"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Capitalist Orthodoxy’

Big Oil Uses U.S. Gov’t To Eliminate Threats To Drilling Plans, Research Supressed, Scientists Harassed, Terminated

In Uncategorized on September 8, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Source: Greenpeace

Oldspeak: “It is a systemic problem far beyond BOEMRE, It’s in all the agencies, the universities. It’s state and federal and a broad systemic problem in Alaska….There is an unwritten orthodoxy in Alaska, that dissenting opinions regarding unsustainable economic and political paradigms here need to be suppressed and silenced. Everybody knows that. There’s a very strong political dynamic where agencies and public institutions like the university are captured by the oil industry because it pays 95% of the state budget. Federal agencies bend over backwards for the oil industry and tend to marginalize voices that threaten that dynamic. If you criticize oil, you will have hell to pay… There aren’t very many dissenters. The whole point of making an example of me and Charles [Monnett] was to suppress people from doing that in the future. People have learned that if they want to keep their job and their pay check, and their pension and their benefits, they need to keep their head down.” –Dr. Rick Steiner, Professor, Marine Conservation

“In the context of this reality, in a maniacal ecocidal ever more destructive pursuit of profit, is there any wonder that Alaska is on fire as in no other time in recorded history? This is perfect example of the madness of Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocracy begotten by Industrial Civilization. Corportate “persons” funding government education and research institutions and dictating what is and isn’t researched, published and disclosed. Important science and research censored, scientists abused, harassed and drummed out of jobs when their findings don’t serve the ends of polluters. Can we reasonably expect anything but politically mediated and watered down science and research from institutions in the unfortunate condition of being captured by the industries their findings affect? Not likely. “Profit Is Paramout”,  -OSJ.

Written By Kamil Ashan @ Alter Net:

In February 2011, Charles Monnett, an Arctic marine biologist who in 2006 published the first observations of a decline in the polar bear population of the Arctic due to melting sea ice, was interviewed by Eric May and Lynn Gibson from the Department of Interior’s Office of the Inspector General. The conversation was perplexing. May and Gibson, criminal investigators with the IG, began by suggesting that Monnett was being investigated for scientific misconduct, but early on in the conversation they admitted that neither of them had any training in science and biology.

From there, the transcript of the conversation, a document released by Monnett’s legal representation, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), becomes murkier. May and Gibson’s line of questioning shifts several times, making it increasingly unclear what aspects of misconduct were being investigated. Monnett explains that his findings, published in Polar Biology, were peer-reviewed; May responds by asking how Polar Biology got involved. Monnett painstakingly takes May and Gibson through the calculations and observations underlying his data, but they seem dissatisfied and change tacks.

What happened after isn’t murky at all. Soon after the interview, Dr. Monnett’s hard drive and notebooks were seized. In July 2011, Monnett found out from his employer, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), that he had been put been put on administrative leave, barring him from speaking to his colleagues or continuing his research.

The investigation had turned in to a virtual witch-hunt—but when the IG finally released its report toward the end of 2012, its only allegations were of an administrative nature. Monnett subsequently filed a whistleblower complaint against BOEMRE, alleging that the official harassment had impeded him from doing his job and that the Interior Department was violating its own scientific integrity policies intended to protect federal scientists from political interference. In November 2013, Monnett reached a $100,000 settlement with BOEMRE.

The tale of Dr. Monnett is now a few years old, but instructive. Both Monnett and PEER have maintained that Monnett was harassed and essentially eliminated from the ranks of BOEMRE because he represented a threat to the financial stakes of oil companies like Shell hoping to open up the Alaskan Arctic for offshore drilling projects, and that suppressing scientific research was seen as necessary for Shell’s permits to go through. At the time, BOEMRE had been reviewing Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic. It approved those permits in 2012, and again, in a highly contentious decision by the Obama administration, earlier this year.

Now, years after the debacle, Monnett says he has complex feelings about the dynamics of the science done in federal agencies, given how overbearing the oil industry is and its pervasive influence on the government.

The Bush administration, Monnett recalls, had “created an environment where the managers [of BOEMRE] were very hostile and aggressive towards some of the scientists…which led to a number of people leaving the agency. These people were being actively attacked by managers, screamed at in hallways, threatened with all sorts of actions. Some of them were even being threatened with legal action. The agency just wasn’t receptive to honest analysis.”

“Because of pressure from industry and the administration…certain timelines had to be met, and those timelines weren’t long enough to allow [scientists] to do complete analysis. Management was dictating the outcomes…which is against the law in my view.”

The Bush administration’s agenda from the very beginning was pro-drilling, and therefore invested in fast-tracking Shell’s permits for the Arctic. During the administration’s tenure, there was a mass exodus of scientists from BOEMRE—at the time known as the Minerals Management Service—who were under pressure to overlook the overwhelming environmental concerns of Arctic oil drilling in their analyses.

But Monnett’s investigation began in 2011, not during the Bush administration but during the Obama administration, foretelling Obama’s climate legacy of paying lip service to climate change while fast-tracking Shell’s offshore drilling plans all the same.

On Monday morning, President Obama arrived in Alaska to shed “a spotlight on what Alaskans in particular have come to know: climate change is one of the biggest threats we face, it is driven by human activity, and it is disrupting Americans’ lives right now.” The trip, mere weeks after the final approval for Shell’s summer plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea, is likely to be seen in retrospect as illustrative of the schizophrenic energy policy the Obama administration has long espoused.

The Limits of Academic Freedom

Scientific suppression and the loss of many scientists to BOEMRE during the Bush administration have been well-documented, but as Dr. Monnett’s case reveals, something similar, if not worse, has been underfoot during the current administration. As the case of Professor Rick Steiner demonstrates, the influence of oil goes well beyond federal agencies in Alaska.

A tenured professor of marine conservation at the University of Alaska, Steiner spent a large part of his career in the Arctic and then Anchorage, Alaska. Steiner had been a vocal opponent of offshore oil drilling since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and a staunch defender of marine conservation—positions that got him in to trouble multiple times during his career.

In December 2007, soon after Monnett’s polar bear paper was published, there was a federal proposed rule to list polar bears under the Endangered Species Act. At the time, Gov. Sarah Palin publicly stated that Alaska state marine mammal biologists (ADFG) disagreed with the rule, but Steiner was unsatisfied. After much resistance from the ADFG, he obtained the state review through a federal Freedom of Information Act request. The review, underscoring the dishonesty of the Palin administration, showed that marine mammal scientists overwhelmingly agreed that polar bears should be classified as endangered. This move, and many others, put Steiner on the radar as a staunch advocate of marine conservation and opponent of the pervasive influence of the oil industry in Alaska.

In 2008, when the federal government began to consider an expansion of oil development projects in Alaska, Steiner continued to raise major environmental concerns. Written records released by PEER chart out what happened next: the University of Alaska and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration terminated the grant funding for Steiner’s research work. The documents demonstrate how pressure from NOAA led university officials to cut Steiner’s funding: federal officials wrote that they “had an issue with Steiner” and that his environmental advocacy could “cause problems nationally” for the agency. PEER called this one of the first instances where a university and federal agency admitted to removing a faculty member’s funding because of their environmental positions.

Steiner filed multiple internal grievance claims which were all rejected by the university, and in February 2010, Dr. Steiner resigned from the university faculty on principle. Soon after, he was told by a friend who had been in a meeting with university officials that oil executives had met with university officials, telling them point blank that as long as Steiner continued to oppose the oil industry, the university would not get a dime of its money. The University of Alaska, like many public institutions in Alaska, is funded largely by oil revenues.

Like Monnett, Steiner says his experience taught him the limits to academic and scientific freedom in a place like Alaska. “It is a systemic problem far beyond BOEMRE,” he explains. “It’s in all the agencies, the universities. It’s state and federal and a broad systemic problem in Alaska.

“[The University] felt I was being too much of an advocate for marine conservation which is in contradiction to their professed goal of being in favor of academic freedom.”

And indeed, the brazen nature of the university’s statements on Steiner’s case is deeply shocking. In the recommendation to cut Steiner’s funding, Dean Wiesenburg of the University of Alaska noted that Steiner “regularly takes strong public positions on issues of public debate.” Steiner, he said, “has chosen to be a maverick and work independently.”

To Steiner, what this means is clear. “There is an unwritten orthodoxy in Alaska,” he explains, “that dissenting opinions regarding unsustainable economic and political paradigms here need to be suppressed and silenced. Everybody knows that. There’s a very strong political dynamic where agencies and public institutions like the university are captured by the oil industry because it pays 95% of the state budget. Federal agencies bend over backwards for the oil industry and tend to marginalize voices that threaten that dynamic. If you criticize oil, you will have hell to pay.”

“There aren’t very many dissenters. The whole point of making an example of me and Charles [Monnett] was to suppress people from doing that in the future. People have learned that if they want to keep their job and their pay check, and their pension and their benefits, they need to keep their head down.”

A Handy Guide to Scientific Suppression

The cases of Charles Monnett and Rick Steiner have dire implications for how we view Shell’s offshore drilling plans in the Chukchi Sea this summer, and the lengths to which they went to acquire the permits. Much of this can only be guessed at. Steiner talks about the prevailing culture where federal agencies and universities begin to eliminate scientists who do not conform to the pro-oil agenda by not granting promotions or incentive awards, or giving them inadequate annual performance reviews. Another tactic, he says, is overwhelming staff scientists with trivial tasks, pulling them off projects for which they are qualified.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, an organization that seeks to protect scientist whistleblowers, can add to this list. “The range of things we see,” he says, “range from attempts to terminate, suspend, crippling internal investigations. In one case involving a lab director, the funding for his graduate students was jeopardized so he lost a lot of his research capacity. Preventing publications has no limits—in one case, a scientist was raising issues and her email privileges were taken away. We were left scratching our heads wondering how that could have happened.”

One possible remedy is scientific integrity policies that protect whistleblowers, but as Ruch explains, they are far from satisfactory. “Industry puts pressure on government agencies, and government agencies are the instrument of retaliation,” he explains. “For the most part, scientists have few legal protections. These scientists are not covered by whistleblower laws, because they’re not disclosing violations of law, fraud, or abuse. They’re disclosing suppression of research, or watering down of methodologies or the omission of key findings.”

“The law generally treats these as a matter of opinion and in these cases, the chain of command generally wins over the staff scientist.”

In his experience, Ruch says “scientific integrity policies operate within the Department of the Interior—those were weakened in December to make it even more difficult to sustain a complaint. Up until that time, there had been 2 instances out of 14 where the scientist involved faced multiple suspensions and the responsible managers escaped punishment altogether. It’s difficult to advise scientists in good conscience to file complaints under their own name because they’re unlikely to resolve in anything good.”

Early in 2009, Obama released a presidential directive to develop policies that restore scientific integrity to federal actions, including providing federal scientists better whistleblower protections. At the time, this was hailed as a huge leap in the right direction.

Ruch feels not much has changed. “The agencies in the Interior have largely ignored the presidential directive,” he explains. “Some policies claim protections but have no mechanisms by which that protection is implemented, which makes it empty protection.”

Environmental groups argue that this scientific suppression, and overlooking the enormous environmental risks, has been key to the Obama administration’s approval of Shell’s permits this year. Much of the information detailing the safety and reliability of Shell’s operations has not been released to the public, despite multiple FOIA requests by groups like Greenpeace and PEER. A recent FOIA request by PEER, directed at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), seeks to release information on how Shell’s plans for certified by third-party observers, as well as information on the deployment of capping stack and containment domes in the event of an oil spill. BSEE has not responded. PEER has now filed a lawsuit in a federal district court to bring these details to light.

As President Obama continues his trip in Alaska to highlight the dangers of climate change amid overwhelming opposition from environmental and indigenous groups, it begs big questions about the administration’s overarching legacy with federal scientists and the oil industry. Ruch feels strongly about this: “In terms of the actions inside these agencies, there has been no discernible difference between those under George Bush, who was an oil man, and Barack Obama, a constitutional law professor who when his own Commission on the Deepwater Horizon spill met with him, one of the very first questions he asked was about Arctic drilling.”

“It has been clear that Arctic drilling is part of the ‘all-the-above’ energy strategy and the same sort of suppression and the same suite of issues have never really been analyzed.”

For an administration pretending to conduct a dramatic push toward mitigating climate change, that is a shameful record.

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Kamil Ahsan is a freelance journalist and a doctoral student in developmental biology at the University of Chicago.

Violence Against Our Environment

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2013 at 7:05 pm

https://i1.wp.com/cooper.edu/sites/default/files/2302-081_r.jpg

Oldspeak: “An increasing number of environmental activists, myself included, regard the word “environment” with some suspicion, generally preferring the term “ecological.” The reasoning behind the change in emphasis is because using the word “environment” posits the idea that nature is something that surrounds humans, but at the same time, something that we are fundamentally outside of, and separate from. The separation of nature from humans is the ideological position underlying capitalist orthodoxy; namely that the biosphere is a subset of the economy, rather than the other way around. Capitalists can freely take “natural resources” from outside of the economy as inputs, and dump waste from the production process back into the environment as outputs. Mainstream economic theory then pronounces that the ramifications of such an outlook will have only limited impact on the planet as a whole, and, thereby, economic accumulation and growth can continue indefinitely.

“Ecological,” on the other hand, embeds humans back within the external world as a natural component of it, the same as any other organism. The use of tools such as microscopes, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging devices, can then be seen not simply as humans investigating nature in order to understand it, but that we are concurrently investigating ourselves, because tools are merely mechanical extensions of our bodily senses. No doubt, Marx would very much approve of such an attention to the hidden social meaning of words, particularly with regard, in this example, to his very important concept of “metabolic rift”: the devastating and unnatural split or break between humans and nature, forced on us by capitalist social relations…

….Capitalist environmental violence rests on the dual exploitation of humans and nature, which were regarded by Marx as the twin sources of all wealth. Exploitation of the natural world, driven forward by the never-ending hunt for profits, is merely the flip side of the exploitation of humans, put to work to turn the source of sustenance into money. Viewed this way, socialists fighting for social justice and a different world cannot avoid integrating a fight for ecological justice, as the two are inseparable components of the same fight.” -Chris Williams

“Brilliant insight. in much the same way as we otherize & dehumanize each other in order to perpetrate violence, we consider ourselves separate from ecology we’re fundamentally a part of to rationalize violence against it. The faux distinction allows for the length, breadth and depravity of capitalist ecological violence. Blown up mountains. Poisoned waterways. Habitat Destruction. The list of offenses is very long. The economic system around which we organize our societies is at its foundation, ecocidal, homicidal, exploitative, repressive, racist, patriarchal, and interminably bureaucratic. it is animated by violence destruction & death. As long as we regard the biosphere a subset of the economy, the prospect of a livable future environment and planet is nil.  There is no economy on dead planet.” -OSJ

By Chris Williams @ Dissident Voice:

Both the words “environment” and “violence” have so many meanings, that they require some definition of how they can be of use in the context of a struggle for social justice. Regarding the word violence, according to Merriam Webster, one definition is “the use of brute strength to cause harm to a person or property”; a definition that doesn’t seem to have an immediately obvious connection to ecological issues associated with climate change, loss of biodiversity and various forms of pollution.

An increasing number of environmental activists, myself included, regard the word “environment” with some suspicion, generally preferring the term “ecological.” The reasoning behind the change in emphasis is because using the word “environment” posits the idea that nature is something that surrounds humans, but at the same time, something that we are fundamentally outside of, and separate from. The separation of nature from humans is the ideological position underlying capitalist orthodoxy; namely that the biosphere is a subset of the economy, rather than the other way around. Capitalists can freely take “natural resources” from outside of the economy as inputs, and dump waste from the production process back into the environment as outputs. Mainstream economic theory then pronounces that the ramifications of such an outlook will have only limited impact on the planet as a whole, and, thereby, economic accumulation and growth can continue indefinitely.

“Ecological,” on the other hand, embeds humans back within the external world as a natural component of it, the same as any other organism. The use of tools such as microscopes, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging devices, can then be seen not simply as humans investigating nature in order to understand it, but that we are concurrently investigating ourselves, because tools are merely mechanical extensions of our bodily senses. No doubt, Marx would very much approve of such an attention to the hidden social meaning of words, particularly with regard, in this example, to his very important concept of “metabolic rift”: the devastating and unnatural split or break between humans and nature, forced on us by capitalist social relations.

Given these issues, and the importance of words to explain and communicate thought, how should those of us engaged in a struggle against capitalist environmental violence, conceive of that fight?  If we are to argue that the social, economic and political system known as capitalism is the root cause of environmental violence, what are we arguing it is responsible for?

Interestingly enough, but, perhaps unsurprisingly given the prevalence of overt violence in our world, the dictionary gives almost 50 related words for “violence”. These begin with words such as “coercion”, “compulsion”, “constraint”, go on to “barbarity”, “brutality”, “damage” and continue with “onslaught”, “tumult” and “upheaval.”

Putting these words into a human context and joining them up with the word “environment” now starts to make significant sense. It is no longer possible to restrict violence to an act that is immediate and causes direct and obvious harm, whether that is in the most commonly thought of cases of warfare, police brutality, or state-sponsored torture such as waterboarding, or racist, sexist or homophobic language and bigotry.

Capitalist environmental violence rests on the dual exploitation of humans and nature, which were regarded by Marx as the twin sources of all wealth. Exploitation of the natural world, driven forward by the never-ending hunt for profits, is merely the flip side of the exploitation of humans, put to work to turn the source of sustenance into money. Viewed this way, socialists fighting for social justice and a different world cannot avoid integrating a fight for ecological justice, as the two are inseparable components of the same fight.

In this broadened understanding of violence, capitalism is an intensely violent system, as it depends on the systematic coercion of workers who are daily faced with the choice of working for “a living” or starvation and homelessness; their life choices for education, health and human fulfillment are hugely constrained by the unyielding ferocity of class exploitation and racism. Billions of people’s lives are stunted and foreshortened by the daily violence meted out to them via the dictates of a system that prioritizes profit above all else. In Volume I of Capital, Marx’s words resonate as much in our day as his:

In its blind unrestrainable passion, its werewolf hunger for surplus-labour, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the working-day. It usurps the time for growth, development, and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. It higgles over a meal-time, incorporating it where possible with the process of production itself, so that food is supplied to the labourer as to a mere means of production, as coal is supplied to the boiler, grease and oil to the machinery. It reduces the sound sleep needed for the restoration, reparation, refreshment of the bodily powers to just so many hours of torpor as the revival of an organism, absolutely exhausted, renders essential.

But for Marx, the violent treatment of humans by capitalist social relations, in shortening and hamstringing their lives through overwork, poor housing, inadequate food and pollution, was directly analogous to capitalist farming practices:

Capital cares nothing for the length of labour-power. All that concerns it is simply and solely the maximum of labour-power that can be rendered fluent in a working-day. It attains this end by shortening the extent of the [worker’s] life, as a greedy farmer snatches increased produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility.

One can only have nutritious food, health care, or decent housing located in an unpolluted neighborhood, if one has the money to pay for those things. Lack of access to these necessities by some, where others have access, makes the violence explicit. Furthermore, there is the violence of institutionalized racism, and a culture saturated with sexism that turns women’s bodies into objects, doubly exploits them through unpaid domestic labor, and in the United States, refuses to allow women control over their own reproductive organs.

There is the associated psychological violence done to humans against our own sociality, whereby we are forced to live, in Marx’s emotive phrase, in “dot-like isolation,” as the primacy of the individual over the collective is sanctified. Few have written of the social alienation and environmental degradation suffered by working people with greater effect than Frederick Engels, in his classic study, The Condition of the Working Class in England.

Engels highlights the contradiction engendered by capitalism, between bringing millions of people together in giant urban conglomerations, which, rather than fostering collective solidarity and companionship, instead produce its opposite — an unfeeling and solitary individuality that corrupts the human spirit:

After roaming the streets of the capital a day or two, making headway with difficulty through the human turmoil and the endless lines of vehicles, after visiting the slums of the metropolis, one realises for the first time that these Londoners have been forced to sacrifice the best qualities of their human nature, to bring to pass all the marvels of civilisation which crowd their city; that a hundred powers which slumbered within them have remained inactive, have been suppressed in order that a few might be developed more fully and multiply through union with those of others.

For  Engels, this produces feelings and a mode of living that is profoundly alienating of all that is good about humans:

The brutal indifference, the unfeeling isolation of each in his private interest, becomes the more repellent and offensive, the more these individuals are crowded together, within a limited space. And, however much one may be aware that this isolation of the individual, this narrow self-seeking, is the fundamental principle of our society everywhere, it is nowhere so shamelessly barefaced, so self-conscious as just here in the crowding of the great city. The dissolution of mankind into monads, of which each one has a separate principle, the world of atoms, is here carried out to its utmost extreme.

Of course, there is the more overt and immediate violence of the state against people trying to protect their land from environmental degradation and ensuing displacement and poverty associated with fossil fuel extraction. From the Ogoni people in Nigeria fighting Shell, to indigenous people poisoned by Chevron in the forests of Ecuador, the paramilitary arm of the state serves corporate priorities the world over.

In North America, this was brutally demonstrated in September, as members of the Elsipogtog Mi’kmaq First Nation, alongside local residents, blockaded a road in New Brunswick, Canada. They were trying to prevent fracking exploration and were assaulted and tear gassed for their protest by paramilitary police.

The group, which had never been asked about whether they wanted their land used in this way, had blocked the road to stop shale gas exploration by SWN Resources Canada, a subsidiary of the Houston-based Southwestern Energy Co. As Susan Levi-Peters, the former chief of the nearby Elsipogtog indigenous group, told reporters, “The RCMP is coming in here with their tear gas – they even had dogs on us… They were acting like we’re standing there with weapons, while we are standing there, as women, with drums and eagle feathers.

There are myriad ways in which environmental violence plays out, especially when it is compounded by climate change. So, for example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, lack of tree-cover from ongoing deforestation, means even when rain comes, it runs off the land and carries fertile topsoil with it. As a result, women and girls, who are responsible for over 70 percent of water collection, have to travel further and further to obtain it. The UN estimates that women in Sub-Saharan Africa spend 200 million hours per day collecting water for food and farming purposes, or 40 billion hours annually.

In 1992, Lawrence Summers, who was at the time chief economist of the World Bank, later to become Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, president of Harvard, and most recently one of Obama’s key economic advisors in his first cabinet, wrote in an internal World Bank memorandum published by The Economist:

“Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs?” By way of answering his own question, he gives three reasons. Here’s the first:

(1) The measurement of the costs of health-impairing pollution depends on the forgone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health-impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

The fact that a major establishment actor is able to advocate and rationalize the dumping of toxic waste on poor communities is a perfect illustration of the inhumanity of the thought process behind capitalist decision-making.

As I have argued, we need a much broader definition of violence than is allowed for by limiting its meaning to a physical and immediate brutal act of aggression, and one that includes an environmental dimension. Violence can happen over extended periods of time. Exploited workers in unhealthy conditions and poor communities exposed to toxins gradually succumb to a worsening quality of life, through a compendium of often intersecting long-term ailments. Due to financial restrictions on health care (itself a violent act), they often can’t treat these illnesses by going to the doctor, seeking another job, or relocating to a different neighborhood.

A broadened definition of violence is exactly what Rob Nixon, Rachel Carson Professor of English at the University of Madison, argues is required in his book, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor:

By slow violence I mean a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all. Violence is customarily conceived as an event or action that is immediate in time, explosive and spectacular in space, and as erupting in sensational visibility.

That is to say, the unplanned, shorter and shorter time frames upon which capitalism operates, clash with the longer and longer term effects of the actions taken on those shorter time scales. Human induced climate change is arguably the primary and perfect example of just such a contradiction between the short-term priorities of capitalism to make profit from continuing to burn fossil fuels, and the longer term implications for future generations of humans, and planetary life in general, due to the now well-known side-effect of increased concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide. One could reasonably debate whether climate change, or the irradiation of the atmosphere from atomic tests and the need to deal with nuclear waste from nuclear power plants — waste that remains toxic and deadly for hundreds of thousands of years — is a more disruptive and long-term negative impact of capitalist social relations.

In the more immediate sense, while we currently produce enough food to feed everyone on the planet, over one billion people suffer starvation and hunger. In discussing why people starve in England, when food was in fact abundant, Engels posed the question of who should be blamed for the extreme violence of death by starvation: “The English working-men call this ‘social murder’, and accuse our whole society of perpetrating this crime perpetually. Are they wrong?”

In answering Engels’ question, one must blame the system for the long-term “social murder” of our planet, and the daily degradation and violence of life under capitalism. Given the critical state of the biosphere and an exploitative and constantly-growing economic model based on profit and fossil fuels for energy, which is bringing about global climate change, Rosa Luxemburg’s assertion, that we face the choice of barbarism or socialism, rings true now more than ever.

If we accept that premise, to return to where I began, one cannot be a social justice activist without equally being an ecological justice activist; and link arms with all those fighting racist environmental violence the world over.

Ultimately, all of this can only be solved by the self-emancipation of humanity and putting in place a system that prioritizes long-term human and planetary health; real, bottom-up democracy based on cooperation; and production for human needs at its center. We need a system of cooperative and meaningful production, whereby the goal of society is social equity and ecological sustainability, and where environmental violence, in all its manifestations, is a thing of the past. To bring this about will require a social and ecological revolution. While we organize and fight for that future, we must simultaneously work to bring about the small victories, necessary to make people’s immediate lives better and less polluted under capitalism, organize, and gain confidence for the larger, longer-term, and more profound and revolutionary battles to come.

Chris Williams is a long-time environmental activist and author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis (Haymarket, 2011). He is chair of the science dept at Packer Collegiate Institute and adjunct professor at Pace University in the Dept of Chemistry and Physical Science. Read other articles by Chris.