6 Responses

  1. Don Fitz June 13, 2013 at 12:46 pm |

    Philip and Jeff bring up issues that are critically important for transitioning from capitalism to an ecologically sane society. Philip’s misunderstanding of a statement of mine is reasonable, since I apparently sowed confusion in the pursuit of brevity.

    When I referred to “democratic control of the economy” as not being a panacea, it would have been more clear to say “democratic control of the economy is necessary but not sufficient” to resolve ecological crises. Abolition of capitalism does not guarantee an end to racism, sexism or gluttonous production; but it is a pre-condition for activists’ realizing their goals.

    I do not mean to separate struggles under capitalism, during a revolutionary transition and in a post-capitalist society as Jeff seems to interpret. One belief which is disturbingly prevalent among anti-capitalists is that we need to “wait until after the revolution” to challenge destructive capitalist production. No! Challenging it right now creates the basis for making transformations when we have to power to.

    In St. Louis [where I live] socialists are noticeable by their absence from struggles against extraction industries. Socialists should be in the front lines, explaining that capitalism is not a little bit wasteful but is enormously destructive in its productive system. Socialists should be the first [but, sadly, are often the last] to realize that this creates the basis to simultaneously decrease production and increase consumption.

    Decreasing production means not only producing less of many things [nukes, dams, luxury resorts] but manufacturing items that last much, much longer. If technology is in existence to create shirts [or electronic devices or whatever] that last for 50 years, but corporations intentionally design them to fall apart or go out of style in 2 years, that is a 96% waste ratio. If my arithmetic is correct, that should allow for a 90% decrease in production simultaneous with an increase in consumption by 2 1/2. This is what is necessary to improve the quality of life of everyone on the globe while attaining environmental sanity.

    This relates directly to the scarcity of water, which is used much more in industry than residentially. Manufacturing a car requires a third of a million liters of water – other wasteful industries are similar.

    Solar power illustrates the illusions created by capitalism. Under capitalism, solar power is merely a new profit source for energy companies, which adds to their profits from fossil fuels. Solar power is NOT replacing fossil fuels. The value of solar is that it prefigureatively shows what could be accomplished in a different world. If AND ONLY IF production is scaled down enormously can solar/wind etc provide enough energy for human welfare.

    Instead of the conservative slogan “More solar!” revolutionaries should inscribe upon their banners “Abolish the fossil fuel system!”

  2. Philip Ballyk June 10, 2013 at 5:42 pm |

    The issue of agency that John points out dissolves with a correct understanding that a demand for “fair shares rationing that respect[s] environmental limits” is subsumed under the concept of collective control over the means of production – something Don points out clearly. Yes, a “we’re all in this together” mantra is obfuscating under current power structures, but it is not a myth. We are in fact in a together-or-bust situation. The operative meaning of unity depends on its structural context.

    This leads me to Don’s response to Jeff. Jeff’s suggested “technofixes” show how simple issues of water access, or even climate change, seem through a technology-focused lens. Yet I cannot agree with Don’s dismissal of democratic control of the economy as a means for moving sustainable technology forward. Was this not precisely his point?

    If an elite class is maximizing short-term profits without concern for the long-term effects, then of course certain technology pathways will be chosen that are not socially or ecologically optimal, but only optimal under the logic of the capitalist system. To change the logic of the capitalist system – to recapture control of the means of production through collective governance – is precisely when we decide on a new technology pathway. These are not separate and distinct matters, as Don leads us to believe. Don’t lose track of the system perspective when discussing specific problems.

  3. Don Fitz June 10, 2013 at 12:18 pm |

    Jeff White and John Riddell raise points often made concerning rationing and connect with the discussion of whether a post-capitalist will be based on limitless production.

    Jeff may very well be correct when challenging statistics on water — I’m not really sure. But whichever data are used point to the fact that far more water is used for agricultural and industrial production than by consumers. This means that limiting water usage at the point of production would make more sense than focusing on how much people water their lawns.

    I am concerned with his statement about the “abundance” of water. The fact that water is abundant does not mean that potable water is abundant. The massive conflicts across the globe — over glaciers’ melting in Peru, gold mining in Central America, fracking in the US, amongst many, many others — are about the diminishing availability of drinkable water. Saying that clean water falls from the sky implies that he has not heard of acid rain or the other ways that water is contaminated.

    Repeating the corporate myth of turning sea water into fresh water via solar ignores the environmental problems that solar power creates as well as the inability of solar to produce the massive amount necessary for a geometrically expanding economy.

    The technofixes that Jeff proposes are basically the same as those hyped by corporations. The difference is that he seems to believe that problems inherent in many forms of production will disappear if there is democratic control of the economy. It is way past time for us to recognize that much of the problem of capitalism is the technology is chooses to employ and not merely its top-down control.

    John’s comments might apply to some article that someone once wrote on rationing, but not to the comments I made on Stan Cox’ book. They show the importance of reading beyond the title before critiquing an article. He does not seem to understand the point that rationing is universal. The choice is between “implicit” rationing by price vs. explicit rationing of products.

    The thrust of the article was that rationing of production is the best way to make necessities of life available to everyone and is very similar to the demand for social wages, which has been made by unions for over 100 years. Pretending that “rationing” is a dirty word to be avoided repeats the mindset of the 1% and supports their argument that rationing by price is not really rationing. This, of course, insures that the rich get far more than their fair share as it contributes to climate change and other forms of environmental destruction.

    1. Jeff White June 11, 2013 at 1:37 pm |

      Don seems to see rationing of water as coexisting alongside the very factors that create water shortage under capitalism: acid rain, fracking, mining pollution, excessive agricultural use, etc. In fact, because of those things and many more, we already have rationing of water under capitalism, though not on a basis of equity and human need. But I thought we were talking about rationing in a post-capitalist society. My bad, I guess.

      I’m still left wondering how Don plans to ration water in arid areas of the planet without finding a way to supply them with water in the first place. If he thinks fresh water pipelines are a “technofix”, what’s his low-tech alternative? Does he imagine that a post-capitalist society based on social and climate justice will have no need of technology in order to undo the damage caused by capitalism, and to meet the needs of humanity?

      As for his dismissal of solar power, if he’s correct, we might as well kiss our planet goodbye, because its only viable future in the long term rests on solar energy.

  4. John Riddell June 8, 2013 at 5:40 pm |

    Thanks to Climate and Capitalism for publishing this interesting article. Many objections can be raised, but I would like to suggest only one.

    The author compares the type of “rationing” experienced in World Wars with what might be necessary to reduce carbon emissions and other environmental damage. This is a powerful analogy, which I have used myself. Indeed, war efforts tend to be accompanied, at least initially, by a sweeping mood that “we’re all in this together”; an elation that distinctions of class and wealth have been obliterated in the common effort.

    But that does not last. As they say, “it’s a rich man’s war, and a poor man’s fight.” Even the rationing applies to the poor; the rich find ways to evade it. The concept that we are all in it together is revealed as an illusion, a myth. And major wars usually end in upsurges of mass struggle against those in power, if not in outright revolution.

    There’s an issue of agency here. The rationing model suggests that a group of people with foresight and integrity will lay down the law to the rest of us. That simply does not have moral validity — even if (in Canada) Tom Mulcair does the dictating instead of Stephen Harper. The economic transformation requires a different distribution of power.

  5. Jeff White June 4, 2013 at 10:33 pm |

    “As Cox notes, 86% of water goes to agriculture, 9% to industry and only 5% to residential use.”

    These figures are highly questionable. The officially accepted figure for freshwater withdrawal for agricultural use is 70% globally, but the UN Food & Agricultural Organization notes:

    At global level, the withdrawal ratios are 70 percent agricultural, 11 percent municipal and 19 percent industrial. These numbers, however, are biased strongly by the few countries which have very high water withdrawals. Averaging the ratios of each individual country, we find that “for any given country” these ratios are 59, 23 and 18 percent respectively.

    As for rationing water, I have some difficulty accepting that it ought to be necessary.

    To an alien observing our planet from afar, the concept is absurd. The Earth is the Blue Planet, because it is the Water Planet. We have an abundance of water. We’ll run out of land before we run out of water.

    We have immense reservoirs of fresh water in some areas of the world, and in most areas fresh water literally falls from the skies on a frequent basis. We have the technology to turn salt water into fresh water, using solar energy. Moreover, as long as the sun shines, nature’s own hydrological cycle will receive the power necessary for the constant purification and recycling of fresh water. Water is the quintessential renewable resource.

    The idea that there could be a shortage of fresh water on Earth is something that could only have come about as a result of capitalism. Only when we accept that an abundant natural resource is going to be commodified, polluted and wasted by industrial agriculture and other forms of commodity production, and privatized for sale to those who can afford to pay the price, does the concept of water shortage arise.

    We can devise rational systems for distributing fresh water to all parts of the globe, even those places where rainfall and groundwater are limited. Instead of fossil fuel pipelines, for example, we could have water pipelines. Naturally, such systems are impossible under capitalism without exploiting the recipients of the water for private profit. But there’s plenty of water to go around. With proper management of the resource, in a world freed from the iron rule of profit, rationing should not be necessary.

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