The great illusion of the profitability of renewable energies

by Marc Bonhomme

A GHG reduction strategy will not emerge from the COP process

A well-known eco-socialist activist in Great Britain, Alan Thornett, has just published an opinion piece in the journal Climate & Capitalism entitled Left critics denounce COP28, but offer no alternative which states from the outset: “Despite being held in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – the sixth biggest oil producer in the world, and presided over by a top oil executive with the biggest fossil fuel lobby ever seen at a COP conference, COP28 was a surprisingly productive event.” He then went on to list a whole series of decisions and declarations from this and previous COPs heralding the decline of hydrocarbons and their replacement by renewable energies. This astonishing diagnosis echoes that of the resigning U.S. representative to the COP, John Kerry, who believes that “Dubaï [COP28} was exciting and really different. In Paris we had to settle for every country going out and writing its own nationally determined contribution — a commitment to do only what it wanted to do. Some did something. Some didn’t. But in Dubai we succeeded in the dead hours of night in getting people to sign off on the transition away from fossil fuel.”

The two men must admit, however, that financial support for the countries of the South is not up to scratch. With the ridiculous US$0.7 billion put into the “Loss and Damage Fund” when hundreds of billions are needed, the former calls it “a drop in the ocean”.  Far from being an exception, this example is the general rule applicable to all funds voted by the COPs. Without this transfer from North to South, how can these countries, mired in unpayable debt and without access to the best technologies, get their hands on the trillions needed to build the infrastructures of green capitalism, the solution advocated by the COPs, when the oil monopolies and their backers, drowning in their profits, are ready to invest in them without further delay? Nevertheless, our author retains the anti-COP “leftist posturing” of part of the environmental movement as a determining factor in preventing maximum pressure on the COPs to achieve the UN IPCC targets because “the only way to avoid catastrophic damage to the planet is by making the COP process work.”

As for the resigning US representative, he admits to the same disappointment: “because the countries have not followed through” … while explaining that such is “economics, it’s basic market forces and how they work. And the problem is that gas and oil right now are making humongous, gigantic, windfall profit, in the trillions. And the margin for solar and wind can’t compete with that. […] You’ve got to show that you can make a profit.”  It’s profitability above all else that’s driving the boat. As for explaining the stinginess of the US contribution to these funds, it’s politics above all: “If you want to push people away, then you can talk about damages, but you’re never going to get past the Congress.” In conclusion, the American representative explains the inability to halt the race to the baking earth, and that he does not “understand how average folks all around the world are letting people get away with all this business-as-usual.” Here’s an invitation to put more pressure on COP as a strategy.

Since the Rio Summit in 1992, nothing has changed so that everything remains the same.

Measured against reality, and contrary to the author’s assertions, Greta Thunberg’s observation that the COPs essentially issue nothing, but blah-blah-blah is pure truth when we realize the unsanctioned inaction resulting from their commitments. The latest example is the COP’s commitment to methane : “By some accounts, it explains about one-third of warming since the Industrial Revolution, with estimates steadily growing in recent years, along with the astonishing rise of its concentration in the atmosphere.”  But “according to the International Energy Agency, 40 percent of industrial emissions are avoidable at no net cost, with the balance of the industrial problem solvable for the price of just 5 percent of last year’s fossil-fuel profits.” According to CarbonBrief, despite a commitment on methane that has been signed by 155 countries since it was first announced at COP26 in 2021, committing signatories to a 30% reduction by 2030 in emissions of this gas, which is much more harmful than CO2 in the short and medium term, “[m]ethane [is] on the rise”:

NEAR-RECORD LEVELS: Methane emissions from the fossil-fuel industry rose to near-record levels of 120m tonnes last year, “despite technology available to curb this pollution at virtually no cost”, according to Agence France-Presse. […] MORE METHANE: Separately, a new study in Nature concluded that US oil-and-gas infrastructure emits three times as much methane into the atmosphere as government estimates suggest, the Associated Press reported.

Dixit The Economist, 20 years ago, fossil fuels accounted for around 80% of the world’s primary energy balance. Today, this share is still around 80%. In absolute terms, the growth of hydrocarbons has never ceased since the 1992 Rio Summit, which inaugurated the COPs. In relative terms, the share of hydrocarbons in the global primary energy balance has fallen by just 4 percentage points since 1992. What The Economist will never admit, however, is that the fundamental cause of this is the growthism inherent in capitalism:

I first made the case for an accelerated energy transition 20 years ago in a cover story that appeared in The Economist called “The end of the Oil Age”. The share of the world’s primary energy made up by fossil fuels back then was roughly 80%. Since then, awareness of climate damage has soared, as has pressure on Big Oil to divest assets and for governments to impose anti-fossil policies.

That may seem impressive, but consider this: that fossil share last year was still stubbornly around 80%. Yes, solar and wind and electric vehicles have made massive strides, but global energy demand has soared so much that those cleaner fuels and technologies have merely tackled the incremental growth for energy without altering the foundation of demand for fossil fuels.

The result will be a record rise in the earth’s temperature in 2023. “According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), 2023 was 1.48 C warmer than the pre-industrial average from 1850-1900, beating out 2016’s record of 1.25 C.”

SCIENTISTS STUNNED: Reacting to the report, Prof Jonathan Bamber, a glaciologist at the University of Bristol, told the i newspaper: “The pace of climate breakdown that we’re witnessing is faster than I think the vast majority of climate scientists were anticipating five or 10 years ago. Things are changing so rapidly that myself and quite a few of my colleagues do have concerns that some of our estimates could be on the conservative side.” It comes as leading climate scientist Dr Gavin Schmidt published a piece in Nature saying that researchers are finding 2023’s extremes “hard to explain” and that Earth could be entering “uncharted territory”.

Even a “perfect” carbon tax remains trapped in market dominance

The ecosocialist author is even more enchanted by the COP process, since none other than the head of the IMF has praised the key pro-climate policy he has championed for several years:

There was a remarkable intervention by IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva (no less) on carbon pricing and carbon taxes. In what was the first time the subject had been discussed at a COP conference, she made a two-part proposal on behalf of the IMF:

  • First, the abolition of all subsidies for fossil fuel production
  • Second, put an explicit charge (or tax) on CO2emissions at the point of production. This, she said, would raise the trillions of dollars that are needed to tackle the climate crisis. […]

I have long argued that the most effective way to cut carbon emissions quickly and in a way compatible with social justice is by making fossil fuels far more expensive than renewables by means of carbon taxes, as argued (remarkably) by the IMF in Dubai. When properly managed and carried out as a part of the significant transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor, this can both provide a socially just transition for the most vulnerable members of society and shield it from right-wing forces like the far right in Britain or the yellow vests in France.

The abolition of subsidies to oil and gas companies is certainly an indispensable demand, and one that even supposedly supportive governments resist.  In the U.S., federal tax breaks for coal, oil and gas companies, most of which were instituted a century and more ago, and whose dozen or so measures will amount to 22 billion by 2022, are resisting a presidential pledge to abolish them. Nothing says that the next elections will change anything. As for Canada, which claims to be a world champion in this field, it has decided to abolish “inefficient” subsidies that have remained ill-defined. It has clearly excluded Export Development Canada loans, the expansion of the bituminous oil pipeline to the Pacific Ocean, which it owns at a loss, and subsidies for CO2 capture and sequestration.

The redistributive carbon tax is another matter altogether. The citizenship income of yesteryear claimed to radically redistribute income while respecting and even consolidating the transnational-dominated market by justifying the privatization of public services. The radical version of the redistributive carbon tax claims to reconcile GHG reduction and market domination, a kind of apotheosis of capitalism’s reconciliation with nature. Under the effect of drastically altered relative prices, the capitalist economy would be restructured solely based on corporate decisions to eliminate or offset carbon-intensive production, without recourse to public investment. In another vein, we could compare the radical redistributive carbon tax to “revolution through the ballot box”, while respecting the institutions of the capitalist state.  

Except for Quebec and British Columbia, which have their own carbon market and carbon tax systems respectively, Canada applies such a redistributive fee à la IMF, with redistribution based on the number of people in the household, although exemptions have been granted under pressure from the federal Conservatives, who are unreservedly committed to oil interests and promise to abolish these fees. The restructuring of transport, housing and urbanity may well be accomplished, but at too slow a market pace and to the benefit of the wealthy. On the face of it, alternative systems don’t exist – for example, low-cost, high-frequency mass transit everywhere or affordable, energy-efficient multi-family housing – and won’t be available for a long time to come, if ever, especially if they are accessible to all.

The wealthy will be able to afford to pay the tax, while middle-income earners will have sufficient working capital to wait for the refund transfer. On the other hand, the poorest strata, stuck with the least efficient vehicles and the least well insulated homes, will grab the devil by the tail for lack of sufficient working capital and the poor carbon performance of their homes and vehicles. Worse still, the amounts redistributed will not be available to the community to finance the large investments for these systems of alternative products and services, even if we must first rely on the taxation of profits and high incomes, starting with those in tax havens, to do so. And since our governments are subservient to capitalism, transnationals will always manage to carve out tailor-made exceptions in the name of sacrosanct global competitiveness, as is the case with carbon markets.

The profitability of renewables has not stopped the growth of hydrocarbons

Where does such critical confidence in the COP process come from, to the point of praising the IMF which has imposed the Washington Consensus on the world? Since renewable energy technologies have become as or more profitable than hydrocarbon ones, investment in them has taken off, heralding a “rosy future” for many. Yet oil companies, in these times of war, are putting the brakes on their move towards renewable energies, as is the strategic financial sector, for whom the staggering fixed costs of renewable energy installations in these times of high interest rates and political uncertainty, compared with natural gas installations for example, call into question their risk-adjusted profitability. For capitalism, the end of the world comes after a balance sheet painted in deep black.

We need only look at the most recent balance sheet of investments in renewable energy versus fossil fuels by the two major global players who, for want of anything else, agree as thick as thieves on the climate issue to guide the COP process. According to a recent China Briefing by CarbonBrief:

RECORD FALL NEEDED: New analysis for Carbon Brief revealed that China’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions increased by 12% between 2020 and 2023, due to a “highly energy- and carbon-intensive response” to the economic slowdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. Total energy consumption grew 5.7% in 2023, “the first time since at least 2005 that energy demand has grown faster than GDP”, while CO2 emissions grew “at an average of 3.8% per year in 2021-23, up from 0.9% a year in 2016-20”, despite slowing economic growth. […] 

OFF-TARGET: China is also “at risk” of failing to meet other key climate goals. Despite pledges to “strictly limit” coal demand growth and “strictly control” new coal power capacity, both “coal consumption and new coal power projects” accelerated “sharply” from 2020 to 2023.

According to a recent New York Times column, “[t]he Biden administration has never published that chart [see below]. The president isn’t bragging about record oil and gas production. His reluctance highlights a political problem for him and other Democrats. Biden wants to phase out oil and gas eventually to fight global warming. But domestic oil and gas production is expanding on his watch. He loves to talk about part of that story: how the United States is producing more power from renewables, including a surge in solar power accelerated by the climate law he signed in 2022. It’s the other half of the story he shies away from: the increased production of oil and natural gas.”

The material consumption of all-electric extractivism is gargantuan

The relative cheapness of renewable energies, combined with the dramatic reality of the consequences of the climate crisis and social pressure, should give them an advantage in the long run, until we reach a ceiling on hydrocarbon consumption that is constantly being announced… and constantly postponed. Already, investment in renewable energies is outstripping that in fossil fuels. But investment in fossil fuels, including coal, continues to climb. The claim that renewable energies will replace fossil fuels in due course is doubly false. Historically, the growthism inherent in capitalism does not engender even slow substitution, but superimposition, as shown in the table below from Our World in Data. In 2022, excluding nuclear power, renewable energies, including hydroelectricity, account for just 13% of the total.

The second falsehood, the worst and most insidious, is that renewable energies are the central solution, when in fact they are only marginally so. The two graphs below, one on the flow of materials extracted worldwide, the other on the stock of non-perishable materials, demonstrate the exponential nature of their expansion. Even more interesting is the breakdown of the underlying data into four historical periods, which can be found below the two charts. “A comparison of growth rates during different periods of industrial development (Table 4 below) reveals that after the post-World War II (WWII) period of rapid industrialization (1945–1972) with annual growth rates of DE [material extraction] of 3.7%, growth in material use slowed down markedly to only 1.8%/yr between 1973 and 2002. Only after 2002, growth accelerated to an average of 3.3%/yr until 2015. […] …the metabolic rate (DE per capita of population) is growing faster than in the post-WWII period at 2.1% per year and rose from 9.3 to 12.1t/cap/yr between 2002 and 2015…” 

This expansion is uneven. OECD data on material consumption in OECD countries versus some large representative non-OECD countries (China, Russia, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria) show that material consumption per capita is stable, though not total consumption, within the OECD, once we take into account the sharp fall in the countries linked to the former USSR in the 1990s, versus a meteoric rise in China and Brazil, followed by stabilization, an upturn in Russia, the beginnings of an upturn in India and Indonesia, and stable stagnation in Nigeria, which, like Africa in general, is waiting its turn. We can reasonably assume that this uneven distribution is mainly a function of the take-off of mining production, processing and equipment for the new all-electric extractivism and its flagship product, the electric vehicle, currently championed by China.  

All-electric material production is energy-intensive, difficult to recycle and spread over a wide area.  

Per unit of energy produced, the production of renewable energy equipment is more energy-intensive than the production of fossil energy equipment, due to its diffuse and random nature. This material production is itself more energy-intensive than the production of services, not to mention the fact that 80% of this energy is fossil fuel-based at the start of the transition (61% for electricity production). Quantitative studies on the additional cost of materials are rare, and those on energy even more so. According to a McKinsey study for 2022, “…generating one terawatt-hour of electricity from solar and wind could consume, respectively, 300 percent and 200 percent more metals than generating the same number of terawatt-hours from a gas-fired power plant, on a copper-equivalent basis, while still drastically reducing the emissions intensity of the sector—even when accounting for the emissions related to the materials production.” According to a 2020 World Bank study, “moving to a 2DS [reduction to 2°C instead of 1.5°C] involves an extra 6 GtCO2 from building and operating renewable technologies, but it reduces emissions from fossil fuel generation by over 350 GtCO2.”

The game seems worth the candle. However, these highly uncertain calculations involving a scenario of moderate green capitalism, excluding steel in the case of the World Bank study, do not consider “the emissions associated with replacing and disposing energy technologies once they reach their end of life, nor does it take into account the transportation of renewable energy technologies, such as wind turbines, or the shipping of coal and gas.”  Above all, they take no account of non-metallic materials such as concrete and glass, of which even solar panels are made, still less of the materials required for gargantuan carbon capture and sequestration equipment. Finally, they completely ignore the materials derived from capitalist growth, including the urban sprawl generated by the combination of increasingly heavy private vehicles and detached or attached houses. Yet this last duo is both the zenith and the material foundation of mass consumption boosted by household debt. 

The challenge of recycling will arise, and is already arising, given that currently less than 1% of lithium is recycled, according to the World Bank, and that « [t]he replacement rate of solar panels is faster than expected and given the current very high recycling costs, there’s a real danger that all used panels will go straight to landfill (along with equally hard-to-recycle wind turbines).”  The composite materials from which much of this equipment is made make recycling energy-intensive, polluting and expensive. Is it the industrial shift towards all-electricity that explains the 21% drop in the circular economy’s share of global material production over the past five years?  The result is pressure from demand for minerals on supply, in a context where starting up a mine is a long process involving many technical, environmental and social constraints. For unavoidable minerals such as lithium and cobalt, and even copper, we can expect prices to rise or/and to vary sharply.

The problem is not just the extra mass of materials, recycling or price, but also the tremendous consumption of space. “A recent report from the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, suggests that wind and solar farms require at least ten times more land per unit of power produced than gas- or coal-fired power plants. […] In a scenario where America relies entirely on renewables by 2050, Princeton’s modelling suggests that solar farms would take up an area the size of West Virginia” to which we must add wind turbines. This consumption of space tends to cause tension within the environmental movement, between those who emphasize biodiversity and the reformists who focus on renewable energies as the key, if not miracle, solution. The result is litigation and legal complexity, which, especially in the US, is slowing down projects to the satisfaction of the oil companies.   

Gross domestic product of accumulation or gross domestic happiness of solidarity?

The key problem of the environmental movement is certainly not its ideological clarity vis-à-vis hydrocarbon extractivism, but its ambiguity vis-à-vis all-electric extractivism, which necessarily perpetuates the former, thus engulfing its mainstream in the wake of green capitalism. Ecosocialism can cure this energy-growth flaw, if it can decouple gross domestic product from “gross domestic happiness”. The United Nations has opened the door to it by publishing a “World Happiness Report” since 2012 that combines quantitative measures, including income inequality, and qualitative ones based on questions with binary answers… but always within a growthist framework. At the top of the column among the expected Nordic countries we also find Israel! What kind of happiness are we talking about? That of the powerful and the satisfied, crushing the exploited and oppressed masses within and beyond our borders? What’s missing is a critique of mass consumption and entertainment, which lulls the senses and brain to sleep, necessary for solvent demand even if it’s sustained by debt.

Is the proletariat happier in its suburban home with its car-solo stuck in traffic, and also stuck between the end of the world and the end of the month, or in a comfortable social housing unit located in a 15-minute neighborhood with everywhere access to a free and frequent active or public transportation network? Are we made happier by a wasteful mass consumer economy bathed in misleading advertising, or by the provision of essential, sustainable and repairable products, many of which are collectively available?  Are we happier with an obese diet of meat and ultra-processed foods, or with a fresh vegetarian diet of organic origin? Are we happier in a society under the sway of financialized transnationals holding hostage governments in debt, forcing them into permanent austerity, or in a democratically planned society with self-managed enterprises and free wall-to-wall public services extended to basic food and energy?  

The factitious “happiness” of consumerism and domination fills the void. A society based on corporate competitiveness to dominate markets leads to individual competition either to survive unemployment and poverty, or to increase one’s wealth or social status to achieve unattainable security, all of which contribute to social anxiety, accidents, mental illness and a precarious old age in poor health, even for the wealthy. The qualitative leap out of the solitary void towards the common in solidarity is achieved by everyone fighting together, in whatever form and scope, against this dehumanizing hierarchical society. The struggle of all against all creates an ocean of losers against a pool of winners, tainted by a loss of fundamental human solidarity.

On the other hand, by fighting together, the sober society is built on caring for people and mother earth. This society, for one thing, is inspired by ecofeminism, which focuses on human reproduction while maximizing the slow, free time for creativity, encounters, friendship and love – bread and roses – and not on infinite self-accumulative production through the competitive obligation of profit maximization. Secondly, it is inspired by native wisdom, despite its corruption by oppressive white society, of constant dialogue with nature, which we thank for the slightest predation necessary to life, and whose great ecological balances we cannot disrupt without murdering Mother Earth. 

All-electric extractivism can turn popular dissatisfaction into fascism

Ever since the new all-electric extractivism began to seize and pollute vast spaces, it has aroused resistance from those who occupy them: indigenous peoples, peasants, villagers and even suburbanites. This can be seen in the struggles against open-cast mining in dependent countries, often against Canadian companies, but also in formerly industrialized countries in need of industrial renewal, especially if they can offer a mining complement. Such is Canada, and Quebec in particular, which is free of hydrocarbon exploitation… but a major consumer of hydrocarbons and a major emitter of GHGs. The full-scale deployment of the battery industry by Quebec’s CAQ government, supported a hundred kilometers an hour by Canada’s Liberal government, has opened the door to a major public debate on the new all-electric extractivism, which is finally calling into question its flagship consumer product, the electric vehicle.

The development of struggles against the new extractivism of all-electricity calls into question the mainstream environmental movement’s permeability to green capitalism. This permeability establishes a political junction with the dominant capitalist forces within the COP, leading large, usually wealthy, sections of the environmental movement to bet critically on the COP process. This integration generates a reaction on the anti-capitalist left that can go as far as sectarian rejection of the COPs. This is the rational core of the ecosocialist author’s critique, which nevertheless remains blind to the rise of green capitalism. To put it another way, the ecologist movement will fall into the trap of reformism – to use an old terminology that retains all its value – if it allows itself to be satellised by the great powers governing the COPs, including the usual psychodramas at the end of these meetings, which give the impression of winning breakthroughs.

This rallying of major organizations to green capitalism is creating a feeling of abandonment among the working classes, particularly the less affluent and informed strata.  Provoked by regressive carbon-tax-style taxation and costly regulation, not to mention permanent austerity to finance the gigantic investments required for green capitalism, including the guarantee of capitalist profitability, these classes are desperately seeking a solution they can’t find from either the mainstream green movement or the political left. The resulting revolt against the establishment lends itself to conquest by far-right populism. The French “gilets jaunes” and European farmers, more so as they are under the influence of agribusiness, are a case in point. As the climate and biodiversity crises become more and more pressing, requiring a form of governance that cannot ignore them, ecofascism will turn its nose first against immigrants fleeing disasters, and then against native workers.

Against reformism, fight for truly transitional reforms

The opposite is to fight for reforms that force capitalism’s hand, to gain that precious time before the inevitable slide into the the baking earth. The blocking of these reforms by governments and transnationals, while time is running out, makes the working people realize that capitalism, trapped in its growthism, cannot implement these reforms in time and on the necessary scale. This struggle is even more necessary because the political catastrophe of 20th-century socialism has alienated the proletariat from socialist revolution, while sowing doubt and confusion among the anti-capitalist left, as demonstrated by the strength within it of the campism and developmentalism that are its heirs. But this struggle for reform does not accommodate demands that lead in a straight line to the cul-de-sac of green capitalism. If they are to be transitional to anti-capitalist revolution, these demands must open the way to a society that maximizes “gross national happiness”, i.e. sobriety in solidarity. This is what our author, who claims to be an ecosocialist but remains a prisoner of green capitalism, has failed to understand.

The emphasis on so-called green energies as the core solution, which marginalize energy sobriety and efficiency, is not a transitional demand. Nor are so-called green products such as electric solo cars and the construction of so-called energy-efficient detached and attached houses in urban areas, which perpetuate mass consumption and urban sprawl. Not the emphasis on underground subway and in-air sky trains that abandons the urban fabric where people live to the reign of the solo gasoline or electric car. Not the creation of ecologically smoothed new towns that leave to their fate the urban neighborhoods and villages where Mr. and Mrs. Everyperson live. What they need is an urgent, universal program to bring their buildings up to the best energy-efficient standards, in the context of 15-minute traffic-free neighborhoods rich in urban agriculture and nature parks. Not the so-called “new agriculture” that modernizes agribusiness by over-indebting farms for the benefit of big business and the banks, and by artificializing agriculture to the core, eliminating soil and sunlight in favor of extra energy and chemicals. In the end, we realize that if we must socialize the banks and their ilk, it’s more to prevent them from bogging humanity down in trillions of dollars of useless if not harmful equipment, and less to recycle these dollars towards ecosocialism infrastructure, which, by comparison, remain inexpensive.

The COP can be tactically useful in bringing the movement together on a global scale.

Does this mean that the environmental movement should boycott the COPs? These are gatherings of states that must work by consensus, as they have not agreed on a majority decision-making process, which obliges the major powers to rally the states that follow in the imperialist hierarchy. The former of course have the means to force the hand of the weaker, which has led to the latter forming various pressure groups to extract certain concessions that could become ideological weapons in the climate battle. We’re thinking here of the near-cutting of the 2.0°C target to 1.5°C of global warming by 2100 at the Paris COP, as well as of the national plans at the same COP which, although insufficient and toothless in themselves, enable to gauge the efforts of each country thanks to the close monitoring of specialized NGOs, but not, however, to free ourselves from the grip of green capitalism.

The support of the environmental movement, both at home and abroad, for these dependent countries in the face of imperialist ones, has contributed to these victories on paper, which can however be illusory if accepted at face value. In the same way that COPs bring states together, they also, by mirror effect, summon a good number of opponents both inside and outside… insofar as the air in the host countries is democratically breathable. This will no doubt be a problem this year in oil-rich and autocratic Azerbaijan, but not in the especially symbolic Brazilian Amazon in 2025. This is an opportunity to seize, through a counter-summit, to build a global common front, ideally endowed with its own manifesto and program – as it should be, given the urgency of the climate and biodiversity issues – but at the very least with its own global action plan, as the Porto Alegre Social Forum was able to do at the start of the millennium.  

The ball is in the movement’s court to remobilize in the face of war

The Global Socialist Network (GEN) had proposed Alan Thornett’s text as a reference for a debate on “the strategy for the climate movement and how the COP process fits into it”. It countered with an article also published by Climate & Capitalism, which the journal’s editor considered “powerful” and, in his eyes (and mine, though not entirely), “convincing”:

The basic underlying problem, was that [we assumed] governments and politicians respond rationally to evidence of a serious danger and address it. […] the difficulty, is that there is no historical precedent for governments actually acting like this, to protect humanity. […] Governments are just there to facilitate the business as usual (BaU) model developed after the industrial revolution. […] The allies, only eventually cooperated in WW2, because Nazi Germany, and Japan, were an existential threat to their economies and countries, not to protect the public. But they needed the public on board, so it looked like they were protecting the public. […] 


[To solve the climate and ecological crisis, governments] just do the bare minimum, to give the impression of it, because their people are concerned about it. […] Therefore, the first assumption which needs to be scratched, is the mistaken assumption that if you give governments enough scientific evidence, that they’ll act appropriately. Self-evidently they don’t. […] The present economic model, is wholly predicated on the burning of fossil fuels, and the unsustainable use of natural resources. […] The rulers would be mighty worried, if they thought people saw through them. In fact, this attempt to usher in authoritarian fascism, seems to be them being driven by this fear.

The author of this article concludes that “at the moment, the public is misled. They think the situation can’t be that serious, or all those scientists and other influential people in the know, would be shouting it from the rooftops.” He deduces that the strategic unblocking of the climate battle requires these scientists and personalities to stop thinking about their careers and proclaim the scientific truth forthrightly. In my opinion, this is a little short-sighted and somewhat one-sided. Firstly, a large proportion of activists and even the general public are aware of this truth but are desperate to find a solution. Secondly, for scientists and public figures to free themselves from the shackles that trap them in capitalist relations of production, the struggle of the social movement must have reached a certain level of mobilization. We must realize, however, that many of those leading the movement are also trapped in capitalist relations.

In a word, the relationship between the movement and scientists is dialectical. Doesn’t the current situation rather imply that the initiative must come from the impetus of the movement, since the science of the UN-IPCC has essentially delivered the goods, even if we constantly must hammer away at the nail as events and discoveries dictate?  For the development of knowledge, the urgent need is to demonstrate the ecological catastrophe that wars in general, and genocidal wars in particular, represent. Not only in view of the worsening climate and biodiversity crises and the detour of resources to resolve them, but above all in view of the danger of paralysis of the ecological movement and the left in general due to demoralization. And obviously the ecological movement must join forces with the anti-war front and integrate this struggle into its forums.

A global ecological movement with a concrete program of “gross domestic happiness” based on energy sobriety and an action plan dotted with major global mobilizations could frame and stimulate an ecological movement rooted in workers’ and people’s struggles. Faced with an eye-opening climate emergency and a programmatic and organizational light at the end of the tunnel of the current great darkness, the workers’ movement would rediscover that the reproduction of humankind and its environment, as ecofeminists and indigenous people put it, is more crucial than production for the single market, that health and safety at work and in the city take precedence, beyond “living wage”, over wage increases, and that the provision of abundant, quality public services marginalizes the central place of the wage of the market economy.  And above all, in the common struggle, we would rediscover that the key to happiness lies in sober solidarity, not in the social drug of mass consumption and entertainment through which capitalist accumulation has corrupted working people since the beginning of the Anthropocene.     

Marc Bonhomme, 24 mars 2024 ;

DisclaimerOpinions expressed in articles are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of other members of the Global Ecosocialist Network

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