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Anarchist responses to the ecological crisis
france / belgium / luxemburg | environment | policy statement Sunday March 30, 2014 16:09 by Coordination des Groupes Anarchistes - CGA
CGA strategy text on the environmental issue
Capitalism's crisis of development and its social consequences have overshadowed the environmental crisis, which nevertheless is still more than ever a relevant issue. From our point of view this crisis may be broken down into three main aspects: global climate warming, the deterioration of ecosystems and the depletion of natural resources. [Français]
Anarchist responses to the ecological crisis
The challenges of the environmental issueCapitalism's crisis of development and its social consequences have overshadowed the environmental crisis, which nevertheless is still more than ever a relevant issue. From our point of view this crisis may be broken down into three main aspects: global climate warming, the deterioration of ecosystems and the depletion of natural resources.
Global climate warming
The climatic changes induced by the capitalist production system have been acknowledged since the '70s, especially within radical ecologist currents. Obviously, these stands were mocked by those in power. It is only in the '80s-'90s, when the issue of global warming became increasingly unavoidable, that the latter did begin to talk about the question, under pressure from a part of the scientific community. However, global warming was still looked upon as a possible consequence of human activity and not as an actual fact.
Since the GIEC report  in 2007 the impact of human activities emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is an undisputed fact, except by climato-sceptics or by fake experts on the payroll of the global oil corporation, as we could see during the "climategate" scandal.
The general increase in the planet's temperature has as indeed had several consequences: the rise in sea levels due to the melting of land ice and to the thermal expansion of sea water (as a matter of fact, unlike the melting of ice floes, the melting of freshwater ice is contributing to the rise of the sea level); but also the changes affecting oceanic currents and the water cycle. This rise in sea levels endangers the inhabitants of lowlands, especially in river delta areas. The most vivid example is Bangladesh, which could, in the worst of the possible scenarios, see half of its 150 million inhabitants forced to migrate. Not to mention that to this is added the rise in volume of the yearly rainfalls, threatening to cause an increase of the incidence and intensity of storms and cyclones.
The consequences of global warming are foreshadowing great migrations that will most likely cause a genuine social and agricultural disaster (with the total disappearance of some cultivated territories) if no collective action is taken.
Generally speaking, this ecological evolution will probably heighten the distinctive climatic phenomenon (storms, droughts, heatwaves, etc.), make agricultural production more unstable and worsen the situation of food shortages in the regions that will be the direct or indirect victims of natural disasters.
The degradation of ecosystems
The ever-growing industrialization of our societies is accompanied by increasing pollution of natural ecosystems.
The growth of industrial and urban areas linked to industrialization destroys ecosystems and potential agricultural areas, and disrupts the water runoff. Factories, particularly those related to refining, use solvents, some of which find their way into nature and watercourses. In many countries where the infrastructure of water purification are inadequate, this becomes a public health problem. In all cases, fish stocks are affected, decreasing fishing catches. A quasi-sterilization of aquatic environments is sometimes observed as in the Danube.
The plants and animals most vulnerable to and most affected by this pollution are generally not made use of by key industrial sectors in the capitalist system of production. They are the living organisms in natural ecosystems which are destroyed or are barely surviving the ravages of intensive crops or livestock practices. However, if these organisms have not, a priori, a significant direct economic weight, they have an indirect role that may be absolutely necessary. For example, if the bee has a very low direct economic weight, pollination by bees is of paramount importance for the sustainability of plant species and therefore fruit production. It is the same for all ecosystems and soil micro-organisms challenged by many agricultural practices that disregards the living and the importance of biodiversity.
In addition to these examples, the list of adverse events to the environment and societies is long: massive erosion of uplands, destruction of large tracts of virgin forest, environmental contamination with GMO hybrids, etc.. This ecosystem degradation has a direct impact on the health of human beings. The massive use of pesticides, for example, is a factor in the increase of cancer cases. It is the same for the use of polluting materials in food activities, structures, etc.
The depletion of natural resources
Beyond the issue of pollution coming from the intensive, industrial modes of production, growing industrialization inevitably leads to the depletion of "raw" materials and of the commodities it needs in disproportionate quantities. For several centuries, the pressures exerted upon the stock of mining energy resources was infinitesimal compared to the ongoing human needs. Today, the relationship has been reversed totally and it is clear that resources will diminish, and in the case of some, even vanish. According to forecasts, the non-renewable resources being harvested nowadays will all eventually reach a "peak" after which extraction will be harder, more expensive and, in the end, uneconomic. Furthermore, the essential natural resources, such as the surface area of fertile soils, water and air quality, are also being impacted on by industrialization. Their increasing scarcity or their deteriorition poses direct threats to the health and life of human beings. Here is a sketch of what is known and predictable for the upcoming decades regarding the depletion of natural resources and the foreseen "peaks".
The deterioration and the increasing scarcity of the soil available for food production are generated by two main factors. The first is the soils' depletion, overloaded by fertilizers and pesticides coming from the petrochemical industry. The most visible phenomenon is soil impermeabilization, which generates landslides and flooding. The second is the grabbing of land by big landlords with ample amounts of capital. They will purchase land in foreign countries, especially in Africa, to create areas of intensive farming, excluding use by the local populations, which are then exploited on these plots and disposessed of any decision-making regarding production. As for arable land close to inhabitants, governments and bosses often destroy it to use the areas for other more "profitable" activities than farming.
Access to safe water, and especially drinking water, will become harder and harder. Besides the increase in water consumption due to industrial and agricultural production, numerous problems of pollution are on the rise, with an increasing presence of fertilizers, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals and all sort of industrial releases into the waters.
"Rare earth elements" are a range of metallic materials that have become extremly strategic as resources due to their magnetic properties. They are used in the electronics, IT and energy industries and are present for example in computers, mobile phones, flat screen TVs, as well as wind turbines and batteries. The extraction of rare earth elements is extremly polluting and harmful. Teeth and skin problems are reported, as well as increases in cancer in contact with water made poisonous. Extraction generates the release of acids and radioactive thorium, that pours out without any conservation measures into surrounding waters and land. In contacts with these toxic products, some living organisms become sterile and land farming is rendered impossible.
Regarding other materials, such as copper, nickel, zinc, lead, pewter, etc., because of the growing demand and depletion of deposits, their utilization could reach a peak in some twenty or thirty years. The metallic content of the newly-utilized ores is weaker, which generates an increase in the energy required to extract the metals. Furthermore, even if recycling allows us to use metals again, it is far from being total. Besides, working conditions in the mines are tragic and the consequences upon health are irreparable and often deadly.
Peak oil has already been reached and we are in the plateau phase preceding decline. The most accessible oil has already been extracted and by 2030 the world's "production" is expected to have been halved. The oil industry is now looking to the exploitation of oil from the tar sands and schist, causing huge environmental damage.
Uranium stocks, required for operating nuclear plants, are fastly declining. The big stocks are nowadays under sea level. Its extraction speed is already slower than its consumption speed, with a great part of uranium coming from nuclear disarmament and stocks. At the current pace, the uranium peak is foreseeable around 2035. The nuclear disasters of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima did not convince leaders who benefit from it to stop its utilization.
A gas peak is predicted by the French Petrol institute between 2020 and 2030. According to this source, this peak may have more severe consequences than that of the oil peak, and will involve serious shortages, since gas can be subsituted for oil in numerous cases, whereas there is actually no substitute for gas on a large scale. As for the coal peak, it could be reached by 2025.
False solutions to environmental problemsThe environmental problems briefly set out above are largely consensual in political circles as well as among the intellectual and political elites, who nevertheless minimalize these environmental issues. We therefore put forward an anarchist critique of the following political positions which aims to be a response to environmental issues.
By the term green capitalism, we mean those political positions which state that it is possible to solve the environmental crisis without abandoning capitalism, thanks to a series of reforms intended to bring about an energy transition. For example, Europe Écologie Les Verts [Europe Ecology - The Greens, French political party - tr.] supports the idea of a state-sponsored capitalist economy which can lead to this transition. As part of this policy, we have seen the emergence of carbon credits on an international level, that is to say, the right to emit CO2 which can be monetized between States. More broadly, a fraction of the economic and intellectual elite thinks that giving a market value to "natural" goods according to their rarity allows capitalism to regulate itself and stop the environmental crisis. For us, this position can in no way solve the environmental crisis or even reduce the damage in progress.
First of all, the few practical experiments with this policy have proved to be ineffective. Carbon credits have not decreased the total volume of CO2 emissions because powerful States have been able to buy credits for exceeding their threshold. Then, the capitalists make endless fun of national and transnational laws. Just think of the many mines in Africa where solvents are used without any protection or recycling circuits, particularly in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo which is in a permanent state of civil war. In France, the capitalists refuse to pay for the clean-up of old mines or the damage caused by oil spills. We believe that hoping capitalists become little environmentalists by means of green laws is either a display of incredible bad faith, or naïvety beyond belief.
Remember that the capitalist system is a system which is totally dependent on perpetual economic growth and that in the case of a decrease in production, the level of profits for capital invested also decreases. This analysis is confirmed by historical facts. Indeed, capitalism's need for increased production and profits has been a key driving force of the colonial process, and remains the key driving force of the neo-colonial process today. We see it with the conquest of new territories to exploit (the Brazilian colonial front on the Amazon) and new resources to extract (tar sands, shale gas, etc.).
This need to increase the intrinsic profitability of this system makes it impossible to reconcile Capital with the environmental question. For us, the solution to these problems can only be found in a complete break with capitalism, that is to say in a revolutionary way.
The particular case of nuclear energy
Of all the false alternatives to the ecological crisis - often presented today as the best solution to reducing CO2 emissions - nuclear power is probably the most misleading of all.
Our rejection of and demand for an immediate stop to nuclear energy is based on an assessment of the specificity of the risk that nuclear power represents in relation to all other industrial hazards known to date:
A large number of environmentalist associations  expect the State to legislate in order to preserve threatened ecosystems and reform individual behaviour. For us, this option is doomed to fail because the State cannot go against the interests of capitalism, which is structurally against the objectives of environmentalism.
In recent years, partly under pressure from environmental groups, the State has increased the number of environmentalist structures such as National Parks, Regional Natural Parks and the Habitats Directive (Natura 2000), etc. These State devices seek to preserve particularly sensitive areas by regulating human activities within them. After 30 years of this policy, the conclusion is clear that sensitive habitats are on the decline and that, generally, the ongoing degradation has by no means been curbed.
Instead of the analysis by the environmental associations, which attributes this failure to too little State involvement, we believe that this policy only creates more economically costly bureaucracy, with the power to repress that merely oppresses the world of labour a little more, particularly in the agricultural profession. Indeed, in addition to an economic context that tends to intensify production through continuous degradation of agricultural income, the workers of the land have to perform even more work in order to fulfill the obligations of this green bureaucracy. So not only is the economic trend that drives workers to engage in anti-environmental practices not addressed, but this bureaucratic constraint promotes reactionary behaviour by workers of the land and forests with regard to environmental issues.
Rather than the development of a bureaucracy and the establishment of repression, we believe that we must fight to improve the income of labour that will allow the establishment of more environmental practices. Similarly, we want to promote the socialization of production which, by socially elevating workers, makes it possible to exchange analyses and practices, and open up new collective perspectives and the emergence of a stronger ecological awareness.
By this concept we refer to all the political and intellectual currents that assert that the resolution of social and environmental issues must pass through a decline in economic activity.
If we share the foundational analysis of Georgescu-Roegen that says that the global economy has a level of utilisation of natural resources beyond their speed of regeneration, we think that degrowth is an imperfect concept as it does not allow the exclusion of authoritarian social models nor of explicitly the institution and development of social structures and socially useful economic activities. The concept of degrowth says nothing about the political organisation that it presupposes. Hence certain ecologists can from their wishes call for a sort of ecologist "dictatorship" supposed to enforce a respect for the environment. More generally, the concept of degrowth could also be called for by people carrying a racist, theocratic or fascist vision of society. Currently the internal contradictions of capitalism and the apparent absence of a credible revolutionary perspective cause most of the ecologist discourses and movements to oscillate between two poles, each as utopian as the other: "sustainable development" (more correctly, sustainable growth) and degrowth without an exit from capitalism. Ultimately if the capitalist system aims for growth for growth's sake, it is no more pertinent to counter it with an "alternative" consisting of degrowth for degrowth's sake.
The challenge is rather to bring back the level of global production under the limit of the renewal rate of natural resources, all while guaranteeing equal access to the goods and services produced. Thus, the fundamental question to ask ourselves to have a hope of overcoming the ecological crisis is to know who decides what is produced, and the way it is produced. The necessary lowering of the level of production thus imposes on humanity the need to take up the challenge of direct democracy, as only populations and not private actors in competition with each other, will really have the interest of overcoming the ecological crisis. But this equally involves taking up the challenge of equality as the only way to reduce the level of production without injuring anyone is to cover people's needs in an egalitarian way.
Thus, rather than degrowth, we demand the socialization of production and decision-making power in society to at last rationalize the economy and meet our needs in accordence with available resources.
In the nebulous milieu of degrowth, we recognise that there are genuine progressives as well as fights, notably that against the harrassment of advertising junk mail, that we are in accordance with. If a libertarian component exists in this current, there is also a strong statist tendency such as the PPLD (Parti Pour La Décroissance - Party for Degrowth), the rightist journal "La Décroissance" (Degrowth journal) and the "green identitarian" fascists... If we are seeing ultra-right currents starting to associate themselves with degrowth it is because the promotion of anything-goes localism is ambiguous to say the very least.
Confronted with the issue of limited resources and environmental pollution problems due to human activities, some so-called "neo-Malthusian" current advocate birth control to halt the growth of the world population, or even reduce its size. These theories are so named in reference to Malthus, an economist from the early 19th century. According to him, the population growth being much faster than that of resources, it was necessary to impose a strict birth control by means of "moral virtues", marrying later, and ceasing all aid to the poor in order to increase their rate of mortality.
We can only be in firm opposition to that one part of the population should exercise its domination by seeking to control the rate of reproduction of another part of the population. All current and past applicationbs of birth control policies clearly show unequal, authoritarian or even dictatorial practices. They have taken the guise of large campaigns encouraging contraceptive conducted by the rich countries in the so-called developing countries, the compulsory taking contraceptives, fines for births, but also compulsory sterilizations and forced abortions.
The underlying ideological reasons were more or less openly racist, ethnic supremacist, theocratic, fascist, or eugenicist. Environmental considerations have served as covers for fears of the identitarian and racist type, with a fear of "invasion" by populations designated as foreign having higher birthrates, whether that be by migration, by wars or by grabbing available resources. Under the guise of limited resources, some governments have implemented ethnicist, religious or social control policies to reduce the demographic growth of targeted minorities or to limit the dangers of political explosion linked to poverty. The eugenicist ideology characterized by fear of a deterioration in the "quality of people" took the concrete form of forcible mass sterilizations of the "poor" and "delinquents", homosexuals, the disabled, or those with psychiatric disorders.
As for the very concept of wanting to reduce the population to reduce resource consumption and pollution, it fails to take into account numerous factors. In fact the level of exploitation of available resources and pollution levels do not depend just on the size of the population, but also modes of consumption, production, processing, transport, agro-industrial pressures... The age structure of the population, its way of occupying space, the territorial distribution of resources are examples of other elements in play. So not only would a decrease in population not result in a systematic reduction of resource usage, but what is more is thht no scientific study has ever shown that human population is too large given the planet's resources.
Malthusian policies enroll themselves within the system of patriarchal domination in targeting mainly women. These latter are reduced to the function of procreation, dictated by political campaigns, prohibited by coercive measures, or even suppressed by corporeal constraints depriving them of control over their own bodies.
For us, environmental issues cannot possibly be solved by an authoritarian imposition of any form of birth control. What's more, demographic control is not a solution in its itself, to ecological problems. On the contrary, we thing that the taking direct control by people of the economic and social questions for organising the egalitarian distribution of produced wealth taking into account available resources would provide the answer closest to meeting the needs of all. We know that at the level of the population the birthrate is influenced by the standard of living and quality of social organisation. Breaking with religious, patriotic and natalist discourses, we demand a legally and economically free access to contraception permitting the emancipatory choice of whether to have children or not, at the desired time.
Under these conditions, we believe that the desire to overcome the ecological crisis is not an obstacle to individual choice to have one, several, or no children at all.
Promotion and massification of alternatives through deeds
While there are no existing political organizations that focus exclusively on this political line, it is still found in a relatively diffuse fashion, especially in the libertarian milieu. Indeed a substantial number of comrades think that developing alternative projects following libertarian principles will the creation of a revolutionary rupture.
For us the promotion and development of self-management/ecological alternatives by deeds, albeit necessary, cannot alone constitute a central strategy for libertarian communists because:
While most members of this political current do not limit their actions to environmental problems, they often claim that their positions can solve the difficulties outlined above. For us, anti-speciesism as a political project for the abolition of all forms of exploitation of animals, does not allow for the resolution of environmental problems. More broadly, this political current is not compatible with the anarchism we defend.
The industrial rearing of livestock, mainly poultry and pigs is largely negative: high emissions of greenhouse gases, nitrogen, and high consumption of antibiotics. The abandonment of these sectors and the modes of consumption related to them is essential for solving environmental problems. However, the use of animals remains for us indispensable, especially in a context of scarcity of fossil resources. Indeed, animal husbandry improves soil fertility, a condition for obtaining cereal and vegetable yields up to the measure of our dietary needs. It also allows rapid recycling of food by-products such as bran (a residue from the hulling of cereals). It ensures the production of textile products with wool and leather... The abandonment of husbandry and its functions would be either a greater use of petroleum products (chemical fertilizers and synthetic fibres) or a very significant reduction in the volume food production (falling crop yields due to lack of fertilization and replacement of food crops with textile fibres).
The abandonment of animal husbandry would deprive us of an important work aid for tillage, handling heavy objects... that cannot be compensated for except by an increase in oil consumption. Indeed, how to drag a tree out of the forest without using a tractor?
For anti-speciesists, ending the use of animals aims at the establishment of equal rights between human and non-human. For us, equality corresponds to the establishment of a social organization where the decision-making power and access to resources are equal for all. This equality goes beyond equal treatment and necessitates the creation of a society, that is to say, to share a history and a collective work, the intergenerational transmission of which ensures the autonomy of individuals in society, which is not the case between humans and non-humans. Antispecism treats inequalities exclusively via the frame of discrimination, denying the factuality of the development of social structures leading to structural inequality between individuals of the same society.
Defining freedom and equality exclusively by the connections between individuals and not within a collective social structure, anti-speciesism is for us essentially liberal. It is thus incompatible with the anarchism we stand for, which aims to establish a politically and economically equal society where freedom is the same for everyone since it cannot really exist in unequal social relations. Far from being trivial, the definition of freedom and equality outside the definition of a society, is the ideological base which leads part of the partisans of anti-speciesism to equate factory farming with the Holocaust, an opening to the trivialization of genocide, holocaust denial, and the intrusion of fascists into this movement.
Strategic lines on environmental isues for the CGAAs activists in the CGA, we say that the environmental question, like the social question, cannot be resolved in the capitalist economy and under the yoke of the State. Like on the social question, we can act now by increasing the ratio of forces in order to impose progressive conquests on those in power. To truly solve environmental problems, we want the socialization of the means of production and federal organization, in terms of social and environmental reorganization of the economy.
The social, libertarian revolution is our only option for stopping environmental degradation. It is possible for us today to push for an intensification of the struggle against the nuclear industry and against new oil extraction (gas and shale oil), to impose restrictions on intensive agriculture and to put a halt to the implementation of large, unnecessary and anti-social public works...
It is important for us anarchist activists to address these struggles as revolutionary action alone can solve all the environmental and social problems; there is an urgent need to put a brake on the degradation in progress if we do not want to see a field of ruin in the mid-term.
Thus it seems necessary for anarchists to take up environmental issues and engage with others working in the "environmentalist" struggles when that can allow us to develop an effective ratio of power, while maintaining our specific message.
We will now set out the CGA's strategic positions and lines with regard to a number of environmental issues.
The anti-nuclear struggle
The anti-nuclear struggle today continues to be part of of one of the fundamental lines of the "ecologist" war.
On this subject, the CGA believes that we must phase out nuclear power immediately through the construction of a popular ration of power for the abolition of an industry that is excessively dangerous and polluting, which serves as a screen for military armaments.
As the main cause of the greenhouse effect, responsible for many environmental disasters (BP in the Gulf of Mexico), the oil industry is at the heart of the capitalist economic system. It makes sense for us to develop struggles that limit the development of this industry, or even reduce it.
Today, capitalist multinational companies have large legal facilities in order to exempt themselves from liability at times of major ecological disasters (Erika, BP, etc.). Furthermore the development of struggles to force oil companies to pay in full for their damage should limit the repeat of these disasters, thereby constituting a relevant challenge with regard to the capitalists. We thus support those struggles which, after environmental damage, demand that the polluter pays.
We also demand as of now:
Towns and neighbourhoods must be designed to reduce the distances travelled by people in order to access their decision-making bodies, jobs, supplies of food, water, etc. We need a general move towards the development of short circuits and towards a decentralized energy system based on the lowest possible impact on the environment at any given location.
On the global scale, the diversity of ecosystems and their complexity are largely in decline. Two major factors are to blame - significant releases of toxic substances from industry and household consumption, and increased chemical inputs in agriculture.
In terms of toxic releases, we believe that we have to stop the use of polluting synthetic molecules, or at the very minimum their strict containment, as well as halt the use of GMOs.
In terms of agriculture, we believe that the universalization of organic farming, that is to say, without any synthetic chemical input, constitutes real progress for our health and for the preservation of "the environment". But when disconnected from social demands, we believe this demand to be counter-productive. Because in the state of a capitalist economy, imposing organic farming would drive up food prices well above inflation, thus resulting in the impoverishment of workers, as supply would decrease while demand would remain constant, "organic" yields being on average 30% lower than current conventional yields. We thus believe that we must couple the demand for organic farming to demands on food prices with, for example, capping and indexation that is equal to or lower than inflation of a third of the lowest wages or of RSA [Revenu de solidarité active, a form of unemployment benefit and low-wage supplement - tr.], or any other index representing the evolution of working class wealth. Without being dogmatic, it is a matter of finding a demand that can mobilize and is progressive in a practical way.
The move to organic farming, though mostly representing "ecological" progress, does not guarantee against certain agricultural damage caused by structural problems. For example, the development of major production areas with a very low level of integration between livestock and crop farming, causes, among other things, a very high proportion of nitrates in the water, making it unfit for use. Only the collective management of the land, through a holistic approach to agriculture in its environment, can avoid these problems by taking into account all the advantages and disadvantages of the various forms of production.
To struggle today against the impoverishment of ecosystems and agricultural and industrial pollution, we demand:
Naturally, the fascist movement also shows itself in taking up certain environmental struggles, as the movement in its broad sense awith regard to the defence of animal rights and more specifically identitary current find a place in the vision of "defence of the land" and of traditions, excluding everything that is foreign (human or non-European cultures).
These demands, although limited, constitute for us actual social progress in the field of environmental issues. Beyond immediate progress, we believe that lines of immediate demands are essential for the construction of a popular ratio of forces that opposes the capitalist forces and makes up the embryo of the social, libertarian and environmental revolution of tomorrow.
Coordination des Groupes AnarchistesJanuary 2014
Translation by Anarkismo.net
1. Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, mandated by the UN on climate matters.
Sat 25 Apr, 14:35
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