percent of total waste production in the United States.
I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.
So how, then, and especially with all the world at stake, have we come to accept these utterly insufficient responses? I think part of it is that we’re in a double bind. A double bind is where you’re given multiple options, but no matter what option you choose, you lose, and withdrawal is not an option. At this point, it should be pretty easy to recognize that every action involving the industrial economy is destructive (and we shouldn’t pretend that solar photovoltaics, for example, exempt us from this: they still require mining and transportation infrastructures at every point in the production processes; the same can be said for every other so-called green technology). So if we choose option one — if we avidly participate in the industrial economy — we may in the short term think we win because we may accumulate wealth, the marker of “success” in this culture. But we lose, because in doing so we give up our empathy, our animal humanity. And we really lose because industrial civilization is killing the planet, which means everyone loses.
If we choose the “alternative” option of living more simply, thus causing less harm, but still not stopping the industrial economy from killing the planet, we may in the short term think we win because we get to feel pure, and we didn’t even have to give up all of our empathy (just enough to justify not stopping the horrors), but once again we really lose because industrial civilization is still killing the planet, which means everyone still loses. The third option, acting decisively to stop the industrial economy, is very scary for a number of reasons, including but not restricted to the fact that we’d lose some of the luxuries (like electricity) to which we’ve grown accustomed, and the fact that those in power might try to kill us if we seriously impede their ability to exploit the world — none of which alters the fact that it’s a better option than a dead planet. Any option is a better option than a dead planet.
Besides being ineffective at causing the sorts of changes necessary to stop this culture from killing the planet, there are at least four other problems with perceiving simple living as a political act (as opposed to living simply because that’s what you want to do). The first is that it’s predicated on the flawed notion that humans inevitably harm their landbase. Simple living as a political act consists solely of harm reduction, ignoring the fact that humans can help the Earth as well as harm it. We can rehabilitate streams, we can get rid of noxious invasives, we can remove dams, we can disrupt a political system tilted toward the rich as well as an extractive economic system, we can destroy the industrial economy that is destroying the real, physical world.
The second problem — and this is another big one — is that it incorrectly assigns blame to the individual (and most especially to individuals who are particularly powerless) instead of to those who actually wield power in this system and to the system itself. Kirkpatrick Sale again: “The whole individualist what-you-can-do-to-save-the-earth guilt trip is a myth. We, as individuals, are not creating the crises, and we can’t solve them.”
The third problem is that it accepts capitalism’s redefinition of us from citizens to consumers. By accepting this redefinition, we reduce our potential forms of resistance to consuming and not consuming. Citizens have a much wider range of available resistance tactics, including voting, not voting, running for office, pamphleting, boycotting, organizing, lobbying, protesting, and, when a government becomes destructive of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we have the right to alter or abolish it.
The fourth problem is that the endpoint of the logic behind simple living as a political act is suicide. If every act within an industrial economy is destructive, and if we want to stop this destruction, and if we are unwilling (or unable) to question (much less destroy) the intellectual, moral, economic, and physical infrastructures that cause every act within an industrial economy to be destructive, then we can easily come to believe that we will cause the least destruction possible if we are dead.
The good news is that there are other options. We can follow the examples of brave activists who lived through the difficult times I mentioned — Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, antebellum United States — who did far more than manifest a form of moral purity; they actively opposed the injustices that surrounded them. We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.
Almost everyone from capitalists to mainstream environmentalists and anarchists are proposing a massive construction project of alternative industrial infrastructure, replacing the current high emitting infrastructure, to solve the problem of global warming. These people say we need more wind energy, solar energy and ocean energy, a new electrical grid, electric cars, and even energy efficient household appliances. If critique of capitalism is uncommon these days, then critique of alternative industrialism is even less common. Here are some arguments often left out of the debate.
- To build a new green infrastructure of such a massive scale would require a lot of energy and materials, which can only be provided through the use of already existing fossil fuel based infrastructure. Inevitably this would lead to a lot of net greenhouse gas emissions, in a situation when we need to start reducing them quickly.
- The production of this new infrastructure will require a vast amount of raw materials, much of which are not renewable themselves, and are environmentally destructive to obtain. Alternative industrial technologies, such as wind turbines, solar panels and electric cars require a lot of rare earth metals that are already in short supply from the current alternative industrialism boom. It has yet to be proven if we even have the raw materials available to make enough wind turbines and solar panels to keep up current levels of energy consumption or any significant level of industrial production at all.
- The new surge in green manufacturing puts a lot of pressure to open new mines and to build new processing plants. These new mines and other methods of resource extraction will inevitably destroy and poison local communities around the source of extraction. Even Jana Hartline, Toyota’s environmental communication manager admits: “Mining in any way, shape or form is never an environmentally friendly process. That’s the nature of the beast.”
- If industrial production were to be ecologically sustainable, it would have to be a closed loop when it comes to non-renewable materials. In other words 100 % recycling. With current technology, this is impossible.
- A question that shouldn’t be underestimated for anti authoritarians is whether or not it is possible to sustain the large scale co-operation and deep specialization necessary for running any type of industrial production, without falling into hierarchical ways of organization. This should not be taken lightly: the organization of CNT, the anarchist labor union which controlled much of industrial production in some areas of Spain during the civil war, had at least six levels of hierarchy.
- It takes time to build new infrastructure, time that we don’t have. There are diverging opinions whether any kind of alternative green infrastructure could be built quickly enough to be any kind of replacement.
What all this means is that if we want to halt global warming, we need to start questioning our dependence on industrial production and infrastructure. We need to put wind energy, solar energy and other alternative industrial solutions on the list of false solutions along with agrofuels, nuclear energy, and clean coal technology. As soon as possible, we need to start doing the only thing that can halt the destruction of our life supporting systems: reducing our industrial production and consumption to the absolute minimum.
- Sharon Astyk: A New Deal or a War Footing? Thinking Through Our Response to Climate Change http://sharonastyk.com/2008/11/11/a-new-deal-or-a-war-footing-thinking-through-our-response-to-climate-change/ (Casaubon’s Book, 11.11.2008)
- Jeff Vail: The Renewables Hump http://www.jeffvail.net/2009/07/renewables-hump-8-concluding-thoughts.html (2009) and Renewable Transition http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5588 (The Oil Drum, 2009)
- Stew Cowans: Rare earth supply crimp could derail expansion in alternative energy industry http://treo.typepad.com/raremetalblog/2009/08/media-rare-earth-supply-crimp-could-derail-expansion-in-alternative-energy-industry.html (RareMetalMedia, 27.8.2009)
- Steve Gorman: As hybrid cars gobble rare metals, shortage looms http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE57U02B20090831 (Reuters, 31.8.2009)
- Damian Kahya: Bolivia holds key to electric car future http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7707847.stm (BBC News, 9.11.2008)
- Bradley Berman: Shortage of Rare Metals for Hybrids Is Overblown http://www.hybridcars.com/news/shortage-rare-metals-hybrids-overblown-26072.html (Hybridcars.com, 4.9.2009)
- I.Wernick and N.J. Themelis: Recycling Metals for the Environment http://www.seas.columbia.edu/earth/papers/aree98.pdf (1998)
- Robert U. Ayres, Leslie W. Ayres and Ingrid Råde: The Life Cycle of Copper, its Co-Products and By-Products http://www.iied.org/pubs/pdfs/G00740.pdf (2002)
- Robert U. Ayres: Toxic heavy metals: Materials cycle optimization http://www.pnas.org/content/89/3/815.full.pdf (1991)
- Bob Black: On Organisation (Chapter 4 in Anarchy After Leftism, C.A.L. Press, 1997).
See also p. 14-5 in Murray Bookchin: To Remember Spain http://www.spunk.org/texts/writers/bookchin/sp001642/overview.html (AK Press, 1994) and “Centralization and planning” in Daniel Guerin’s “Anarchism — From theory to Practice” http://www.infoshop.org/library/Daniel_Guerin:Anarchism2#CENTRALIZATION_AND_PLANNING .
Global capitalism really isn’t doing so well these days: from mortgages to banks, from the banks to the car industry, from the US to Western Europe, from Western to Eastern Europe… Nobody seems to know where the crisis will strike next.
All that is clear is that it will continue to strike, and strike, and strike. This is not a ‘normal’ economic crisis, i.e. one that is caused by the normal ups and downs of an economic cycle. This crisis goes deep: it is the result of decades of neoliberal assaults on wages and welfare benefits, leading to an excess of supply of goods and services over demand. Or in other words: there’s too much stuff that wants to be bought out there, and not enough people with enough money to buy it. Profit rates are low, productivity growth is depressed, and this time, unlike the last few times a crisis seemed to threaten the wobbly edifice of neoliberalism, there is no new bubble in sight to soak up all the excess capital sloshing around the world. So to sum up: global capitalism really isn’t doing so well these days, and that’s not even mentioning the energy crisis, the crumbling of US-hegemony, etc., etc…
And then there’s what we call the ‘biocrisis’: the multiple socio-ecological crisis tendencies that arise as a result of the antagonism between collective human survival in relatively stable eco-social systems, and the requirements of economic growth. The most prominent of these is no doubt the climate crisis, but further crisis tendencies, all of which stand in a reasonably direct relationship to capitalist production, are: loss of biodiversity; lack of access to water; loss of arable land through erosion and desertification; overfishing; destruction of forests, and so on.
This biocrisis, while a threat to us as human beings, is actually quite interesting for capital: it might just be possible to use public concern about this crisis to channel massive investment flows into so-called ‘green technologies’, get governments to subsidise the construction of ‘green cars’, or maybe get a new ‘green’ construction boom going. This would mean kick-starting economic growth again, and — from the perspective of capital — all would be well again. Because that is all that capital can and must care about: economic growth. Whether or not the biocrisis is solved by such ‘green growth’ is not in fact the question — it cannot be. But what if solutions to the climate and biocrisis require actions that would reduce growth rates below zero? Are the — largely — well-meaning advocates of a Green New Deal prepared to go this far? Nothing in their proposals so far seems to suggest that this is the case…
This is the context for our 20 theses against green capitalism. We believe that the biocrisis is fundamentally caused by economic growth in a fossilistic capitalist system. For example, 250 years of industrial capitalism have equalled 250 years of explosive rises in carbon emissions. Only if we manage to use the political space opened by the current crisis to really tackle the mad, destructive need for growth that is at the heart of both capitalism and the biocrisis can we hope to solve the latter — not through some social-democratic tinkering around capitalism’s destructive edges. A Green New Deal sounds nice, but falls short of this. In the current climate, it is possible to challenge the fundamentals of capitalism. So we should have the courage to do so. Let’s be realistic and demand the possible: shut down global capitalism — fossilistic or greenwashed!
- The current world economic crisis marks the end of the neoliberal phase of capitalism. ‘Business as usual’ (financialisation, deregulation, privatisation…) is thus no longer an option: new spaces of accumulation and types of political regulation will need to be found by governments and corporations to keep capitalism going
- Alongside the economic and political as well as energy crises, there is another crisis rocking the world: the biocrisis, the result of a suicidal mismatch between the ecological life support system that guarantees our collective human survival and capital’s need for constant growth
- This biocrisis is an immense danger to our collective survival, but like all crises it also presents us, social movements, with a historic opportunity: to really go for capitalism’s exposed jugular, its need for unceasing, destructive, insane growth
- Of the proposals that have emerged from global elites, the only one that promises to address all these crises is the ‘Green New Deal’. This is not the cuddly green capitalism 1.0 of organic agriculture and D.I.Y. windmills, but a proposal for a new ’green’ phase of capitalism that seeks to generate profits from the piecemeal ecological modernisation of certain key areas of production (cars, energy, etc.)
- Green capitalism 2.0 cannot solve the biocrisis (climate change and other ecological problems such as the dangerous reduction of biodiversity), but rather tries to profit from it. It therefore does not fundamentally alter the collision course on which any market-driven economy sets humanity with the biosphere.
- This isn’t the 1930s. Then, under the pressure of powerful social movements, the old ‘New Deal’ redistributed power and wealth downwards. The ‘New New’ and ‘Green New Deal’ discussed by Obama, green parties all around the world, and even some multinationals is more about welfare for corporations than for people
- Green Capitalism won’t challenge the power of those who actually produce most greenhouse gases: the energy companies, airlines and carmakers, industrial agriculture, but will simply shower them with more money to help maintain their profit rates by making small ecological changes that will be too little, too late
- Because globally, working people have lost their power to bargain and demand rights and decent wages, in a green capitalist setup, wages will probably stagnate or even decline to offset the rising costs of ‘ecological modernisation’
- The `green capitalist state’ will be an authoritarian one. Justified by the threat of ecological crisis it will ‘manage’ the social unrest that will necessarily grow from the impoverishment that lies in the wake of rising cost of living (food, energy, etc.) and falling wages
- In green capitalism, the poor will have to be excluded from consumption, pushed to the margins, while the wealthy will get to ‘offset’ their continued environmentally destructive behaviour, shopping and saving the planet at the same time
- An authoritarian state, massive class inequalities, welfare given to corporations: from the point of view of social and ecological emancipation, green capitalism will be a disaster that we can never recover from. Today, we have a chance to get beyond the suicidal madness of constant growth. Tomorrow, by the time we’ve all gotten used to the new green regime, that chance may be gone
- In green capitalism, there is a danger that established, mainstream environmental groups will come to play the role that trade unions played in the Fordist era: acting as safety valves to make sure that demands for social change, that our collective rage remain within the boundaries set by the needs of capital and governments
- Albert Einstein defined ‘insanity’ as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” In the past decade, in spite of Kyoto, not only has the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increased — so, too, has the rate of increase. Do we simply want more of the same? Wouldn’t that be insane?
- International climate agreements promote false solutions that are often more about energy security than climate change. Far from solving the crisis, emissions trading, CMD, joint implementation, offsets and so on, all provide a political shield for the continued production of greenhouse gases with impunity
- For many communities in the global South, these false solutions (agrofuels, ‘green deserts’, CDM-projects) are by now often a greater threat than climate change itself
- Real solutions to the climate crisis won’t be dreamt up by governments or corporations. They can only emerge from below, from globally networked social movements for climate justice
- Such solutions include: no to free trade, no to privatisation, no to flexible mechanisms. Yes to food sovereignty, yes to degrowth, yes to radical democracy and to leaving the resources in the ground
- As an emerging global climate justice movement, we must fight two enemies: on one hand climate change and the fossilistic capitalism that causes it, and on the other, an emergent green capitalism that won’t stop it, but will limit our ability to do so
- Of course, climate change and free trade aren’t the same thing, but: the Copenhagen-protocol will be a central regulatory instance of green capitalism just as the WTO was central to neoliberal capitalism. So how to relate to it? The Danish group KlimaX argues: A good deal is better than no deal — but no deal is way better than a bad one
- The chance that governments will come up with a `good deal’ in Copenhagen is slim to none. Our aim must therefore be to demand agreement on real solutions. Failing that: to forget Kyoto, and shut down Copenhagen! (whatever the tactic)
“Everything is rational in capitalism, except capital or capitalism itself …the system is demented, yet it works very well at the same time.” Felix Guattarri, 1995
“We mean business when we talk about climate change.” Jose Manuel Barroso, European commission president, 2009
The COP-15 summit appears likely to be the biggest political spectacle of the past few years. Inside the summit delegates from 170 countries, corporate lobbyists and NGO representatives will come together under the banner of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to broker a deal to “defeat climate change”. The COP-15 will be a core global governance mechanism through which climate change mitigation will be implemented and the deal that will emerge has the potential to affect the entire socio-ecological field. Outside the conference both environmental activists and environmental ministers are calling for a mass mobilisation to save humanity from climate change. The COP-15 summit is a unique spatial and temporal condensation of the climate mitigation debate and as such provides a clear lens through which to view broader process of capitalist governance.
This article hopes to tease out some of the implications that a radical analysis of the (post)politics of climate change mitigation has for environmental movements in particular, and within global society more generally. A recognition of the unique characteristics of contemporary global governance is vital for those seeking to move beyond its limitations rather than operate within them.
The formal political space of the COP-15, and climate change mitigation in general, can be defined by its emphasis on consensus. The articulation of antagonistic positions has been subsumed within a new political space grounded upon science and technocratic administration, where the only legitimate debates that remain concern the finer points of the governance mechanisms to be implemented.
Climate change has become depoliticised and debate is now framed within the scientific and apolitical frame of carbon parts per million in the atmosphere. However, despite appearing as a non-political issue, it is the exact opposite. Carbon emissions stem from concrete forms of production that are themselves the result of political contestation. By focusing on carbon and not the flows of capital responsible for their emission, policymakers are confusing the effects with the system that produces them. This focus on carbon helps to insulate capitalist production from criticism by externalising the problem and divorcing it from its social context.
While climate change has been defined and depoliticised in terms of carbon rather than capital, any policy needs political support to be implemented. The political willpower to act on climate change has been galvanised through an apocalyptic and millenarian narrative. The argument for averting climate change is clear and unequivocal: if climate change is not averted we will face global disaster which will most affect the majority world. Therefore, the argument continues, we must act this very instant in any way possible to avert this catastrophic build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Climate change therefore becomes framed as a universal problem requiring an immediate, united global response.
Faced with the prospect of apocalypse, old left-right antagonisms begin to look outdated and those standing outside this “carbon consensus” are marginalised as extremists or as relics of a previous time. The climate change banner is a (carbon neutral) rainbow leading towards a decarbonised society regardless of the mode of production which operates within it. The threat of apocalypse and the resultant emphasis on haste fail to recognise the daily crisis many already experience due to the processes of capital.
This discourse is also reproduced within radical environmental movements where the “necessities” of action are placed before “abstract” and “divisive” political debates. What is needed within radical movements, we are told, are “more people”, “more awareness” and “more action”. Climate change discourse has therefore become a post-political space devoid of antagonism that is focused on implementing policy based on science, technology and markets. This appeal to universal action has helped to short circuit real political debate over possible future socio-ecological relationships. Within this depoliticised space David Milliband’s call for “millions on the streets”, in a “Make Poverty History” style mobilisation to give Gordon Brown a mandate at the COP-15, sits comfortably with environmental activists calling for a pragmatic engagement with the process. Much like the Gleneagles G8 summit, COP-15 appears to be recuperating antagonism in order to re-articulate global patterns of capital.
The post-political condition actively forecloses the creation of political — that is, antagonistic — moments in which the social relations upon which all reality is grounded come into question. The energy generated via social movements is funnelled into systems of governance in order to reproduce the basis of continued capital accumulation; that is, the initial source of discontent.
This is tying the world into a disastrous course of action. Climate change must be defined as an issue of capital, not carbon. Contrary to the claims of proponents of the emerging “green” economy, there is no equitable technological solution to climate change. A de-carbonised global economy (as many wish to see) will still be a capitalist economy with all the social and environmental damage this entails. A greener form of capitalism will be a more austere form of capitalism in which increasing unrest will require discipline through increasingly authoritarian forms of state power. At best, capitalist climate “solutions” will be a pyrrhic victory in which catastrophic climate change is averted at the expense of the global majority.
The COP-15 process can be seen as one part of this emerging ‘green new deal’ in which converging ecological and financial crises can be recuperated into circuits of capital accumulation. The burgeoning carbon market will primarily benefit private interests in the North, who will profit from the synergy between possessing surplus capital and the need to offset their emissions via “development” projects in the global South which look likely to only benefit small sections of local elites. Even changes within energy production systems away from coal (a target of many radical movements) towards renewable production appear likely to entail the enclosure of the commons, the displacement of communities and the re-consolidation of global energy corporations. Real political antagonism has been trumped by a process whose destructive and deeply political nature has been obscured behind a scientific and apparently universal mandate for action.
That the media and the entire political spectrum appear in support of this process makes a truly anti-capitalist intervention even more problematic. By demanding the end of capitalist social relationships and refusing to accept existing forms of bio-political governance we are articulating a demand that is impossible to be accommodated within the existing political sphere.
Despite this, we must act. Radical movements must remain relevant if they wish to be successful, and climate change has become a central motif for the organisation of contemporary global society. However, a principled intervention must embody a rejection of the current organisation of capitalism and the false solutions being supported by the COP-15 and many liberals and environmentalists who wish to “make Kyoto Stronger”, all of whom are in fact pushing for a more austere form of capitalism.
Faced with these choices, the only principled position for an anti-capitalist intervention is that of negation. Our politics must reject both the current form of capitalism and its emerging successor, “Green Capitalism”. This is not based on political idealism but rather on an objective analysis. The real idealists appear to be those that believe that capitalism can be reformed and can function sustainably within the objective barriers of the bio-physical world. Even if climate change is averted, the spectres of food, water and soil crises loom on the horizon. Those restricted by the activist ideology of immediate action are merely ensuring they will have an ample supply of causes and campaigns post-climate change.
In terms of environmental politics, a true anti-capitalist politics is nowhere. Climate change has become post-political. The only debates that remain at the COP-15 are over the finer points of the carbon market which will be implemented: a market which will produce new forms of structural violence. In an incredible demonstration of the adaptability of capital, many NGOs and environmentalists are supporting this process. Although it would be tempting to remain in our local communities, the impacts of climate change and its mitigation are so large that we cannot afford to retreat to localism.
The question of how to manifest a rejection of capitalist solutions remains, in my opinion, yet to be answered. Given the post-political context of climate change this will be very difficult to achieve. An analysis of post-political processes has severe implications for anti-capitalist interventions. If the formal political sphere is no longer a viable space for intervention, then what implications does this have for activists and social movements? Indeed, the truly antagonistic intervention against global climate governance may well be expressed in anti-austerity campaigns as the effects of food, water and energy precarity come to be felt throughout the social sphere. It is likely that these campaigns and events will be led by people not explicitly identifying with climate change politics as they are currently expressed. Whether we are “successful” or not in re-politicising climate change, we must begin to recognise ways in which we can support these autonomous uprisings rooted in our everyday experiences of capital.
By Jason Slade, The Nor’easter #7
Environmental issues can oftentimes be very complex. Some issues directly relate to climate change, and some do not. However, it is very important to connect the dots between issues because almost all environmental problems are caused, at their base, by capitalist expansion, commodification and privatization. Corporations have used the climate crisis and growing public concern about environmental issues to their advantage. They have learned to use the rhetoric of environmentalism to justify extremely oppressive projects whose sole purpose is to increase their power and to continue the cycle of production and consumption. Incredibly destructive projects, such as hydrofracture natural gas extraction in Upstate New York, are marketed as clean. This absurd spectacle must be stopped.
In Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, he writes, “The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification … The spectacle grasped in its totality is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society. In all its specific forms, as information or propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment consumption, the spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life … It is the sun which never sets over the empire of modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the world and bathes endlessly in its own glory.” And now the light of that sun is green. The green spectacle is confronting the climate crisis with hollow solutions presented to us in a pleasant, prefabricated package that can be bought if we can afford them and allow us to pollute in good conscience. In an absurd twist, these corporate false solutions cause the poor, and those who resist these schemes, to be blamed for destroying the planet. “It is not the oil companies who are to blame for climate change, but the poor who do not buy carbon offsets when they travel.” Thus, the climate crisis becomes another way to make money and increase corporate power.
In short, the green spectacle is an image of a greener, more natural society, reached by corporate solutions. The green spectacle is created by the undeniable urgency of our climate crisis and capitalism’s need to reinvent itself and present its own solutions to climate change, because it is clear that any real solution would eliminate capitalism. Sadly, many groups that wish to solve climate change are limited in their ability to combat it because they must live within the spectacle and believe the corporate media’s lies. So even people fighting against the system get caught up in its maze, never attacking the root systemic causes of our issues. We must create our own narrative and attack the roots of this ecocidal system. We cannot let corporations trick us into accepting false solutions.
The Lies: Biofuels, Carbon Trading and Privatization
Biofuels are often said to be a possible solution to the climate crisis. However, they are more likely to make the problem worse than better. Not only does it take more energy to produce biofuels than they contain, but biofuels are an expansion of industrial agriculture, which is a major cause of climate change, deforestation, the dispossession of local communities, bio-diversity loss, water and soil degradation, and loss of food sovereignty and security. Additionally, the production of biofuels takes farmland that could be used to feed people and instead uses it to grow ethanol for our cars. Food riots have already broken out in Mexico, where prices rose on corn because of ethanol production. With over 865 million hungry people in this world, it is puzzling why we would be growing food for hungry cars and not hungry people.
Carbon trading, too, is nothing more than a way for the biggest polluters to look like they are doing something about climate change and make a fortune in the process. Governments arbitrarily give out carbon credits, usually to the biggest polluters, and they are traded as a normal commodity. Two of the largest carbon trading schemes that have already been implemented are REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) and CDM (Clean Development Mechanisms). Their joint implementation is a way of privatizing, selling and profiting more from our natural resources.
REDD takes land rights away from local people and puts them in the hands of corporations. In many cases, non-native trees are planted, such as monoculture eucalyptus trees in Brazil, which changes the ecosystem, drying up the land and hurting the plants that local people use to survive.
CDM allows industrialized countries with a greenhouse gas reduction commitment (such as the Kyoto Protocol) to invest in projects that (in theory) reduce emissions in developing countries, instead of more expensive emission reductions in their own countries. CDM projects, for example, allow companies to privatize rivers to create “clean” hydroelectric dams. Since the dam produces less carbon emissions than a theoretical coal plant that might have been built, the company receives carbon credits, allowing it to pollute more, or sell the credits.
All this privatizing also means more surveillance and displacement. Since the forests now exist for profit, indigenous people who have lived in them for generations are being forced off their land.
One of our most important resources is already being privatized: water. Less than one percent of the world’s freshwater (or 0.007 percent of the world’s water) is accessible and potable. This needs to be shared by the world’s 6.7 billion people, the myriad wildlife and ecosystems, and human agriculture and industries. However, this resource is no longer being treated as a commons. Water is being privatized to create hydroelectric dams that produce “clean energy” for destructive processes such as aluminum smelting. Dams destroy ecosystems by turning them into stagnant cesspools, displace whole communities by forcing them off the land, and release huge amounts of methane from flooded vegetation. Water has even begun to be traded in global stock exchanges. Today, an individual or corporation can invest in water-targeted hedge funds, index funds and exchange traded funds (EFTs), water certificates, shares of water engineering and technology companies, and a host of other newfangled water investments. Privatized water is now a $425 billion industry and is expected to grow to a $1 trillion industry within five years.
Often, the picture painted by mainstream media and water-rights activists is too simple – that of a single corporation (such as Coca-Cola in India or Bechtel in Bolivia) “corporatizing water;” the real story is not just of flamboyant tycoons or individual corporations sucking dry springs and groundwater to the detriment of poor subsistence farmers or slum-dwellers. Water is being privatized by a complex global network of investment banks, private equity firms, public pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and multinational corporations that are buying up and controlling water worldwide. Investment banks, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse are aggressively buying up water rights all over the world. As climate change shrinks fresh water resources, there will be even more money to be made in private water.
The Result: Militarism and Xenophobia
The New York Times recently wrote that, according to military and intelligence analysts, “the changing global climate will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics.” These analysts, experts at the Pentagon and other intelligence agencies, say that such climate-induced crises could topple governments, feed terrorist movements or destabilize entire regions. The U.S. military recently launched its “war on global warming,” stating that the “military [will] play a key role in tackling climate change, and are developing military strategies to deal with it.” It’s a whole new frontier in the fight for freedom and justice.
In particular, military experts say that the potential scale of catastrophe could trigger revolution and political upheaval. One report states, “When a government can no longer deliver services to its people, ensure domestic order and protect the nation’s borders from invasion, conditions are ripe for turmoil, extremism and terrorism to fill the vacuum.” The report advocates bolstering U.S. military bases and key allied governments in unstable regions of the world. Other military officials have said that climate change will increase demands for our military to carry out “relief” and “disaster” assistance missions. Disaster relief will become a military occupation.
Unsurprisingly, the United States defends the short-term interests of its ruling elite by seizing natural energy resources through both privatization and war. However, it must rely on the military-industrial complex, which is increasingly privatized and fragmented. As Naomi Klein describes in The Shock Doctrine, disaster capitalism profits greatly from crisis, real or imagined. As the Climate War becomes the dominant organizing principle for the planet, the military-industrial system will seek to profit from both the destruction of war and the rebuilding of damaged systems.
War is big business and a major industry that thrives on crisis. It alone ensures constant crises either by physical force or by political discourses that justify a constant cash flow. The United States and European Union use large numbers of likely climate refugees in their own right-wing propaganda, creating fear against these people, and using that fear as a means to strengthen border security. Since capitalist states have no means of addressing climate change other than making preparations for cracking down on social unrest, Fortress Europe and the United States will strengthen their borders even more, criminalizing and blaming migrants and asylum seekers, saying it is the poor who are truly responsible for climate change.
Every year we see thousands of people flee their countries of origin in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, hoping for a better life. While the majority will move to nearby countries, many will attempt the long and dangerous journey to Europe or the United States. It is impossible to determine exactly how many people are forced to migrate directly because of climate change. What is clear is that the position of wealth and privilege in the Global North is, to a large extent, the result of the exploitation of land, people and resources in two-thirds of the world, the very same processes that have driven industrial capitalism and caused climate change.
The world’s poor did not cause climate change, but they are more vulnerable to its effects because of where and how they live. Whether in agricultural areas or city slums in the Global South, they have fewer options available when things go wrong. Africa and South East Asia, for example, are some of the most geographically vulnerable places on the planet.
Climate change is already being used to give further legitimacy to the concepts of “national preservation” and “homeland security.” For example, Lee Gunn, president of the American Security Project has said, “Here’s how Washington should begin preparing for the consequences associated with climate change: Invest in capabilities within the U.S. government (including the Defense Department) to manage the humanitarian crises – such as a new flow of ‘climate refugees’ – that may accompany climate change and subsequently overwhelm local governments and threaten critical U.S. interests.” Once again, state and capital interests are the top priority, and the wellbeing of people and the environment are not even a consideration. He goes on to say that the United States should “lead the world in developing conflict-resolution mechanisms to mediate between climate change’s winners and losers.” And we all know who the winners will be. India has begun putting these ideas into practice. They are currently building a perimeter fence around their entire border with Bangladesh, a country more at risk than almost any other from the devastating consequences of rising sea levels. The fence has been explicitly talked about as a barrier to migration. If sea levels rise and Bangladeshi people are driven from their homes, they will find themselves trapped inside this cage.
A crucial part of the fight for climate justice is building a radical movement that challenges the use of the threat of climate chaos as an excuse for even more draconian migration controls and national and international security measures.
Capitalism results in the need for continuous war and ever-increasing rates of resource extraction, causing environmental degradation, climate change, social injustice and more war. The solutions to climate change within this system only feed the war machine and strengthen authoritarian regimes of control, while further degrading the rights of indigenous peoples and animals. The powerful have divided and conquered us for too long, and they have many tools to keep us mired in false conflict. But they are all human-made tools. We must build up our hearts, and realize that pacifism does not imply love. Love has emotion, and emotions are not passive and flat-lining. So to topple this system and create horizontal communities, we must fight with this love for ourselves, love for our families, friends and comrades. This is not a passive love – this is an emotional, burning love. True love is radical, and dangerous to this sterile system.
As Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War, “However desperate the situation and circumstances, do not despair. When there is everything to fear, be unafraid. When surrounded by dangers, fear none of them. When without resources, depend on resourcefulness. When surprised, take the enemy itself by surprise.”
Faced with today’s economic crisis, many pundits are acting like fundamentalist preachers. Their rants accept certain centering truths as pure and eternal. They view the ‘free market’, for example, as a manifestation of nature, not a socially constructed model—not a crafted, even legislated, rationalization designed to yield general ‘economic’ predictability and control. Accordingly, they regard alternative interpretations and environmental accounting as unnatural market interferences.
We need to analyze this type of thought carefully because it frames how we conceptualize and discuss economic issues. Call it the Deontological Belief Model (DBM).
The DBM views the natural world as inherently dangerous, even evil, because engaged in untamed competitive struggle. To control such a world one must first conquer it. This requires a strict, disciplined knowledge of the world’s essences–those supposedly timeless, discoverable, and categorical qualities that determine nature’s ways, both physical and social.
Mastery is a manly task. Indeed, only the strongest, most disciplined and aggressive are up to it. Those few whose right-rationality can uncover elements of the world’s ‘true ethic’ become enlightened enough to rule. To succeed, the many follow as best they can. Among the unenlightened, force is often necessary to maintain order. Because the DBM is primarily concerned with authority, obedience, discipline, and punishment, it is eminently undemocratic.
Today’s free-capitalist mentality exemplifies the DBM. Only the self-reliant, anointed, loyal, and knowledge-able marketeers putatively deserve life’s rewards (wealth and power).
Consider a relational alternative to the DBM. On the relational model, our sense of what it takes to accomplish well-being is neither ‘discoverable’ nor revealed. There are no absolute truths about how the world works. We describe things according to situated notions of appropriateness, then construct models that agreeably weave these descriptions into an expanding web of interpretations, and finally adopt them as beliefs. Of course, we can’t be more relative than the world allows.
Because popular agreement evolves from democratic voice, language is what accomplishes social attempts to ‘know’. Words, however, are relative. They only relate things one to another—provide no fixed reference. This means all truth claims, economic and otherwise, are human constructions (paradigmatic). There is no objectively pure or transcendent knowledge, only human interpretations. DBM’s so-called objective reality is an actualized modeling. The more agreement its interpretations garner, the more ‘objectivity’ it is said to have.
Any ‘always-already-there’ is impossible to demonstrate. This means we have no practical access to an ultimate finder that can justify capital ‘T’ truth claims (such as a God or a form of reason upon which all can agree). Functional awareness comes through language descriptions that meet our purposes via relational modelings. We don’t need to worry about ‘how things really are’ (truths, essences, essentialism, etc.); only whether other belief models are better for ‘getting on’ culturally. This is enough to jump-start moral community.
We simply cannot defend a unitary ethic (ecological, economic or otherwise) according to some right-rationality. All we can do is frame our discussion attractively and fittingly, thereby favoring some practices over others. Knowledge is information, not an uncovering of some antecedent reality ‘out there’. According to relational thought, rationality is a situated, pragmatic, albeit metaphorical guiding of actions within the webs of relationships (worlds) we construct upon relevant constraints.
Different contexts have traditionally called for different forms of reason. As a result, what seems rational for business may prove irrational to ecologists. DBM reasoning is often so stylized and particular that it leaves out much of the actual situation. Relational models, on the other hand, strive for inclusiveness.
Consider the physical failure of DBM economics. Its understanding of growth involves a progressive transformation of high-grade energy into waste. For example, coal, gas and oil do transitory work, then end up as greenhouse gasses. This is a result of the entropy law of physics. It states (among other things) that all earth-energized technologies necessarily generate an overall disorder (cost) that is greater than the order (benefit) created. DBM’s style of growth has allowed entropy’s disordering to operate beyond the control of any price mechanisms. To be ecological, economic models must include these costly entropy (pollution) effects. Entropy is one of Glen Barry’s ‘Ecological Truths’ (unavoidable constraints). See Issue #1.
Entropy considerations set economic limits to the energies we can employ. As I pointed out in ‘Entropy (not Energy) is the Issue’ (See Issue #1), entropy constraints demand that only an earth-external source of energy—the sun—can compensate entropy’s disordering. This means we either go (relatively direct) solar or decline. If no solar energy component is involved to reverse the inevitable entropy (polluting) effects of a technology, it becomes unaffordable in the long run.
DBM market theory also fails socially. It is not, for example, inherently moral. It does not, in itself, provide care—protect health, provide safety, or promote meaningful work.
Wall Street privateering cannot validly claim to provide a natural basis for economics. Far from being ‘natural’, the DBM market is a construction shot through with conceptual frames, metaphors, and self-serving narratives. Once internalized, it becomes subconsciously actualizing, all the while posturing as true rationality. Because it tends to the authoritarian, dogmatic, and intolerant, it responds poorly to ecologically complex situations.
Self-interested struggle is the DBM’s guiding metaphor. However, we can just as easily model well-being on relational nurturing. Since we function according to chosen belief models, they become ‘synaptic gospel’. We can even be brainwashed to act against our ‘self-interest’.
Relationalists sometimes act unwittingly by adopting DBM frames in their discourse. Upon DBM internalization (instantiating its synaptic responses through frequent use), a mere hearing of key words will invoke below-consciousness chains of thought. Reagan, for example, invoked the term ‘welfare queen’ (pink Cadillac, multiple assistance accounts, etc.) to activate action against so-called government ‘entitlements’. Bushies followed with talk of ‘nanny men’ (spineless Democrats) caving into programs for the non-self-reliant poor. ‘War on Terror’ imagery has served to provide military protection for private contracts that exploit Iraqi oil, and so on.
Because the DBM is undemocratic and anti-ecological, relationalists must refuse DBM thought, thus eschew its language frames. They need to establish their own image-invoking discourse. Growth, for example, need not mean material expansion per the DBM. It can just as well mean the weaving of a more expansive, extra-material well-being.
Summing up, conventional market theory fails to provide a life-centered economy. Accordingly, Wall Street’s trickle-down model needs to give way to more imaginative, image-invoking economic guidance—one that is ecologically inclusive and socially caring.
If the Green Capitalist response to climate change will only add more fuel to the fire, and if government at a global scale is incapable of solving the problem, as I argue in previousarticles, how would anarchists suggest we reorganize society in order to decrease the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and to survive an already changed world?
There is no single anarchist position, and many anarchists refuse to offer any proposal at all, arguing that if society liberates itself from State and capitalism, it will change organically, not on the lines of any blueprint. Besides, the attitude of policy, seeing the world from above and imposing changes, is inextricable from the culture that is responsible for destroying the planet and oppressing its inhabitants.
Nonetheless, I want to outline one possible way we could organize our lives, not to make a concrete proposal, but because visions make us stronger, and we all need the courage to break once and for all with the existing institutions and the false solutions they offer. For the purposes of this text I’m not going to enter into any of the important debates regarding ideals—appropriate levels of technology, scale, organization, coordination, and formalization. I’m going to describe how an ecological, anti-authoritarian society could manifest itself, as it flows from the un-ideal complexity of the present moment. Also for simplicity’s sake, I won’t enter into the scientific debate around what is and isn’t sustainable. Those debates and the information they present are widely available, for those who want to do their own research.
I base the description of this future possible world both on what is physically necessary and what is ethically desirable, in accordance with the following premises.
Fossil fuel extraction and consumption need to come to a full stop.
Industrial food production must be replaced with the sustainable growing of food at the local level.
Centralizing power structures are inherently exploitative of the environment and oppressive towards people.
The mentality of quantitative value, accumulation, production, and consumption—that is to say, the mentality of the market—is inherently exploitative of the environment and oppressive towards people.
Medical science is infused with a hatred of the body, and though it has perfected effective response to symptoms, it is damaging to our health as currently practiced.
Decentralization, voluntary association, self-organization, mutual aid, and non-coercion are fully practical and have worked, both within and outside of Western Civilization, time and time again.
Welcome to the future. No one ever knew global society would look like this. Its defining feature is heterogeneity. Some cities have been abandoned, trees are growing up through their avenues, rivers rush where asphalt had once covered the ground, and skyscrapers crumble while deer forage at their foundations.
Other cities are thriving, but they have changed beyond recognition. Rooftops, vacant lots, and sidewalks have turned into gardens. Fruit- and nut-bearing trees line every block. Roosters welcome every dawn. About a tenth of the streets—the major thoroughfares—remain paved or gravelled, and buses running on biofuels traverse them regularly. Other streets have been consumed largely by the gardens and orchards, though bike paths run down the middle. The only buildings that have electricity twenty-four hours a day are the the water works, hospitals, and the radio stations. Theaters and community buildings get power until late on a rotating basis, so they can stay open for film nights or other events. Everyone has candles and wind-up lamps, though, so there’s a light on in many a window until late. But it’s nothing like how it used to be; at night you can see stars in the sky, and the children gape in disbelief when the old-timers tell how people had given that up.
Electricity is produced through a network of neighborhood-based power stations that burn agricultural waste (like corn cobs) and biofuels, and through a small number of wind turbines and solar panels. But the city works on just a fraction of what it used to. People heat and cool their homes through passive solar and efficient design, without any electricity. In the colder regions, people supplement this in the winter with the burning of renewable fuels, but houses are well insulated and ovens are designed with the greatest efficiency, so not much is needed. People also cook with fuel-burning ovens, or in sunnier climates solar ovens. Some cities that put more energy into manufacturing and maintaining renewable forms of electricity generation (solar, tidal, and wind) also cook with electricity. Many buildings have a shared washing machine, but all clothes drying is done the old-fashioned way: on a line.
No one has a refrigerator though every building or floor has a communal freezer. People store perishables like yogurt, eggs, and vegetables in a cool box or in a cellar, and they eat their food fresh or they can it. People grow half of their own produce in gardens on their block. Nearly all their food is grown within twenty miles of where they live. None of the food is genetically modified or produced with chemicals, and it is bred for taste and nutrition, not longevity and durability for transport. In other words, all the food tastes better, and people are far healthier. Heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, among the greatest killers in capitalist society, have all but disappeared. The super viruses created under capitalism, that killed millions of people throughout the collapse, have largely disappeared, as the use of antibiotics has almost stopped, people live in healthier conditions globally and have stronger immune systems, and global travel is not so frequent or fast-paced. People also have a much greater environmental consciousness and personal connection with their bioregion because they eat what’s in season and what grows locally, and they help grow it themselves.
Every house has a compost toilet and running water, but no sewage. It’s become sort of an unwritten rule around the world that every community must remediate its own waste. Sending pollution downstream is the greatest taboo. The relatively few remaining factories use fungi and microbes, on great forested plots around the factory compound, to remediate whatever pollutants they produce. Neighborhoods turn all their waste into compost or fuel. The amount of available water is limited, so buildings are equipped with rainwater catchments for the gardens. Households that greatly exceed the recommended quota for water usage are publicly shamed. The recommended quota is not enforced; it is simply a suggestion distributed by those who work in the water syndicate, based on how much water the city is allowed to divert from the water source, as agreed upon by all the communities that share the watershed.
In most cities, people hold periodic or ad hoc neighborhood assemblies to maintain the gardens, paths, streets, and buildings, to organize daycare, and to mediate disputes. People also participate in meetings with whatever syndicate or infrastrucutral project they may dedicate some of their time to. These might include the water syndicate, the transportation syndicate, the electricity syndicate, a hospital, a builders’ union, a healers’ union (the vast majority of health care is done by herbalists, naturopaths, homeopaths, acupuncturists, massage therapists, midwives, and other specialists who make home visits), or a factory. Most of these are decentralized as much as possible, with individuals and small working groups trusted to know how to do their job, though when necessary they coordinate through meetings that usually run as open assemblies using consensus, with a preference for sharing perspectives and information over making decisions wherever possible. Sometimes, interregional meetings (such as for the communities of a watershed) are organized with a delegate structure, though meetings are always open to all, and always seek to reach decisions that satisfy everyone since there are no coercive institutions and coercion of any sort is widely frowned upon as “bringing back the old days.”
Because power is always localized to the greatest possible degree, the vast majority of decision-making is carried out by individuals or small groups that share affinity and regularly work together. Once there is no longer an emphasis, for purposes of control and accumulating power, on imposing homogeneity or singularity of outcomes, people have found that much coordination can simply take place organically, with different people making different decisions and figuring out for themselves how to reconcile these with the decisions of others.
Although today’s societies are structured to create feelings of community and mutuality, there is also a great amount of space for privacy and solitude. Many neighborhoods have communal kitchens and dining rooms, but people can and often do cook on their own and eat by themselves, when the mood strikes them. Some societies have public baths, while others do not, depending on cultural preference. The forced communalization of past experiments in socialist utopias is absent from this world. Private property has been abolished in the classical sense of the means of production that other people rely on for their survival, but anyone can have as many personal belongings as they can get—clothing, toys, a stash of candy or other goodies, a bicycle, etc.
The smaller or more intimate the community, the more likely it is to operate a gift economy—anything that you’re not using, you give away as a gift, strengthening your social ties and increasing the amount of goods in circulation—which is perhaps the longest lasting and most common economy in the history of the human species. Beyond the neighborhood level, or for items that are rare or not locally produced, people may trade. The syndicates of some cities may use a system of coupons for the distribution of things that are scarce or limited. If you work in the electricity syndicate, for example, you get a certain number of coupons that you can use to get things from the bicycle factory or from an out-of-town farmer.
The most common items produced in factories are bicycles, metal tools, cloth, paper, medical equipment, biofuels, and glass. More common than the factory is the workshop, in which people craft any number of things at a higher quality and slower, more dignified (and healthy) pace. Workshops usually use recycled material (after all, there are many old shopping malls filled with junk and scrap) and make things like toys, musical instruments, clothes, books, radios, electricity generation systems, bicycle and automobile parts.
Work is not compulsory, but nearly everyone does it. When they can be their own bosses, and make things that are useful, people tend to enjoy working. Those who don’t contribute by working in any way are often looked down on or excluded from the nicer aspects of living in society, but it is not considered acceptable to ever deny someone food or medical treatment. Because they don’t help others, they are unlikely to get fine foods, and healers are unlikely to give them consultations, massages, or accupuncture unless they have a specific problem, but they won’t be left to starve or die. It’s a small drain on the resources of the community, but nothing when compared to the parasitism of the bosses, politicians, and police forces of yesteryear.
There are no police anymore. Generally people are armed and trained in self-defense, and everyone’s daily life includes activities that foster a collective or communal sense of self-interest. People depend on cooperation and mutual aid for survival and happiness, so those who damage their social ties are above all harming and isolating themselves. People fought to overthrow their oppressors. They defeated the police and military forces of the ruling class, and they remember this victory. The imperative to never again be ruled forms a major part of their identity today. They are not about to be intimidated by the occasional psychopath or roving gang of protection racketeers.
In short, the city has a negligible environmental footprint. A high density of people live in an area that nonetheless has an impressive biodiversity, with many plant and animal species cohabiting the city. They don’t produce pollution that they don’t remediate themselves. They take some water from the watershed, but far less than a capitalist city, and in agreement with the other communities that use the watershed. They release some greenhouse gases through fuel burning, but it is less than the amount they take out of the atmosphere through their own agriculture (since all their fuels are agricultural, and the carbon they’re releasing is the same carbon those plants removed from the atmosphere as they grew). Nearly all their food is local and sustainably grown. They carry out a small amount of factory production, but most of it uses recycled materials.
Outside the city, the world is even more transformed. Deserts, jungles, mountainous regions, swamps, tundras, and other areas that cannot sustainably support high population densities have rewilded. No government programs were necessary to create nature preserves; it simply wasn’t worth the effort to remain there once fossil fuel production ended. Many of these areas have been reclaimed by their prior indigenous inhabitants. In many of them, people are again existing as hunter-gatherers, enacting the most intelligent form of economy possible in that bioregion and turning the conventional notion of what is futuristic on its head.
Some rural communities are self-sufficient, supporting themselves with garden agriculture and animal husbandry, or more intentionally with permaculture. Many people who moved out of the cities during the collapse set up these communes, and they’re happier and healthier than they’d ever been under capitalism. Some of the permaculture communities are composed of more traditional households, with each family tending an acre or two of land, spread out with a fairly homogenous distribution over a wide expanse of territory. Others comprise of a densely populated communal nucleus with several hundred inhabitants living on a dozen acres of intensively cultivated gardens, surrounded by orchards and pastures for fruit, nuts, and livestock, with an outer ring of natural forest as an ecological buffer and a place for occasional woodcutting, hunting, and wildcrafting. These rural communities are almost entirely self-sufficient, have a sustainable relationship with their landbase, encourage a high biodiversity, and produce no net release of greenhouse gases.
Rural communities in a tight radius around the cities carry out intensive agriculture aided by certain manufactured goods, in a symbiotic relationship with their urban neighbors. Every week, using horsecarts or biodiesel pickup trucks, they bring food and biofuels to a specific neighborhood in the city, and cart away compost (largely from the toilets, as food scraps go to feeding the urban chickens). With this rich compost, glass for greenhouses, metal tools, and the occasional tractor or mechanical plow shared among several farmsteads, they can produce high yields year round without destroying their soil or relying on chemicals and fossil fuels. They use intercropping and other permaculture methods to preserve soil health and discourage pests. These farms are dotted by orchards and small forests so there is a high biodiversity, including plenty of birds that eat the insects. Because they do not grow their plants in massive monocrop fields, pests and diseases don’t spread as uncontrollobly as in capitalist agriculture. The use of local plants, multiple breeds, the protection of the soil and the preservation of forests also mitigate the impacts of drought and other extreme weather caused by climate change.
There is still a fair amount of transportation between bioregions. Cities are linked by trains running on biofuel, and people regularly cross the oceans on boats powered primarily by the wind. A certain amount of interregional trade happens this way, but above all interregional transportation allows for the movement of people, ideas, and identities. People are less mobile than they were in the final days of capitalism, but on the other hand people are not compelled to follow the vagaries of the economy, to be uprooted in search of work. Bioregions are almost entirely self-sufficient economically, and people can support themselves. If they move, it’s because they want to travel, to see the world, and they are free to do so because there are no more borders.
Longer distance communication happens primarily through the radio. Most urban or semi-urban communities have telephone and internet. Highly toxic computer production has mostly ended, but a few cities use new, slower but cleaner methods to continue manufacturing computers at a minimal scale. However enough old parts are in circulation that most neighborhoods that want to can keep a few computers running. Many rural people live close enough to a city to access these forms of communication from time to time. People still get news from around the world, and they continue to cultivate an identity that is partly global.
The economic basis for society has greatly diversified within any linguistic community. In other words, someone may live on an agricultural commune with a technological level most similar to that of Western society in the 19th century, but next to them is a forest inhabited by hunter-gatherers, and a few times a year they go to a city organized by syndicates and neighborhood assemblies, where there is electricity, buses, a train station or a harbor, where they can watch movies or read the blog of someone on the other side of the world. Pictures and news from around the world pass through their commune on a fairly regular basis. They speak the same language and share a similar culture and history with these communities that are otherwise so different. An effect of this is that a clannish, insular identity that could lead to a number of problems, among them the potential regeneration of domineering and imperialistic behaviors, is constantly offset by the cultivation of a global identity and a mixing with highly different members of a broader community. In fact, because most linguistic communities extend far beyond a single bioregion and because people enjoy an unprecedented amount of social mobility, there is an unending circulation of people between these different communities, as every individual decides, when they come of age, whether they want to live in the city, the countryside, or the forest. Not only do borders no longer exist between artificially constructed nations; social borders no longer prevent movement between different identities and cultural categories.
For the older people, this way of living feels like paradise, mixed with the gritty details of reality—conflict, hard work, heartbreak, and petty drama. For the younger people, it just feels like common sense.
And every year, the world heals a little more from the ravages of industrial capitalism. The amount of real forest and wetlands have increased as some areas rewild, while heavily inhabited areas become healthy ecosystems thanks to gardening, permaculture, and the elimination of cars. Greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere are actually declining, albeit slowly, for the first time in ages, as carbon is returned to the soil, to forests and wetlands, to the newly green urban areas, and the burning of fossil fuels has stopped. Over a third of the species on the planet went extinct before people finally changed their ways, but now that habitat loss is being reversed, many species are coming back from the brink. As long as humanity doesn’t forget the hardest lesson it ever learned, in a few million years the biodiversity of planet earth will be as great as ever.
Dignified living has replaced profit as the new social yardstick, but in a coup against all the engineers of social planning, everyone is allowed to make their own measurements, to determine for themselves how to achieve this. People have regained the ability to feed and house themselves, and individual communities have proven that they are the best situated to craft a mode of sustenance that is best adapted to local conditions and the varied changes brought about by global warming. In the end it’s a no-brainer. The one solution that all those who were profitting off of climate change would never discuss was the only one that had a hope of working.
For the longest time, people didn’t give credence to those who were warning about climate change, about ecological collapse, about other problems created by government and capitalism; those who were calling for radical solutions. In the end they saw that the best decision they ever made was to stop trusting those in power, those responsible for all these problems, and instead to trust themselves, and take a plunge.
Those readers who doubt the possibility of this vision can check out Peter Kropotkin’s Field, Factories, and Workshops of Tomorrow, which scientifically lays out a similar proposition, over one hundred years ago. They can also look into how the native land they live on was organized before colonization. Where I’m from, the Powhatan Confederacy kept the peace and coordinated trade between several nations in the southern part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. To the north, the Haudensaunne kept the peace among five, and later six nations, for hundreds of years. Both of these groups supported high population densities through intensive horticulture and fishing without degrading their environments.
Where I live now, in Barcelona, the workers took over the city and factories and ran everything themselves in 1936. And where I happen to be as I write this article, in Seattle, there was a monthlong general strike in 1919, and the workers there also proved themselves capable of organizing themselves and keeping the peace. This isn’t a dream. It’s an imminent possibility, but only if we have the courage to believe in it.
Long ago the biologist Paul Sears described ecology as the “subversive science”, and there is no doubt that when I first became involved in environmental issues in the 1960’s, ecology was seen very much as a radical movement. The writings of Barry Commoner and Murray Bookchin emphasised that we were confronting an impending ecological crisis, and that the roots of this crisis lay firmly with an economic system – capitalism – that was geared not to human well-being but to the generation of profit, that saw no limit to growth or technology, even celebrating the achievements of the “megamachine”.
Ultimately it was felt, by both Commoner and Bookchin, that capitalism was destructive not only to ourselves but to the whole fabric of life on the planet. For the underlying ethic of capitalism was indeed the technological domination of Nature, an ethic that viewed the biosphere as having no intrinsic value; it was simply a resource to be exploited – by capital.
Over thirty years ago Bookchin was thus describing capitalism as “plundering the earth” in search of profits, and was highlighting with some prescience – long before Al Gore and George Monbiot – the problems of global warming – that the growing blanket of carbon dioxide would lead to destructive storm patterns, and eventually to the melting of the ice caps and rising sea levels (in “Post Scarcity Anarchism” 1971 : 60).
This was in addition to the many other ecological problems that Bookchin identified as constituting the “modern crisis” – deforestation, urbanization, the impact of industrial farming, pollution of the oceans, toxic chemicals and food additives, and the wanton destruction of wildlife and the subsequent loss of species diversity.
Bookchin’s pioneering ecological critique of industrial capitalism has more recently been re-affirmed (with little acknowledgement to Bookchin!) in Joel Kovel’s excellent “The Enemy of Nature” (2002) – the enemy, of course, being global capitalism.
How things have changed! “Global warming” is now firmly on the political agenda, acknowledged by almost everyone apart from some die-hard right-wing neo-liberals, and everyone is being cajoled into finding ways to “save” the planet. Such hubris is quite mind-boggling! Humans are quite unable to destroy the planet; what they are doing through an economic system based on greed and exploitation, is making many parts of the earth virtually uninhabitable for humans and other life-forms.
“Ecology” or “green” issues have therefore now been embraced by individuals and groups right across the political spectrum. Even neo-Nazis claim to be anti-capitalist and to embrace the green perspective. So you will not be surprised to learn that the majority of major transnational corporations – including Shell, Nestle and Coca Cola – have leapt aboard the green bandwagon and are enthusiastically demanding that we all cut our carbon emissions.
So what is going on? Four tendencies, I think, are worth noting.
One is that capitalist corporations are now in the process of “greening” their public image. Something that the Shell corporation has been engaged in for several decades, given its awful record in terms of environmental destruction. It would be difficult to find any major transnational corporation these days that does not proudly acclaim and advertise its ecological sensibility and its “green” credentials.
Secondly, although most people now acknowledge that there is an environmental crisis, efforts are continually being made to convince us that this crisis has nothing to do with the capitalist economy per se. Deep ecologists have long been informing us that it is all due to a lack of spirituality, or that there are too many people, or even that humans are by nature either “aliens” or unwanted “parasites” on earth. Such misanthropic sentiments were long ago critiqued by Bookchin. So according to Jonathan Porritt (an adviser to New Labour on environmental issues) what we need is a suitable marriage between capitalism and spiritualism! Heaven forbid!
Development experts, in contrast, blame ecological problems, like deforestation, on the victims, the poor peasants, who because of their poverty and lack of modern agricultural techniques, are destroying – we are told – the forests. Whereas, of course, the main culprits are the logging companies, the mining corporations such as Vedanta and Rio Tinto, and the expanding ranching enterprises that cater for the increasing demand for meat.
Development experts long ago coined the concept “sustainable development”. This has nothing to do with the conservation of Nature; it is all about sustaining “development”, that is capitalist growth.
What also clouds the issue is the suggestion that global warming and other environmental issues, have nothing to do with an economic system geared to growth and private profit: it is solely due to the actions of individual “consumers”. So we are all being urged to do what we can to “save” the planet.
Thirdly, this laudable concern for the environment by transnational corporations is clearly a front to enable such corporations to seek further opportunities for capitalist expansion, and for generating even more profit. Thus industrial wind farms covering large tracts of the countryside, the increasing production of bio-fuels (at the expense of food production), and the expansion and export of the nuclear industry to all parts of the world, all three initiatives are heralded as great ways of cutting “carbon emissions” and thus helping to save the planet! But at what social and ecological cost? It is noteworthy that each of these initiatives is in the hands of big business, amply subsidised by western governments.
Finally, what we have also experienced in the last decades, as an accompaniment to the advocacy of green capitalism, is the emergence of the concept of “global management”. To safeguard the planet what we therefore need (we are told) is a plethora of conservation experts and eco technocrats to monitor the planet, and to offer advice to governments and transnational corporations on how we can best “save” the planet. But “saving” the planet, as Wolfgang Sachs argued (in “Planet Dialectics” 1999) is in fact little more than a justification for a new wave of state interventions into the lives of ordinary people.
Anarchists need to be wary and critical of each of these four tendencies. We need, therefore, to develop a project that combines socialism (not the radical individualism of Nietzschean aesthetes) and an ecological sensibility (not neo-primitivism) as the likes of Peter Kropotkin, Edward Carpenter and Eliseé Reclus suggested long ago.
Maude Barlow’un, “Su Savaşçıları Karşı Koyuyor” bölümünde kendi kişisel su direnişi deneyimleriyle de ilginçleştirdiği kitabını okurken, yazarın Fabianist düşüncenin bir yandaşı olduğuna, merhum Adam Smith’in modern toplumda kamunun rolü ve işbirliğinin amaçları konusundaki fikirlerine de çok uzak olmadığına karar verdim. Diğer yandan, ‘sulara kim, ne yapıyor?’ sorusuna derli toplu yanıt veren bir kaynakla karşı karşıya olduğumuzu belirtmekte de, fayda var.
Su ve enerji yoğunluklu endüstri tarımı, sanayinin artan su gereksinimi, büyük barajlarda hızla buharlaşan ve tuzlanan sular, hızlı kentleşme ve buna bağlı olarak hidrolik döngünün kırılması; küresel neoliberal ekonominin baskılarıyla, ülkemizde de, ticari kaygıların toplumsal ve ekolojik kaygıları susturmasına, kötü planlama faaliyetleri ve kamusal denetim eksikliğiyle, 80’li yıllardan beri su felaketlerini kanıksamamıza yol açtı.
Bütün dünyada da, erozyon ve iklim değişikliğine bağlı kuraklık, nehirlerin yataklarından boru hatlarıyla çekilmesine bağlı olarak ekolojik su sistemlerinin çökmesi ve suların derinlerdeki yatakları besleyemeden denizlere karışıp kaybolması, atık suların da arıtılmadan denize dökülüp, döngü dışına çıkması ve kaybedilmesi; suları tutabilecek sulak alanların ve ormanların yok edilmesiyle, doğal ve olağan su tutucu filtrelerin de ortadan kalkması, bir su krizinden bahsetmemize yol açan değişimler. Üstelik su kıtlığından doğan sorunların dağılımı, getirilen çözüm önerilerinin içeriği, büyük ve artmaya aday adaletsizlikleri beraberinde getiriyor. En ağır sorunları, suların çekilmesine yol açan kararları kendi almamış, kontrolsüzce su tüketiminden sorumlu olan ve çıkar sağlayan kesimlerden olmayan insanlar çekiyor.
Barlow, kitabında şu gelişmeleri kayda geçirmiş: • 1995-2005 arası, kuraklık çeken toprak yüzdesi iki kat arttı
• Eriyen buzullarla denizlerin yükselmesi, artan su kirliliği ve buna bağlı yosunlaşma, taşkın sulamayla sürüklenen verimsiz topraklar, ormancılık, petrol ve madencilik şirketlerinin faaliyetleri, tüm dünyada sulak alanları kuruttu. Oysa sistemin böbrekleri olan sulak alanlar, sulardaki kir ve toksinleri, ırmak, göl ve akiferlere ulaşmadan süzer. Aynı şekilde, ekosistemin akciğerleri olan, kirliliği emen ve taşkınları önleyen ormanlar da sürekli katliamlara kurban gidiyor.
Büyük baraj ve boru hattı projeleri kırsal bölgenin suyunu kentlere taşıyarak, kırsal alanda çölleşmeye ve tarım arazisinin kaybedilmesine yol açıyor. Susuz kalan çiftçilerin kentlere göç ederek su ve bağlı alt yapı hizmetlerinin tedariki sorununu derinleştirmesi bir yana, bu devasa projeler için para bulması gereken devletler, içinden çıkılması güç borç girdaplarına düşüyor. Ayrıca, kırsaldan kente su taşıyan bu sistemlerde sızıntı ve uzun mesafelerin getirdiği zorluklardan dolayı yüzde 40’a varan su kayıpları yaşanıyor. Aşırı borçlanma, ekonomik kararlarda mutlak çaresizlik anlamına da geliyor. Barlow, borçlu hükümetlerin su sistemlerine zarar veren ulus ötesi şirketlere sözünü geçirecek gücünün kalmadığını, bunların bazıları halkına baskı uygulayabilme gücü karşılığında ülkelerinin doğal kaynaklarını peşkeş çekse de, toplum yararına kamu politikaları izlemeye çalışan teknokratların bile, hareket alanlarının geniş olmadığını düşünüyor.
• Fabrika gibi çalışan çiftliklerde antibiyotik, azotlu gübre, böcek ve zararlı otlara karşı ilaç kullanımı çok yoğun ve bu zehirler, suya karışıyor. Endüstriyel tarım koşullarında şart olan taşkın sulama yönteminde, kullanılan suyun yüzde 80’i buharlaşmayla kaybediliyor ve suyun sürüklediği rüzgârla uçuşan üst toprak katmanı kaybedilince, çölleşme kaçınılmaz oluyor.
• Gelişmiş ülkelerde, kullanılan suyun yüzde 60’ı endüstrinin üretim süreçlerinde harcanıyor. Dünyanın dev nüfuslu, hızla sanayileşen ülkeleri Çin, Hindistan ve Brezilya bu kurala uyarak, giderek daha fazla suyu enerji üretim merkezlerinde ve fabrikalarda kirletiyor. Üstelik bu ülkelerde, üretimde çevre mevzuatına ne kadar uyulduğunu denetlemek iyice zorlaşıyor.
• Su kıtlığına bir teknik ve idari sorun gibi yaklaşan ulus ötesi düzenleme ve dengeleme kurumları; Dünya Bankası ve çeşitli bölgesel kalkınma bankaları, Avrupa Birliği, Birleşmiş Milletler ve Dünya Ticaret Örgütü, doğal kaynakların korunması ve su adaletine dayalı planlama çalışmaları için gereken politik iradeye sahip değil. Bu kurumlar, hızlı bir teknolojik çözümün vaadine kapılarak, kısıtlı ve tükenmekte olan bir kaynak kabul ettikleri suyu paraya çevirmek için çalışan şirketlerle, gerekli finansal güce sahip olmadığını düşündükleri devletlerin işbirliğini destekliyor.
• Bu esnada, Kenya’daki Naivasha gölü, havzayı çevreleyen ve çiçek açınca Avrupa’ya gönderilen güllerin emdiği sularla kuruyor ve gölün eşsiz su aygırları evsiz kalıyor, şirketler Etiyopya ve Uganda’da taşınacak uygun göller aramaya başlamış bile. Bir litre etanol üretmek için 1700 litre su harcanması gerektiğinden, biyoyakıt bitkileri üretiminde önde gelen ülkelerden olan ABD’nin yer altı akiferleri hızla kuruyor. Hindistan’da suları şişeleyip götüren Coca Cola ve Pepsi fabrikalarına karşı köylülerin direnişi kısmi başarılar kazansa da, sürekli daha derine kazılması gereken kuyular ve kuraklıktan terk edilen köyler, ‘sanal su ihracı’ denen ve ürünlerin içinde ülkeyi terk eden suların, geri gelemediğini gösteriyor. Aynı ülkede, aşırı su içen genetiği değiştirilmiş pamuk türlerini eken Monsanto mağduru köylülerin suları tükenince, salgın hastalıktan kırılırcasına, yüz binlerce küçük çiftçinin intihar etmesi, nedense gazetelerde nadiren haber oldu.
Çin, tüm Asya’ya yayılan, insanlığın yarısının su kaynağı olan, Himalayaların eriyen karlarından beslenen, Tibet yaylasındaki on büyük havzanın sularını kendi ülkesinin kuzeyine yönlendirmeye çalışıyor. Çin’in kullanılamaz derecede kirlenen Sarı Nehri, hepsinin üstüne barajlar kurulmuş ve yatağı saptırılmış ırmakları düşünüldüğünde, dev su inşaatı bürokrasileri ve şirketlerinin Tibet yaylasının sularına da pervasızca müdahale edeceği anlaşılıyor.
• Bu pervasız tüketim hırsı karşısında ekolojik krizlerin ardı ardına patlak vermesinde şaşılacak bir yan yok. Mevcut ekonomik sistemi sarsmadan, krizlere yanıt arayan dünya bürokratları ve teknokratlarının çözümü, nükleer enerjiyle çalışan deniz suyu arıtma tesisleri, nano teknolojilerin su filtreleme ve geri kazanım ünitelerinde yaygın kullanımı, havadan su emen, bulutların yönünü değiştiren ve yağmur eken teknikler geliştirmek oluyor. Oysa örneğin deniz suyunun arıtılarak tatlı suya çevrilmesi esnasında, büyük miktarlarda toksik su üretilir, bir litre suya karşılık bir litre zehir denize boşaltılır, zira bu kimyasal yoğunluklu bir üretim yöntemidir.
Daha sonra, bu zehirli okyanus suyu yeniden filtreden geçirilerek, kullanıcıya temiz su niyetine ulaştırılır. Üstelik Küresel Su İstihbaratının raporuna göre, 2015’e kadar deniz suyu arıtma endüstrisi, üçe katlanarak büyüyecek. Öte yandan, Çin’de, birbirinin “bulutlarını çalan” ve kendi bölgesinde yağdıran eyaletlerin, ciddi çatışmalar yaşadığı biliniyor.
Kısaca, fakir ülkeleri geliştirmeleri ve kullanmaları zor, fantastik teknolojilerle borç yükünün altına sokmaya devam etmek, küresel adaletsizliği besleyecek, daha fazla teknoloji ve daha fazla müdahale, şimdiden öngörebildiğimiz yeni çevre sorunlarının patlak vermesinden öte bir işe yaramaz. Çevre sorunlarına sürekli daha gelişmiş teknolojilerle yanıt vermek, insanların, araştırma kurumlarıyla üniversitelerin ve devletlerin özel şirketlere bağımlılığını artıracak, onları kontrolü ve kararları tamamen teknokratlara ve şirket yöneticilerine devretmeye mecbur kılacaktır.
Maude Barlow, genel gidişata ilişkin gözlemlerini, su sorunlarının çözümüne ilişkin çabaların tarihiyle çerçevelendiriyor. Burada kitabın özellikle güçlü bir yanı, “su işleri”ne dalan kurumsal ve önemli bireysel aktörleri, yer aldıkları süreçler ve bağlantılarıyla, iyi tanımlaması. Bu aktörleri tanımlarken, hangi çıkarlarla hareket ettiklerini, hangi kisvelere bürünebildiklerini, yılların aktivisti Marlow sağlam hatlarla çizebilmiş. Bu niteliğiyle, su direnişinin tarihine adı geçenlerin bir kısmı da, kitapta eylemleriyle anılarak, su mücadelesinin ortak belleğine işlenmiş oluyor.
Barlow’un tanımladığı haliyle tarihi çerçeveyi, aktörleri ve faaliyetlerini kısaca özetlemek, kitabın tartışmasını eleştirmek için iyi bir zemin hazırlayabilir. Su konusunun ‘kötüler’ tarafında, Barlow’un küresel su karteline dönüşümünü izlediği, içme suyu ve suya bağlı hizmetlerin devleri: Fransız Suez ve Veolia, Alman RWE, daha sonra birkaç kez el değiştiren İngiliz kökenli Thames Water, atık su arıtma pazarının güçlü aktörleri ITT Corp., Nalco, US Filter, GE ve zamanında napalm ve portakal gazıyla zenginleşen, yakınlarda su arıtma teknolojileri işine kuvvetli bir giriş yapan Dow, sadece atık su arıtma değil deniz suyundan içme suyu kazanma konusunda da deneyimli İsrail Şirketi Mekerot ile ortak olan ABD kökenli US Filter Şirketini satın alarak genişleyen ve Ortadoğu pazarına gözünü diken Siemens, Singapur halkına geri dönüştürülmüş lağım suyunu şebeke suyu olarak pazarlayan Singapur merkezli Hyflux ve küresel bir hidro-merkez haline gelen Singapur’un diğer su arıtma şirketleri var.
Deniz suyunu arıtma işi başlı başına bir sektör haline gelmekte ve Hindistan ortaklı İspanyol Şirketi Begesa, Arap ülkeleri ve Ortadoğu’da Pazar arayan yine İspanyol Metito, İsrailli IDE ile yoğun bir rekabet içine girmiş durumda.
Nükleer enerjiyle deniz suyunu arıtma tesisleri hali hazırda Japonya, Kazakistan ve Hindistan’da var ve bu endüstri zaman içinde uranyum şirketlerinin de su pazarına gireceğinin habercisi. Nükleer enerji sektörüyle su sektöründeki kaynaşma, yeni ulus ötesi tröstlerin hem su hem enerji alanında büyük güçler haline gelebileceğini gösteriyor.
Örneğin Fransız su şirketi Suez, 2015-2020’de nükleer yatırımlar yapmayı planladığını açıklamış. Böylece elektrik ve su hizmetleri aynı şirket çatısından idare edilebilecek. Büyük su şirketleri üniversiteler ve bölgesel araştırma merkezlerinde, nano zarlar ve nano geçirgen kristaller üstünde yapılan araştırmaları da finanse ediyor. İsrail üniversitelerinde nano teknoloji araştırmalarına büyük yatırımlar yapılırken, Singapur’da kurulan küresel su araştırma ve geliştirme merkezi uluslararası ortaklıkla finanse ediliyor ve hükümet fonlarıyla çalışan üniversitelerin parlak projeleri burada, anında yeni teknolojilere dönüştürülerek piyasada kullanılabiliyor.
Atmosferik su jeneratörleri, havadaki suyu çekerek, kullanım için biriktiren küçük makineler. Bunların üreticileri arasında, yıllık satışı 5 milyon doları geçen Çin merkezli Hendrx Crop ve Singapurlu Hyflux var. Florida merkezli Aqua Sciences, havadan su üreten cihazlarını Pentagon’a sattı ve cihazları şimdilerde Ortadoğu’da savaşan Amerikan askerlerinin su gereksinimine katkıda bulunuyor.
Bulut tohumlama teknolojilerinde lider olan Çin şirketleri, bu işe yılda 50 milyon dolar harcayan Çin yerel hükümetlerinin kaynağıyla ayakta dursa da, 35 bin kişinin çalıştığı bu sektörün, tarımsal üretimde devleşen gıda şirketleri sayesinde büyüyeceği düşünülüyor. Bu teknolojiyle, bulutlar belli bir bölgeden geçerken üzerlerine uçakla kimyasallar dökerek o noktaya yağmur yağdırılması hedefleniyor. Herhalde gelecekte bulut hırsızlığı yasaları çıkarmak da hukukçuları zorlayan bir alan olacak.
‘Kötüler’ cenahında, şişe suyu pazarının baronları Nestle, Danone, Pepsi ve Coca Cola’yı saymadan geçemeyiz. Barlow, özellikle Avrupa ve ABD’de, musluk suyunun şişe suyundan çok daha kaliteli olmasına rağmen şişelenmiş suyun içme suyu pazarını ele geçirdiğini ama yılda 1 trilyon doların üzerinde cirosu bulunan küresel tatlı su pazarına küresel boru şebekesiyle yaygınlaşacak ambalajsız su ihracatını da katmak gerektiğini belirtiyor.
Sorun tatlı su tükendikçe kıymetinin artacak olması ve şirketlerin kazançlarının krizin derinleşmesiyle artması. Oysa çevre hizmetleri ticareti de pek çok durumda aynı şirketlerin faaliyet alanı, yani kuzuyu kurda teslim etmiş durumdayız.
Bu çıkar çatışmasının ötesinde su şirketleri, alt yapı gereksinimi büyük, fakir bölgelere gitmiyor, zira orada kazanacak para yok. Özel sektör yatırımlarının sadece yüzde biri Sahara altı Afrika ve Güney Asya’ya gidiyor, kırsal bölgelere özel sektörün alt yapı yatırımı sıfır.
Su kaynakları ve hizmet imtiyazlarının tekeli özel sektöre geçtikçe, su kaynağı potansiyelinin saptanması ve uzun vadeli planlama yetkisi de hükümetlerin elinden çıkıyor ve böylece kısa vadeli, tekil şirket çıkarınca örgütlenen yatırım ve planlama, kırsalın sularının kentlere akmasına, kırsal bölgelerde ekosistem çökmesine ve ekonomik felaketlere, bağımsız su kalitesi tahlilleri gerçekleştirilemediğinden atık sulardan dönüştürülmüş suların düzenli sağlık krizlerine yol açmasına ve kaynaklarla teknolojiye hükmeden su lobilerinin dünya çapında büyük politik güç elde etmesine zemin hazırlıyor.
Politik güç noktasından, oyunun bir diğer aktörü olan, neoliberal dünya düzeninin güçlü teknokratlarınca yürütülen, çokuluslu kurumlara geliyoruz. Barlow, 19. yüzyılın sonundan itibaren özel su endüstrisinin varlığını kabul etmekle beraber kamusal su ve su hizmetleri tedariki modelinin özel sektör ağırlıklı bir modele dönüşmesi sürecini 1989’da İngiltere’de, Thatcher döneminde gelişen su özelleştirmeleri furyasıyla başlatıyor.
Fransız tipi kamu idaresi modelinde su hizmetinde özel sektör-kamu işbirliğinin tarihi 80 öncelerine dek gitse de Fransız belediyelerinin giderek güçten düşmesi ve taşeron kullanma eğilimi bu ülkede de 80 sonrası küresel yapılanmayla kendini gösterdi. Barlow ekonomik ve politik dayatmalara karşı savunmasız ülkelerde işleyen mekanizmayı ve burada çokuluslu kurumların rolünü şöyle özetliyor:
Dünya Bankası, 80’ler öncesinde pek çok belediye ve hükümete kamu hizmetlerini geliştirmeleri için düşük faizli kredi vermişti. 80’ler sonrası kredi faizleri birden yükseldi, geri ödemeler aksayınca idarelere kamu işletmelerini, alt yapı kuruluşlarını satmaları, sağlık, eğitim, elektrik, iletişim ve ulaştırma hizmetlerini özelleştirmeleri için baskı yapıldı. 90’lar boyunca, su sistemi işletmelerinin su şirketlerine satılması, verilecek yeni kredilerin su hizmetlerinin özelleştirilmesine bağlanması, bölgesel kalkınma bankaları da işin içine sokularak alınan kredilerin özel sektöre akıtılması hızlandı.
Öyle ki 2000’lere gelindiğinde Hindistan’ın bütün ırmak sistemleri şirketlere kiralanmış, imtiyazlı ortaklık, kiralama ya da işletme hakkı gibi çeşitli özelleştirme yöntemleriyle, kamu-özel sektör ortaklıkları Afrika’dan, Avustralya’ya tüm dünyaya yayılmış durumdaydı.
Kamu-özel sektör ortaklığının anlamı pratikte şuydu: Özelleştirme, kredi koşullarıyla dayatılır. Şirket lehine yaptırımlar arasında, bir ürüne dönüşen su borcunu ödeyemeyen insanların sularının kesilmesi vardır. Bu esnada, su faturaları şirket kazancına uyacak şekilde kabarır. Şirket, genellikle alt yapı iyileştirilmesi ve su erişiminin en fakirlere sağlanmasına yatırım sözlerini yerine getirmez, ancak bağlayıcı hükümler gereği, toplum anlaşmadan çekilirse büyük tazminatlar öder, şirketler kazancı düşük bulduğunda, ortaklıktan çekilir. Anlaşmazlıklar DB’nin Uluslararası Yatırım Anlaşmazlıkları Çözüm Merkezi’nde çözülür ve Merkezin kararlarının çoğu şirketler lehine verilir. İngiliz Biwater-Tanzanya hükümeti arasındaki anlaşmazlıkta, ancak yoğun uluslararası destekle Tanzanya’nın vaatlerini yerine getirmeyen su şirketini ülkeden kovması ve tazminat hakkını alması mümkün olmuştu.
Şirketler ayrıca, DB’nin Çok Taraflı Yatırım Garanti Ajansı tarafından da, siyasi direniş dahil her türlü riske karşı sigortalanır. DB’nin su hizmetlerinde özelleştirme işlerini düzenleyen diğer kurumları, Uluslararası İmar ve Kalkınma Bankası, Uluslararası Kalkınma Ajansı ve Uluslararası Finans Kurumu, ‘yoksullukla mücadele’ ve ‘sürdürülebilir kalkınma’ projelerine destek verdikleri iddiasıyla ve Afrika, Asya ve Amerika Ülkeleri Kalkınma Bankalarıyla işbirliği içinde küresel su düzenini şekillendirme işini üstlenir.
1992’de BM’nin topladığı Dublin Konferansı’ndan beri, suyun kıt bir meta olduğu ve herkes için su idealinin ancak büyük finansmanla gerçekleştirilebileceği ilkesi, DB’nin su konusunda küresel uzlaşma imal etmesini ve Dünya Su Konseyi’nin oluşturulmasını sağladı. İşte İstanbul’da düzenlenen
5. Su Forumunu protesto ettiğimiz, yönetim kurulunda önemli su şirketlerinin simsarlarının oturduğu bu Konsey, Forumlarıyla su politikalarına ilişkin küresel programlamayı gerçekleştiren, devlet temsilcilerinin ülkelerine dönüp kararlarını mevzuatlarına taşıdığı esas kurum rolüne yükseldi.
Barlow’un kitabında ayrıntılarıyla işlediği Aquafed gibi özel sektörün kendi su birliklerine, su işlerine etki eden bölgesel kurumlara burada ayrıntılı girmeyeceğiz. Ancak 2006 yılında Dünya Su Kalkınma Raporunu yayınlayan BM’nin “Global Impact” Küresel İş Etiği Sözleşmesiyle Suez ve Veolia gibi hunhar su şirketlerine bile ‘yeşil kimlik’ ve ‘sosyal sorumluluk sahibi kurum’ imajını sağladığını, UNESCO’nun “Küresel Su Görevi” (2007) çerçevesinde Cargill, Dow Chemicals ve küresel su kirleticisi ürünler üreticisi Protector&Gamble ile gelişmekte olan ülkelerde ‘temiz su, kanalizasyon ve hijyen eğitimi’ sağlamak üzere bir araya geldiğini belirtelim. Şirketler ve medeni dünyanın insaniyet namına iş gören kurumları, bize tuvalete gittikten sonra elimizi yıkamayı öğretirken, Amerika’nın en büyük yeraltı akiferi olan Teksas ile Kaliforniya’nın toplamından daha büyük bir alanı kaplayan ve şu anda en azından beş yüz kent ve kasabaya su sağlayan Guarani akiferinin üstünde, büyük bir Amerikan askeri üssü bulunuyor.
DB ve BM tarafından işletilen Fonlama Konsorsiyumu “Küresel Çevre Fonu” Guarani’nin işletilmesi projesinin içinde ve yine Barlow’un belirttiğine göre, eski ABD Başkanı George W. Bush akiferin üzerinde, Kuzey Paraguay’a ait kısımdan 40.500 hektar çiftlik arazisi satın almış durumda.
Barlow’un kitabının son iki bölümünde değindiği ‘iyilere’, yani su savaşçılarına ve mevcut işleyişe alternatif çözüm önerileri geliştiren kişi ve kurumlara da kısaca değinelim. ‘İyiler’ safında Barlow, anayasasına suyun insan hakkı olduğu ve insani tüketim için gereken suyu kamunun temin etmesi gerektiği hükmünü kamu zoruyla da olsa yerleştiren Uruguay hükümetini, yine içme suyu teminini kamu görevi olarak tanımlayan ve yasalaştıran Hollanda’yı koyarak, onları suyu bir ulusal güvenlik meselesi, su kaynakları üstünde denetimi bir pazarlık ve baskı aracı olarak gören devletlerden ayırıyor. “İnsan Hakları ve Bütün Canlıların Suya Erişimi için Bir Güney Amerika Sözleşmesi” talep eden Evo Morales de kitabın iyileri arasına girmiş.
Barlow’un esas ‘iyileri’, ağır borç yükü altındaki ülkelerin borçlarının silinmesini ya da hafifletilmesini savunan Jubilee South, küresel su politikalarının takipçisi Water Watch, su adaleti kavramını Ortadoğu’da barış için kullanmayı amaçlayan Dünya Dostları Ortadoğu, yerel gıda üretimi, çevre koruma projeleri ve sürdürülebilir tarım ayakları üstünde yükselen Uluslararası Küreselleşme Forumu gibi sivil toplum örgütleri.
Barlow’un savunduğu çözüm önerileri arasında, İsviçre’nin Alliance Sud Grubu’ndan Rosmarie Bar’ın öne sürdüğü, iyi yönetişim talebi de var. Buna göre, iyi yönetişim evrensel olarak uygulanabilir insan haklarına dayalı, bağlayıcı, yasal bir temeli gerektirir. Doğru hazırlanmış bir BM Sözleşmesiyle, suyun bir meta değil, toplumsal ve kültürel bir değer olduğunu kesinleştiren çerçeve kurulabilir.
Barlow’un çözüm önerilerinin diğer dayanağını, Slovak bilim insanı Michal Kravçik ve arkadaşlarının havzaları yenileme ve su kaynaklarını koruma planı oluşturuyor. Bu plana göre hidrolojik döngünün bizi sonsuza kadar suyla besleyebilmesi için, 1) yağmur sularının yerel havzalarda kalmasına izin verecek koşulların oluşturulması, yani yağmur sularının düştüğü ve toprağa akabildiği doğal alanların yenilenmesi, günlük kullanımda suyun okyanuslara gönderilmesi yerine toplanarak, temiz olarak toprağa dönmesinin sağlanması; 2) yeraltı su kaynaklarının doğal dolum hızından daha büyük bir hızla boşalmasına izin verilmemesi, hükümetlerin yeraltı su kaynaklarıyla ilgili yoğun araştırmalara girişerek, yeraltı rezervleri yok olmadan, bu kaynakların denetimini kontrol altına alması; 3) yüzey ve yeraltı su kaynaklarını kirletmeye son verilmesi ve katı yasal düzenlemelerle, Martin Luther King’in dediği üzere, “yasalarla insan kalbini değiştirmek mümkün olmasa da, kalpsiz olanların dizginlenmesi” gerekiyor.
Kitabın vurgusuna göre Kravçik, büyük şirketlere para kazandıracak mühendislik ve teknoloji harikalarına yatırım yapmaktansa insanların doğaya özenli ilgisini hedefleyen projesinin ekonomik küreselleşme ve gerisindeki büyüme zorunluluğuna ters düştüğünü biliyor. Ancak yine de, onun ‘topluluk bazında sürdürülebilir kalkınma programlarını benimseme’ çağrısını, Barlow da hükümetlere ve uluslararası kurumlara dayatmak üzere, bize aktarmaktan kendini alamıyor.
İşte Barlow’un kitap boyunca alttan alta savunduğu noktalarla sorunumuz da burada netleşiyor. Kitabın 208 sayfası boyunca, Barlow bir kere olsun ‘emperyalizm’, ‘kapitalizm’, ‘üretim ilişkileri’, ‘mülkiyet ilişkileri’ dememeyi başarıyor. Silah endüstrisinden, özel ve devlete bağlı ordulardan, uyuşturucu ve fuhuş işlerine bakan mafya mensuplarıyla iç içe geçmiş çokuluslu güç tekellerinden, böylesi büyük ve karanlık konulardan bahsetmemeye çok kararlı. Sanki şirketler tarafından satın alınabilen yoz politikacılarımızdan kurtulsak, şu BM’yi kuruluş amaçları konusunda aydınlatabilsek ve ülkelerimizin anayasasına ‘su bir insanlık hakkıdır’ ibaresini bir yerleştirebilsek gerisi çorap söküğü gibi gelecek. Esaslı teknokratlar ve işinin ehli hukukçuları da yelkenimize rüzgâr ederek küresel su adaletini, su demokrasisini inşa edeceğiz. Özel şirketler katı kanunlarımız ve çevre koruma mevzuatımız karşısında süt dökmüş birer kedi gibi yola gelecek.
Barlow, geniş bir küresel uzlaşma alanı bulabilmek ve İstanbul Su Forumu sürecinde kendi ve arkadaşlarının sıkça dile getirdiği gibi acil kriz karşısında olabilecek en geniş ittifakı oluşturabilmek için safdil numarası mı yapıyor, yoksa içine hapsolduğu STK mantığı onun dünyayı gerçekten böyle görmesine olanak mı tanıyor, bilemeyiz. Şu kadarını söyleyebiliriz: Kendi kitabında sayıp döktüğü tablo karşısında, kendi anlattığı zaferlerin zayıf kaldığını, kozmetik müdahalelerinden öteye gidemediğini yer yer itiraf ettiğini gözden kaçırmış. Çizdiği tabloya bakılırsa korktuğu kanlı, çatışmalı su savaşları, ülkeler arasında değil, karar verme imtiyazına sahip olanlar ve olmayanlar, mülkiyet gücünü elinde tutanlar ve tutmayanlar arasında gerçekleşecek gibi görünüyor ve onun aksine biz bunu gayet olumlu bir gelişme olarak bekliyoruz. Barlow, suyu bir insanlık hakkı olarak tanımlarken, insanlık hakkı kavramının ne kadar kolonyalist, burjuva hukukunu çağrıştıran, akla hemen toplumsal anlaşma zırvalıklarını getiren renklere bulandığını göz ardı ediyor.
Kolonyalist, çünkü günümüzde ABD orduları insan haklarını uygulamak adına Irak ve Afganistan’ı işgal etti. Burjuva hukukunu çağrıştırıyor; çünkü haklarınızı ancak burjuvaların mahkemelerinde ararsınız, suyunuzu çalan sistemin yargıçlarının insafına kalmayı kabul ederek yola çıkarsınız. Toplumsal anlaşma çağrıştırıyor çünkü bu düzlemde konuşabilmek bile, bu anlaşmaya taraf olabilecek bir dili konuşmayı öğrenmiş olmanızı gerektiriyor.
Sosyal hak mücadelesi, STK direnişi, ancak belli bir dille, belli yöntemleri bilerek örgütlenebiliyor. Mücadeleyi bu dar ve başkalarınca belirlenmiş kıyafete tıkıştırmak, sonuçta söylemi de kravatlı ve eli evrak çantalı bir kâtibin dili dışında aramayı zorlaştırıyor.
İşte bu nedenlerle, yazımızın başında Barlow’u Fabiancı ve Adam Smith’in fikirlerine yakın bir yere konumlandırmıştık. Fabiancılara 19. yüzyıl sonlarında ‘gaz ve su sosyalistleri’ de deniyordu çünkü belediyelerin çalışan halka bedava su ve gaz tedarik etmesi, çocuklara okullarda bedava sabah kahvaltısı çıkartılması, işçilere eşit ve kaliteli sağlık hizmetlerinin sunulması, ufak tüketici-üretici kooperatiflerinin işleyebileceği bir yerel yapının oluşturulması, onların sosyalizm anlayışının nihai ufkunu teşkil ediyordu. Gerçi İngiltere’nin Hindistan’a ‘medeniyet götüren’ sömürgeciliğini onaylayan Fabiancı Bernard Shaw’un aksine, Barlow yer yer ‘yerelin kaynaklar üstünde daha fazla söz sahibi olmasını’ savunuyor, kamu-kamu ortaklıklarıyla gelişmiş ülkelerin henüz yol yordam bilmeyen az gelişmiş ülkelere medeniyet taşımasını doğru buluyor. Ancak nihayetinde, su sorununun çözümünü iyi niyetli bir BM desteğiyle dünyaya yayılacak bir Mavi Sözleşmeye bağlıyor. Barlow bunu, gerçekçi ve uygulanabilir bir strateji olarak savunabilir, biz BM’yi iyi niyetli olmaya zorlamanın, gerçekçi bir politik yaklaşım olduğunu düşünmüyoruz.
Aynı şekilde, alt yapı ve toplumsal hizmetleri, ‘kazanç amacı güdemeyeceğinden’ devletin ellerine bırakan, kişisel çıkarların birbirini destekleyerek, toplumu en yüksek refah noktasına taşıdığı bir ideal dünyada yaşayan Adam Smith ile de Barlow arasında zihinsel bir akrabalık mevcut. Mesele, kazanç baskısı olmayan kamunun, daha insani politikalar güdeceğine güvenerek, su hizmetlerini illa ki ve nasıl olursa olsun kamunun ellerine teslim etmekten ibaret olamaz. Ülkemizde de dünyada da, kamu tekeline bırakılan toplum hizmetlerinin her zaman toplumun azami faydası için kullanılmadığı deneyimi yaşanmıştır. Bu yüzden de özelleştirmeler bir hayır işi, yolsuzlukları önleme çalışması gibi sunulabilmektedir.
Mesele tam da teknokrasiyi zayıflatarak insanların beraber yaşadıkları doğal varlıklar üstünde daha fazla söz ve kontrol sahibi olmasını sağlamak, bunun araçlarını şimdiden, mücadele esnasında yaratmaya uğraşmaksa, direnişi bile kamu hizmetlerinin kamuya geri verilmesi odağından farklı bir merkezde kurmak önemlidir.
Bu yüzden, klasik ekonomik teorinin hümanist kanadı da, bizim için yol gösterici olamaz. İşte bu noktalarda, Barlow’un kitabı, sivil toplum örgütlenmesinin su mücadelesini layıkıyla örmekte neden yetersiz kaldığını da bize çok iyi gösteren, düşmememiz gereken düşünsel hatalara işaret eden bir eserdir.
Ütopya kelimesinin kökeninin, Yunanca “yok/olmayan” anlamındaki “ou” ve “yer/toprak”ı karşılayan “topos”dan geldiğini söyler kaynaklar. Buradan hareketle yazınsal olarak bir ütopya yaratabilmenin “olmayan bir yer”e dair yazmak olduğu söylenebilir.
Metnimize konu olan Ekotopya kitabında ise “olmayan” değil tersine yazarın kendi hayatını geçirdiği “varolan bir yer” konu ediliyor. Kaliforniya eyaleti, kitapta, Amerika’dan ayrılarak bağımsızlığını kazanmış, Ekotopya adını almış ve toplumsal yaşamını ekolojik prensiplere göre düzenlenmiş bir “yer” olarak betimleniyor. Dolayısıyla burada yazarın “olmayan”a dair yaptığı vurgunun “yer”in kendisinde değil, bu yerde varolan “ekolojik toplumsal yaşam biçimi”nde olduğunu söyleyerek giriş yapabiliriz. Hemen ardından gelecek soru ise şu olacaktır: Bu yaşam biçimini kitabın kaleme alındığı 70’li yıllarda va hatta şimdi bile ütopik yapan nedir?
Romanın anlatıcısı William Weston, okuyucuya bu yaşama dair ipuçlarını roman boyunca verir. Ekotopya’da trafik sorununun çözüldüğünü zira araba olmadığını, onun yerine herkesin bisiklete bindiğini; toplu taşıma için elektrikle çalışan ücretsiz otobüsler olduğunu; herkesin kolayca tamir edebileceği mekanik aletleri modern olanlara yeğlediğini; bağımsızlıktan önceki zamanlardan kalan benzin istasyonlarının, süpermarketlerin yok edildiğini; insanların sentetik olmayan, bol, renkli kıyafetler giydiğini; geveze ve duygusal olduklarını; duygularını, özellikle cinsel arzularını ifade etmekten çekinmediklerini, haftada 20 saat çalıştıklarını, komünler halinde yaşadıklarını, doğal yiyeceklerle beslendiklerini; rekabete dayanan futbol, basketbol gibi sporlar yerine kampçılık,dağcılık ya da yürüyüş yaptıklarını okuruz. Romanın baş kişisi Weston, Amerika’nın önemli yayın organlarından birinde gazetecidir. Yaşam biçimleri merak konusu olan Ekotopya’lılarla ilgili bilgiler edinmek ve bunları rapor etmek amacıyla Başkan’ın direktifiyle “oraya” gönderilmiştir. Roman da Weston’ın işte bu yolculuğu sırasında tuttuğu ve “Ekotopya başkentinin caddeleri”, “Yiyecek, kanalizasyon ve kalıcılık”, “Ekotopya’nın sportif olmayan yaşamı” gibi başlıklarla bölümlediği ve orada geçirdiği zamana dair izlenimlerini tarihsel bir sırayla anlattığı seyahat günlüğünden oluşur.
Romanın ortalarına kadar Weston’ın Ekotopya’yı ve burada yaşayanların “farklılıklarını” tasvir etmeye yönelik çabalarını benzer bir tonlamayla okuruz; “Tipik Ekotopya erkeği, kolay tarif edilemeyen pantalonlarının üzerine, sıklıkla çirkin bir gömlek, süveter veya ceket giyiyor” (s.24), “Ekotopya’daki herşey benim odam gibi çelişkilerle dolu […] yatak berbat, yayı yok, tahtanın üzerine öylesine bir sünger atılıvermiş, üstüne de nedense şık bir pike örtülmüş” (s.26), “Erkek olsun kadın olsun Ekotopyalılar kendilerin rahatça hayvan olarak düşünebiliyorlar […] Defalarca yerde sevişen insanların arasından yürüyerek geçtim, bir tanesinde bile ne sıkılganlık, ne kızgınlık belirtisi gördüm; yanlışlıkla banyo yapan birisinin yanına girmekten farksızdı” (s.46).
Bu noktada Ekotopya’nın -her ne kadar bilim-kurgu türünün bir örneği olarak ele alınsa da-, anlatısal özellikleri bakımından Anglo-Amerikan seyahat edebiyatının birçok karakteristik özelliğini içerdiğini söylemek yanlış olmaz. Seyahat edebiyatının kurucu yapısını oluşturan eserlerin çoğunda olduğu gibi, Ekotopya’da da romanın ana kişisi, bir güç odağının sponsorluğu ya da emriyle yola çıkan beyaz, eğitimli, üst-orta sınıftan bir erkektir. Bilmediği yere doğru bir yolculuk yapar, gittiği yeri ve orada yaşayanları “öteki” olarak imler ve edinmesi zaten halihazırda görevi olan, “oranın bilgisi”ni temsillerle, ikili bir karşıtlık sistemi içinde “yeniden” üretir. Gazeteci Weston, yolculuğunun daha en başlarında “Ekotopya’nın meydan okuyuşuna cehalet ve üçüncü elden edinilmiş haberlerle değil, doğruluğundan emin olduğumuz bilgilerle karşı koymalıyız (s.14)” der. Bu açık istek, tam da bize Edward Said’in Foucault’yu izleyerek bir bilgi/iktidar aygıtı olarak ortaya koyduğu Oryantalizm analizinde gösterdiği şeydir; Batılı öznenin “öteki”ni bilme arzusu, iktidar arzusuyla iç içe geçmiş bir yapı oluşturur. Burada konu edilen “yer”in Amerika’nın “doğu”sunda olması anlatıdaki söylemlerin Oryantalizm’i oluşturan dinamiklerden bağımsız olabileceği anlamına gelmez. Zira Mutman’ın altını çizdiği gibi “batı” Oryantalizm’de coğrafi bir yönü değil, bilgi üzerinden “başkalarının” sınırlarını belirleyen, onu bir bilgi ve yönetme nesnesi getiren söylemsel dinamikleri temsil eder.
Romanın ortalarına gelindiğinde ise Weston’ın şüpheci ve çoğunlukla olumsuzlayan tutumu ılımlılaşır zira “cinselliğini özgürce yaşayan, vahşi ve anlaşılmaz bir yaratık” olarak tasvir edilen Marissa’yla karşılaşmış ve aşık olmuştur. Hollywood filmelerinde çokça işlenen “dünyayı aşk kurtaracak” klişesini neredeyse tekrar eden bir biçimde de kitabımız sonlanır, Ekotopyamız olumlanır. Callenbach’ın eserinin, “başka hayatlar da mümkün” ya da “hayalin gerçekleşmesinin hiç de imkansız olmadığı” gibi cümlelerle anılmasını sağlayan şeyin, anlatıcıdaki bu değişime yüklendiğini söylemek ise sanırım yanlış olmaz.
Her ne kadar yazar kahramanımızı aşık edip işin içinden kolayca sıyrılıyor gibi gözükse de ana sorun aslında baki kalır. Bu noktada sorulabilecek ilk soru şudur: “Öteki”yle uzlaşmanın tek yolu aşk mıdır? Ya da şöyle diyelim: “Fark”ı indirgemeden olumlamak nasıl mümkün olur?
Yazar, Ekotopya’nın Amerika kıtasının içinde ama buna rağmen baskın tüketim-üretim biçimlerinden bağımsız olarak varolabilmesini, -bir noktada inandırıcı olması gerektiğini düşündüğünden olsa gerek- kendine yeten ve dışa kapalı bir ekonomik sisteme ve sınırların korunması için “nükleer santrallerden yürütülen uranyum silahları”na bağlar. Halbuki bu kapalı ve sınır-korumacı yaklaşımın aksine, kitapta anlatılan yaşam biçiminin kendine örnek aldığı ekolojik sistemin gücü, “farklılık” ve “yineleniş”tedir. Ekosistemde her bir canlı birbirinden ayrılmaz bir biçimde birbirine bağlıdır, her birinin varoluşu diğerini etkiler ve her bir canlınıın kendine özgü farklılığı, sistemin kendini her zaman yeniden üretmesini sağlar. Yaşamı sürekli kılan şey işte bu çoğulcu, akışkan oluştur.
Bir solucan, su samuru ya da yarasa gibi sadece bir parçası olmamıza rağmen kendi cinsimizin egemenliğine olan sonsuz hegemonik inancımızla yaşamın sürekliliğini tehdit eder hale geldiğimiz şu günlerde, iyi ve kötü ikiliğinin arasına sıkışıp, neyin daha ekolojik olduğunu sorup durmak yerine neleri kapı dışında bıraktığımızı sorgulamamız gerek belki de.
Son olarak yazar Callenbach’ın ilerici bir görüşle kaleme aldığı ekolojik çözümler ve yaşam biçimlerinin, yayınlanmasından 50 yıl sonra, tam da hikayenin geçtiği San Francisco’da uygulanıyor olmasının bir tesadüf olmadığını ve romanın -onca eleştirilebilecek yönüne rağmen- varolan çözümlere alternatif üretmek için insanları hayal kurmaya teşvik etmiş olabileceğini de söylemeliyiz. Bu mümkün kılma gücünün altını çizerek, edebiyata hakkını vermeyi atlamadan…
Kitap: EKOTOPYA, Ernest Callenbach, çev.Osman Akınhay, Ayrıntı Yayınları, Ocak 1994, İstanbul, s.215
 der. Mutman, M.,Keyman F., Yeğenoğlu M. (1996), Oryantalizm, Hegemonya ve Kültürel Fark, İstanbul: İletişim Yayınları.
Hopa Kemalpaşa Özerk Bölgesi’nin diğer önemli kararlarından biri sürdürdükleri anadilde eğitim, Hemşince ve Lazca’nın dışında Türkçe’nin de ikinci dil olarak eğitimde yerini almasıydı. Bu arada tartışmalar sürdürülürken kurulan eğitim konseyinde, 12 yaşından küçüklerin de doğrudan söz hakkı talebi kabul edildikten sonra toplantının çoğu, eğitimin temel unsurları olan onlar tarafından belirlendi. Eğitimin duvarlar arasında hapsedilmesinden geçen yıl vazgeçen özerk yönetim, başta Çaykur binası olmak üzere, şehir stadını ve köy meydanlarını ortak eğitim alanı olarak değerlendiriyorlardı. Bu arada çoğunlukta küçüklerin oylarıyla kendi eğitim saatlerinin yüzde 70’i futbol oynamaya ve horon çekmeye ayrıldı. Kızlar futboldaki kota uygulamasının devamını ve takımların en az yüzde 30’unun kadın olmak zorunda olduğu kararını verdiler. ‘Eğitim ve hayat iç içedir’ kuralıyla hareket eden Kemalpaşa Özerk Yönetimi, zaten bütün eğitimin sadece yüzde 20’sini teorik olarak sürdürmekte.
Brezilya Topraksız İşçi Hareketi (MST) ile yapılan işbirliği ile 3 yıldır sürdürülen ‘Eleştirel Pedogojik’ eğitimin özgürleştirici pratiğin parçası olarak devamına karar aldılar. Biliyorsunuz zaten son iki yıldır, öğrenmeye ilişkin hiçbir işe yaramadığı tespit edildiğinden sınavlar kaldırılmıştı. Dolayısıyla iki yıldır hiç de kopya çekilmemekte.
En uzun toplantı çay üreticileri ile çay fabrikası işçilerinin ve kooperatiflerinin yaptıkları toplantılar oldu. Ne kadar çay yetiştireceklerine? Nasıl üreteceklerine ve nasıl dağıtacaklarına dair kararları aldılar. Bu toplantılara en fazla çay tüketicisinin bulunduğu İstanbul, İzmir ve Ankara özerk bölgeleri tüketici kooperatifleri delegeleri de katıldı. İşçilerin iş saatleri bir kez daha düşürülerek fabrikaya 200 yeni işçi alındı. Tabii ki işçi ücretleri yine düşmüyor. Son iki yıldır kendi çayını doğrudan tüketiciye sattıklarından itibaren işçiler ve üreticiler eski gelirlerinin 2 misli gelir elde etmekteler. Artık eğitime ve sağlığa da ödeme yapmadıklarından bu gelirlerin çoğunu seyahatlerinde kullanıyorlar.
Bu toplantının sürdüğü 65 gün süresinde Çaykur Fabrikası duvarlarında 5 resim, 7 fotoğraf sergisi vardı. Geceleri Kemalpaşa Film Festivali’ne katılan filmler gösterildi. 21 tane düğün yapıldı ve 11 tane sünnet düğünü. Neredeyse her saat horon tepildi. Bir de fabrikanın kapısına konulan eski seçim sandıkları büyük ilgi gördü. 3 yılda, 5 yılda bir kullanılan oy ile yapılan seçimlere, referandumlara, karikatür demokrasilere kahkahalarla gülündü.
Biz bu temaşa devam ederken gerçek referandumları örgütlemeliyiz. Hemen ’12 Eylül kötü referandumunun’ ardından şehir şehir, mahalle mahalle ve hatta sokak sokak referandumlar yapmalı. Hem de onların referandumu gibi ortaya karışık bir paket üstüne ‘evet’ ya da ‘hayır’ diyen değil, gerçek bir demokrasinin, yani insan soluklarından olan bir demokrasinin referandumu. ‘Barışı nasıl inşa etmeli?’ diye sormalıyız. ‘TEKEL işçileri ne olmalı?’, ‘Okul duvarlarını yıkmalı mı?’, ‘Mahallenin neresine sağlık ocağı açmalı?’, ‘Süt kaça alınmalı ve ekmek kaç lira olmalı?’, ‘Bedava otobüs nerelerden kalkmalı?’ Ve ‘Ne sorular sormalıyız?’ diye sormalıyız. 12 yaşından büyük herkesin katıldığı bir referandum. Madem 12 yaşındakiler cezaevine atılabiliyorlar tabii ki referanduma da katılmalı. Yaşasın referandum!
Zapatistalar Mayaların salyangozlarından yararlandı. Salyangoz-Caracoles, Maya efsanelerinde hayatı ifade eder. Kalbe, bilgiye ve akla açılan yolu anlatır. Aman dikkat burada kalp çok önemli. Onsuz bir bilgi ve akıl hiçbir şey. Salyangoz horizantaldir. Birbirini kesmez. Hiyerarşik olmayanı, yan yana olanları, anlatır. Zapatista örgütlenmesinin ve Zapatistaların iyi yönetimlerinin, belediyelerinin simgesidir. (Caracolesy las Juntas de Buen Gobierno (JBG)) ‘İyi belediyeler’ egemenlerin yasalarıyla ve yerel yönetim seçimleriyle değil, 2003 yılında halkın uzun tartışmalarıyla kuruldu. Bu yüzden yöneticiler(!) para almaz ve her an geri çağırılabilirler. Temel ilke, herkesin kararlara katılması ve sorumluluğu üstlenmesidir. Üretim de, eğitim de, sağlık da salyangoz örgütlenmesiyle gerçekleşir. Bugün 27 Otonom İsyankar Zapatista Komünü, 5 ayrı Salyangoz’da örgütlenmiş durumda. Yaşasın Salyangozlar! Yaşasın ‘İyi belediyeler!’
Bir de bizim ‘iyi belediyemiz’ vardı. Halk hangi partiden olursa olsun komitelere katılıp, kendi kararlarını alıyorlardı. Terzi Fikri’nin Fatsası. Ona da bir Yaşasın!
Yaşasın Özgür Komün! Özerklik der demez hemen ardına ‘Özgür Komün’ü eklemeli. Dünya Bankası’nın ‘desantirilizasyon’ tuzağının içine, yani özerklik adıyla kamu hizmetlerinin özelleştirilmesi tuzağına düşmemek için. Böyle bir demokrasi istemeli. Diyarbakır ve Batman’ın özerkliğinden ve Edirne, Artvin ve Çankaya’nın özerkliğinden, yani özgür komünlerden bahsetmeli. Ve Yozgat’ın da ve bütün sokakların ve hatta çıkmaz sokakların.
Madem demokrasi diyorlar, gösterelim neymiş gerçek demokrasi. Gene uçuyor muyum? Hayır sizsiniz gerçekçi olmayan. Size her hafta bu köşede, dünyanın her yerinden karikatür demokrasi hikayeleri anlatıyorum. Hadi beni geçin, siz içinde yaşıyorsunuz koca yalanların. Ben çok gerçekçiyim. Eğer onların referandumları, seçimleri, hile ve desiseleri içinde oynarsak, kurtulamayacağız kokmuş karanlıklarından.
Yaşasın Özgür Komünler ve özgür olan her şey…
- anti-otoriter / anarşizan
- antropoloji, arkeoloji
- bu topraklar
- ekokoy – permakultur
- ekolojist akımlar
- ekotopya heterotopya utopyalar
- kadın ve doğa / ekofeminizm
- kent yasami
- kir yasami
- komünler, kolektifler
- kooperatifler vb modeller
- savaş karşıtlığı
- sistem karsitligi
- somuru / tahakkum
- sınırlara hayır
- tarim gida GDO
- türcülük, doğa / hayvan özgürlüğü
- totoliterlik / otoriterlik
- tuketim karsitligi
- yerel yönetimler
- yerli – yerel halklar
- yeşil kapitalizm