What do you think of our introduction to the environment?

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Ed's picture
Ed
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Jun 4 2013 21:27
What do you think of our introduction to the environment?

We have just published a draft of our new introductory guide on the state here:
http://libcom.org/library/environment-introduction

as with our other intros, we want to get readers' views, so we can improve the article.

So what does everyone think? In particular, we haven't put down a more info/further reading section yet? Is there anything the you guys would suggest?

Any thoughts massively welcome!

Ed's picture
Ed
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Jun 4 2013 21:55

Just remembered that I read this about ten years ago and though it was really good.. will prob chuck it in..

woooo
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Jun 5 2013 06:12

Ocean acidification could be incorporated.

Deforestation.

I know it's an intro but a discussion of redd+, carbon markets, new enclosures etc, displacement by mega projects outside of Europe/Australia/us ...

It is not always true ( but mostly is ) that people live in their own communities. Increasingly fly in fly out or a large commute means that outside of work can be ignored. Leaving indigenous people who live close by fucked over. Chemical valley in Canada an example.

vicent
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Jun 5 2013 08:08

great stuff!

maybe some more scary figures would be good too

for instance the fishing situation is seriously fucked -

http://mcbi.marine-conservation.org/what/what_pdfs/LastWildHuntPR_FinalFeb14_2007.pdf?ID=150

and 80% of the forests are gone

and dispel that population myth too

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Jun 5 2013 09:58

Glad to see this introduction- good work!

I would also add something on deforestation, but perhaps broaden it out to general destruction/ fragmentation/ alteration of complex ecosystems to create commercial farmland and other profit-generating infrastructure (mines, urban development etc) and link this with loss of biodiversity (not just global extinction but local loss/ decline of species is v important too) and the impact on essential ecosystem services- clean air, clean water, biodiversity (as a resource e.g. for new crops, new medicines etc), weather and climate regulation, soil fertility etc

It can be pointed out that people are capable of creating human habitats that promote and enhance biodiversity and other ecosystem services. Its possible to use permaculture design (as well as learning from more ancient farming techniques and similar ecologically literate approaches) to organising food production (and production of other things). Often you can restore soil degraded by conventional agriculture and create high-yield agroecosystems like food forests, which meet human needs and restore some lost biodiversity and ecological services. It might need to be pointed out the reason 'permaculture' style of land management isn't used much, despite tending to be low-input and high-yield, is because 'food forests' etc tend to not very economically profitable, as capitalism prefers to create monoculture plantations in each area which are easy to harvest mechanically and market to urban populations (whereas a food forest would need to be maintained, enjoyed and utilised by people living within and around it to meet their direct needs, rather than being something which is well suited to a market economy).

I also agree we should cover population, as its one of the main things people think about when they consider environmental problems. Perhaps acknowledge that the earth does have a finite capacity for sustaining populations of humans (as well as other species) and there are real 'ecological limits' but point out that our current ecological problems are caused by how production and consumption are organised for profit and it is generally not a case of over-population. Perhaps also pointing out that if people were free and society was organised according to need, birth rates would be likely to decline as people with a better standard of living, and access to birth control, tend to delay having children and have fewer children by choice- and probably lots of us would actually like to live more simply and work directly with nature, rather than for a boss). Might be worth pointing out that places where population is growing fastest often actually have a much, much lower per capita ecological footprint and large families are often a sign of poverty (having lots of kids because of poor access to birth control/ need for income/ labour/ increase chance of having some kids survive high infant mortality). I always found 'one planet living' or 'ecological footprints' a nice concept, not sure if others would agree that its particularly scientifically robust, but I thin it can be linked quite easily with the idea that we should all share the earth collectively and property ownership is a silly concept considering we all share the earth and all do/will suffer the consequences of private interests for profit going against our shared interest to live in harmony with nature.

I'm going to stop before I waffle too much. Will have a go at organising my thoughts more properly later.

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Jun 5 2013 11:05

First of all, in general the piece is "good enough" as a short, acessible intro. Secondly I don't have a suggested form of word which could address my issues in a way that would maintain those characteristics of briefness and accessibility. Still, maybe for the purposes of longer term reflection or other more in depth treatments...

Quote:
Capitalism is an enormously wasteful system of production, geared towards market competition and profit. For companies to survive this competition, they profits must be maximised. And to maximise profits, costs must be kept low. So just as paying workers is a cost that needs to be minimised, so is the cost of protecting the environment and disposing of waste safely. Read our introduction to Capitalism here.

The problem here is that this is not a specifically libertarian communist critique. i.e. there's nothing stopping a supporter of parecon or Schweikart-style market socialism agreeing with this formulation. In other words, there's no reason to think that if we abolish profit and market competition, then the wastefulness of capitalism couldn't be eliminated, or at least mitigated. There's no clear assertion that the environmental wastefulness of the wage system is rooted in the wage system itself. not just its accompanying (in capitalism) forms of private property, market competition, profit/self-accumulating capital, etc.

What exactly "profit" is, is not explained here. Nor is it fully explained in the linked intro to capitalism. There, its form as self-accumulating value as well as its origins in surplus value and exploitation are sketched out, but no explicit introduction to its content - the command over living labour.

And this leads us to the problem of "cost". In the above paragraph cost is used misleadingly in a "common sense" but in fact ahistorical and false (in terms of capitalism's actual relations of production) sense.

Environmental destruction wouldn't even be an insoluable problem for capitalism if environmental impacts were already a cost in the system. Or even if they could be in the future incorporated as a cost on an equal footing as labour costs, as the champions of sustainable or "green capitalism" would have us believe.

The relation between capital, labour and land that results from the wage system and private property result in command by capital over both labour and land, but the form of command is significantly different.

Capital's command over labour, exercised through the wage system, is a measured command - measured not in the normative sense of "restrained", but in the sense that the exercise of command results in costs proportional to the volume of labour commanded. This is the foundation of capital's dynamic to economise labour in the production process (and all the contradictions that result from attempting to both enclose as much labour in its valorisation process generally, while simultaneously driving as much of it out of particular production processes).

Capital's command over land, exercised through private property, is an absolute dominion that, once secured, can be exercised without any cost proportional to the materials extracted in a given production process (at least until total exhaustion of the resource being extracted is reached).

Because the use of land, once acquired as private property, is "free", whereas wage labour continues to incur a cost in proportion to use, any reduction of labour achieved by increase in extraction of natural resources from land (or release of pollutants into the environment) is a net saving - a real saving (that couldn't exist if natural resources were really costs in the "common sense") that increases profits.

In other words, if economics is the management of scarcity, then capital manages labour as scarce in relation to land as abundant. Perhaps less obviously, it cannot manage the land/labour relation as if both were scarce, because a) scarcity is relative to something else, either not scarce (abundant) or less scarce; and b) the two are incommensurable (hence even the condition of "less scarce" is incalculable, and land must be treated as abundant).

The difference in the forms of command of capital over labour and land are not simply contingent effects of form (that could be "corrected" by straightforward re-forms) but relate to basic ontological questions of agency. I.e. because labour has agency, its coercion simply cannot be achieved by the kind of "absolute dominium" form of command that currently exerts over land. Labour resists, land does not. More abstractly, labour cannot be "externalised" in the way that land currently is, under capital.

If we cannot simply switch from managing a scarcity of labour relative to land, to the opposite polarity, then we have to end the command of capital itself. i.e. end the externalisation of the land by the internalisation of labour, in the alienated mode of commanded labour - i.e. the wage system.

*ahem* all very well, but not, I grant you, quite the thing for a brief accessible introduction...

yeksmesh
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Jun 5 2013 15:09

Looks good.

Maybe it could use a few non-western examples of enviromental activism. The chipko movement comes to mind.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chipko_movement

And this might be a bit too specialistic for an introductory article but you might be able to include a small critique of certain tendencies within the enviromental movement to view nature as something distant and seperate from humans that needs to be fought on behalf of (you could link this with a critique of activist politics).

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Jun 5 2013 21:01

Just FYI, that AF pamphlet on ecology and class is in the process of being updated, possibly quite substantially, and I know some people in the fed have concerns with it in it's current incarnation. (I've not read it myself so I can't say exactly what, sorry.)

Overall it's a decent intro. I think the section on the major environmental challenges so far is a bit sparse at the moment, and the split into air pollution and so on I wasn't sure about. Air pollution in terms of toxic fumes at ground level causing health problems and greenhouse gases, e.g., are pretty different problems.

I'm sure we can always think of more things to add, and you don't want to overdo it on an introduction, but a more explicit argument against deep ecology/anti-civ/primitivism might be useful (and could maybe link in to the point about population mentioned above), as might something on environmental justice in the community section, it starts quite a while before the anti-roads movement, particularly in the US coming out of civil rights activism - not necessarily always all that radical, but it's good to know the history I think, and to remember that this stuff didn't always have the middle class image it does now.

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Jun 6 2013 23:09

So I guess based on ocelot's and Alasdair's posts, we need an intro that is distinctly libertarian communist in content. Which is definitely true. That's why most of us come to libcom.org in the first place. I think. At least I do.

But maybe since what's already made as an intro is perhaps sufficient to understand the ecological crisis, perhaps a second intro can be made to present, compare and contrast different approaches (deep ecology, primitivism, eco-socialism, etc.) to solving the crisis, with the lib-communist approach put at the end and most strongly argued for (obviously).

woooo
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Jun 7 2013 02:03

I think that a discussion of indigenous movements ie. idle no more and other indigenous and peasant ecology of the poor would be good. A critique of problematic tendencies, ie deep ecologist right wing, primitivists, Ef! Right, Eco-fascists ( certain back to land tendencies and golden dawn green wing ) social ecologists, ecofeminists, state ecosocialists, deep green resistance, green parties and green- social democrat unionism
Would be good.

e. Ef! In the uk were always ahead of the usa and the old guard of dickheads like foreman gone. Rehashing it's out of touch with modern practice. That critique needs to be made contemporary. Deep green resistance is the fucktest group out there at the moment and the limp critiques of the ecosocialist international and green-parties and ngo's are worth attacking.
Mention of Judi Bari and antIMining movements in the America's.
Critique of the pink tide and a look at grassroots indigenous movements discussion of sumak kawsay as class struggle and it's recuperation. Miguel Amoros and the recouperation of an earlier more radical 'Degrowth tendency' than the current movement called Degrowth.
Modern Luddism and old and new development critics first and third world.

Oh yes it's just an intro. ... https://groups.google.com/group/socialwar-energy-climatewar?hl=en&pli=1

woooo
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Jun 9 2013 16:27

...

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Jun 9 2013 08:03

Some random and fairly disjointed thoughts, take them for what they're worth.

Quote:
Soil erosion: the result of factors like the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides etc. as well as inappropriate land use and cutting down trees. For these reasons, soil is eroded at a faster rate than it is being produced, contributing to rural poverty.

Might be worth talking a little bit about desertification and clear-cutting here. Both lead to the loss of trees which filter pollutants and extract CO2 from the air. I'm not sure that you need the bit about rural poverty, but if you keep it, a bit of explanation might be good.

Quote:
The state will not willingly enforce strong environmental protection laws against companies because it does not want to cut into their profits (and its own tax revenue).

Just a quick point here: there's an American fetishization of the European (and specifically Scandanavian) environmental laws. So I guess it depends on who you're targetting this at, but if you're hoping to reach out to liberal environmentalists, this idea might need a bit of development. Plus, it's probably possible for the state to enforce environmental standards to protect the continued existence of capitalism--superstructure and all that.

Other ideas:

Capitalism as an irrational economic system: Commuting, for example. There's are a lot of people who live in Brighton, but commute to London everyday. And a lot of other people who live in London but commute Brighton. A rational economic system would see ecologically constructed and locally-based workplaces (as much as work would exist ATR). Plus, the f*cking absurd and totally unnecessary 40 hour week would go, meaning there would be far less pollution created travelling to and from work altogether, not the mention the elimination of all sorts of useless production.

All of this sort of thing is covered really well in 10 Inefficiencies of Capitalism, which I think should definitely be included in the further reading guide.

Capitalist response to environmental problems: The individualisation of problems (turn off lights when you leave the room, fix a leaky tap) and the commodification of solutions (buy a more fuel efficient car, long-life light bulbs, energy efficient refrigerators, etc., etc.)

I think it's also worth including that proposed carbon cap and trade schemes represent a fundamental commodification of the air. As if that's the only way to possible way to solve the environmental crisis: attach a price tag to the air we breath.

Failure of things like the Kyoto protocols might be worth touching upon as well.

Ed's picture
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Jun 10 2013 10:07

Cheers for all your comments so far, guy.. keep them coming and when we get a bit of time we'll try and find ways to work some of them in!

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Feb 24 2019 02:35

There is no mention of animal agriculture. This is a startling ommision. Otherwise it’s good, if a little basic.

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Feb 24 2019 13:55
Noah Fence wrote:
There is no mention of animal agriculture. This is a startling ommision. Otherwise it’s good, if a little basic.

I just translated the article to Dutch, i do agree with this.
It could do with an addition on food production as this connects a lot of global environmental and social questions.