Socialism 2017 – Eco-Socialism FTF (For The Future)

The Socialism 2017 Conference takes place this week in Chicago. Their schedule of lectures came with a handy reading-list. There will be historical lectures going right back to the Russian Revolution, analyses of various social movements, and an A User’s Guide to Marxism series covering the historical manifestations of Marx-inspired governments. This week I will cover the readings for the eco-socialism lectures with you. Eco-socialism and environmental justice will be covered in five lectures at the conference.

The green-aspect of social justice organizing interests me because responding to climate change and improving the living conditions of the impoverished masses are connected missions. The worst polluters in industry disproportionately mar the ecosystems surrounding communities of color. These communities are targeted because they have a lack of political power. In more affluent communities the citizens have more power to say no to a paper mill or coal plant in their neighborhood. The prevalence of pollution-heavy industry in non-white communities is referred to as environmental racism. The concept of environmental racism connects environmental concerns and the experiences of oppressed groups. It is strategically significant because targeted action to address environmental racism allows campaigns to address environmental and racial issues together.


Phil Gasper on Is It Too Late to Save the Environment? | Thu 3pm

“Does Trump’s Paris pullout mean game over?” | Phil Gasper

This essay analyzed the Trump Administration’s announcement of the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Although the author recognized that the agreement is insufficient to keep the average temperature rise below 2℃, or 3.6℉, he argued that stepping away from the agreement is the wrong move. Climate action from the UN needs to be binding, it needs to focus on making deeper emissions cuts with the goal of moving entirely away from fossil fuel energy, and it cannot rely on market mechanisms such as cap and trade because they are easily worked around by determined capitalists and do not reduce emissions. But responding to climate change is necessary, and at this late point any action is better than none.

Gasper ended the essay by admitting that he thinks the climate is salvageable. He wrote, “the problem is mainly political, not technological. We could transition the United States and most of the rest of the planet to renewable energy sources by 2050 if there was the political will.” He also pointed out that there is an opportunity in the side-effects to Trump’s reactionary politics. People are being radicalized for and against Trump, and their radicalizations could be leveraged to build sufficient political power to produce rapid changes for the benefit of the climate.


Lauren Fleer, Zach Zill and Todd St. Hill on Environmental Racism and the Origins of the Environmental Justice Movement | Fri 4pm

“We need a unified environmental movement” | Nikeeta Slade

This essay explained the reality of environmental racism and the perspective of environmental justice. Earth Day to May Day is a campaign started in 2014 by the Global Climate Convergence. It connected environmental activism with the struggles of oppressed people. Earth Day is near the end of April and May Day, the original Labor Day, is on May 1. This encourages interaction between the people organizing the labor and environmental events. The concepts central to this essay explain why an environmental movement should connect its goals with the liberation of oppressed people worldwide.

Citizens of Afton, NC in 1982 stalling trucks hauling PCB contaminated soil into their community.

Environmental justice became a concept in the 1980’s. The author discussed its debut with the story of a majorly black community in NC. The people of Afton were sick of having the government place dirty industries in their communities. Five-hundred people laid in front of the construction vehicles coming to build a landfill. The landfill was built but their rebellion brought attention to the fact that pollution-heavy industries were, and still are, significantly more likely to do business in non-white communities. This caused a split in the environmental community between missions focused on the conservation of nature and those focused on environmental justice.

Environmental justice connected the way markets treat the environment with the way they treat marginalized communities. This connection is disturbing, but it is also a great focal point for anybody interested in climate action. Slade described it like this, “Addressing the systemic issues that adversely affect the overall health and well being of communities of color must be at the center of fights for environmental justice.” She then pivoted to discuss how women of color are on the front lines of the fight to save a livable climate.

The Mothers of East LA (MELA) and the indigenous women behind Idle No More prove her point. They are women-led organizations using their voices and claiming their rights to fight against environmental destruction and the oppression of their communities. MELA successfully fought a pipeline and hazardous waste incinerator in East LA and Idle No More uses indigenous claims to land from treaties with the Canadian and US governments to argue for the protection of their land. These women from communities of color, and many groups like them, built an avenue of resistance to the fossil fuel energy system which holds a decent amount of leverage. They advocate for their legitimate grievances through the courts, community organizing, and direct action.

Mothers of East Los Angeles walk across Olympic Blvd. Bridge, in 1986, to protest the construction of a prison in East LA. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

The power and resistance coming from marginalized communities should give some joy to skeptics of our ability to overcome climate change. She closed the essay with this paragraph: “It is sometimes argued that issues like reproductive justice and racial justice either “divide” the movement or are tangential to it, but the contrary is true. Building a unified and diverse movement that fights alongside and for those who are the most affected is exactly what it is going to take to stop the destruction of our communities and our planet as a whole.” This unified and diverse movement, in the hands of the communities most directly impacted by our ecocidal society, would potentially hold the extra weight to make the leverage behind arguments of environmental justice unbearable to entrenched fossil fuel interests.


Benoit Renaud and Nick Estes on Keep the Oil in the Soil: Fighting Against the Pipelines | Sat 9.30am

“Fighting the pipeline menace” | Brian Ward

This 2014 essay focused on the fight against Keystone XL. Ward discussed the history of resistance to the pipeline with a focus on actions taking place in the Capital. He failed to give sufficient coverage to the resistance to the pipeline in the field. But I believe his point here is that pressure in the Capital helped to move Obama from a negligent stance on climate change to an actively neutral stance. His thesis in the article was that the youth- and native-led movement to move past fossil fuels would benefit from an infusion of labor manpower.

Environmental activists gather outside the White House on Aug. 22, 2011, as they continue a civil disobedience campaign against a proposed oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

The article began with a discussion of the Obama Administration’s ‘All-Of-The-Above’ energy policy. It had a distinct lack of ambition, or even interest in taking climate change seriously. The opposition to KXL, in its sixth year, brought pressure to the administration’s door with marches and actions around the White House beginning in 2011. Between 2011 and 2014 consistent pressure was placed on the Obama White House to oppose KXL. Then, when an environmental review performed by a firm associated with the pipeline claimed it would not damage the environment Obama was placed between his fossil fuel donors and a pro-water, scientifically-literate voting bloc of students and Indigenous Americans. The side against oil spills eventually saw Obama cancel the KXL permit, although if you are reading this you know that his successor immediately re-permitted the pipeline.

The essay ended by arguing that the movement to block fossil fuel infrastructure expansion will be futile if it cannot garner the support of labor. Here he indulges in one of my favorite past-times, quoting Naomi Klein at length. Klein discussed that climate change can be an opportunity for workers to demand improved working conditions and environmental protections. Labor holds the power to catalyze an economic shift toward clean practices. By this the author and Naomi Klein mean that the working class, including the people who would be laying the pipelines, hold the power to demand that our governments build an egalitarian, just world.   

PCB landfill protest in Afton, North Carolina, September 1982. (Jerome Friar/UNC Libraries)

Sean Petty and Elizabeth Lalasz on Labor and Environmental Justice: History, Debates and Possibilities | Sat 11.30am

“Tackling the jobs vs. the environment myth” | Michael War

On the streets in the Keystone XL debate it was common to hear people in suits engaging protesters with the arguments that pipelines are not pretty but they are cleaner than trucking the fossil fuels and they create jobs for Americans. These arguments are sparse on their understanding that if the fossil fuels do not stay in the ground the third mass extinction might reach us. But they are also incorrect in that all pipelines spill and the jobs they bring to Americans are majorly temporary. Out of the tens-of-thousands of jobs created by KXL, 35 to 50 are permanent

This essay, written in 2013, looked at KXL and the AFL-CIO’s decision to endorse the project. They endorsed the project because the construction industry was in a depression. Ware countered that, “Faced with twin economic and environmental crises, both caused by the free market, working people have to stand together to confront both. Instead, union leaders are siding with those who have spread the misery of unemployment, and who view the health and well-being of living things as an obstacle to higher returns on their investments.” He argued that the AFL-CIO, in the interests of the construction industry, should have agitated for a massive investment in energy efficiency and infrastructure. He noted that unions such as the Transport Worker Union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, and National Nurses United had endorsed a Green New Deal and opposed pipeline infrastructure advancement.

He ended the essay with a call for a mass movement to support innovative policies to tax polluters and invest in eco-friendly infrastructure projects. To win these change he calls for a coalition. “The climate justice movement, the indigenous movement and the labor movement must link arms and recognize a common enemy. Labor has a unique opportunity to rebuild itself by spearheading the fight against climate change–and thereby winning full employment and a much stronger base of members and supporters.” The last line is about reclaiming the Obama campaign’s, “Yes we can”, slogan. It is possible for a mass movement to take political power but it needs to be done soon, and bringing the working class to the table is a complex task.   


Fred Magdoff and Michael Ware on Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation | Sat 2pm

“What must be done to stop climate change?” | Chris Williams

The last reading for this series reinforced the general theme connecting these essays. The climate situation is dire and it is being continuously exacerbated by the fossil fuel industry and all of the infrastructure critical to its maintenance. It is feasibly possible for humanity to enact a system that provides for everybody’s needs, protects the natural systems which regulate the climate, and preserves a livable planet. It is not possible to do those things within the confines of Oligarchy. To preserve life on our planet we need a broad coalition of people to build political power globally and demand an appropriate response to climate change and the introduction of universal human rights.

The article was also written in 2013, it calls for stopping the Keystone XL pipeline as a last-stand. I am of the opinion that any climate action humanity takes from here, in 2017 after very moderate action in the last three years, is mitigation. But this article provides a realistic reason for optimism by quoting the report of an energy analyst comparing the costs of fossil fuel subsidies with those of renewable infrastructure projects. The analyst, Chris Nelder, claimed that for $25 trillion over 20 years we can, “repair our existing infrastructure, transition transportation to rail, transition the power grid to renewables, upgrade the entire grid, and solve the carbon problem, to have free fuel forever”. He compared this to a $32 trillion bill over the same period to maintain our planet-killing fossil fuel infrastructure.


Industrial capitalism added climate change to the menu of side-effects experienced by humanity as the powerful swallow the drug of material success. Those who could afford to build towers of coins, continued building their towers. When building towers of coins became easier supplemented by the emissions of coal, nobody thought twice about it, even after we learned it could threaten our existence on the planet, even now that we know it does. This weight of injustice has been felt by subjugated populations throughout history. It is not hard to reason that the main reason climate change garnered popular support in recent decades is because it has begun to affect people with privileged backgrounds. When affluent feel pain the world knows. These essays made sure that any response to climate change is interlinked the liberation of oppressed people.

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