The Global Fight for Climate Justice

This review appears in the current issue of the journal Socialist Studies, and is republished here with the author’s permission.

Angus, Ian, editor. The Global Fight for Climate Justice: Anticapitalist Responses to Global Warming and Environmental Destruction. Halifax: Fernwood, 2010.. ISBN 978-1-5526-6344-8. Paperback: Cdn 24.95 CAD. Pages: 286.

Reviewed by Randolph Haluza-DeLay

The climate change debates need the perspective brought by The Global Fight for Climate Justice. Amidst contention over the science and mechanisms to mitigate or adapt, few are willing to face the fact that eliminating the root causes of global environmental degradation cannot be accomplished within the growth imperatives of capitalism. This is the central argument in the nearly four dozen essays by over three dozen writers who present a compelling and explicit socialist analysis grounded in a presumption that capital’s accumulation pressure is the root of injustice and environmental degradation.

The first major contribution of this book is this penetrating explication of capitalism as the foundation of global environmental change and its inadequacy to be any solution to the crucial problem of climate change. Capitalism is positioned as the root cause of global climate injustice, that is, the unfair distribution of the costs and future impacts of global climate change. As John Bellamy Foster writes “We must recognize that today’s ecological problems are related to a system of global inequality that demands ecological destruction as a necessary condition of its existence” (89).

The second major contribution of the book is that it collects in one place many socialist writings on the topic. Ian Angus is the Canadian founder of Climate and Capitalism (http://climateandcapitalism.com); he contributes seven of the essays, most of which originated from that website. Many of the other essays have previously appeared in a variety of publications, including Socialist Resistance (http://socialistresistance.org), whose book arm (Resistance Books) is the British co-publisher. The collection includes speeches by Fidel Castro (as far back as 1992) and Evo Morales, excerpts from John Bellamy Foster and Joel Kovel, statements such as the Bali and Cochabamba Declarations, essays by Hugo Blanco, Patrick Bond, and many others that are well-known in socialist circles. Judy Rebick (Canada) and Derek Wall (UK) contribute forwards.

However, this breadth is also one of the drawbacks of the book as the forty-four essays tend toward repetitiveness. Essays vary in length from a couple pages to Daniel Tanuro’s 45-page, 40 point pronouncement that “21st Century Socialists must be Eco-socialists.” This essay is worth giving to anyone who needs proselytizing to a cause that combines ecological attention and socialist praxis. And since it appeared in French and is translated by Angus, this is the only English source. Other essays also stand out, including, among others, Terry Townsend’s “Capitalism’s Anti-ecology Treadmill,” Angus’ “World Hunger, Agribusiness, Food Sovereignty” and the (Australian) Socialist Alliance’s ten-step plan for climate action.

The book is divided into eight sections with roughly equal number of contributions. The first Section on “Climate Emergency” is only 17 pages, but that’s probably enough as its accounts of the climate crisis are repeatedly covered in other essays. Following sections include “Starving the Poor,” “False Explanations, False Solutions,” “The Fantasy of Green Capitalism,” “Privatizing the Atmosphere,” and “Voices from the Global South.” Together they present a compelling case that climate change is an injustice and that many proposed mitigation and adaptation mechanisms replicate existing social inequities and structures of privilege. Especially strong is the green capitalism section with its critique of specific market proposals prevalent in the contemporary climate negotiations.

The unrelenting socialist paradigm in the rest of the book makes the “Voices from the Global South” section a startling contrast. Many of these essays are from an indigenous perspective with an explicit spirituality that is in marked contrast to the historical materialist tenor of the rest of the essays. Unfortunately, Canadian Inuit leader Sheila Watt-Cloutier — one of the strongest voices for climate justice — is not included. “Climate Justice” is a camp broader than the socialist tent and perhaps including in the book more perspectives from other campers would have been beneficial for the overall movement.

Also missing is a gender analysis. Considerable research indicates that women face disparate impacts from men, even in the same locales and class positions. An example is Ariel Salleh’s collection, Eco-Sufficiency and Global Justice: Women Write Political Ecology (Pluto Press, 2009).

Late in the book comes a section on social movement building that illuminates some of the difficulty of building broad-based social movements. The final section emphasizes, if readers had not gotten the message already, “Ecosocialist Responses to Capitalist Ecocide.” Several contributors acknowledge that “actually existing socialism” has had as dismal an environmental record as capitalism, and socialist movements have just as often ignored environmental sustainability as environmentalists have ignored social justice. The point is, as Angus writes, “To make the greens redder and the reds greener.” Every critique is strengthened by a roadmap to a better future and several essays in these sections offer concrete proposals.

The other main drawback of the collection is that Angus wields an overly light editorial hand. The repetitiveness is one example. The individual essays could have included introductions providing context or explaining internal references that may not be immediately familiar to many readers.  Citations for the original sources of the contributions would be useful. And there is unevenness in referencing — some essays cite sources while others don’t, making the book much more difficult to use in an academic setting. Course instructors would likely want to choose a couple of readings from each section to avoid repetition.

Lastly, the implicit theory of justice is limited to distributional inequities, although the environmental justice literature highlights other dimensions of justice. Justice in this book is justice for humans, not for the earth or other parts of the evolutionary order.

Nevertheless, this is a collection that adds value to the campaign for climate justice. It demonstrates the ongoing relevance of socialist analysis and it articulates a clear “ecosocialist” position. For these reasons, The Global Fight for Climate Justice is to be recommended.

Doctor Randolph Haluza-DeLay, Associate Professor of Sociology at King’s University College in Edmonton, Alberta, is a co-editor of the groundbreaking book Speaking for Ourselves: Environmental Justice in Canada.

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Jeff White
5 years 7 months ago

I’m unimpressed by Dr. Haluza-DeLay’s review. His criticisms are for the most part misplaced.

It’s odd that he thinks Sheila Watt-Cloutier’s writings should be included in a book whose subtitle explicitly indicates it is about anticapitalist responses to the climate crisis, since Watt-Cloutier is far from being an anticapitalist activist or theorist. True, as the reviewer notes, the movement for “climate justice” is broader than just the anticapitalist or socialist camp, but to criticize this book for not including viewpoints that don’t at least implicitly challenge the hegemony of capital is like criticizing a horse for not being a zebra.

And maybe he missed the “gender analysis” because it wasn’t confined to a special chapter on the topic; it was in fact incorporated into the argument and analysis in many of the book’s articles.

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