LONDON, 8 January, 2020 – The city of Munich – one of Europe’s wealthiest urban conurbations – has expansive plans to tackle the fast-growing problems associated with climate change: its policies are a good example of Germany’s green energy quest, the Energiewende.
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Less of What We Don't Need
Stories about Less of What We Don't Need.
The newest book by Giorgos Kallis, one of the most prolific degrowth advocates is entitled Limits: Why Malthus Was Wrong and Why Environmentalists Should Care. It is a short and accessible read which contains some important and unconventional arguments. In what follows, I will first briefly summarize the core arguments of the book, which promises to provoke important discussions on the matter of limits and subjects. Then I will reflect on the fuzziness of the primarily cultural conceptualization of capitalism, and argue that neither self-limitation nor degrowth qualifies as a mode of production, such that they could constitute an alternative to capitalism.
Following is my response to Robert Hunziker’s article “Kill GDP to Help Save the Planet,” published in Counterpunch on 2 January 2020. 
“Lithium mining in Portugal involves large open-cast mines that rip open huge tracts of land-destroying soils and ecosystems,” said Laura Williams, a resident based in central Portugal, who is having to deal with lithium mining activities on her doorstep. “It uses huge amounts of water in the processing, which then contaminates ground and river water. The huge machines that are used have a massive impact in terms of noise and vibrations on local communities.”
The fire – which we have used in our homes for over 400,000 years – remains the most versatile and sustainable household technology that humanity has ever known. The fire alone provided what we now get through a combination of modern appliances such as the oven and cooking hob, heating system, lights, refrigerator, freezer, hot water boiler, tumble dryer, and television. Unlike these newer technologies, the fire had no need for a central infrastructure to make it work, and it could be built locally from readily available materials.
PR: Kenn, recently, this observation of mine provoked a measure of ire: Street demonstrations, even large ones, are apropos of nothing as long as they are manifested as de facto state sanctioned protests. A march proceeds, chants are cast into indifferent air, speechifying comes to pass by the usual gasbags then the assembled head home and carry on as usual. Conversely, a strike means job walk-offs — until the strikers demands are met — not walking out and walking back in the next day.
These are not revolutionary activities or even a political movement. Capitalist colonisation has been internalised to such a saturating degree that demonstrations are, in the neoliberal era, designed to be toothless and non-threatening in regard to the structures of capitalist power. Conversely, a strike translates to stopping the flow of capital — otherwise it amounts to enabling business as usual.
In fact-Klein’s Green New Deal entirely skirts the larger issue of resources – that is, the extent to which the planet faces steadily-declining natural resources (above all water, land, soil, forests, oceans, scarce metals). Economic predictions indicate that leading industrialized nations (U.S., China, India, the EU, Russia, Japan) could easily double their GDP output within the next two or three decades. It is delusional to believe vulnerable ecosystems could endure such overburdening “development” very far into the future. One specter is that intensifying global resource competition, endemic to the logic of both perpetual growth and geopolitical rivalry, could be what most hastens planetary disaster.
Ocean out west. Photo by Manuel García, Jr.
How long has science known about CO2-induced climate change, and are we clever enough today to geo-engineer our way out of cooking ourselves to extinction?
In brief: a long time, and most likely no.
How effective is individual action when it is systemic social change that is needed? Individuals do make choices, but these are facilitated and constrained by the society in which they live. Therefore, it may be more useful to question the system that requires many of us to travel and consume energy as we do....
Advances in energy efficiency have not resulted in lower energy demand, because they don’t address new and more resource-intensive consumption patterns that often emerge from more energy efficient technologies. Likewise, renewable energy sources have not led to a decarbonisation of the energy infrastructure, because (total and per capita) energy demand is increasing faster than renewable energy sources are added.
The chapter in Latin American history that opened in 1998 with celebrations in Venezuela has ended with a coup and violence in Bolivia. As with all tidal waves, the “pink tide” recedes to reveal a terrain transformed. The left movement landscape that produced variously striped socialist governments in a dozen countries is fractured and disillusioned. Central and South America face a resurgent right and the return of austerity, often through a scrim of tear gas. This state of disarray also marks the continent’s literal terrain: the forests and mountains cleared and ripped open, their minerals and hydrocarbons sent to port and shipped abroad in the name of a socialist project whose achievements have proven fragile, temporary, and superficial. Trying to maintain a “green” version of global consumer society could lead to a scramble for rare metals to make previous waves of extractivism look gentle by comparison.