Sunday, April 15, 2018

Means of Production or Means of Destruction?

By Kamran Nayeri, April 14, 2018

As robotics increasingly is displacing workers, it may be easier to see what the workers actually used to do. This robotic lumberjack raises a question for the Marxists to ponder: Is this a means of production or a means of destruction.  May I suggest that it depends on what we think of those trees? Are they living beings facing a doomsday machine that is employed to make more wealth from nature quicker? Or they are "natural resources," "raw material," etc.

But if the robotic lumberjack is a means of destruction (it sure looks like it, doesn't it) what that makes the lumberjack with his/her less fully-automatic tools? A means of production or a means of destruction? Replacing human labor power with robotics in this stage of production as a means of destruction is not the end of it, clearly, the robot made for this purpose was invented, manufactured, marketed, and is serviced by workers with various skills along the line. Then what does this knowledge of the purpose of the robotic lumberjack makes the workers in its full production and maintenance cycle? Are those workers part of means of production or means of destruction? 

May I suggest, that they too are engaged in the process of production of means of destruction which make them indirectly means of destruction as well.  But how many other economic activities fall into this category of means of destruction? You can think about entire industries that, largely if not entirely, employ means of destruction. Think about the arms industry of all kinds, from military to hunting. Think about pesticides, insecticides, herbicides industries, think about the meat industry from the beginning to the end.  

As Marx and Engels argued in their materialist conception of history, social relations of production as well as human nature itself, are changed by the development of modes of production.  What they did not consider is whether and how means of destruction also shape human nature and "social relations of production." We know they do in the conflict we see between lumberjacks and "tree-huggers."  We see this in coalminers' support for the coal industry and Trump administration environmental deregulation even as the incidence of black lung disease is spearing among them again.  In brief, we need to revisit the materialist conception of history to allow for this kind of "means of production/destruction" and their effect on how societies have evolved and what lessons we can draw for the political strategy to deal with the social and planetary crisis.  

Monday, March 26, 2018

Making Progress: A Critical Assessment of Climate Action Plans by Bill McKibben and The Climate Mobilization

By Kamran Nayeri, September 3, 2016
People's Climate March in New York City, September 21, 2014. Photo: Shadia Fayne Wood, Survival Media Agency. 

A potential breakthrough
I consider it a breakthrough of sorts. Last September a group of the leading members of the Canadian ecological and social justice movements, including Naomi Klein and David Suzuki, published The Leap Manifesto: A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another, which I characterized as “a welcome initiative towards a collective discussion for social change necessary to address the root causes of social and planetary crisis.”  Then last May E. O. Wilson published Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life (2016), his last volume in a trilogy, in which he breaks ranks with the conservation movement’s piecemeal and reactive approach by proclaiming and defending the ambitious goal based on the best available science that the only viable way to save biodiversity on which human life depends is to set aside at least half of the planet’s land and oceans as protected areas for wildlife.  On August 15, Bill McKibben, co-founder of and the acknowledged public face of the climate justice movement, published a major policy essay, “A World at War”, in the New Republic in which he outlines an action program for transition to a post-carbon economy by 2050.  Four days later, on August 19, The Climate Mobilization (TCM), released an incomplete draft of its Victory Plan, which goes much further in scale and scope than McKibben’s essay.  As an activist who has been arguing for the need for a broad discussion in the climate justice movement leading to adoption of an action program to use for education, organization and mobilization of largest possible sections of the public (Nayeri, 2016a and 2016b) I see these as important steps forward.  The TCM’s example of proposing a draft action program for discussion and critique by its membership and the public must be commended.  What follows is my own critical assessment of these recent important steps.  While I focus my remarks on climate change and McKibben’s and TCM’s proposals, the reader will note that they are addressing the planetary crisis and all its manifestations that are in fact part and parcel of humanity’s socioeconomic and cultural crisis.  None of the current ecological/environmental crises exists that is not a manifestation of Our Way of Life. 

Highlights of the action plans
McKibben’s action plan is narrowly focused on replacing fossil fuels with clean renewable technologies largely relying on the work of Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford and his colleagues (see, The Solutions Project). They have argued that from an engineering point of view in the United States renewable technologies could replace those based on fossil fuels by 2050. 

The TCM’s program is far more extensive relying on a broader intellectual basis with stated aim of not just restoring “a safe and stable climate” but also reversing the “ecological overshoot” and ending the sixth mass extinction. Here is an outline of what it proposes.

To restore a safe and stable climate, it calls for the mobilization of the federal government, including by establishing new agencies.  These include an All Products and Services (RAPS) system to administer “fair share rationing” of all products and services that emit greenhouse gases. Silk who is the author of the draft argues that this is preferable to taxing emissions since he believes it will ensure more equity (I have argued for an emissions tax with subsidies to low-income people; see, Nayeri 2015).  The plan also calls for rapid phasing out of fossil fuels and establishing clean renewable energy sources.  The transportation system would phase out reliance on cars and trucks in favor of mass transportation and railways running on clean renewables. It calls for a transformation of industrial agriculture (which depends on fertilizers from petroleum) to a carbon-sequestering agroecology and a plant-based diet. Other campaigns that are proposed include “overhauling the built environment,” launching a global forestry management program to stop deforestation and start reforestation, mobilizing the Department of Defense to fight the climate crisis, and a research and development program to study and implement near-term climate cooling approaches. The action plan also supports E. O. Wilson’s proposal to set aside vast parts of the land mass and oceans as protected nature reserves currently deemed by scientists as ecologically intact and crucial to stop the sixth mass species extinction.  It calls for restoration of oceans and research and development to end the ecological overshoot.  The TCM action plan wisely calls for shrinking the size of the economy and population to bring the global footprint to half of the Earth capacity to leave more resources for the remaining millions of species.

While collectively these action plans represent a step forward because they admit the need for the movement to adopt its own plan for transformative change and include some good ideas that in my view must be adopted universally, they are limited to dealing with the manifestation of aspects of the planetary crisis without addressing its root-causes.  In what follows, I will outline these root-causes and then close by highlighting some salient feature of an action plan that would address them. 

Causes of the climate crisis: The Anthropocene
A key problem with the broad sectors of the climate justice movement, including, is that they focus on the catastrophic climate change in isolation from the other manifestations of the planetary crisis. At least since 2000, scientists have increasingly argued and now earth system scientists agree that the geological epoch Holocene that began 11,700 years ago has given way to the Anthropocene (The Age of Man) (see, Angus, 2016, for a history and discussion; see, also, Foster's "Forward" to Angus' book).  Now even the stratigraphers who study the precise demarcation and time-tabling of the deposition of rock layers are increasingly of the same mind (see, Davies 2016).  While the Holocene was marked by a climate that was supportive of the rise and spread of agricultural based civilizations, the Anthropocene has brought us the planetary crisis that if left unchecked will undermine much of life on Earth, including the humanity.  Wilson (2016) provides a lucid account of how biodiversity that is the basis of human society and argues persuasively it will be lost by the end of the century due to the Anthropocene if the world does not act to prevent it in a timely fashion.  The Stockholm Resilience Center that published a study of the planetary crisis (Rockström,, 2009) and an extensive update last year (Steffen,, 2015a) has identified nine planetary boundaries ("thresholds for safe operating space for human societies"). Climate change and "biosphere integrity" (the sixth great mass extinction) are designated as core boundaries “because they both are affected by and drive changes in all the others.” (ibid.) The nine boundaries are:

1. Climate change
2. Change in biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and species extinction)
3. Stratospheric ozone depletion
4. Ocean acidification
5. Biogeochemical flows (phosphorus and nitrogen cycles)
6. Land-system change (for example deforestation)
7. Freshwater use
8. Atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms)
9. Introduction of novel entities (e.g. organic pollutants, radioactive materials, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics).

McKibben’s “A World at War” is written as if this science does not exist. He defines climate change as a technological problem that can be fixed by technological change: replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.  The TCM’s Victory Plan does not frame its action program with an explicit acknowledgement of the Anthropocene but borrows heavily from sources that do, including Wilson’s Half- Earth, and offers many good proposals for action to overcome the planetary crisis.  But we cannot hope to save the world if we cannot undo the Anthropocene.  

Why the Anthropocene?: The fossil fuel-based industrial capitalist world economy
But how have we landed in the Anthropocene? Clearly, it is Our Way of Life.  Most immediately, the post-war II has been a period of rapid economic growth and industrial capitalist development, partly to rebuild the war-damaged industrial capitalist economies of the West and Japan and partly to build the periphery of world capitalism, including countries in Asia and Africa liberated from Western colonialism. The  ratio of real GDP in 1995 to 1950 was 3.1 in the “more developed areas” with 20% of the world population and 2.9 in the “less developed areas” with 80% of the world population. (Easterlin, 2000, Table 3; also, see, “World Bank's The Statistical Appendix” in The World Economy and Developing Countries, no date).

Will Steffen and his colleagues (2015b) have suggested that this rapid pace of economic growth is the cause of what the earth system scientists call the Great Acceleration (see the charts provided by the hyperlink; accessed August 23, 2016)   Also, take another look at the Stockholm Resilience Center’s nine planetary boundaries listed above that leave little doubt that fossil fuel-based industrial capitalism is responsible for them and for the Anthropocene.  Anyone seriously concerned with the planetary crisis or any aspect of it must conclude, as Noami Klein has in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. climate (2014)that the culprit is capitalism. But there is little discussion of how and why the climate crisis (and, of course, the Anthropocene) is the result of normal functioning of the industrial capitalist world economy in the ecological movement in general and the climate justice movement in particular. Historically, the ecological movement has blamed industrialization but not it prime-mover capitalism, leaving room for the fantasy of Green Capitalism).  In fact, prominent leaders like Bill McKibben have tried to focus attention awway for it to narrowly focus on the fossil fuel industry.   

Thus, we need an open and honest discussion of whether and how real solutions to the climate crisis, biodiversity crisis, and other planetary crisis require stopping and reversing the Anthropocene.  We humans can and do make our own history but we do not and cannot make or stop the laws of physics and biology.  Contrary to McKibben’s “We Are at War,” we are not at war with the laws of physics but with the laws of capitalism.  

Capitalism is a socioeconomic system driven by the pursuit of the highest profitability and most rapid accumulation of capital by private firms that own the means of social production (hence the ever-present concern with growth).  But accumulation of wealth is possible only by appropriation of nature through exploitation of human labor, in particular wage-workers, using the latest science and technology developed and employed for capitalism.  Capitalism thrives on the basis of domination and control of nature and society.  By its very nature capitalism is at olds with human needs and ecological and environmental health of the planet.  It is impossible to maintain the industrial capitalist system and end the planetary and social crisis it has created. 

Of course, the capitalist civilization cannot be the cause for the Anthropocene if it were not anthropocentric.  In fact, the ecological movement cannot succeed if it does not overcome anthropocentrism ingrained in the world dominant cultures (dominant cultures are combinations of those inherited from earlier anthropocentric class societies and the current dominant capitalist world culture).  Anthropocentrism also known as homo-centrism, human supremacism, and speciesism is the worldview that holds human beings as the central or most significant species on Earth in the sense that we are considered to have moral standing above all other beings.  Anthropocentrism and its historical opposite, ecocentrism, are key concepts in environmental philosophy and ethics.  For 95% of modern humans' life on the planet, when we were hunter-gatherers, humanity was ecocentric, that is, we did not view ourselves apart from the rest of the existence and superior to other species.  Hunter-gatherer bands were also highly egalitarian with the elders serving as the de facto leaders because of their experience. 

Anthropocentrism arose as alienation from nature during the long transition to farming that began about 10,000 years ago. Farmers live off land and domesticated plants and animals which they dominate and control.  With the rise of economic surplus in the early agrarian societies, social stratification, subordination, oppression and exploitation of all sorts began to emerge and with the rise of early civilizations they were institutionalized (for a more detailed discussion, see, Nayeri, 2013).  All human civilizations have been anthropocentric. Using modern science and technology, the capitalist civilization has taken this anthropocentric culture of domination and control of nature and society to a historically unprecedented scale, intensity and speed. Unfortunately, neither McKibben nor the TCM (nor Wilson) acknowledge the cause for the crisis they aim to resolve: the anthropocentric industrial capitalist economy While we must fight for every immediate reform (and do so to empower the movement in the process), in the longer-run (but not too long becaue of the severity of the existential crisis) we need to overcome and transcend the anthropocentric capitalist economy and society if humanity is to survive and thrive. 

Who will save the world?
There is much confusion in the climate justice movement about who will stop and reverse the climate crisis: much hope has been placed on "good" politicians (to act in the interest of the "common good"), "responsible" corporate leaders (who would do what is right), technocrats (who can find the right technological fixes) and bureaucrats (to enforce environmnetal laws). Until the recent set of action plans the movement simply has been raising the demand to keep fossil fuels in the ground and for a transition to a post-carbon economy by 2050. Who would do it and how was left hanging--presuming the policy "enablers" I cited above.  Proposing specific action plans for implementation through a massive and rapid mobilization of people and resources by the government is an advance in the sense of putting forward a climate mitigation policy proposal instead of leaving it to the government, corporate leaders, technocrats and bureaucrats.  But still the confusion about who will save the world continues—would it be the government to mobilize the people or the people who would force the reluctant government to act and in the process, perhaps, bring about a government of the working people, by the working people and for the working people?  

Let’s begin with the very appeal to the World War II U.S. government mobilization that is held by both McKibben and TCM as a role model.  Like World War I,  World War II was an imperialist carnage perpetuated by contending world capitalist powers to extend their respective sphere of influence to further their respective “national interests,” that is, of the interest of their capitalist class.  By 1914, both Germany and the U.S. had caught up with and surpassed Britain as the leading industrial power and the two world wars that followed were their respective bids for domination of the world. As it turned out, the American capitalist class was the ultimate winner and U.S. world hegemony followed.  Both McKibben and the TCM buy into the ruling class propaganda that World War II was a “just” war against fascism and that Franklin D. Roosevelt led it despite foot dragging by corporate America. The actual history of the United States during World War II is far more complex. It included corporate leaders who were sympathetic to fascism; American government's use of atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki; anti-labor offensive that followed the conclusion of the war to reverse giant gains of the labor movement during the Great Depression, including the Taft-Hartley Act that that are still being used against the labor movement; internment of Japanese Americans; and continued Jim Crew laws in the South; and the anti-labor, anti-communism McCarthyism that followed. McKibben and TCM also forget that the American ruling class followed the “war against fascism” with the Cold War (which was really not "cold" at all if we recall the Koran and Vietnam war, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and many U.S. sponsored bloody coups and support for military dictatorships to “stop the spread of communism”), and since the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the Chinese and Vietnamese turn to capitalism, the “war against terrorism.”  In fact, we can trace back American wars to the colonial-settler ethnic cleansing of the Native Americans, imposition of slavery, which even colored the American War of Independence and the Civil War as recent scholarship shows.  The key point is this: It would be great to educate, organize and mobilize that American working people and the rich array of the country’s resources to fight the climate crisis. But to make it an effective and lasting social transformation, it must be aiming for self-organization and self-activity of the working people and the oppressed acting in their own best interest. And that stands in direct contradiction to the interests of American capitalism, it government and its two-party system. To acheive that we must base our movement on the true history of capitalism and not to prettify its key leaders such as Roosevelt or America's role in Wolrd War II.  The question is: would our climate justice leaders place the interest of the humanity and the planet above the interest of American (and world) capitalism, or the reverse? 

In an interview (April 2016) with an Australian website, Mckibben candidly recounts the evolution of his own strategic thinking: “I spent a lot of years getting it wrong…I thought we were engaged in an argument” with the fossil fuel industry. “We waited far too long to realise what a fight it was, and that there was an adversary on the other side.” Now, however, McKibben thinks that politicians are “pawns” in the hands of the fossil fuel industry and he has decided to go after the “real bosses” (the fossil fuel industry).  But isn't he still "getting it worng?" By narrowly defining the problem the climate justice movement faces, he comes up with a deficient strategy and tactics manifested recently in the “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” campaign.  McKibben has combined a series of vanguardist civil disobedience actions  targeting the “worse polluters” with supporting Senator Sanders campaign to reform the Democratic Party during the primary season, that is, a capitalist electoral strategy. Read his own account of this experience in his New Republic essay. (The electoralist illusion in is widespread; See, for example, Nayeri, 2014b).  

Astonishing neither in his interview or in his essay in the New Republic Mckibben ever mentions the strategy of mass movement as exemplified in The People’s Climate March of well over 300,000 people in New York in September 2014 (see, Nayeri, 2014a). But it is only through such large and even more massive mobilization of the working people that we can ever hope to stop and reverse the climate crisis and the Anthropocene.  

Unfortunately, the TCM strategy also is educating and winning over individuals to sign a pledge to ask the U.S. government to take action to reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases by 100% by 2025 and to vote only for candidates for all levels of government who would do the same. Again, this is a form of electoralism and an impossibility on its own terms: can anyone really believe than in 8 years (from now to 2025) we can elect enough politicians who can then have the U.S. government begin and implement the TCM action plan? TCM perspective does not include a vision for mass education, organization and mobilization in the streets or any specific orientation towards potentially powerful sectors of the population such as the labor movement even though the Victory Plan includes massive changes in the U.S. economy and some economic and social justice demands.  But it is not a proposal to educate, organize and mobilize the working people as an independent political force in charge of their own destiny. The climate justice movement must break with the illusions in capitalism and in electoralism.  

In “Strategy and Tactics for the Climate Justice Movement: A Critique of ‘Break Free from Fossil Fuels’ Campaign” (Nayeri, 2016), I offered a hypothetical example that if the climate justice movement had a mass movement strategy in September 2014 and would have mobilized the 300,000 (or more) who participated in The People’s Climate March in just four years we could have had about 38 million activists if each climate activist would educate, organize and mobilize a family member, friend, neighbor, co-worker, or someone else they knew every six month so they can join and do the same. The movement could then stage massive street actions in major cities of the country. With such massive power we could certainly make history by proposing and implementing measures to transition to a post-carbon economy in time to ward off the climate catastrophe. Remember it is not the U.S. capitalist class or the U.S. capitalist government we must convince of the need for radical social change, it is the working people of the country in their millions! 

Some key elements of an action program to save the world
As argued earlier any effective action plan for the climate justice movement must also be directed toward the goal of stopping and reversing the Anthropocene.  While McKibben’s action program is largely focused on an energy revolution, the TCM proposal actually included proposals for dealing with other aspects of the planetary crisis caused by the Anthropocene.  But to stop and reverse the Anthropocene which is the immediate cause for the planetary crisis, including climate change, our action program must include the following characteristics and actionable demands: 
  • For a globally informed action program.  While an action program for any specific country must primarily deal with the particular characteristics of its economy and society it must have a global dimension. Eventually, the entire global industrial capitalist economy must be transformed to an economy that would support harmony among peoples of the world and with the rest of nature.  However, it is also true that a relatively handful countries and regions of the world economy are responsible to the lion share of the planetary crisis historically and today.  These are mostly located in the Global North.  To tackle the climate crisis, for example, effective policies must be adopted by at least the top ten polluters that are responsible for more than 70% of the world greenhouse emissions: China, U.S., E.U., India, Russian Federation, Indonesia, Brazil, Japan, Canada, and Mexico.  This requires international collaboration of national climate justice movements.  To overcome the planetary crisis, we must coordinate efforts not only between national ecological movements but also with social justice movements within and between countries.  
  • For a mass movement strategy and participatory democracy.  The climate justice movement can only succeed if it adopts a mass movement strategy that embraces participatory democracy because even transitioning to a post-carbon economy will require massive transformations in the present-day industrial capitalist economy as TCM action program shows. But such massive transformation can happen if the bulk of the working people who would be its prime movers are educated, organized and mobilized as the social agency for transition to an economy and society that is in harmony with itself and with the rest of nature.  Clearly, such a mass movement will include participants from across the political and ideological spectrum. The key to unity and progress is to place the stated aims of the movement as codified in its action program above the sectional interests of all participating groups and individuals and independent of the capitalist system and its parties and politicians. 
  • For a just economy and society.   For transition to a post-carbon economy and society, the entire fossil fuel industry must be replaced with a clean renewable energy industry.  But the fossil fuel industry is at the core of the present-day industrial capitalist economy.  Petroleum, for example, is used in electricity generation, gasoline, jet fuel and heating oil, making of plastics, toys, computers, houses, cars and clothing, asphalt, rubber, wax, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, detergents, records, film, furniture, packaging, paints, fibers, upholstery and carpet foundations, among other things. Thus, we must also transform other industries such as transportation as well as agriculture.  But who will decide how this transformation occurs and that it would be just and ecologically sound?  Workers in the fossil fuel industry need to transition to good jobs with union rights in new industries that are ecologically sound.  Clearly, it must be the workers' own organizations that lead such transition in collaboration with the mass movement that demands such a transition.  History shows that in any such massive socioeconomic transition, working people will organize their dual power strucures such as workplace workers councils to control and eventually manage production. A government of working people can then arise based on such popular organizations. To leave the task of transition to the capitalist government, corporate leaders, technocrats and bureaucrats can only serve to undermine such emancipatory tendencies. 
  • For a sustainably sized population and steady-state ecologically-sound economy that serves basic needs.   The action programs under discussion not only assume that the U.S. economy will maintain its capitalist character but also its huge size and continued growth. The same is true for the world economy.  But to have an ecologically sustainable economy and society the size of the world economy and industrial capitalist countries must shrink substantially.  Currently, the world economy is appropriating most of life-sustaining resources of the planet, mostly consumed by the majority of people of the Global North and the capitalist class and upper-middle classes of the Global South.  For this purpose, a majority of productive land and fresh water is appropriated to meet the demands of the capitalist world economy.  About 80% of the world resources are consumed in the Global North with 20% of the population. Meanwhile, over 2.1 billion people in the Global South lived on less than US $ 3.10 a day in 2012.  Thus, we need a transition to significantly smaller economies in the U.S. and the Global North while supporting human development programs in the Global South that should continue to growth until parity is reached between the two. The transition will include de-industrialization (phasing out of industries such as fossil fuels, much of the chemical industry, nuclear and arms industries, advertising, marketing, much of international and long-distance transportation and travel amongs others as well as re-industrialization programs--finding ecologically friendly technologies for still necessary production sectors such as agroecology, health, education, culture, housing, transport, etc.).  The capitalist economies are concentrated driven by the needs of capital accumulation and world finance. The ecologically-sound and just economies of the future will focus on local and regional configulations that meet basic needs.  It must be stressed that to consume less in the hyper-consumerist societies of the Global North is not a sacrifice (as TCM tends to say).  It is indeed part of the process of human emancipation from commodity-worship culture which has replaced human natural needs with a capitalistic never ending hunger for having more. In fact, the process of detoxification of consumption actually can be a fun and liberating experience (Alexander, 2014; Trainer, 2015) Clearly, this effort must be led by the working people (workers and family farmers, consumer and cooperative, etc.) and by the ecology movement and consumer councils. Increasingly, production will be carried out by the self-organized and self-active ecologically conscious working people. At the same time, through empowerment of women and mass education volunteer family planning efforts will lead to a shrinking of the world population to reduce the use of life-sustaining resources to allow food, water and ample room for wildlife to reclaim lost territory and to thrive. The right to liberty and pursuit of happiness is not just a human right, it belongs to all species. There must be systematic withdrawal of humanity from regions already colonized without regard for the rest of life on Earth until an ecological balance is reached.  
  • For an ecocentric ecological socialist world. The capitalist society we are born into cultivates a culture of egoistic individualism and the insatiable desire for accumulation of possessions. In this we follow the mantra of the capitalist class: ceaseless capital accumulation that finds its reflection in the mass consumer culture. What we produce, how we produce them and how much we produce decide not just who we become and our relations with fellow human beings but also humanity’s relationship with the rest of nature.  In a capitalist economy, it is the capitalist class that decide these questions.  Working people have to follow the “market signals,” that is, to respond to the collective decisions of the capitalist class, in order to live. We spend the best years of our lives and increasingly the major part of it to become or remain employable because not only we need to work in order to live but also we find our worth in how employable we are.  This is one reason working people crushed under the capitalist machine tend to lose their sense of self-worth. The self-employed are also at the mercy of the market as are the most powerful governments in the world (hence the endless debate about how to respond to "the market"). Yet it is self-evident that the capitalist class’ primarily concern with their profitability and accumulation of capital gives the back seat to the health of the people or the planet (Although defenders of capitalism have argued that capitalist greed is good for common good the same economic profession admits to the problem of externalities such as pollution).  Social reformers have tried for as long as capitalism has existed to make it compatible with human needs and to a much lesser extent and more recently the ecological health of the planet.  It is self-evident that they have failed. Despite of some helpful reforms (patch work really) are we not facing the Anthropocene and its planetary crisis that can spell the end of the world as we know it?  The key problem has been the ideological hegemony of the capitalist class not only among the broad sections of the working people worldwide but also among those who have joined the resistance to manifestation of the crisis.  Many current in the ecological movements are still hoping for Green Capitalism and in the movement of the working people and the oppressed still awaits for a “benevolent leader,” a “pro-labor” politician, or a “lesser evil” candidate for office.   The just and ecological society we must built can only arise only if the working people in their multitude begin to lose their illusion in the capitalist system and start to self-organize and become self-active to overcome the capitalist power structure through their struggle for social and ecological justice.  Our education comes from these struggles as well as what we learn from the collective memory of the humanity. Only by replacing the capitalist egoistical culture of having with an ecologically conscious and socially just culture of being and caring can we overcome the crisis and open the way to unprecedented human development as human labor itself will become an act of cooperation of freely associated ecocentric producers that will be the herald of the ecocentric ecological socialist world. 
Dedication: This essay is dedicated to the activists of the Sonoma County who I have the pleasure to work with.  It was prepared in part as my contribution to our annual retreat next weekend.   

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-------------------. "People’s Climate March Was a Huge Success; What to Do Next?"Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. October 1, 2014a. 
-------------------.  “Why the San Francisco Bay Area's Call for "Getting Out the Vote" for Democrats Is a Grave Mistake.” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. October 26, 2014b. 
-------------------.  “The Climate Movement Should Demand: ‘Tax Greenhouse Gases Emissions With Subsidies for Low-Income People’”, Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. June 26, 2015. 
-------------------.  “After Paris: To Succeed the Climate Justice Movement Must Lead.” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. January 4, 2016a. 
-------------------.  “Strategy and Tactics for the Climate Justice Movement: A Critique of ‘Break Free from Fossil Fuels’ Campaign,” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism, March 31, 2016b. 
Rockström , Johan; Will Steffen, Kevin Noone, Åsa Persson, F. Stuart III Chapin , Eric Lambin , Timothy M. Lenton, Marten Scheffer, Carl Folke , Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Björn Nykvist, Cynthia A. de Wit, Terry Hughes , Sander van der Leeuw, Henning Rodhe, Sverker Sörlin , Peter K. Snyder, Robert Costanza , Uno Svedin, Malin Falkenmark , Louise Karlberg, Robert W. Corell, Victoria J. Fabry , James Hansen, Brian Walker , Diana Liverman , Katherine Richardson, Paul Crutzen  and Jonathan Foley. “Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity.” Ecology and Society, Vol. 14, Issue 2. 2009. 
Steffen, Will, Katherine Richardson, Johan Rockström, Sarah E. Cornell, Ingo Fetzer, Elena M. Bennett, R. Biggs, Stephen R. Carpenter, Wim de Vries, Cynthia A. de Wit, Carl Folke, Dieter Gerten, Jens Heinke, Georgina M. Mace, Linn M. Persson, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, B. Reyers1, Sverker Sörlin. “Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet.” Science, January 15, 2015a.
Steffen, Will. Wendy Broadgate, Lisa Deutch, Owen Gafffney, Cornelia Ludwig. "The trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration," Anthropocene Review, Januaray 16, 2015b.
Trainer, Ted. “The Case for Simplicity ,” Simplicity Institute, 2015.
Wilson. Edward O. Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life. 2016.
Worl Bank. "The World Economy and Developing Countries Since World War II," Statistical Appendix. no date. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Can Divestment from Fossil Fuels Stop the Climate Crisis and Save the World?

By Kamran Nayeri, March 12, 2018

1. Introduction
In her essay, “How New York City Won Divestment from Fossil Fuels,” Nancy Romer (2018) celebrates the January 10th announcement by Mayor Bill de Blasio that New York City will divest $5 billion of its pension funds presently invested in fossil fuels by recounting how the divestment coalition came together and worked for this end.  Thus, Romer provides a service to all of us who want to study how the local climate justice movements operate in the United States today, in particular, one that is organized around fossil fuel divestment.  The divestment movement is international in scope often originating by college students who demand their university divest from fossil fuel stocks and bonds.  One of the first such attempts was by the students at the Australian National University who have begun their campaign in 2011 and despite some partial victories are still fighting for a fossil fuel free university. The New York City divestment campaign also has benefited by the participation of college students.  A chronology of the City University of New York (CUNY) divestment campaign provided by Brian Tokar through the System Change not Climate Change (SCnCC) listserv is appended to Romer’s article republished on Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. 

The purpose of this discussion article is to consider the divestment movement and its potentials and limits in the fight to stop and reverse the climate crisis. By its very focus, Romer’s article excludes this central consideration.  Yet, her own discussion of the New York City experience points to the need for such discussion.  My own argument will be colored by my own understanding of the root-causes of the crisis and what I think would be necessary if the humanity is to overcome it.  I would be grateful for any critical response. 

In Section 2, I briefly outline what I consider to be the root-causes of the climate crisis, and in the process of doing so, define its scope.  In Section 3, I will argue the climate emergency is only one aspect of the social and planetary crisis caused by the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization. These sections are necessary for proper consideration of the efficacy of the divestment movement in addressing the climate crisis.  In Section 4, I will take up the nuts and bolts of divestment policy and assess its efficacy to address the climate crisis.  A much-neglected issue in the discussions of divestment is whether it is a strategy or merely a tactic serving a strategy.  I will argue that it is a tactic without any clearly stated strategy.  Also, I will take up the claim that the fossil fuel divestment campaign in the U.S. is modeled after the 1980s divestment campaign against the Apartheid regime in South Africa.  I will show how the 1980s anti-apartheid divestment campaign was a tactic serving a revolutionary mass movement led by the African National Congress (ANC) that had a clear program and strategy in its struggle against the Apartheid regime. But if divestment from fossil fuels is a tactic, what strategy does it serve?  Oddly enough, the question of strategy is usually set aside in the climate justice movement.  Thus, I follow Romer by examining Bill McKibben’s thinking about “strategy” because as she says, he and Naomi Klein have “popularized” the divestment idea in the U.S. and that NY350 and national 350.orghave played a leadership role in the New York divestment campaign.  In Section 5, I conclude with an overview of the climate crisis, the capitalist class response to it, the “strategy” of the mainstream climate justice organizations such as, and the role played by the grassroots movement activists like Romer to highlight how ecological socialists can contribute to the climate justice movement.  I hope this discussion will generate further consideration of what is needed to stop and reverse the climate emergency and the social and planetary crisis we face. 

2. Root-causes of the climate crisis
The physics of climate change
As in medicine, any potential cure for the climate crisis depends on a correct diagnosis of its root-causes.  We know it is an anthropogenic (human-caused) crisis. But the humanity has been around for 300,000 years. Why is there a climate crisis now?  The history of the climate science itself is a good place to start. 

The development of the physics of climate change has been underway at least since 1896 when the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927) published an article that suggested burning fossil fuels such as coal would add CO2 to Earth's atmosphere increasing the planet's average temperature. But for decades most scientists argued that puny humanity could never affect the vast global climate cycles.  Meanwhile, climate modeling was introduced and improved and newer studies showed that, contrary to earlier crude assumptions, CO2 might indeed build up in the atmosphere and bring about warming. In the 1960s, Charles Keeling (1928-2005) established that the CO2 level in the atmosphere was, in fact, rising year by year. Further improvements in climate modeling proved that the planet's climate system with its feedback effects can be surprisingly sensitive to human pollution. The environmentalist movement of the 1970s introduced a sense of anxiety about the health of the planet. New chaos theoriesshowed that in a complex system a shift might happen suddenly. Subsequently, ice cores arduously drilled from the Greenland ice-sheet showed large and disconcertingly abrupt temperature jumps in the past, on a scale not of centuries but decades.

Some climate scientists predicted that an unprecedented global warming would become apparent around the year 2000. The summer of 1988 proved to be the hottest on record andJames Hansen, a computer modeler, told a Congressional hearing and journalists that greenhouse warming was almost certainly underway. And a major international meeting of scientists in Toronto called on governments to undertake active steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions.  In the same year, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is established (for a detailed discussion of the progress of the science of climate change, see, Center for History of Physics, 2017). 

Everyone in the climate justice movement understands and accepts this scientific explanation for the anthropogenic causes of global warming and climate change. However, the mainstream ecology/environmentalist movement generally stop with this technical/scientific explanation of the climate crisis.  

But the physics of climate change cannot tell us why fossil fuels have become so central to the industrial civilization. Coal, for example, was used in England at least since the Roman occupation. Why was it universally adopted as the energy source in the Industrial Revolution? 

Theory and history of capitalism
To answer this crucial question we must turn to the theory and history of the capitalist mode of production.  However, like the progress in the science of climate change, there has been significant progress in philosophy of history as well. 

In his lectures on “The Materialist Understanding of History,” the Russian Marxist philosopher Georgi Plekhanov (1901; 1856-1918) reviews two schools of theories of history, the theological and the idealist schools, with an eye on how successive philosophers of history improved on their predecessors. Thus, Plekhanov shows how Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627-1704), a French bishop, improved on St. Augustine's (354-430) philosophy of history by arguing that history cannot be simply explained as an act of God. He proposed “natural causes” must be sought in each historical case.  Plekhanov then explores the idealist philosophies of history that improved on the theological philosophies of history. Voltaire (François-Marie d’Arouet, 1694–1778) who “like all eighteenth-century philosophers, even those who, like Holbach (Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d’Holbach; 1723-1789) and Helvétius (Claude-Adrien Helvétius; 1715-1771), were materialists in their understanding of Nature, ascribed the historical process to the evolution of ideas or, as was said at the time, of opinions.” (ibid., p. 607)

Plekhanov credits idealist philosophies of history as “relatively true since actual opinions exert a considerable influence on human behaviour.” (ibid.) But he argues that the historian must explore the root-causes of “opinions” themselves. How do ideas arise in the first place? He cites John Locke who argued that “1) no inborn ideas exist, 2) ideas arise from experience, and, 3) as for practical ideas, it is interest (social, not personal) that leads to some actions being qualified as good, and others as bad.” (ibid.) 

Plekhanov then considers the contribution of Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) who tried to create the foundation of social science, the science of human society, which he believed would be as exact as the natural sciences. Saint-Simon pointed to the role of class struggle in history and tried to explain the French Revolution as the product of a century-old struggle between the industrialists and the nobility. Plekhanov also draws attention to Augustin Thierry (1795-1856) who in his Lettres sur l’histoire de France writes that “historians have stubbornly refused to attribute any spontaneity, and ideas, to the masses of people.” (cited in Plekhanov, 1901, p. 609).  Thierry’s Philosophy of history then focuses attention on “[t]he struggle of classes and opposing interests.” (ibid. p. 610)  Plekhanov reminds us that Theirry’s philosophy of history “was shared by all outstanding historians of the Restoration period.” (ibid. p. 611) Thus, Plekhanov concludes: “…since the early years of the nineteenth century, the sociologists, the historians, and the art critics have all referred us to the social system as the underlying foundation of the phenomena of human society.” (ibid. 613).  He then considers the contributions of two great German philosophers of the early nineteenth century Schelling and Hegel. Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775–1854) offered a solution to the problem of the relationship between human freedom and historical necessity. If history obeys certain laws then how can we reconcile human freedom of action with historical necessity? Plekhanov sums Schelling’s solution as follows: 
“What is a necessary action? It is one which a particular individual cannot but take in definite conditions. But whence the impossibility of not taking that action? That is conditioned by the man’s nature, which has been fashioned by his heredity and his previous development. His nature is such that he cannot but act in a certain way in the given conditions….Add to that the fact that the particular individual’s nature is such that he cannot but feel certain wishes, and you reconcile the concept of freedom with that of necessity. I am free when I act as I wish to, but my free action is at the same time a necessary one because my wish is conditioned by my nature and the given circumstances.” (ibid. p. 615) 
Plekhanov summarized the philosophy of history of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) as the development of the Universal Spirit over time. For Hegel, Spirit or Idea is the essence of everything that exists and matter itself is the manifestation of it. The unfolding of the Universal Spirit follows Reason which is an unconscious manifestation of all the laws that serve the movement of history. Hegel in most cases thought of these laws as conditioned by our way of life, that is, the social system. 

Thus, as Plekhanov observes, by the time Karl Marx (1818-1883) appeared in the intellectual circle of Young Hegelians, theories of history faced the following contradiction: “ideas, sentiments, and opinions are conditioned by the social system; the social system is conditioned by opinions.” (ibid. p. 613) 

Marx’s solution to the riddle of the philosophy of history is to locate the primary role of mode of production in the formation of the social system and the process of history.  Thus, he writes: 
“My inquiry led me to the conclusion that neither legal relations nor political forms could be comprehended whether by themselves or on the basis of a so-called general development of the human mind, but that on the contrary they originate in the material conditions of life, the totality of which Hegel, following the example of English and French thinkers of the eighteenth century, embraces within the term ‘civil society’; that the anatomy of this civil society, however, has to be sought in political economy.” (Marx, 1859)
Political economy was the scientific work of bourgeois scholars of the capitalist economy that came before Marx who spent many years to study and critique.  Thus, here is Marx’s solution to the circular argument of the philosophies of history of his time.
 “In the social production of their existence, men [sic] inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” (ibid.)
Earlier, in The German Ideology Marx and Frederick Engels (1845; 1820-1895) had argued how their philosophy of history is rooted in the empirical existence of humans as part of nature and their subsequent social production to support their existence. 
“The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they live, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way.
“The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organisation of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature. Of course, we cannot here go either into the actual physical nature of man, or into the natural conditions in which man finds himself – geological, hydrographical, climatic and so on. The writing of history must always set out from these natural bases and their modification in the course of history through the action of men.” (Marx and Engels, 1845, my emphasis)
Thus, Marx did not invent the idea that society is made of social classes and that historical change is caused by class struggle. Marx’s contribution to the philosophy of history was that “the existence of classes is merely linked to particular historical phases in the development of production” and he predicted that class struggle in the capitalist society will lead to the conquest of political power by the great majority, the working class, who will lead the transition to a classless society, the Associated Producers mode of production. (Marx, 1852)  From the Paris Commune 1871 to the Russian revolutions of 1917, to the 1979 Iranian revolution, Marx’s prediction that the working class would be the leading force in the struggle against the capitalist system has been proven to be valid.  Why these working class movements suffered defeat is another important question that I briefly discussed elsewhere (Nayeri, October 2017, Sections 4 and 5). 

Origins of the fossil fuel economy
Now, we can turn to the question of widespread adoption of coal in the English industrialization.  As I noted earlier, coal was used in England for a very long time; blacksmiths and artisans used coal-burning ovens.  As the growing population consumed more and more of England’s forests for firewood, coal burning became widespread enough to inspire laws against its use due to the smoke and pollution burning it produced. Nonetheless, the demand for coal continued to grow. In 1712, Thomas Newcomen(1664-1729) invented a single-piston pump, the first machine that successfully directed steam (thermal energy) to the production process.  This, in turn, allowed coal mines to delve deeper to produce more coal and the coal industry expanded.  Meanwhile, capitalist development in England was proceeding along the lines that Marx called the manufacturing stage which he discusses in volume one of Capital. In 1784, James Watt (1736-1819) patented his steam engine that adapted the motion of the pistol in the steam engine to continuous circular motion making it applicable to all manufacturing purposes.  The steam engine was a critical invention for the English Industrial Revolution. However, as Andreas Malm (2016) meticulously documents how the use of coal in industrial production was motived by the desire for the capitalist control over the labor process, not because it was cheaper or more abundant than the alternative. Thus, the seeds of the crisis we face today were laid in the capitalist production relations 

Internationalization of capital and the industrial revolution
As Marx explains in volume one of Capital, capital is self-expanding value and a social relation. For Marx, the capitalist mode of production is characterized by generalized markets for capital good, labor-power, and commodities, and capitalist production is undertaken for profit which is then plowed back into the further accumulation of capital.  All these processes are deeply rooted in the capitalist social relations of production. Thus, the capitalist mode of production is an unending search for ever more profits to support extended reproduction and accumulation on ever-higher-scale.  Like all previous modes of production, the capitalist mode of production is organized to expropriate nature through the exploitation of working people to generate wealth.  Except, the capitalist system is the most dynamic mode of production in history which constantly develops the forces of production—scientific and technological knowledge and the labor power—that it then employs on an ever larger scale, with an ever-more intensity and speed.  There lies the reason that capitalism is the enemy of nature, including human nature. 

Industrial capitalism has therefore become international. Angus Maddison (1991, pp. 6-7) estimates that, in constant 1985 dollars, from 1820-1989, levels of GDP per head of population in the industrial capitalist economies increased from 8 times in the United Kingdom to 26 times in Japan with an arithmetic average of 14 times for the group taken as a whole.  During the same period, world population increased exponentially, from one billion in 1804 to  5 billion in 1987. Of course, per capita income does not tell us about unequal income and wealth distribution. In 2016, the richest 3.5 million people worldwide (o.7% of world population) controlled $116 trillion, or 45.6% of the world’s wealth, or more than $1 million each (of course, even in this group a tiny minority controls much of the world’s wealth).  The poorest 3.5 billion people (73% of the world population) controlled only $6.1 trillion of wealth, or less than $10,000 in wealth each (Of course, a majority in this group have no wealth or even have negative wealth, debt) (Credit Suisse, 2016).  These figures must convince anyone that the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization is a giant social system that is built to serve the tiny world capitalist elite and as I just argued, destroy life on the planet. 

3. Climate change as a systemic crisis
At least since 2000, scientists have increasingly argued, and now stratigraphers (scientists who study rock formations) tend to agree, that the geological epoch Holocene, that began 11,700 years ago which provided the hospitable climate for agriculture and civilizations that have arisen on its basis, has been given way to the Anthropocene, a new human-induced geological epoch (Gajanan, 2016, Angus, 2016, Davies, 2016). Most experts identify the start of the Anthropocene with the Great Acceleration that began about 1950 (Steffen,, 2015B). There can be no doubt that the Anthropocene is caused by the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization which has brought us the social and planetary crisis (Nayeri, 2013). 

While the climate emergency is much more in the popular consciousness as its impact on human societies is much more visible, it is actually just on aspect of the much larger planetary crisis as explained, for example, in a report by The Stockholm Resilience Center (Rockström,, 2009) and its extensive update (Steffen,, 2015A). They identified nine planetary boundaries ("thresholds for safe operating space for human societies"). Climate change and "biosphere integrity" (the Sixth Extinction) are designated as core boundaries “because they both are affected by and drive changes in all the others.” (ibid.) The nine boundaries are:

1. Climate change 
2. Change in biosphere integrity (the Sixth Extinction)
3. Stratospheric ozone depletion
4. Ocean acidification
5. Biogeochemical flows (phosphorus and nitrogen cycles)
6. Land-system change (for example deforestation)
7. Freshwater use
8. Atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms)

9. Introduction of novel entities (e.g. organic pollutants, radioactive materials, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics).

However, the view that climate change is rooted in the industrial capitalist civilization is shared only by a small fraction of the climate justice movement that calls itself ecological socialist (ecosocialist).  In particular, the humanity and much of life on Earth presently face three existential threats: The Sixth Extinction, catastrophic climate change, and a nuclear holocaust.

If my argument so far is correct in its main outline then it follows that to overcome the crisis we must build a movement of billions of working people worldwide to transcend the "social system," to use the early nineteenth century term of philosophers of history, in the direction of a post-capitalist naturalist mode of production that assures human development and harmony with the rest of nature (for my discussion of this, see, Nayeri, July 2017). The climate justice activism will not succeed to stop the climate crisis and save the world no matter what “tactics” we choose if this strategic vision is not adopted.  Now, let’s turn to the fossil fuel divestment campaign in this context.

4. On the divestment campaign
Is finance the “soft underbelly of the climate monster?” 
Romer begins her account by acknowledging that the U.S. divestment movement was “popularized” by Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein in 2012, and, in New York City, 350NY in collaboration with 350.orgnational leadership has played a central role in it.  But she does not explain whether the leadership, NY350, or the larger coalition, or herself as an activist consider the divestment campaign to be a strategy or a tactic and if a tactic then what strategy it is supposed to serve.  Let us briefly consider these questions. 

Just three weeks before Mayor de Blasio announced the planned divestment from fossil fuel with Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein on his side, McKibben (2017) wrote an Op-Ed piece for The New York Times where he recounted some positive news about divestment and financing of fossil fuel projects and he concluded:
"It’s true that no environmental action is possible in Donald Trump’s Washington. It’s also true that congresses and parliaments are not the only halls of power. Finance, not politics, may turn out to be the soft underbelly of the climate monster." (my emphasis)
In this writing, McKibben seems to elevate divestment to the strategic level.  I will return to what McKibben means by “politics” later. But what is the nuts and bolts of divestment campaign anyway? To explain the dire consequences of climate change with the goal of pressuring pension (or other types of) investment fund boards and managers to withdraw funds from fossil fuel stocks and bonds.  As Romer puts it, divestment is a “moral decision.” But pension fund managers are hired for, judged and driven by, the concern for the total rate of return on their investment portfolio, not to for their support of the moral views of investors.  Of course, if a sufficient number of pensioners press the pension fund board members they may exert some influence on the managers' decisions.  

Here is where the element of “luck” which Romer notes in her article enters into the analysis.  Romer does not take notice of this important fact, but luckily for the divestment advocates, total returns on investment in the energy sector which is dominated by fossil fuel companies was a bottom perfumer from March 9, 2009, through March 8, 2017, with 98% rate of return.  In comparison, the benchmark, S&P 500, provided 314%, rate of return over the same period. In a word, fossil fuel investments underperformed far below the broad market. Thus, the financial incentive of the pension fund managers and the moral imperative of the divestment campaigners have aligned to help produce the favorable result. To be sure, no investment board or manager would like to be influenced by political pressure about their investment decisions. Thus, it took five years of campaigning in financially favorable conditions to arrive at the Mayor de Blasio announcement.

But the limits of this “win” for the climate justice movement must be made crystal clear.  First, what if the direction of sectoral profitability would change making the energy sector (dominated by fossil fuel companies) a more profitable investment?  Anyone familiar with the financial markets knows that underperforming sectors would most likely be the over-preforming sectors in the next period.  Would pension fund managers give up higher total returns (financial incentive) for moral incentives?  Would the pensionaries accept a lower income? 

Second, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2013 (the latest data I was able to find quickly but it would do just fine for our purpose here) pension coverage stood at 78% for the public sector, but only about 15% of the 143 million employees were in the public sector. In the private sector, 67% of the unionized workers had a pension, but only 6.7% of the private sector employees were in unions.  And an additional 13% of the private sector employee who was not unionized had a pension.  Thus, workers enrolled in a public or private pension plan were about 40 million out of 143 million, or about 28% of the U.S. working class. Thus, divestment campaign cannot involve well over 100 million, or about three-quarters of the U.S. working class.

Further, New York City is probably one of the most fertile grounds for the divestment movement because it has large private employers, has a significant number of public employees who have pension plans, and labor unions that have traditionally been left-of-center in the American politics.  Thus, the New York City example is hard to generalize across the United States. 

Third, Romer herself reports: “Already there is pushback from the NYC Teachers, Police, Firefighters fund trustees, either rejecting outright the calls for divestment from the mayor or asking for further studies, delaying the process.” The fight to win divestment is far from over. 

Finally, and most importantly, regardless of the activists’ best intentions, the divestment campaign miseducates the working people and the youth by focusing on the false premise that we can use the capital markets and rely on the “climate-friendly” capitalist politicians like Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo, to make meaningful, lasting progress to stop the climate crisis.  It actually runs counter to the dire need to explain the social roots of the climate emergency—why we have catastrophic climate change and why is it that for three decades the world capitalist ruling classes and their governments have not done enough to stop it.  

Romer seems undeterred by such concerns.  Instead, her focus is on the comparison of the capital markers as she considers without criticism the NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and the NY State Comptroller di Napoli “shareholder activism” argument that it is better for pension funds to own fossil fuel stocks and bonds as they can affect the decisions made at the corporate boards in contrast to the divestment argument.  She simply notes that “shareholder activism” approach has failed to be effective.  Effective in what sense? As we just saw, she also seems to admit that the “win” registered by de Blasio’s divestment announcement is far from assured.  

A cue from the anti-apartheid divestment campaign?
I hope I have made it clear to the reader that a divestment campaign is really a tactical option and a questionable one at that.  But how about the claim which Romer cites with any comment that the fossil fuel divestment is modeled after the divestment campaign in the 1980s against the South African apartheid regime, which Romer also repeats without critical assessment. 

Unlike the fight against the social and planetary crisis of which catastrophic climate change is just one part, the struggle against the apartheid regime was for a much more modest goal of a “one person, one vote” democratic South Africa.  Still, the African National Congress (ANC) encouraged the divestment campaign as a tactical aspect of its decades-old revolutionary mass struggle, including armed struggle, to implement the ANC ’s revolutionary democratic program (see the 1955 Freedom Charter). Moreover, the revolutionary struggle in South Africa was itself embedded in the larger military conflict between the Apartheid regime and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) that was fighting for independence for Namibia.  The Cuban internationalist military intervention in support of FAPLA (the armed wing of MPLA) was decisive in the strategic defeat of the Apartheid army at the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1987-88 (Gleijeses, 2013).  To pluck the anti-apartheid divestment campaign of the 1980s from this context and to claim that the activities of the divestment coalition of climate activists, labor unions, and Democratic Party politicians to move billions of dollars of pension funds from fossil fuel stocks and bonds is modeled after it is a caricature.  The ANC was fighting for a democratic revolution, never claiming that “finance was the soft underbelly” of the Apartheid regime.  And when after its historic victory that revolutionary perspective was lost and the ANC leadership opted for neoliberalism instead of implementing the Freedom Charter in full, the formal equality that was won never ended the misery of the vast majority of the South African black population. The revolution was betrayed.  Thus, the revolutionary movement was the essence of the anti-apartheid struggle and the divestment campaign an adjunct tactic to that fight. We still need a radical (in the sense of going to the roots of the crisis) climate justice movement before we can talk about divestment campaign as a useful adjunct tactic if we want to be true to the 1980s anti-apartheid divestment campaign as an example to emulate. But where exactly are we in building such an independent, self-organized and self-mobilized movement of the working people to stop the climate crisis? 

So what is the strategy? 
The truth is that the leadership of dominant organizations in the climate justice movement do not aspire to build a grassroots movement of working people independent of the capitalist system; they, in fact, think working within the system is the only way to address the climate crisis. 

Let’s us return to McKibben who by almost all accounts is the poster child of the movement.  In his major policy essay “A World at War,” McKibben (2016) reduces the climate crisis to its simplest natural terms: “Carbon and methane now represent the deadliest enemy of all time, the first force fully capable of harrying, scattering, and impoverishing our entire civilization.” It is like the plague or a natural disaster. But we already know that the rise of fossil fuels as the energy source of the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization was rooted in the capitalist relations of production and that the climate crisis is just one aspect of the social and planetary crisis.  And if McKibben truly views the climate crisis as historic, why is he reluctant to speak about the “social system” responsible for it, something that philosophers of history since Saint-Simon have focused their attention on?

Once McKibben defines the climate crisis so narrowly, the solution can be surgically narrow as well.  In the same article, McKibben endorses Stanford University professor Mark Z. Jacobson’s claim made purely from an engineering point of view that renewable technologies could replace fossil fuels in the United States by 2050. (see, The Solutions Project; for my discussion of McKibben’s essay, see, Nayeri, September 2016).  If the problem and its solution are so defined outside of the reality of the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization, then McKibben “strategy” can be anything he deems pragmatically “sensible” at any given time.  Let me cite the zigzags in his “strategic” thinking. 

You remember that last December McKibben thought “finance, not politics, could be the soft underbelly of the climate monster.”  During the 2016 presidential campaign, he thought “politics,” that is electoral politics, is the “strategy” to follow. So, he supported Sanders’ campaign in the Democratic Party primary and on his behalf he sat on the well-known to be useless Democratic Party Program Committee. When Sanders was denied candidacy at the convention and came out in support of Clinton, McKibben and switched allegiances to her even though she publicly supported fracking (Food&Water Watch organized a rally in front of the convention denouncing Clinton’s support for fracking).  Without any democratic discussion, the national organization was turned into the Clinton election headquarters and many local chapters followed. Of course, was not alone; most other environmental/ecological NGOs did the same.  In this, they followed the lesser evil politics of the supporters of the U.S. capitalist two-party system.  

Before turning to the 2016 presidential campaign politics, however, McKibben and leadership worked on the vanguardist “strategy” of “Break Free from Fossil Fuels" which targeted the "dirtiest" sites for "direct action" in May 2016 (see, for a discussion of this, Nayeri, July 2016).  The largest protests took place in the Philippines with 20,000 and in Germany with 4,000 people. 

In April of 2016, while organizing for the “direct action” campaign, McKibben gave a candid interview to an Australian website (Mitchel, 2016) in which he recounted the earlier evolution of his “strategic” thinking: “I spent a lot of years getting it wrong…I thought we were engaged in an argument” with the fossil fuel industry. “We waited far too long to realise what a fight it was and that there was an adversary on the other side.” Now, however, McKibben told the website that politicians are “pawns” in the hands of the fossil fuel industry and he has decided to go after the “real bosses” (the fossil fuel industry).  Was that an honest political conclusion? No, it was not. It was simply expedient to justify the “direct action” in May 2016.  By June McKibben was up to his eyebrows involved in electoral politics, peddling Sanders and then Clinton.

Anyone who has been watching McKibben should know that he really does not have any strategywhatsoever in the fight against the climate emergency. He is merely trying to appeal to and push if he must, those in the position of power “to do the right thing,” and if unsuccessful he throws a tantrum as in the May 2016 “direct actions." Given the's leadership role in the New York City divestment campaign would it not be prudent for Romer to inquire about the strategy McKibben who “popularized” divestment?  Moreover, Romer does not report of any discussion about strategy in the New York City divestment movement.  As far I can tell, the question of strategy is like the forbidden fruit in the climate justice movement; almost everyone has a tactical preference but nobody reveals what strategy it serves. 

5. Daring to Hope: Wishful thinking or revolutionary optimism? 
Of the three existential crisis we face, the climate crisis has generated an expanding grassroots movement because of its visible impact: extreme weather conditions, rising sea-level threatening shoreline and island communities, and adverse effects on the food and water systems, and undermining sectors of the capitalist economy in the United States and worldwide. In the United States government agencies, including the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies tasked with “national security” have warned about catastrophic climate change.  

Yet, the world governments, especially the U.S. government, have dragged their feet for decades to adopt any effective world policy to confront it.  Contrast the bipartisan policies of the Obama administration and Trump administration have both signed on a plan to spend well over $1 trillion to upgrade the U.S. nuclear weapon arsenal, including building new “tactical nuclear weapons” that would make their use much more likely (hence increasing the threat of nuclear holocaust), to their policies toward the existential threat of climate change.  

The 2015 Paris Agreement signed by almost all the world governments, that even McKibben sarcastically called "a good accord for 1995," is based on the voluntary commitment of individual governments. By all accounts, even these modest promises have not been followed as hoped.  Known as the free rider problem, individual capitalist ruling classes and their government has no incentive to limit greenhouse gases pollution while benefitting from burning cheaper or more accessible fossil fuels as long as it does not they do not shoulder its costs.  There is no moral consideration either for the sections of the world population, typically the poorest and most vulnerable, that is already suffering from the crisis or would soon be, or for its impact of the world ecosystems that further undermines their degradation by the anthropogenic Sixth Extinction. 

Yet, the capitalist ruling class is far from united in its response to the climate crisis as the contrast between the Obama administration and Trump administration shows.  A key contributing factor is the social and planetary crisis itself.  The backward-looking faction of the U.S. and world ruling class is retreating to protectionist measures, combined with ultra-nationalist policies, which undermine a global response to the climate emergency.  The more forward-looking sectors of the U.S. and world bourgeoisie, that happen to be the neoliberal globalists, increasingly have been promoting various technological “solutions” to the crisis, which they also promote as business opportunities, through a number of market-based or regulatory policies that individually or in combination are supposed to resolve the climate crisis.  Geo-engineering is their choice to “cool-off” the planet if all else fails. The Paris Agreement was built on such basis. 

The mainstream, dominant climate justice organizations that work closely with the “enlightened” sectors of the capitalist class also share the view that the crisis can effectively be addressed by the market or regulatory reforms and existing and new technologies.  None has ever accepted or much less explained that the crisis is rooted in the very nature of the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization. In fact, they have shunned all attempts to introduce the discussion of the root-causes of the climate crisis in the climate justice movement.  Their “leadership role” is limited to criticism of the backward sections of the capitalist class and mobilizing the movement to pressure the “climate-friendly” policymakers to act quicker.  

The grassroots of the climate justice movement is more open to considering systemic change. Understandably, they begin their activism with trying to reform the existing anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization.  Thus, Romer concludes her article with the suggestion that “loosening” $5 billons of the New York City pension funds and $6 billion from the New York State pension funds would “create an opportunity” for the labor movement and the climate justice movement to “to provide the capital to contribute to a just transition…” She proposes “publicly owned renewable energy, public transit and public housing” that “could be invested in through publicly-traded bonds with guaranteed returns.” The problem with her visions is clear. Nowhere in her article does she mention the “social system,” capitalism, as being responsible for the climate crisis. And, her attention is focused, perhaps even more than McKibben, on using the capital markets, not just to stop the crisis, but also to affect a “just transition.” The question of what kind of transition we need, who decides what is "just," who is going to lead it, and how it may deal with the exiting the anthropocentric industrial capitalist crisis, do not seem to be her concern.  There is no role for “class struggle” in this perspective, which had been central to prominent philosophers of history since Saint-Simon. 

Thus, it falls on the very small ecosocialist current in the climate justice movement to (1) explain the systemic nature of the crisis and how it is part of the social and planetary crisis generated by the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization, (2) to propose that only a self-organized and self-mobilized movement of millions of working people in the United States and billions of across the globe, in particular in the industrial capitalist countries, can begin to solve the crisis (Nayeri, October 2017; Nayeri, June 2017), and, (3) to provide an action program which will include immediate and transitional demands and can be realized in full only with the assumption of political power by such a movement in conjunction with other social and ecological movements. Only such the massive movement of the working people can begin the process of transition from the present-day crisis-ridden civilization—to an ecocentric socialist society that would provide for the basic needs for human development and effect a much needed retreat of the humanity from much of the globe to allow for the rest of nature to heal itself (Nayeri, July 2017; for my discussion of the Sixth Extinction, see, Nayeri, May 2016; for my discussion the nuclear threat, see, Nayeri August 2015).   

Tactical considerations
Unfortunately, we are still at the very beginning of this world-historic process if it ever unfolds before the impending collapse.  Ecological socialists are a tiny minority.  However, the fact that there is a mass climate justice movement and it is active on many fronts is encouraging.  We must be the best builders of “resistance” to the crisis wherever it takes form, and whatever form it takes in the climate justice and other ecological movements, as well as the social justice movement, as long as it provides the opportunity to build an independent working peoples' movement from below. Let’s remember, ecosocialists are not simply climate justice activists; we are part of the most conscious layers of the working class.  The divestment campaign in New York City and elsewhere is no exception.  As I have explained, it is important to discuss potential and limits of each of such grassroots movements and help figure out the best way forward, including by suggesting alternative, more effective tactics. 

What about the ticking doomsday clock?
The enormity of the world-historic task we face in the twenty-first century is made even more challenging given the existing world political situation.  The widespread turn to populism and neo-fascism in the Global North and increasing authoritarianism in the Global South have convinced some ecosocialists that it is impossible to build the kind of working people’s mass movement that is necessary for resolving the systemic crisis in due time.  

While their sense of alarm is understandable, they commit a crucial logical and political error.  Even if we accept that the U.S. and the world working people will not organize and mobilize independently in sufficient numbers in a timely manner to save the world, it does not follow that the social and planetary crisis which climate change is a part of can be resolved by the very same anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization that has caused it.  Systemic crisis can only be resolved through system change.  

Furthermore, it is not a foregone conclusion that the kind of mass working class radicalization we badly need cannot develop in a timely manner. No one knows when the collapse may come and throughout history, when working people’s radicalization has occurred, it has always surprised the theorists and political strategists from the 1848 European revolution to the victorious West Virginia teachers strike.  Take the case of The West Virginia teachers. As The New York Times reported: 
“With no collective bargaining rights, no contract, and no legal right to strike, the teachers had managed to mount a statewide work stoppage anyway, and make their demands heard, marshal public support, and stick together until they won. And the rank and file, not union leaders, came to call the shots.” Already, teachers in Kansas and Oklahoma are talking about emulating their West Virginia coworkers.” (Bidgood and Robinson, March 8, 2018)
The 1979 Iranian revolution which I had the good fortune to participate in was also a surprise even to those of us who were rooting for it.  That revolution also showed the revolutionary potential of the working people (Nayeri and Nassab, 2006). Not only the Iranian working class was key in overthrowing the U.S.-back Mohammad Reza Shah dictatorship, it also initiated the council movement.  All across the country, in addition to the workplace councils that emerged out of the strike committees during the mass struggle against the dictatorship, peasant councils, oppressed nationalities councils, students councils, and neighborhood councils emerged. These provided a basis for a potentially winnable fight for a government of the working people that could have open the road to socialism in Iran and the Middle East.  A key problem was a lack of confidence in the working class even among the Iranian socialists who in the great majority supported the assumption of power by Ayatollah Khomeini who promptly imposed a clerical theocratic Islamic Republic.  Today almost four decades later, Iran working people are facing the social and ecological crisis as the recent uprising showed and the Middle East is burning in part because of the defeat of the 1979 Iranian revolution (Nayeri, January 2018).

The other day I saw a bumper sticker that summed up the problem we face: “Climate is changing faster than the people.”  The main obstacle to saving the world is our own illusions in the social system we have been born into and must change if we are to save the world. 

Dedication: This discussion essay is dedicated to the activists of the New York City divestment campaign and West Virginia teachers who staged a wildcat strike and won. 

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