Hothouse Earth

Capitalism, climate change, and the fate of humanity

IN THE first half of this article, which appeared in ISR 62, Chris Williams outlined the nature and scale of the environmental crisis brought on by global climate change, and assessed such proposed solutions as carbon trading and altering personal consumption habits. He concluded that free-market solutions cannot solve the crisis, since they are in large part responsible for causing it, and that calls for changing individual habits fail to address the fact that the entire system of capitalist production is geared toward planned obsolescence and waste. Here, he continues his analysis of dubious proposals to deal with climate change and advances an analysis of what must be done to move toward real solutions to the crisis.

What about nuclear power?
NUCLEAR POWER is expensive and dangerous. Nuclear power plants only emerge as cost competitive with fossil-fueled power stations or alternative energy sources when government subsidies and the huge decommissioning costs are not included as part of the cost of building and running them. This is one of the main reasons no private company will build a nuclear power station without cast-iron guarantees from the government that they will be covered for any accidents and decommissioning costs, and will receive generous subsidies during the construction and operational phases of the plant.

While nuclear power enjoys a renaissance as an allegedly “environmentally friendly” alternative to fossil fuels, there is yet to be any serious long-term proposal by any country about what to do with the radioactive nuclear waste that is piling up next to nuclear reactors all over the world (36,000 tons in the United States alone). The most highly radioactive waste has to be kept in storage for 10,000 years—this means designing and building storage containers that will remain intact longer than human civilization has been on the planet. Many nuclear power stations built three decades ago are coming to the end of their operational lives and decommissioning costs to entomb reactors in concrete are astronomical. As for nuclear power being environmentally friendly, when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine exploded in 1986, it released between 50 and 250 million curies of radiation over half of Europe, with radiation reaching Japan to the east and the United States’ eastern coast to the west. The release of radiation was equivalent to almost 100 medium-sized atomic bombs.1

The fuel for nuclear power plants is quite rare and its extraction and refining to useable form is highly energy intensive—giving the lie to it being “carbon neutral.” According to one report,

The use of nuclear power causes, at the end of the road and under the most favorable conditions, approximately one third as much carbon dioxide emission as gas-fired electricity production. The rich uranium ores required to achieve this reduction are, however, so limited that if the entire present world electricity demand were to be provided by nuclear power, these ores would be exhausted in nine years. Use of the remaining poorer ores in nuclear reactors would produce more CO2 emission than burning fossil fuels directly.2

Nuclear power plants are best seen as very expensive, wildly inefficient, and extremely dangerous ways to boil water, while doubling up as atomic bomb factories. It is nuclear power’s strategic role—in potentially reducing a nation’s dependence on foreign energy sources and in providing the basis for nuclear weapons programs—that attracts countries like the United States to it, not its alleged environmental benefits.

The energy dilemma
On a planet being slowly poisoned by the economic system under which it is run, transforming energy sources is the single biggest item that needs to change. And it has to be done rapidly. Most scientists agree that CO2 emissions need to be reduced by up to 80 percent by 2050 to avoid serious and irreversible climate change. The fact that the entire economy runs on three substances—oil, coal, and natural gas—and that these are the three most responsible for global warming presents capitalism with an insuperable problem. In theory, there is nothing that capitalism will not and cannot make profitable. While some renewable energy technologies lend themselves to more decentralized and smaller local applications, cutting against the needs of the giant energy corporations for huge power stations and a centralized energy grid, there is nothing inherent to capitalism that sets it against deriving energy from renewable sources. However, now that capitalism has evolved in a particular way, it is caught on the horns of its own historical development.

Marx talked of social relations becoming a fetter to the further development of society. Nothing illustrates this point better than the incapacity of capitalist social relations to address the issue of fossil fuels. Worldwide, $13 trillion dollars of capital are invested in infrastructure directly related to oil and gas production, refining and use: from the oil rigs, oil tankers, refineries, petrochemical plants, gas stations, pipelines, storage, and docking facilities. In the United States alone, there are 150 oil refineries, 4,000 off-shore platforms, 160,000 miles of oil pipelines, facilities to handle 15 million barrels per day (bpd) in imports and exports, 10,400 fossil-fuel consuming power plants, 410 underground gas storage fields, 1.4 million miles of natural gas pipelines, and 180,000 gasoline service stations.3 This doesn’t even count all of the billions of dollars of investment in roads and the manufacture of asphalt, rubber, cars, trucks, etc. Corporations and the governments that facilitate their operation cannot just write this off. It all has to be utilized to the fullest extent until its depreciation costs are acceptable.

The recently passed Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA)—deliberations in which we (unlike the energy corporations) were never allowed to participate—demonstrates this point. After heavy lobbying by the oil industry and utilities, provisions offensive to business, such as a $13 billion tax increase and a requirement to provide 15 percent of electricity from renewable sources, were removed by “reluctant” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, and passed in the Senate 86 to 8.4 According to James Ford, director of government affairs at the American Petroleum Institute: “We made sure that everybody knew our point of view—the White House, the House, the Senate… We told our story and told it thoroughly.”5 The overwhelming vote in favor of this legislation prompted Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth Action, to accuse Senate Democrats of “capitulating” to Senate Republicans and the White House:

When the Republican leadership and the polluter lobby have blocked important legislation, Senate Democrats have been all too willing to move in their direction. The result is that the two most positive provisions of the energy bill—a clean energy mandate and a tax package reining in handouts for fossil fuels and promoting clean energy—are being removed, while detrimental provisions, such as a radical five-fold increase in unsustainable biofuel use, remain.6

In a bipartisan vote of 314 to 100, the watered-down bill passed the House and was declared “groundbreaking” by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though a more accurate term might be “earth-breaking.” The bill allocates $25 billion to a resurgent nuclear industry, $2 billion for a uranium enrichment plant, $10 billion to build plants to turn coal into a liquid vehicle fuel, and $2 billion to turn coal into natural gas.

Moreover, while there are $10 billion in provisions for alternative energy, much of this is being funneled to the large corporations involved in the development of biofuels, such as Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland. These are fuels such as ethanol, which is made from fermenting corn (in the United States) or sugar cane (Brazil) and can then be used as an additive in gasoline, and biodiesel, made from palm, soybean, or rapeseed oil. Biofuels are being hailed as “carbon neutral” because the CO2 released when the ethanol or biofuel burns is only the same amount as that taken in when the plant was growing. But despite the push of the major agribusiness corporations for the spread of biofuels, more and more scientists are concerned about their energy efficiency, their role in the food crisis, and their contribution to accelerating rates of deforestation7 that is taking place in some of the world’s last remaining tropical rainforests, such as those in Brazil and Indonesia.8 While the carbon neutrality of biofuels is technically true, it does not take into account the fertilizer and pesticides used to grow the plants, which are all derived from energy-intensive, fossil fuel-driven sources. Furthermore, the amount of energy derived from burning corn-based ethanol is only about the same amount as the energy that has to be put in to turn it into ethanol in the first place.9 Therefore, it cannot be said to be an energy source. Consequently, there has been a turn to “cellulosic” ethanol from grasses, because here there is a net energy gain (as there is for ethanol from sugarcane). Nevertheless, land (and labor) still has to be devoted to growing these crops, in a world where, according to the UN, 16,000 children die from hunger-related diseases every day—one every five seconds. There has been a huge increase in the price of corn and other food crops as more and more arable land is devoted to growing corn to turn into fuel to burn in cars, rather than to feed humans.10 While powerful economic forces encourage developing countries to hack away at what little remains of the rainforests and replace them with monocultures, the “free market” lesson is clear: feed cars in order to starve people.

Before the vote on EISA, Pelosi told colleagues, “You are present at a moment of change, of real change.”11 This was in reference to the bill’s requirement that cars and light trucks meet a fleet-wide average of thirty-five miles a gallon—but not until 2020. Car fleets in Europe and Japan already exceed this number. Indeed, the story of attempts so far to discipline the auto industry to produce lower or non-emissions vehicles is a sad one. With the backing of the Bush administration, the oil and auto industry strenuously lobbied in California against the 1990 Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate that required 2 percent of cars sold in California to be “zero emissions” by 1998, 5 percent by 2001, and 10 percent by 2003. Under pressure from auto and oil interests, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) removed the 1998 2 percent requirement. The mandate then went through four more changes. Finally, in Spring 2008 the board mandated that the auto industry produce only 7,500 electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles from 2012–2014—down from 25,000 that were called for in the previous revision made in 2003.

While there had been a brief and fleeting attempt by GM to pioneer production of an electric car to meet CARB requirements, this attempt seems to have been deliberately doomed to failure. In 1996, GM produced more than 600 first-generation and 500 second-generation EV1 electric cars, offering to lease them to customers. Interest in the popular car immediately mushroomed far beyond their supply, yet GM discontinued production in 1999, citing battery problems. Then in 2003 the cars were recalled and most of them crushed, based on the claim that there was not sufficient demand for them. An independent study commissioned by the California Electric Transportation Coalition found that had it been mass produced, the EV1 would have had enough eager customers to absorb 12 to 18 percent of California’s auto market. The oil industry was also involved in killing the EV1. According to the 2006 film Who Killed the Electric Car?, GM sold the patent for the EV1 car battery (which they had purchased from its inventor) to Texaco in 2000 just before Texaco merged with Chevron. Chevron would not make the battery available.12 In a big slap in the face to the public, GM announced in August 2002 that it was going to meet California’s emissions requirements by giving away a bunch of golf-cart style electric vehicles that could not be driven in traffic.

Capitalism takes the road most dirty
Coal liquefaction and gasification, something President Obama is championing alongside the “next generation” of biofuels,13 are part of the strategy for the promotion of “clean coal” technologies; that is, using coal without emitting the extra greenhouse gases, which will be achieved by something called “carbon sequestration.” Recognizing that coal—the reserves of which are predicted to last far longer than oil or gas—is more heavily polluting than either oil or, in particular, natural gas, the plan is to bury the CO2 emitted by coal power plants in underground reservoirs below the plant itself—pump it into empty coal mines, depleted oil and gas reservoirs, and so forth. While there have been some small-scale experiments with this technology in Norway, it is far from commercialization. The most authoritative study so far, The Future of Coal, completed by MIT in 2007, concluded that the first commercial plant couldn’t come on-stream until 2030 at the earliest.14 Apart from begging the question of just where all of this CO2 would be stored if this mechanism were adopted on a global scale or how the infrastructure would be built, sequestration also puts off change “safely” to the distant future. Yet sequestration also has the potential for catastrophic accidents should huge volumes of buried CO2 escape. The Lake Nyos tragedy is an example of what can happen even on a relatively small scale. In 1986, this volcanic lake in Nigeria had become saturated at depth with odorless, colorless CO2. When the pressurized gas finally escaped, it asphyxiated over 1700 people in their sleep, killing all living things within a fifteen-mile radius.

Clean coal is a myth dreamt up by Big Coal and latched onto by politicians as a way to continue with business as usual as most electricity is currently generated from coal-fired plants.15 As Amy Jaffe, an energy expert at the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, explains: “We are going dirtier… If you need to come up with a fuel source other than drilling for oil under the ground in the Middle East, what is the most obvious thing with today’s economy, today’s infrastructure and today’s technology? Oil shale, liquefied coal and tar sands. It’s all dirty but it’s fast.”16

Even oil companies such as BP that have striven to create a “green” image are investing in technologies to extract and refine oil from low-quality sources such as oil shale and tar sands. Extracting oil from such low-quality sources requires more energy and so has not been economically viable with low oil prices. When prices spiked to more than $100 per barrel all that changed, prompting a wave of investment to develop and enlarge this additional source of oil. The recent fall of oil prices to almost a third of oil’s $147 per barrel peak last summer—prompted by the decline in oil consumption brought on by the worldwide recession—has led to a decline in investment in these projects, in some cases by half. Industry experts say that oil must be $70–$80 a barrel for the oil sands industry to be profitable.17 However, when the crisis abates and oil prices reset at higher rates, which they are predicted to do as a result of decreasing conventional oil supplies, this industry will resume its growth.

The amount of oil shale and tar sands waiting to be developed eclipses all known reserves of oil, including that already extracted and used—in excess of two trillion barrels.18 If these corporations are allowed to develop oil sands as an alternative source of oil, the planet is certainly cooked. Extraction not only requires a lot more energy, it produces significantly more greenhouse gases (not to mention huge volumes of rock and dirt that must be removed) to do so. According to theIndependent:

Producing crude oil from the tar sands—a heavy mixture of bitumen, water, sand and clay—found beneath more than 54,000 square miles of prime forest in northern Alberta—an area the size of England and Wales combined—generates up to four times more carbon dioxide, the principal global warming gas, than conventional drilling. The booming oil sands industry will produce 100 million tonnes of CO2 (equivalent to a fifth of the UK’s entire annual emissions) a year by 2012…

The oil rush is also scarring a wilderness landscape: millions of tons of plant life and top soil is scooped away in vast open-pit mines and millions of litres of water are diverted from rivers—up to five barrels of water are needed to produce a single barrel of crude and the process requires huge amounts of natural gas. The industry, which now includes all the major oil multinationals, including the Anglo-Dutch Shell and American combine Exxon-Mobil, boasts that it takes two tonnes of the raw sands to produce a single barrel of oil.19

This has not stopped Tony Hayward, BP’s new chief executive, from declaring the acquisition of Sunrise oil sand refinery in Canada an “excellent asset.” With a proposed investment of $5.5 billion, “BP’s move into oil sands,” according to Hayward, “is an opportunity to build a strategic, material position and the huge potential of Sunrise is the ideal entry point for BP into Canadian oil sands.”20

At the same time that BP—whose slogan “Beyond Petroleum” would be more accurate if it were “Burn the Planet”—was cutting this lucrative deal, Shell quietly announced that it had sold off almost all of its solar energy business. The reason given: “It was not bringing in any profit for us there so we transferred it to another operator.”21

BP is now investing in wind energy in California in anticipation of acquiring market share there if, as expected, President Obama increases subsidies to wind power. However, BP makes more profit in thirteen weeks than it intends to spend on renewables over the next six years.23 Hence this commitment should be seen as BP cornering a niche market, rather than a real commitment to expand wind power.

Oil company priorities are clear: In 2005, according to Shell, only 1 percent of total capital investment went into renewables. This contrasts with 69 percent going towards “scouring the planet for new sources of fossil fuels.”24 Overall, investment in energy research and development, a mere $3 billion in the 2006 federal budget, has declined in real terms by 50 percent since 1979.25 Over the same time period, military research has increased by 260 percent to more than $75 billion a year. As traditional sources of oil diminish, the response from corporations and governments is not to launch a full-scale redirection of resources away from oil extraction, but to prolong its use to secure every single last drop through enhanced recovery techniques such as salt-water injection and horizontal drilling as well as the exploration and annexing of hitherto drill-free wilderness areas and extreme environments under the polar ice-caps. In addition, they plan the creation of an even more polluting industry for the extraction of oil from previously marginal sources such as oil sands and oil shale. Therefore, whether we ever reach “the end of oil” will not be determined by a physical limit or environmental destabilization, but by a social one—what profit can be made versus what resistance to this insanity can be organized.

Geopolitical tensions and oil depletion
Even optimistic (read: oil industry) predictions of when “peak oil” will be reached—when 50 percent of reserves have been used, signaling inexorable price increases as demand outstrips supply—only extend to 2040.26 These facts can only lead in one direction. It is axiomatic that under unfettered capitalism, as long as profits can be made from oil, the “lifeblood of the global economy,”27 they will seek to extract every last drop. Over the last two years ExxonMobil as well as Shell have reported unprecedented profits.28 The crash of oil prices from their peak, prompted by the current economic crisis, will slow this process, but not stop it.

The fight for declining oil resources has already led to increased geopolitical tension in the pristine wilderness of the Arctic after a resurgent Russia, buoyed by profits from natural gas and intent on re-establishing itself as a world power, planted a Russian flag two miles below the Arctic and claimed it as Russian “land.” In the Arctic, sea ice and extreme climate makes off-shore rigs an impossible feat of engineering. For the first time however, with global warming and the reduction in sea ice, off-shore rigs are fast becoming feasible. The Arctic is believed to contain 25 percent of remaining undiscovered reserves and so represents an irresistible prize well-worth going to war over.29 The United States, Canada, and Russia are vying for rights and arguing about how to classify the waters and the land underneath.30 Furthermore, in a move likely to terminate any possibility of survival for the polar bear, let alone for a host of other species clinging to a precarious existence in one of the most extreme environments on earth, global warming has opened up the possibility of turning into reality the fabled Northwest Passage to shipping. Large container ships from Europe will be able to make the trip to Asia one third quicker—an irresistible competitive advantage.31

The conflict in Iraq, and the United States’ unremitting desire to invade and occupy the country, can only be explained by the world’s biggest user seeking to control supply of the world’s most important commodity. Maintaining global economic and military supremacy is simply impossible without control over the single most important resource. This is a goal to which the U.S. ruling class is fully committed, no matter which party is in power.

The conflicts erupting in other oil-producing regions, the jockeying for position by the Great Powers in various oil-states in Africa, the U.S. hostility to Venezuela, the growing U.S. animosity towards Russia, the antagonism between Russia and the countries of the European Union that import its natural gas, the friction around the Caspian and South China Seas: All are potential flashpoints as competition over resources intensifies and threatens to boil over into the traditional way capitalist states resolve their disagreements concerning “vital questions of national security”—open warfare.32 As Chinese and Indian economies expand and their energy demands increase, this can only lead to increasing levels of inter-imperial rivalry as all countries seek to ramp up military spending and grab their share of the remaining resources available. As Michael Klare’s Resource Wars33 makes clear, potential conflicts over oil, water and other dwindling resources are already threatening stability in a succession of areas around the world as global and regional powers make new alliances and seek to maintain or extend their hold over geo-strategically important areas.34

The problem is social, not technical
A recent special issue of Scientific American entitled “Beyond Carbon,”35 put forward “clean coal,” nuclear power, biofuels, and hydrogen cells as the best way to reduce our burning of fossil fuels. But it should be clear by now that these proposed solutions (including carbon-trading schemes) are all a smoke screen for the continuation of business as usual—whatever the cost to the biosphere.

Capitalism is certainly a dynamic economic system, but the last thing it can be described as is rational. The market system of production, particularly under its neo-liberal incarnation, is a sprawling, anarchic, and out-of-control monster. One of the central and inescapable contradictions inherent to capitalism is that even as production in an individual plant or company is highly planned and organized, there is no plan within the broader market—hence the disorganization and over-production intrinsic to the system. Capital will flow to whatever area will make the largest profit. This is not a choice but a compulsion. That is why oil will not be abandoned. To take another example, biofuels, despite their increasingly obvious and well-documented negative impact on food supply, are being touted purely to maintain a car-based (and hence highly profitable) economic structure. Apart from anything else, growing crops in developing countries that are in need of food, only to transport them to developed countries to set fire to them in cars, should be regarded under any rational system as a grotesque crime.

So what can be done? Quite clearly, engaging in individual acts of conservation, recycling, resource restraint, and other actions to reduce your personal “carbon footprint” are self-defeating. It is self-evident that no individual can build a wind turbine on their own, dismantle a coal-fired power station, or set up a light rail system in their city. But these are precisely the kind of systemic and infrastructural changes that are needed to make any kind of difference. Writing in Red Pepper, Kevin Smith, researcher with Carbon Trade Watch, had this to say about the effectiveness and underlying ideological traps that accompany the promotion of changes to personal consumption and carbon offset schemes:

No matter how many low-energy light bulbs you install, or how much recycling you do, there is still the need for more systemic changes to take place in society. No amount of individualistic action is going to bring about this change in itself.

Such changes will not happen without community organizing and collective political action. Yet there are no offset schemes that encourage individuals to engage in collective action to bring about wider structural change. [Carbon] Offset schemes place the onus for climate action on individuals acting in isolation from others. This inhibits their political effectiveness.

The act of commodification at the heart of offset schemes assigns a financial value to the impetus that someone may feel to take climate action, and neatly transforms this potential to bring about change into another market transaction. There is then no urgent need for people to question the underlying assumptions about the nature of the social and economic structures that brought about climate change in the first place.36

Wider structural change must mean curtailing the power of the corporations by forcing governments to regulate their operation. Real environmental reforms can and have been won under capitalism, but only under one proviso—when people collectively demand, organize, and fight for them. The self-regulating capitalist enterprise is a contradiction in terms. Only through governmental regulation such as occurred in the 1970s—changes to laws and the redirection of government subsidies through collective and determined action—can we hope to have an impact on emissions within the time-frame available to us. George Monbiot, the British journalist and environmental activist, in his recent book, Heat, argues that governments will not act until the political cost becomes too high not to:

Governments will pursue this course of inaction [over tackling climate change]—irrespective of the human impacts—while it remains politically less costly than the alternative. The task of climate change campaigners is to make it as [politically] expensive as possible…Of course [the Internet] is marvelously useful, allows us to exchange information, find the facts we need, alert each other to the coming dangers and all the rest of it. But it also creates a false impression of action. It allows us to believe that we can change the world without leaving our chairs.… But by itself, as I know to my cost, writing, reading, debate and dissent change nothing. They are only of value if they inspire action. Action means moving your legs.37

A government action plan on the environment
What should the demands of a new and revitalized environmental justice movement call on President Obama and a Democratic Congress to do? Obama says he wants to prioritize energy and climate change, yet he is also heavily backed by entrenched business interests who want to limit those changes. Only if he comes under pressure from below will he feel compelled to grant reforms. Two recent developments have swung things in our favor. First and foremost, the prevailing idea of the last thirty years—that the market is the single best arbiter of change—has been shattered. The economic turmoil of the last year has ended capitalist triumphalism and its bastard child neoliberalism’s hegemonic claim to legitimacy. Second, there is still a great deal of hope in Obama and expectation for change that can be channeled into a movement to pressure him to go significantly beyond his campaign promises. Ultimately, the extent to which we get positive change will depend on the balance of class forces—how much pressure our side can bring to bear against corporations and the states that serve them.

The arguments for market mechanisms for shared sacrifice to save the environment are part of a class-based response by the ruling elite to allow profit-making to continue while we pay for them to do so. We need to respond with our own class-based solutions—ones that reject market mechanisms and the idea that we must—or even can—make sacrifices. The solutions below are not about sacrifices, but about enhancing our standard of living while delivering real cuts in emissions. It is the corporations that must make sacrifices, not working-class people. The technological capabilities and resources exist to make the dramatic changes needed to reverse climate change; it is the ruling economic interests in society that prevent them from being implemented on the necessary scale.

The energy coming from the sun each day is over 15,000 times greater than humans consume—four orders of magnitude larger—meaning that we only need to harness a fraction of 1 percent in order to satisfy our energy needs.38 According to the authors of a January 2008 Scientific American article, the United States could obtain 69 percent of all its electricity requirements and 35 percent of its total energy demands by 2050 from a single source—solar energy—with the input of $420 billion of investment between 2011 and 2050. In 2050 U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would then be 62 percent below 2005 levels. Such a price tag—$420 billion over forty years—is considerably less than what the Pentagon budget is for a single year; it’s also less than the U.S. farm price support program over the same period.39

One of the technological hurdles making impractical the situating of electricity generators far from population centers is that all electricity is transported as AC (alternating current), making energy losses over long distances prohibitive. Furthermore, there was no equivalent method for transporting and using it as DC (direct current). However, that problem has now been solved, making the locating of vast arrays of free solar energy collecting photovoltaic cells and solar concentrators in the desert Southwest eminently feasible. This would be coupled with building a high voltage DC transmission network to transport the energy all over the country. According to the authors of the Scientific American article, the area required would be just 19 percent of suitable (i.e. barren, with no competing uses) land in the Southwest and would negate the need for 300 coal plants and 300 natural gas plants. If this system were set up in conjunction with a massive expansion of wind, tidal, and wave power, the United States could generate all of its energy from renewable sources. The potential for power generation using the wind is similarly enormous, particularly from off-shore wind farms. But even onshore, by one estimate, 80 percent of current electrical demand in the United States could be met by the wind energy of North Dakota and South Dakota alone.40 Another recent study of 8,000 wind records from all continents calculated a wind power potential of 72 terawatts. This is forty times the amount of electricity consumed by every country on the planet in 2000.40

Of course, one obvious drawback to using the sun and wind as a basis for power generation is that it’s not always sunny or windy, and this has been one of the major advantages of conventional power stations. Large storage facilities would need to be built to ensure a continuous supply of base-load electricity. This can now be done as successful demonstrations of storing energy as compressed air in underground caverns have shown, as well as storing energy as hot salt in insulated containers. According to the Electric Power Research Institute, suitable geologic formations for underground storage exist in 75 percent of the country—far more environmentally benign than using them to store high pressure CO2. The natural gas industry currently stores eight trillion cubic feet of natural gas underground in 400 underground reservoirs—so we know there’s capacity and the technology is already well-proven.41

Geothermal energy also shows great promise. According to a recent British Royal Society article, based on an MIT study, the potential for geothermal energy in the United States—with currently available technology and energy that is easily extractable with minimal environmental impacts or emissions—represents 2,000 times the current primary energy use of the United States.

A renewed emphasis on alternative energy and the infrastructure to support it would have the added beneficial effect of not just making us carbon free by 2050 but creating millions of new high-skilled jobs. In addition, by reducing the number of coal plants, air quality, and public health would see major improvement. The single biggest emitter of carcinogenic dioxins and mercury into the atmosphere are coal-fired power plants. Coal plants are also a major emitter of small (less than 10 microns) particulates. This type of particle is part of a “deadly cocktail of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols that [in major U.S. cities] can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end. The body’s natural defenses, coughing and sneezing, fail to keep these microscopic particles from burrowing deep within the lungs, triggering serious problems such as breathing, asthma and heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and even early death.”42

Ozone, along with these small particulates, is a major component of the brown haze over all cities around the world—collectively known as “smog”—which is given off by car exhausts. While ozone is good for stopping UV (ultraviolet) rays in the upper atmosphere, when breathed in at ground level it irritates the respiratory tract and “causes health problems such as asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing, chest pain and even premature death.”43 According to the American Lung Association’s latest State of the Air report, one in ten Americans live in areas with unhealthful levels of all three types of air pollution—ozone and short-term and year-round particulate pollution. Two in five people live in counties that have either ozone or particulate pollution and nearly a third live in areas with unhealthful ozone levels.44 Therefore, the energy plan needs to be part of a national transportation, housing and energy efficiency plan.

The heating of water and the heating and cooling of residential and commercial space account for almost 40 percent of electrical power generation requirements and are therefore a substantial contributor to CO2 emissions. Buildings need to be either retrofitted for insulation or torn down and rebuilt with energy efficiency in mind. Currently, buildings are constructed to the lowest standards of energy efficiency, and beyond some construction safety codes, any further meddling by the government is regarded as unwarranted intrusion into the market. Millions of homes, for example, are built without cavity wall insulation, even though injecting mineral micro-fibers between the bricks pays for itself in two to five years.45 In the 1980s, a type of house called a “Passivhaus” was designed, and in Germany many thousands have been built. The house, which looks like any other house from the outside, is super-insulated and so well designed that it does not need an active heating or cooling system at all. This type of house uses three-quarters less energy than a typical building of comparable size and only costs around 10 percent more than an equivalent home. The government should mandate that new buildings are constructed to this standard and enforce energy efficiency regulations on construction companies. Using regulation to force companies to comply, rather than market incentives such as subsidies to corporations or tax deductions to consumers, ensures that far more rapid progress is made. This is because rather than relying on the minority of middle-class people with some disposable income or “responsible” corporations to make changes, everyone has to comply.

In terms of transportation, rail and bus systems need to be nationalized so that a coherent national plan can be developed to enhance the quality of travel and reduce energy use. Currently private companies only run extensive services along commuter routes that are highly trafficked, predictable, and hence highly profitable. Subsidies currently given to the private airline companies should be cut off and redirected to the building of high-speed train lines to massively reduce or eradicate the need for superfluous business and short-haul flights. If people need more holiday time because they’re taking the train, how about increasing paid vacation time by four days a year? Or bringing it in line with Europe, where people have four to six weeks of paid vacation. Public tram lines and light rail need to be built in all major cities. Subway and bus lines need to be increased and made free. This would allow for the banning of cars from congested areas of city centers and allow for enlarged green spaces by reducing the need for parking lots. City centers need to be made bike- and people-friendly by closing off streets to private cars and massively extending and augmenting bike routes. Regulations for fuel efficiency need to be tightened to move beyond current European efficiency standards. With the strategic building of new rail lines from manufacturers and air and sea ports to distribution points near cities, freight—the vast majority of which is moved around the country by trucks in the United States—can be moved back to trains, which are much more efficient and less polluting.

Who’s going to build all these new trains, buses, wind turbines, and track? Instead of an Obama administration handing further billions over to GM, Ford, and Chrysler to continue to make earth-despoiling products that nobody wants, the government needs to take ownership and control: rehire and retrain the already skilled workforce and switch the factories to make the things we need. If they can part-nationalize the banks, we can fully nationalize (with control as well as ownership) the auto companies and stop their begging before Congress for more blank checks as they private-jet it back to Detroit.

These proposals could theoretically be carried out under capitalist social relations through governmental regulation, particularly by a pro-active and forward thinking Obama administration—the one everyone hopes for. But while there will certainly be a most welcome change of tone and a much more serious approach to energy and climate change, some of the early signs are not as promising as the rhetoric of change would suggest. Obama has committed to spend $15 billion per year on renewable energy research. Not only does this amount still fall far short of the Pentagon’s research budget, he intends to obtain that money from sales of carbon credits, his other major policy initiative. While he says that all of these credits will be auctioned, this is nevertheless the same system which has failed to deliver cuts in Europe.46

We need a far bigger vision for change. To cut costs, mass production is what’s needed, not just more research. It took Congress—pushed by Obama—less than a week to decide to hand over $700 billion to the banks with no democratic oversight or control. Every year they vote to hand the Pentagon sums now approaching a staggering $1 trillion and further tens of billions to the oil, coal, nuclear and gas industries. These are the kind of amounts we need to be talking about spending to implement a comprehensive, effective and timely national plan on energy and emissions. Rather than cuts to state and federal budgets, cuts need to be made to the Pentagon and more money raised by a “windfall tax” on the super-profits being made by the oil giants and increases to the top rate of tax for the stratospherically rich.

As well as being for nuclear power, “clean coal” technology, ethanol from corn, and a cap-and-trade scheme, Obama is for off-shore drilling and boosting domestic production of oil even though, by his own admission, it is totally inadequate to wean the US off “foreign oil.” According to his campaign literature, he is for opening up more land to drilling across the United States, including the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska and prioritizing the building of a second Alaska pipeline for natural gas extraction. Unbelievably, he is also for developing low-grade oil shale reserves, one of the most polluting industries imaginable, in Montana and North Dakota. These are not the kind of changes we need or people voted to see.

As planetary environmental degradation increases and individual climate-related disasters such as Hurricane Katrina multiply, even without an environmental justice movement it is probable governments and corporations will be pushed into implementing some genuine, albeit limited, reforms—as it looks like Obama will do. Some of the more far-sighted corporations without significant investments in fossil fuels will see the way the wind is blowing and that money can be made from investing in alternative energies. However, bringing about the kind of changes we need, systematically and in the near-term, will require a mass movement that emulates those of the 1960s, one that can argue and fight for these changes and take head on the argument that the market is the single best arbiter of what should and shouldn’t be produced. In addition, such a movement will require squarely placing the blame where it lies: unregulated free-market capitalism. If such a movement does not link up with the people who make all of the products in the world—the global working class—and forcefully argue that this is not about sacrifice but improving lives and creating jobs, it is hard to see how it could be even minimally successful.

Given the recurring economic crises that have wracked capitalism since the early 1970s, any movement for environmental change will require a more steadfast, determined, and clear-sighted set of politics and organization than ever before. Concessions which eat into short-term profitability and that disadvantage those corporations and countries that enact them will provoke steadfast resistance from the vested corporate interests that stand to lose out. Taking on the oil industry, with a global turnover of $2.4 trillion,47 would require a truly massive international movement. Ultimately, even were some of these reforms to be granted—and we should fight for them as we push for more—they will ultimately be insufficient to address the scale of the crisis.

The real difficulty with fulfilling this reformist scenario, even with a militant and broad-based mass environmental movement to demand it, is that the environmental crisis is global, close at hand, and vast in scope. It requires the complete retooling of society in every sphere of activity: energy production, distribution and storage; transportation; housing and town planning; agriculture and the production of commodities. As can be seen from the abject failure of Kyoto and the imperial conflicts around the globe, it is utterly impossible for competing capitalist states to plan and coordinate on this level. Such planning could only realistically come about through a completely different way of organizing production—one based not on making a profit but meeting human need.

Marxism and the environment
While life will evolve and biodiversity will eventually be reestablished on a planet that is several degrees warmer than today, it will do so on a timescale vastly greater than human planning and life-spans could possibly contemplate. In the interim period, 50 to 90 percent of species currently extant will die out as they will be unable to adapt fast enough to such rapid changes and the resulting breakdown in ecosystems within which these species are embedded. It is not just the amount of climatic change that will be so devastating to ecosystems, but just as important, the rate at which that change occurs. Alongside such drastic reductions in biodiversity, human misery will increase exponentially. Mass migration, droughts, floods, wars and famine will be endemic rather than periodic features of a greatly constrained human society.

Frederick Engels outlined more than one hundred years ago the contradictions between an exploitative, short-term relationship of humanity to nature and the long-term problems that that would inevitably engender:

Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centers and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. When the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests on the southern slopes, so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, making possible for them to pour still more furious torrents on the plains during the rainy season… Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside of nature—but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage of all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.48

This failure to take into account the long-term, unintended consequences of human actions reaches its height of contradiction under capitalism where both the scale of the destructive impact of these unintended consequences, as well as the scientific and material means to overcome them, develop in tandem. Writes Engels:

Classical political economy, the social science of the bourgeoisie, in the main examines only social effects of human actions in the fields of production and exchange that are actually intended. This fully corresponds to the social organization of which it is the theoretical expression. As individual capitalists are engaged in production and exchange for the sake of the immediate profit, only the nearest, most immediate results must first be taken into account. As long as the individual manufacturer or merchant sells a manufactured or purchased commodity with the usual coveted profit, he is satisfied and does not concern himself with what afterwards becomes of the commodity and its purchasers. The same thing applies to the natural effects of the same actions. What cared the Spanish planters in Cuba, who burned down forests on the slopes of the mountains and obtained from the ashes sufficient fertilizer for one generation of very highly profitable coffee trees—what cared they that the heavy tropical rainfall afterwards washed away the unprotected upper stratum of the soil, leaving behind only bare rock! In relation to nature, as to society, the present mode of production is predominantly concerned only about the immediate, the most tangible result.49

Today, all of the solutions to climate change are already technologically feasible and we have the means to implement them on a global scale as well as the knowledge of what will happen if we don’t. We are being held back not because solutions don’t exist or that money is not available, but because current social relations will not allow them. As Trotsky wrote in 1926:

I remember the time when men wrote that the development of aircraft would put an end to war, because it would draw the whole population into military operations, would bring to ruin the economic and cultural life of entire countries, etc. In fact, however, the invention of the flying machine heavier than air opened a new and crueler chapter in the history of militarism. There is no doubt now, too, we are approaching the beginning of a still more frightful and bloody chapter. Technology and science have their own logic—the logic of the cognition of nature and the mastering of it in the interests of man. But technology in itself cannot be called either militaristic or pacifistic. In a society in which the ruling class is militaristic, technology is in the service of militarism.50

Today, we clearly have governments overtly committed to militarism to extend the economic reach of their own national group of capitalists. As all mainstream predictions by the United Nations and the International Energy Agency point toward growing worldwide use of fossil fuel energy, waiting for real and meaningful solutions to emerge from governments guarantees humanity a desperate future and many species a short one. The raison d’être of capitalism is profit based on continual economic expansion. Capitalism has in effect and in practice alienated humanity from nature by privatizing the land and making all things into a commodity, even pollution itself. Marx explains this alienation from labor thus: “As for the farmer, the industrial capitalist and the agricultural worker, they are no more bound to the land they exploit than are the employer and the worker in the factories to the cotton and wool they manufacture; they feel an attachment only for the price of their production, the monetary product.”51

Capitalism is an economic system profoundly and irrevocably at odds with a sustainable planet, as it requires ever-greater material and energy throughput to keep expanding. Capitalism simultaneously and of necessity exploits the land and the people and sacrifices the interests of both on the altar of profit. Philosophically, the attitude capitalism takes to the environment, and the attitude it forces us to adopt, is one of separation and alienation. As a species we are forcibly cut off from the land, separated from nature, and alienated from coevolving with it. It’s an attitude amply summed up by Marx in Volume 1 of Capital:

Capitalist production… disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, i.e. prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; it therefore violates the conditions necessary to lasting fertility of the soil…. The social combination and organization of the labor processes is turned into an organized mode of crushing out the workman’s individual vitality, freedom and independence… Moreover, all progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is a progress towards ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility. The more a country starts its development on the foundation of modern industry, like the United States, for example, the more rapid is this process of destruction. Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology… only be sapping the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the worker.52

Contrary to a common perception, much of it understandably based on the diabolical environmental depredations carried out in the name of socialism by the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, Marx and Engels had a much more holistic view of humankind’s place in the environment. They viewed humans not as something separate from the environment, as capitalist ideological orthodoxy does, but dialectically interpenetrating with it. Writes Marx on the relationship between nature and humanity:

Nature is man’s inorganic body, that is to say, nature in so far as it is not the human body. Man lives from nature, i.e. nature is his body, and he must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if he is not to die. To say man’s physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.53

The organism interacts with its environment while simultaneously the environment acts back on the organism. In the process, both are changed. The environment is no longer a passive object to be shaped at will by whatever life-form comes along, but plays a role in making the organism what it is. In this view, it is impossible to speak of any living thing, humans and their activity included, as anything but deeply enmeshed within each other, in a constant process of mutual interaction and transformation. The very idea of an environment has no meaning unless we are talking about an organism’s relationship to it. For Marx and Engels, writing in the German Ideology, human activity had the potential to alienate all creatures from their environments:

The “essence” of the fish is its “being,” water… The “essence” of the freshwater fish is the water of a river. But the latter ceases to be the essence of the fish and so is no longer a suitable medium for existence as soon as the river is made to serve industry, as soon as it is polluted by dyes and other waste products and navigated by steamboats, or as soon as its water is diverted into canals where simple drainage can deprive fish of its medium of existence.54

Climate, and the earth’s ecosystem more generally, is dynamic and complex; it is best viewed as a process of many interacting factors. Every change feeds back and creates new effects on all actors. This leads to the concept of tipping points and holism—central concepts within Marxism. Violent shocks to the system over relatively brief timescales have dominated previous climate swings, as have the revolutionary social changes that ushered capitalism onto the world historic stage. The great concern among scientists is that we are fast approaching just such a tipping point with global climate. The great concern among socialists is that we are not approaching just such a revolutionary tipping point with regard to society.

Ending the contradiction between humanity and nature requires “something more than mere knowledge. It requires a complete revolution in our hitherto existing mode of production, and simultaneously a revolution in our whole contemporary social order.”55 To truly end the exploitation of nature in the service of profit requires that the profit motive be excised from society in a revolutionary reconstitution of society by the majority on whose labor the system depends. The right to privately own the land and the means of production, which lies at the very root of capitalist economics, forces the population at large to work for a living at the behest of private capital, and must be abolished. Only by holding land—the ultimate repository of all wealth—along with the instruments of production in common and producing to meet social need will the simultaneous exploitation of nature and humanity end. In this way, humans can interact with nature according to a conscious plan, utilizing the scientific knowledge and techniques that we already possess to organize production and distribution on a completely new footing that thus establishes a more harmonious relationship between humanity and nature.

The rapacity of capitalism knows no bounds. Indeed, capitalism, by its very nature is “unbounded”—as soon as a limit or boundary is reached, it must exceed it. Capitalism has reached a point in its development that now threatens the basic biogeochemical processes of the planet as human civilization has come to know them. Ecological devastation is not an accidental outcome of capitalist development, but, as with class exploitation and war, an intrinsic element of the system.

The introduction of new technology on its own does not alter the nature of capitalism’s “treadmill of production,” but merely serves to speed it up in new directions and enlarge the scale of the economy yet further. Capitalism’s waste of resources and its sickening sense of priorities are plumbing new depths of absurdity and depravity. Apart from the $1 trillion spent annually on advertising and the $1.2 trillion on arms spending (with the United States accounting for over half of what the world spends), import tariffs and subsidies in developed countries dictate that 400 million European cows get paid better ($2 per day each) for metabolizing grass than one billion people living on $1 per day. As Eric Toussaint points out in Your Money or Your Life, 147 people on Forbes’ 2002 list of the “World’s Richest People” had a combined wealth of over $1 trillion dollars—equivalent to the combined income of half the planet’s population.56

The world market involves a great deal of socially unnecessary trade. Because of subsidies, many goods from one country are cheaper than the same good produced in another country, decimating local agriculture and manufacturing as well as increasing global greenhouse gas emissions by having container ships plying the seas in ever increasing numbers. Due to the tax structure, it can often be more profitable to export from your own country than to supply a domestic market, thus requiring imports of goods that the country actually makes itself. To take just one example, in 1999 Britain exported 111 million liters of milk and 47 million kilos of butter. In exactly the same period, it imported 173 million liters of milk and 49 million kilos of butter.57

There is a growing realization by some sections of the ruling class that they really do need to do something about climate change. However, a massive redirection of wealth toward renewable energy runs directly counter to the deep-rooted self-interest and short-term profitability of the biggest and most powerful corporations on the planet. A recent poll of 500 major businesses revealed that only one in ten regarded climate change as a priority.58 The short-termism of capitalism and the gigantic size of the investments in fossil-fuel related industries ultimately make any comprehensive solution within the system utopian, even as some valuable reforms will occur. More fundamentally, as long as inter-imperial rivalry and military competition between states exists, it is impossible to speak seriously of a reduction in military spending.

The fact that some companies and world leaders have to at least pay lip service to making systemic changes is a reflection of the mounting pressure placed on them by people around the world genuinely concerned with pollution and climate change. This is where the hope lies. However, our vision needs to go much, much further than the changes so far on the table and to incorporate activists not as consumers but where our real power resides—as producers. Apart from the tiny sliver of the population at the top of society hell-bent on accumulation and the continuation of business as usual—with the attendant war, racism, famine, and environmental degradation that that prospect necessarily entails—the rest of the population of the planet has a direct interest in ending this madness and has the means to do so. Only a socialist future holds out the hope of a sustainable one for the planet. We need to build a global society where production is democratically decided upon and centered around what nature and humanity collectively need. To do this means overthrowing capitalism and abolishing the “metabolic rift.”59 There is simply no other alternative. However, time is short and organization lacking—the fact that something is necessary does not make it inevitable. Only by organizing and fighting for change on a class basis will this possible future become a real one.

Read the first half of this article in Issue 62

  1. Dilip Hiro, Blood of the Earth: The Battle for the World’s Vanishing Oil Resources (New York: Nation Books, 2007), 255.
  2. Helen Caldicott, Nuclear Power is Not the Answer (New York: New Press, 2006), 6.
  3. Hiro, Blood of the Earth, 304.
  4. John Broder, “Industry flexes muscle, a weaker energy bill passes,”New York Times, December 14, 2007.
  5. Quoted in Ibid.
  6. Quoted in Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Juliette Jowit, “Biofuels do ‘more harm than good,’” Guardian, January 20 2008.
  9. Nigel Hunt, “FACTBOX: World biofuels production and its ?impact,” Reuters, June 3, 2008,
  10. Robert L. Evans, Fueling Our Future: An Introduction to Sustainable Energy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 103.
  11. Nancy Pelosi, “Pelosi on Energy Bill: ‘This is a Choice Between Yesterday and Tomorrow,” press release, December 18, 2007,
  12. For more details on the EV1 story see Who Killed the Electric Car?,, and the “EV1 White Paper,” For discussion of Chevron’s role in killing the car, see On California’s ZEV mandate, see Chuck Squatriglia, “California Cuts ZEV Mandate In Favor of Plug-In Hybrids,” March 27, 2008,
  13. Barack Obama and Joe Biden, “New Energy for America,” campaign statement on energy,
  14. Stephen Ansolabehere, Janos Beer, et al., The Future of Coal: Options for a Carbon-Constrained World (Cambridge, Mass.: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2007). Available at
  15. Fred Pearce, “Time to bury the ‘clean coal’ myth,” Guardian, October 30, 2008.
  16. Clifford Krauss, “Energy research on a shoestring,” New York Times, January 25, 2007.
  17. “Further signs of stress in Canada’s oil sands,” Associated Press, November 17, 2008. Available at
  18. Kenneth Deffeyes, Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert’s Peak(New York: Hill and Wang, 2005), Chapters 6 and 7.
  19. Cahal Milmo, “Biggest environmental crime in history,”Independent, December 10, 2007.
  20. Mark Milner, “BP to pump billions into oil sands despite green worries and high costs,” Guardian, December 6, 2007.
  21. Terry Macalister, “Big oil lets sun set on renewables,” Guardian, December 11, 2007.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Fred Pearce, “Green wash: BP and the myth of a world ‘beyond petroleum,’” Guardian, November 20, 2008.
  24. Gareth Dale, “‘On the menu or at the table’: corporations and climate change,” International Socialism 116 (Autumn 2007), 119.
  25. Clifford Krauss, “Energy research on a shoestring.”
  26. Paul Roberts, The End of Oil (New York: Mariner Books, 2005). See also Deffeyes, Beyond Oil.
  27. Ian Sample, “Oil Shock—the real crisis has yet to hit,” New Scientist, June 28–July 4, 2008, 34.
  28. Terry Macalister, “Shell’s record profits branded ‘obscene,’”Guardian, January 31, 2008.
  29. Michael Klare, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008), 60.
  30. Julian Borger, “Closed door Arctic deal denounced as ‘carve up,’”Guardian, May 28, 2008.
  31. Robin McKie, “Arctic thaw opens up fabled trade route,” Guardian, September 16, 2007.
  32. See Klare, Rising Power, Shrinking Planet.
  33. Michael Klare, Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict (New York: Owl Books, 2002).
  34. For more details on the implications of the rise of China, India, and Russia for geopolitical conflict over diminishing resources, see Klare, Rising Power, Shrinking Planet.
  35. Scientific American Special Issue: Beyond Carbon, September 2006.
  36. Penny Cole and Philip Wade, Running A Temperature: An Action Plan for the Eco-Crisis (London: Lupus Books, 2007).
  37. George Monbiot, Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning(Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press, 2007).
  38. Williams Hoagland, “Solar energy: Technology will allow radiation from the sun to provide non-polluting and cheap fuels, as well as electricity,” in Oil and the Future of Energy (Guildford, Conn.: Lyons Press, 2007).
  39. Zweibel, Mason, Fthwenakis, “A grand plan for solar energy,”Scientific American, January 2008.
  40. Caldicott, Nuclear Power is not the Answer, 168.
  41. The Royal Society, Philosophical Transactions Series A: Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences 365 (2007), 1057–1094.
  42. American Lung Association, “State of the air report,” May 1, 2008,
  43. Ibid.
  44. Ibid.
  45. Monbiot, Heat, 65.
  46. Details of the failure of carbon trading to deliver cuts in emissions can be found in part 1 of this article: Chris Williams, “Hothouse Earth: Capitalism, Climate Change and the Fate of Humanity,” International Socialist Review 62 (November–December 2008), 48–58.
  47. Hiro, Blood of the Earth, 333.
  48. John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature(New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000).
  49. Frederick Engels, “The part played by labor in the transition from ape to man,” available at
  50. Leon Trotsky, Problems of Everyday Life (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973), 317.
  51. Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology, 132.
  52. Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 1 (New York: International Publishers, 1967), 505.
  53. Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology, 72.
  54. Ibid., 112.
  55. Engels, “Part played by labor.”
  56. Eric Toussaint, Your Money or Your Life: The Tyranny of Global Finance (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2005), 34. By 2008, it was the top thirty-nine billionaires on Forbes’ list whose combined net worth topped $1 trillion. See richest_07billionaires_cz_lk_af_ 0308billie_land.html.
  57. Ibid., 77.
  58. Tricia Holly Davis, Geoffrey Lean and Susie Mesure, “Big business says addressing climate change ‘rates very low on agenda,’”Independent, January 28, 2008.
  59. The concept of the “metabolic rift” was developed by Marx to explain humanity’s separation from nature, caused by class societies and brought to its apex under capitalism. It is a central part of understanding our alienation from nature and underlines the need to overcome it. See Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology for details.


Issue #103

Winter 2016-17

"A sense of hope and the possibility for solidarity"

Interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
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