Book Review: “Green Capitalism: Why it can’t work”

Green Capitalism: Why it can’t work.
Daniel Tanuro
Merlin Press/ Resistance Books, 2013

I approached this book with some scepticism. It wasn’t that I was unsympathetic to the arguments I expected to find in it. I do regard myself as a Marxist, on who thinks that to understand the systems (political, economic, cultural, social, family, psychological) that shape our lives, it is necessary to understand the ‘deep processes’, the often hidden ways in which some groups dominate others in the control and struggle for resources (historical materialism). But there is a strong tendency in organised Marxism to adopt a ‘maximalist’ line, one that suggests that nothing can be done, improved, sorted out, until the workers triumph and overthrow the rule of Capital. This is, apart from being inaccurate (significant victories over Capital such as the establishment of the NHS, the Scandinavian welfare states, Kerala’s superior human development compared to neighbouring Indian states, the result of social movements with reformist politicians have shown how another world is possible), a counsel of despair, and indeed often, paradoxically, of quietism. This book has been distributed by Socialist Resistance, a group that now describes itself as eco-socialist, whose lineage goes back to the International Marxist Group, Ernest Mandel and Trotsky’s Fourth International. Indeed they still think it necessary and helpful to describe themselves as the British section of the Fourth International. However, like the old IMG they do represent the more human, thoughtful end of the Trotskyist tradition.

But on reading the book I was favourably impressed. Tanuro caries out a careful examination of capitalism and its destructive tendencies and of attempts to ameliorate the impact of continual capital accumulation (a.k.a economic growth) on, for example greenhouse gas emissions, using its own tools, such as the creation a market in carbon emissions. He examines carefully forensically the huge problems of such trading schemes, with their inadequate pricing, and effective licence to emit. He also makes it clear how government targets for emission reduction are nowhere near enough to prevent harmful climate change, even if schemes like the European Emissions Trading Scheme were actually to work. He also criticises the traditional left its general lack of concern about the environment and its destruction: “At best it ignores the problem.. at best it is on the defensive”.

He then considers some alternative approaches, ecological economist Herman Daly’s idea of the Steady State Economy and the European degrowth movement, particularly associated with French economist Serge Latouche.

My own criticisms of Daly’s approach are somewhat similar: most treatments of the Steady State economy take the view that it would be consistent with some form of capitalism (British economist Tim Jackson for example suggests this, but he uses an inadequate definition of capitalism as the market economy). Daly also fails to make it clear that our current level of economic activity is far too high: it needs to decrease so we (humans in the aggregate, though levels of consumption differ radically) live within the capacity of the earth to support us.

His treatment of Latouche is also unsympathetic but in this case I don’t think he has read him very thoroughly. For Latouche ‘degrowth’ is a mater of changing the conversation, from growth and development to other goals. He is attempting to move the debate, the narrative, from one dominated by economic concepts to one where human and ecological values take their place. In this he is close to socialist thinkers like Raymond Williams and the ‘post-Marxists’, who he discusses, Cormelius Castoriadis (Paul Cardan) and André Gorz, a key thinker in the movement for a shorter working week. All of these theorists had in common the critique of the ‘productivism’ that the traditional left (though arguably not Marx) share with capital’s ideologues. Furthermore Latouche has a lot in common with the decolonial thinkers from the global South (such as R Grosfoguel, S Amin, V Shiva, E Gudynas, A Acosta, A Escobar, E Dussel, and A Quijano) who criticise the very idea of ‘development’ as a linear, Eurocentric concept tied to that modernity whose underside is the global extraction of wealth from South to North (a.k.a. West) and the myriad tricks of defamation, devaluation, obfuscation that go with it. But despite including a quote from Mandel that makes it clear that material ‘progress’ can be harmful, Tanuro objects to what he sees as a conflation of capitalism ad development. Perhaps we’d agree with the slogan of environmentalist Bolivians though, that “another development is possible’, at which point we might search for a better term.

Tanuro ends with a call for ecosocialism, but for a Marxist the glaring gap is of a convincing praxis that could conceivably bring this about.

So, if we accept that (most of) the dominant approaches to reforming the economic and social system are unworkable or utopian, then how do we move forward without falling into the maximalist “after the revolution we’ll see” that Tanuro himself ridicules? For me at least part of the answer lies in some of the more innovative concepts from socialist praxis:

Trotsky’s notion of transitional demands is to mobilise around those reforms that can be reasonably campaigned for, that the system might agree to, but which through the failure to realise them in reality, expose its true nature. The shorter working week and increased pre-distributive equality are good contemporary examples.

Gramsci’s concepts of prefigurative struggle, war of position, hegemony and counter-hegemony, little understood by swathes of the left, connect with both the alternative lifestyles movements and the hard-nosed struggles against neoliberalism, suggesting the basis for the kind of anti-capitalist, ecologically literate alliance that we perhaps se emerging in Spain, Greece and parts of Latin America.

Gorz’s concept of revolutionary reforms (like Gramscian prefiguration) similarly bridges the day to day creation of an alternative reality within the current system with the revolutionary reconstruction of society, economy, culture, politics – and our relations with nature.

But there again, perhaps this is all a conceit – the system will crash and what we think might be seeds of a new society may be no more than lifeboats in a storm of unprecedented destruction.

Mark H Burton

[Mark Burton is part of the Steady State Manchester group, but is writing here in a personal capacity]

Posted in Book Review | 1 Comment

Not #Manchester-based; Petition to save the Arctic — Greenpeace versus Lego (yes, Lego!)


LEGO are rattled. First our video was removed from Youtube. Hours later, it was put back after thousands of us voiced our outcry!

But LEGO are still refusing to meet us. So in 4 days, undercover LEGO agents will go to their Head Office in Slough to deliver every single name on the petition asking them to dump Shell.

You’ve already signed along with 103,239 potential LEGO customers – if each of us now share the petition with one more person we can double that number before we visit LEGO.

The bigger number they see, the more worried they’ll be about future sales.
4 days to go – can you forward this email to some friends? They can sign here:

LEGO has very senior managers based in the UK. They care deeply about UK sales figures and the reputation of their brand. Right now, that reputation is being damaged by their refusal to reconsider their partnership with Shell.

In 4 days, Greenpeace volunteers will show up at their office in front of LEGO’s staff and the public with all the names of people who want them to dump Shell.

It might just be the nudge the Chief Executive needs to pick up the phone to the CEO in Denmark, and tell him it’s time to end their misguided deal with Shell.

So let’s make sure that number is huge. Share this email with your friends.

When we work together we get results. From getting Jewsons to drop Amazon timber, to confronting Statoil near Bear Island, bit by bit we’re making companies behave responsibly. Together we can get LEGO to come over to the good side, too.

Can you ask more people to join in and sign here?

Posted in Arctic, clicktivism, International | Leave a comment

Video: #Manchester City Council and its scrutiny system. A 7th committee is needed… #climate #democracy

Here’s a rough and ready short film about the scrutiny process of Manchester City Council and the need for a 7th – environmental -  scrutiny committee.

Thanks to all the people who gave constructive feedback on the earlier draft. I followed it all scrupulously, so if this film doesn’t win Oscars, it’s your fault.

There will be more of these films in the coming weeks.

Two more things

a) If you haven’t already, please find out if your councillors are carbon literate. If you don’t live in Manchester City Council’s patch, please forward the link on to people who do, and ask them to find out if their councillors are carbon literate.

b) Save the date: Tuesday 26th August, 7pm, Friends Meeting House.

Posted in Democratic deficit, Manchester City Council, youtubes | Leave a comment

#Climate change and #Egypt – please forward to anyone in #Manchester with connections there

What does practical solidarity with those on the sharp end of climate change look like? What, beyond sharply reducing developed world emissions, should we be doing?  Any suggestions? Regardless, please circulate this excellent article, which makes good use of the work of Manchester-based academics Professor Kevin Andreson and Dr Alice Bows, to anyone with an interest in Egypt.  Thanks.

…. The early arrival of summer this year brought with it a reminder of the violence of climate change. Rising temperatures kill, even if hot weather seems normal for the region. Heat waves like that of this May, when Cairo temperatures reached forty-three degrees Celsius, might seem irritating but innocuous. But a British hot spell killed 760 people in nine days last summer. London’s highest temperature was thirty-three degrees. How many more will die in Egypt this summer, where it is far hotter and the health system weaker? The statistics do not exist and we do not know the names of those who died, as many live on the streets and come from Egypt’s underclass.

This is about more than extreme weather events. Between 2006 and 2010, severe droughts in eastern Syria destroyed the livelihoods of 800,000 people and killed eighty-five percent of livestock. 160 whole villages were abandoned before 2011. Rising sea levels in the Nile Delta have forced farming families to abandon their homes repeatedly in recent years. In a coastal village I visited near Rasheed in April 2014, residents spoke of relocating three times as their land was washed away.

This is not nature “having its revenge.” The classist violence of climate change is shaped so that the poor carry the burden on behalf of the privileged. We do not recognize the underlying brutality, as dominant narratives render it invisible. Responsibility is diverted onto “natural” disasters and the physical landscape. Yet nobody needed to die in Cairo when the temperature dropped in December or soared in May. The deaths were the result of decisions made in London and Brussels, DC and Dubai, and more locally in Lazoghly, Heliopolis and Qattameya. These were choices made to keep burning fossil fuels, and to protect the rich rather than the poor….

Posted in International | Leave a comment

Job Alert: #Manchester BikeRight! Programme Manager. Applications close 1st Sept

via the excellent site

Programme Manager

Organisation: BikeRight!
Salary: £25,000 – £30,000 pa
Location: Manchester
Hours: Full Time
Position type: Paid
Contract: Permanent
Contact name: Liz Clarke
Contact telephone: 0161 230 7007

BikeRight! is a dynamic, award-winning cycling development business. We partner some of the country’s largest public authorities, delivering training and education programmes to communities, organisations and individuals.

Every year our cycling initiatives touch over 20,000 people, helping to improve their cycling skills, knowledge, confidence and wellbeing. We are passionate about developing cycling and active travel and are at the forefront of cycling strategy both locally and nationally.

We employ the best in the industry as we strive to constantly improve and evolve, always aiming to meet or exceed expectations.

We now need a Programme Manager to oversee and run our contracts. This is a wide-ranging and responsible role requiring strong organisational, communication, administrative and IT skills and a proactive ‘can-do’ attitude.

We are looking for a self-motivated, hands-on manager with direct experience of working in a fast paced environment and a demonstrable track record of deploying staff in various locations. The successful candidate will be expected to assist the General Manager in managing teams in several locations to deliver and exceed targets set through contracts and KPI’s.

Ideally educated to degree level with direct experience of motivating teams, you will have knowledge of working to quality standards and customer requirements. You will also have a good understanding of management systems, project management and people management experience.

You will be a vigorous leader with a desire to succeed, always looking to improve operations to deliver growth. For the right person there is the opportunity to develop and extend this role as the business continues to grow.

Please complete our application pack and send with accompanying CV.

Posted in Job Alert | Leave a comment

#Manchester Council proclaims itself transparent. Want to know how “Clean City” money is spent? You gotta use FoIA.

Update: The Council has got even more Airport Windfall money this year.

Manchester City Council bleats loud and long about openness and transparency. In early June bureaucrats assured elected members they would explain the “Clean and Green Fund” better. A month later, if you want to know who is getting what, you still have to use the Freedom of Information Act. Manchester – you have to weep for it.

The back-story in bullet points;
In July 2013 the Council learnt it would get a £14.5m windfall from the rather-profitable-at-present (don’t mention the carbon) Manchester Airports Group, of which it is 35% owner.
In September it announced it wanted to set up a “Clean and Green fund” to disperse that money. MCFly asked the relevant Executive Member what was particularly green about it, since there was no mention of carbon emissions or biodiversity He was uncharacteristically non-specific.
A few people (MCFly editor included) set up a campaigning group called “Ask the people of Manchester” to try to convince the Council to hold a public consultation on how to spend the money. We listed 5 reasons why a consultation was a good idea, and 4 reasons why should the current non-consultation way of dispersing the money was bad.
We failed to get the 4000 signatures you need to force a debate in Council. Ho-hum.

The petition got discussed, eventually, by the “Finance Scrutiny Committee” in June 2014. From the minutes, it seems that there was much time spent dismissing of the Ask the People of Manchester campaign. What a surprise.
The recommendations included this -

Now, if you want to know how the £14.5m is being allocated, you can ask the Executive Member for the Environment. She will probably tell you to look at this website.
That’s what she told MCFly in mid-May.
We did. There were no details. So we decided to use the Freedom of Information Act to try to prise information from the cold dead fingers of the Council.

Now, in mid July, a month after a bureaucrat was instructed, by elected members, to “promote to residents which groups have so far received funding and what it will be used for” the website STILL has no details. And the elected members haven’t checked up to see if it was done.

Oh, by the way, here are the results of the FoIA.


MCFly says: Bureaucrats are bureaucrats. They like the dark, they like not being held accountable (and they never have to face the electorate) That’s true from Manchester to Mumbai, from Adelaide to Zanzibar. If you’re going to be a community activist, you had better get used to it (while still trying to change it, find ways round it).

What is extraordinary is how Manchester’s elected members allow themselves to be fobbed off, repeatedly. If you ever attend a scrutiny committee meeting (and I recommend it as an anthropological exercise; just don’t go alone or you might end up converting to fascism), you’ll see elected members ask specific questions. The bureaucrats (with honorable exceptions – well done Julie Price) will duck, weave, waffle or answer a different question. The member will sigh/roll their eyes/mutter about questions not being answered. Then they seem to think they’ve discharged their democratic duty. They haven’t.
Perhaps Councillor Chappell would like to write a post on her blog about this subject?

See also: blistering piece by Janan Ganesh in Financial Time of Sat 12th July2014 “Sir Humphrey is a servant who needs a lesson in civility”.

Posted in Aviation, Democratic deficit, Manchester Airport, Manchester City Council | 2 Comments

Councillor says carbon literacy an “eye-opener.” #Manchester folks- are YOUR councillors carbon literate?

Here is what Councillor Anna Trotman, one of the three councillors representing Higher Blackley ward, thinks;

The Carbon Literacy training that I went on recently, really opened my eyes to how wide the subject is.  I knew it wasn’t just about fuel and how it’s used, but I didn’t appreciate that it covered such subjects as food poverty and recycling.  I would urge anybody with the chance of attending a Carbon Literacy session to grab it with both hands, it worth every moment of your time.

So, the question is this. Do you know whether the three councillors who represent your ward completed their carbon literacy? At the moment, MCFly only knows of Councillor Trotman and Councillor Dan Gillard (Withington). There a (very) few others who have but their names aren’t known.  (There have been, for the umpteenth time, workshops cancelled at short-notice and other bureaucratic bungles. )

Here’s what you can do.

1) If you don’t know who your three councillors are,  type in your post code on this page on Manchester City Council’s website.

2) See if they are carbon literate by checking on the “Councillors and carbon literacy page” created here, on “Environmental Scrutiny Committee” website.

3) Drop any councillor who is not listed as “Yes” or “Been Asked on [date]” an email (or tweet). Their emails and twitter handles are on the page where you can check their literacy status.

Your message could be something like -

Dear Councillor x,
I care about climate change and I worry about Manchester’s preparedness. I hope you do too. I am writing to find out if you have completed your carbon literacy training (both the online and face-to-face component). If you haven’t, can you say when you will. If you don’t intend to, please let me know why. I will be sharing your answer (or lack of one) so that it can be added to a public database.

Thank you

[your name]

or @xxxxx done your carbon literacy training yet?

4) Forward your emails and any replies to
I will update the database as quickly as possible.

5) Save the date: Tuesday 26th August
At 2pm the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee will scrutinise the latest report on the Council’s carbon performance. Town Hall, no need to book
At 7pm there is the next meeting of the People’s Environmental Scrutiny Committee. Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount St. Plenty to do, whether you can come on the night or not….

Posted in #mcrclimateplan, capacity building | 2 Comments