5 Responses

  1. Richard Smith May 16, 2014 at 11:34 am |

    Well, if as you and Foster say “fee and dividend is not and exit strategy” then why waste our time campaigning for something that can’t possibly work when there are plenty of other very good anti-fossil fuel struggles out there that can work?Stopping fracking for example, is possible, and it does reduce fossil fuel consumption. It’s also the sort of campaign that one can build real movements around because there is already many community and state-wide struggles against it. Same with anti-pipeline struggles. These sorts of struggles can be won and I think they offer many opportunities to raise anti-capitalist politics.

    I don’t pretend to have any expertise about movement building. I know we have to work with people who hold all sorts of illusions about potential reforms within capitalism. I personally don’t have any problem working with them even though I make it clear that I think the carbon tax idea is a non-starter. More importantly, it seems to me that the carbon tax strategy has three disadvantages from the standpoint of movement building:

    First, it’s not even tendentially anti-capitalist because it assumes that if you pass a meaningful carbon tax, this will meaningfully reduce fossil fuel consumption, without any need to change the system. So we just get the tax passed and go back to sleep.

    Secondly, it steers people into lobbying campaigns instead of mass actions. And this is just a dead end, most obviously, because, as I explained in my paper, no capitalist government on earth is going to pass a carbon tax that would meaningfully suppress CO2 emissions because they all (correctly) understand that this would meaningfully suppress economic growth which is what every government, every company and every union in the world right now is pulling out all the stops to prevent.

    Thirdly, I think there is virtually no chance of building any kind of mass movement around the idea of a carbon tax. Who is going to support raising a flat tax, a tax that falls most heavily on the workers who are most of the voters? And if that weren’t enough, why, given capitalism, would anyone want to impose a tax that is certain to hurt the economy?

    For all these reasons, spending time and effort promoting carbon taxes seems to me a waste of time — and a diversion from other more fruitful struggles with more political potential. As I see it, the main reason people like Hansen and mainstream environmental groups support carbon taxes is because it’s not threatening, it’s not anti-capitalist, it fosters the illusion that we can really reduce emissions without having to overturn the social order. That has obvious attractions. But it doesn’t mean that carbon taxes would actually work to slow global warming, or that a carbon tax campaign would be a useful movement-building tool.

  2. Gabriel Levy May 15, 2014 at 3:59 am |

    This is an important debate. I think labour and social movements should welcome James Hansen’s proposal, while bearing in mind that it is a proposal for Keynesian regulation and, as such, is part of an approach that has in my view been left behind by history. It’s welcome not because it’s “the answer”, but because Hansen is breaking out of just giving “policy advice” as scientists are usually limited to doing.

    But surely the “human tipping point” that he calls for is going to be much, much more than a carbon tax … getting past the age of fossil fuels surely IS, in the big picture, about getting past capitalism. To my mind socialists should focus more on rethinking how that transition will take place and not get bogged down in details of policy demands; the transition is about social overturns that consist of much more than policies.

    Without realising you had started this debate here, I wrote (and just posted today) a comment on the paper published by Hansen et al in PLOS: http://peopleandnature.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/climate-scientists-go-for-human-tipping-point/

  3. Richard Fidler May 13, 2014 at 10:41 am |

    Ian, you write:
    “On one hand, he appears to accept Hansen’s case for a direct dividend: “‘Climate’ money each month going into poor people’s bank accounts would unite the demand for income redistribution with working people’s fundamental long-term environmental demand for a healthy planet.” But elsewhere he contradicts himself by describing the plan as “adapted to the U.S. political context” and “completely individualistic,” and suggesting that in other countries the money collected could be spent by government on social projects.

    “Such confusion is disturbing. Unlike every actual carbon tax plan proposed or implemented in the world today, Hansen’s fee and dividend plan has a strong class component: it would take from rich corporations and give to the poor, creating a material incentive for working people to support the carbon fee and oppose corporate efforts to weaken it. If the money goes into government projects, no matter how worthy, it will be seen as just another attack on working class living standards, and how it is spent will be subject to the whims of capitalist politicians.”

    Actually, up to this point I thought Ekeland’s suggestion that the revenue from the new fees be spent by governments on social programs was similar to what the Bolivian government does: assigning the revenue from the increased taxes and royalties imposed on the foreign oil and gas companies still operating under contract in the country to various social programs such as the conditional cash transfers to pensioners, mothers and expectant mothers of infants, public school students, etc.

    How does a direct dividend to the poor, which can be spent at their discretion as consumers, offer a superior investment to social programs that are of immediate use in raising living standards and reducing income disparities? Surely we are dealing here with the question of government, and thinking in terms of what a progressive government, operating in the interests of working people, would do.

    That’s why the question of taxation and fiscal revenues cannot be discussed in the abstract (as many leftists do), but must always be addressed to the programs to which such revenues are to be devoted. No to war spending, yes to progressive social programs, for example.


  4. Richard Smith May 13, 2014 at 7:49 am |


    With all due respect to Anders Ekeland, in my critique of green capitalism article published three years ago in RWER and reposted on this website, I effectively demonstrated the hopelessly contradictory nature of Hansen’s proposal and showed why it is most certainly NOT an exit strategy from fossil fuel capitalism. This I showed is so because, most obviously, a carbon tax is not a cap. Fossil fuel executives like the CEO of ExxonMobil fully support carbon taxes because they understand that it’s not a cap, it’s just a line item, a cost of doing business, and one that can be passed on to consumers.

    Tax or no tax, they project that global fossil fuel consumption will rise by 35% in 20 years, 65% in the developing world, and they are looking to produce it for the benefit of their shareholders. Whereas to stop global warming, what we need is not just a “cap” but an absolute suppression, a massive suppression of fossil fuel burning.

    I said that Hansen was absolutely right that there can be no stopping global warming unless we bring a rapid halt to the extraction and burning fossil fuels. That, however, I argued, is all but inconceivable under capitalism given that not just electricity generation but manufacturing, transportation, industrial farming — virtually the entire economy — is based on fossil fuels. To suppress fossil fuel consumption by 90% would require that capitalist legislatures pass a carbon tax that would effectively shut down the biggest corporations in the world. This is just not going to happen.

    To think otherwise, like Hansen does, is to live in a fantasy dreamworld. To “get off fossil fuels” we would need to massively retrench and entirely shut down vast swathes of current industrial production in the developed countries, effectively de-industrialize to an extent by shutting down all kinds of unnecessary, wasteful, and polluting fossil-fuel consuming industries — and this, I said, would require, as its prerequisite, the replacement of capitalism with a democratically-planned, publicly-owned ecosocialist economy.

    To say that we would need a social revolution to stop global warming may not be what people want to hear, because that seems so implausible today, but I believe that this is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the science. This, I argued, does not at all mean that we should not fight for every possible reform in the meantime.

    There are many good fights out there against fossil fuel consumption, fights against pipelines, against tar sands, against extreme extraction, and against the staggeringly wasteful consumption of fossil fuels everywhere, but the carbon tax “solution” is not a solution. It’s a delusion.

    Readers may wish to look at my article here

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