Why Ecosocialism Today?
Solidarity held a 3-day conference on "Socialism and Environmental Justice" in New York City, July 20-22. Joel Kovel, author of this article, and other socialist, labor and environmental justice activists presented on topics ranging from the Uneasy Alliance of Labor and Environmental Justice to Feminism, Reproduction and the Environment. Some of the resources gathered by the summer school committee, grouped under several themes and questions, are available at the bottom of the page.The optimism of the early years of the environmental movement has now quite faded. Despite certain useful interventions like greater recycling of garbage or the development of green zones, it is increasingly apparent that the whole mass of governmental regulations, environmental NGOs, and academic programs has failed to check the overall pace of ecological decay. Since the first Earth Day was proclaimed, in fact, the breakdown in crucial areas such as carbon emissions, the loss of barrier reefs and deforestation of the Amazon basin, has actually accelerated and even begun to assume an exponential character.
Neoliberalism is a return to the pure logic of capital; it is no passing storm but the true condition of the world we inhabit. It has effectively swept away such measures as had inhibited capital’s aggressivity, replacing and replaced them with naked exploitation of humanity and nature.
It is time to recognize the utter inadequacy of first-wave environmentalism’s basic premises and forms of organization. It is capital itself that places us on a track to ecological chaos. Capitalism requires continual growth of the economic product; and since this growth is for the sake of capital and not real human need, capital’s effect is the continual destabilization of an integral relationship to nature. The essential reason for this lies in capitalism’s distinctive difference from all other modes of production, that it is organized about the production of capital itself, a purely abstract, numerical entity with no internal limit. Hence it drags the material natural world, which very definitely has limits, along on its mad quest for value and surplus value, and can do nothing else.
It is plain that production will have to shift from being dominated by exchange—the path of the commodity—to that which is for use, that is for the direct meeting of human needs. But this in turn requires definition; and in the context of ecological crisis, “use” can only mean those set of needs essential for the overcoming of the ecological crisis—for this is the greatest need for civilization as a whole, and therefore for each woman and man within it.
Production within ecosocialism is to be oriented toward the mending of ecosystemic damage and indeed, the making of flourishing ecosystems.
Most definitely, this raises far more questions than it answers: that is, simply, a measure of how profound the ecological crisis is. What, after all, would life look like if we stopped pouring carbon into the atmosphere and allowed the climate ecosystem to re-equilibrate, that is, be healed? How, really, are we to live fully human lives in harmony with nature given the tremendous horrors built into our system of society? There is no certainty of outcome. But there is one certainty we have to build: There must be an alternative.
This is an abbreviated version of an article by Joel Kovel originally published in New Socialist (Summer 2007).