‘We have two choices: to abandon hope and ensure that the worst will happen; or to make use of the opportunities that exist and contribute to a better world. It is not a very difficult choice’ says Noam Chomsky.1 But how? If we are to understand political responses to the degradation of our natural habitat and their need for socialist action, we must first seek to understand what is currently happening in our environment and why. This is the objective of the first part of this essay, while the possibilities and obstacles faced by the question what is to be done and the projects for a therapeutic politics of restoration form the second.

The Science of the Ecological Catastrophe

In science, nature is conceived as a complex interconnected set of bio-physical sub-systems, ‘a tightly coupled dance, with life and the material environment as partners’.2 This dynamic coupling provides the conditions of existence for our species. Overwhelming evidence points to the approaching collapse of these conditions. While cumulative man-made gaseous waste up to the present is unlikely to cause temperature rises to exceed 1.5 degrees,3 unless physically unprecedented and revolutionary measures are taken from now onwards the biophysical conditions for existence of many human beings are likely to be destroyed within the lifetime of anyone under the age of 20. In the view of one distinguished scientific team, the ‘safe operating space’ in at least three major physical sub-systems (of their set of nine): had quite likely already been exhausted a decade ago by material developments ‘eating away at our own social support systems’.4 These three are:

    1. Climate change. On top of the heating already under way – the product of global economic activity using fossil fuels (which Trump’s Energy Department now deigns to call ‘freedom molecules’) is heading, under business-as-usual assumptions, for a rise in global temperature that will put paid to most kinds of business. Half the world’s man-made atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) was emitted in the last 30 years, during which time the 20 companies which produced a third of world-historical emissions5 (from energy and cement) have been hard at work defending, and grabbing ever-increasing subsidies for, fossil fuels.6
    2. Losses of biodiversity and of redundancy7 are accelerating at a rate not found in any record since the cretaceous extinction some 66 million years ago.8
    3. Vast excesses of nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer run-off and fossil fuel combustion already compromise the resilience of soil and water sub-systems, pollute the oceans and risk anoxic extinctions.

A further set of three further planetary sub-systems currently thought to be approaching dangerous thresholds of destabilisation are:

    1. The oceans, where acidification due to carbonic acid is dissolving the calcium in corals, shellfish and planktonic species, threatening substantial portions of marine ecosystems, and the fishing industry which depends on them.
    2. Fresh water, whose diversion for agricultural, industrial and domestic use is causing pollution, droughts and water scarcities.
    3. Land: land-use change for the expansion of agriculture is reducing biodiversity, releasing green-house gases, inviting destructive weather events and redistributing species, sometimes with disastrous consequences.9

In addition, other activities threaten natural eco-systems in ways which are less well measured – ‘known unknowns’. The team behind the science of safe operating spaces for mankind, cited above, identifies three:

    1. Persistent organic pollutants, plastics, endocrine disrupters (such as oestrogen-mimicking chemicals), heavy metals and nuclear waste are all compromising ecosystems.10
    2. Atmospheric aerosols, an increasing proportion of which are man-made, penetrate deep into animal tissues including lungs and may aggravate respiratory, cardiovascular and allergic disease.11
    3. Atmospheric ozone depletion is allowing carcinogenic ultra-violet B-rays to damage life. The Montreal Protocol (which started to be implemented in 1989) has reduced the ozone depletion rate, but success of this treaty has diverted attention from the special conditions which enabled it to succeed and encouraged an unfounded faith that similar political actions of a kind which will not disrupt the global economy can avert environmental threats.12

This summary of trends in the planet’s physical sub-systems jolts us into realising that most writing about climate change and global heating is severely reductionist. First, the huge regional variations in the processes that are under way are airbrushed out.13 Second, climate change, which everyone talks about, is only one of many major interacting threats to our planetary ecosystems. Third, the factors causing climate change also contribute and feed back to these other threats – both directly (e.g. oil pollution in the Caspian sea) and indirectly through causing climate change (which is set to overtake land-use change as the major driver of biodiversity loss). Many parts of this complex interactive system are being damaged, in some cases irreparably, by activities which policy-makers and publics have often not even identified as a problem.

Despite the enormous environmental damage previously done to regions under communist rule, it is capitalism that now bestrides the narrow world like a colossus – pace Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar  – yet it is capitalism which is studiously not identified in the stream of scientists’ assessments. Instead, UN agencies list ‘countries’ as causers of gaseous emissions in terms of their cumulative stocks and current flows of gas: gross, net, per capita, and per megawatt hour. And the problem, weakly called ‘pollution’, is categorised by criteria such as the toxicity of industrial waste for the immediate area is in, or by economic sectors, or by the types of consumption involved. Conceiving the problem in these ways identifies and ranks the ‘national’ perpetrators differently. This generates agendas of response for each kind of problem, the signal result of which is that they have all failed to arrest the march of planetary society toward or beyond safe environmental thresholds. So the question of what is to be done has become increasingly urgent.

In line with the reductionism noted above, the UN has framed the urgency in terms of a ‘window of opportunity’ before we have used up the planet’s atmospheric ‘budget’ for the concentration of CO2 at a level that will keep the increase in temperature below 1.5 degrees above the average level of the years 1850-1900.14 While according to some estimates the ‘window’ is already closed, in 2018 the IPCC declared it still open, giving us anywhere between 2 and12 years before planetary self-reinforcing feedback processes kick in and other scientists reckon we may have 10-30 years. But no serious scientist thinks we have longer than this.15 Scientists also imagine targets that would need to be met within these time frames – e.g. national targets for shifting to renewable energy16 – and dates are set. But as targets proliferate, they become increasingly draconian, while the deadlines set for them recede into a future when the windows will have closed and the discursive frame becomes fantastic.

This sense of urgency has been criticized as amounting to ‘catastrophism’.17 Insofar as the dire findings of science are used to generate a political mobilising response driven by fear, one version of this might be what Greta Thunberg famously said at at Davos in 2019: ‘I want you to panic…. I want you to act as if the house was on fire’.18 Another version would be Richard Smith’s and other ecological Marxist claims that capitalism will shortly collapse through the combined weight of its internal contradictions and its rift with nature.19 The critics respond that catastrophism is a counsel of despair on several counts.20 First, anxiety is a weak driver of radical social change. Second, the crisis revealed by science is not a crisis of nature, or even of humanity versus nature;21 it is produced by the co-evolution of capital with nature. Capital constantly internalises constraints, responds to the price signals they cause, and dynamically reinvents itself. Wartime planning, carbon trading, bio-engineering, geo-engineering, GMOs, and dematerialisation are frequently cited examples.22 Despite the evident limits to resource availability, ‘(t)he idea of the limit is aesthetic’  explained David Harvey in conversation with Leo Panitch.23 For Harvey, the only limit of consequence is the limit to social alienation; reaching that limit will trigger revolutionary political action.24

However, as John Bellamy Foster observed about the Socialist Register’s 2007 issue on environment: ‘(t)he very fact that capitalism is not likely to collapse of itself and may ‘prevail’ for some time to come is precisely why the planet is in such absolute peril…(T)he advent of a more barbaric form [of capitalism] is no longer the worst of our worries. It is the threat to the planet itself that constitutes our most dire challenge’.25 The British Labour Party’s recent policy paper on the environment puts it differently: ‘winning slowly on climate change is the same as losing’. 26

Karl Marx (1818-1883). Everett Collection, Shutterstock

Human Development and Restitution Under Socialism

If we accept the dire nature and urgent time-frame of the challenges posed by what science tells us about the ecological impact of capitalism, it is useful to revisit the early materialists’ concepts of physical metabolism and human development. There are two reasons for this: first, because of their implications for ‘the way we live now’, and second, for their insights about social responses to our environmental crises – and about socialist responses.

These concepts were developed by Marx and his peers in a radically different context in the mid 19th century.27 Their question was man’s relations to nature.28 Out of the attempt to apply to society ‘developments in the science of physiology that were derived from agricultural thought’,29 came the concept of metabolism (Stoffwechsel in German).30 For Marx, social and ecological metabolism is the process of material exchanges in which nature is appropriated ‘for the satisfaction of human needs’.31 Nature and society co-evolve, nature through the laws of irreversible physical processes; society through historically institutionalised norms governing the division of labour and distribution of wealth.32 ‘Man lives on nature – means that nature is his body, with which he must remain in continuous interchange if he is not to die.’33 It follows that while we are united with nature, in the sense that we are materially a part of it, we also cannot exist without continual struggles with nature to shape it to our needs and wants.

Under capital, struggles take a particular shape.34 Nature, in the form of matter and energy, is continually transformed through competition. The ‘natural resource’ of labour is also commodified, exploited and alienated from the conditions of production. In so doing, a ‘whole gamut of permanent conditions of life required by the generations’ is encroached upon, conditions of social reproduction whose commodification threatens the conditions of life.35 Capitalist production relations open up a fourfold social-metabolic rift.

    1. Through the privatised ownership and extraction of natural resources and ever-greater spatial relocations of the commodities produced they disrupt the natural stocks and flows of material and energy.
    2. Through the exploitation of labour, they transform the inseparability of labour and nature, thereby ensuring that nature is objectified as a set of resources for human exploitation.36
    3. Through competition and commodification, they encroach on the very existence conditions of non-human life forms, as well as those needed by humans.
    4. Capitalist production, distribution and consumption of commodities also re-shape metabolism through the ever-increasing generation of waste material. The depletion of energy and materials due to the dumping of most waste has been accepted because it has not been an immediate obstacle to the production of surplus value. Although the planet is an open energy system and part of the solar system, the physical and social processes of degradation, dissipation, decomposition and reconstitution of waste operate at (slow) speeds that neither the capitalist system, nor the planet, can use or cope with.37

Marx envisaged an alternative dialectical process, one that was impossible under capitalist production relations.38 He invoked the systematic application of science to govern ‘the human metabolism with nature in a rational way…with the least expenditure of energy…and the re-use of waste…under collective (social) control…as associated producers’.39 These are the social and ecological conditions in which fully emancipated individual human development unfolds40 and in which science is to be used neither to dominate nature nor to assume nature is inexhaustible.41 It is, noteworthy in this respect that Marx ended the longest chapter by far in volume 1 of Capital, ‘Machinery and Modern Industry’, with this crucial argument:

Capitalist production completely tears asunder the old bond of union which held together agriculture and manufacture in their infancy. But at the same time it creates the material conditions for a higher synthesis in the future, viz., the union of agriculture and industry on the basis of the more perfected forms they have each acquired during their temporary separation. Capitalist production, by collecting the population in great centres, and causing an ever-increasing preponderance of town population, on the one hand concentrates the historical motive power of society; on the other hand, it disturbs the circulation of matter between man and the soil, i.e., prevents the return to the soil of its elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; it therefore violates the conditions necessary to lasting fertility of the soil… But while upsetting the naturally grown conditions for the maintenance of that circulation of matter, it imperiously calls for its restoration as a system [N.B. the German term in the original is ‘restitution’ – BHW], as a regulating law of social production, and under a form appropriate to the full development of the human race… In modern agriculture, as in the urban industries, the increased productiveness and quantity of the labour set in motion are bought at the cost of laying waste and consuming by disease labour-power itself. Moreover, all progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility… Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth — the soil and the labourer.

That Marx actually used the concept of ‘restitution’ here, which is quite different from ‘restoration’, as it has usually been translated into English, is important. For Marx makes it clear that human development, while being bound to relations with nature and with collective work, is not a matter of restoring nature to a status quo ante: restitution is different. This difference is not only because the metabolic status quo ante (before either capitalism or settled agriculture) is  irretrievably altered and ‘spoiled’.42 Nor is it just because the processes and sequencing of restoration are not understood43 or because biophysical processes are dynamic not static and the very notion of the status quo that is inappropriate. Nor is it because any kind of compensation cannot be other than physically dislocated. Nor does the difference between restoration and restitution even arise because social relations with nature have spun out of capital’s control.44 Rather the activity of ecological restitution is a collaboration with nature involving collective work through which individuals also achieve and practise human development.45

Understanding Marx’s concept of human development as implying the relation to nature which he called ‘restitution’ – akin to what we might perhaps now call ecological trusteeship – helps to appreciate why he thought this was something which only a socialist society could achieve. ‘Societies are not owners of the earth, they are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations as boni patres familias’.46 Our full, free and rich development requires we improve the earth.47

The idea of restitution did not originate with Marx, although the composite project of human-ecological development did. Restitution as an ecological idea – one originating long before the concept and discipline of ecology – seems to have been communicated in the influential mid 19th century Letters on Modern Agriculture of German soil scientist Justus von Liebig, with which Engels and Marx were very familiar.48 Liebig researched agriculture but his argument is equally valid for all of the material imbalances within and between all sectors of an economy – what Thompson and Medel called the web of life.49 In his critique of the ‘spoiliation system of farming’, which constantly robs the soil of nutrients, Leibig writes that ‘rational agriculture is based on the principle of restitution’.50 Here he means restoring soil fertility. It is not land as territory, but the constituents of the soil, which provide for the nutrition of plants and through which wealth is constituted, that requires restitution. In letters about the conditions needed for minerals to do their nutritional work for plants, Liebig’s erlass (which can also mean ‘enact’ and ‘adopt’) is again translated in terms of restitution, a process of returning to the soil minerals and manures in the form of plant, animal and human waste.51 Even more relevant to 21st century conditions, Liebig uses the concept to cover the restoration of a disturbed agricultural equilibrium while providing sustainably for sustenance.52 Restitution would now have to be extended to addressing rifts of nutrients, matter and energy which have interactive and disruptive effects ranging from the microbiome inside our bodies to the entire planet’s lithosphere, biosphere and atmosphere. Today the concept of restitution survives only in philosophy and law where it means both compensation for loss and the act of returning something stolen – as in movements for the ‘restitution of silenced histories, repressed subjectivities, subalternized knowledges’ (Mignolo, 2007, p 451). As a political concept it tends to be avoided – even in socialist thought. There are a few exceptions. Distinguishing social restitution from metabolic restoration, the environmental-political philosopher Peter Critchley theorises the former as a condition of the latter. Citing Istvan Meszaros, he sees ‘socialism … presented in its true form as a project of restitution … restored to the social body and exercised by the associated producers as social powers’.53 South African land policy provides a contemporary example of restitution understood as a project of economic justice and territory, involving the transfer of land to groups of African farmers.54 Yet as the anthropologist Lesley Green explains, if restitution is confined to the ownership of the means of production, even if this involves the collective ownership of land by ‘associated producers as social powers’, the relationship of people to land in a capitalist agrarian economy in which ‘partnership with the ecosystem is replaced by mastery over soils’ is inadequately addressed. He explains: ‘the breaks imposed in soil ecology under industrial agriculture’ need a fuller concept of restitution to stop. ‘Farmers need to be supported to work with the partnerships that make healthy soils for free: partnerships with plants, soil microbes, insects, cows, earthworms, burrowing animals –and time! Because these partnerships take time to make soil.’ 55

We see in this example that the concept of restitution has survived, if at all, in a form dis-integrated from the processes of collective work for human development through the improvement of nature as a general objective of social and political existence. It is now co-terminous with a set of less ambitious concepts: notably restoration – used by most environmental scholars and defining entire sub-fields of economics and of biology – but also ‘conservation’, ‘repair’ ‘compensation’, ‘recuperation’, ‘reparation’ (a branch of ecology ),56 ‘halting degradation’,57 and not forgetting the IPCC’s negative emissions scenarios, of which more anon.

Reducing nature to land and soils, as we have done so far, also ducks the fact that a rapidly expanding proportion of the global population – at least 55 per cent – is not involved directly in the work through which the kind of nature referred to so far in this essay is subjugated. Most people are involved in consuming – and creating waste from – the result of this process. Yet our production and consumption of (fuel) energy, cement, iron and steel, aluminium, minerals, chemicals and paper exceed man-land-livestock relations in their consequences for metabolic rifts.58 Not only is it impossible to restore the natural world to its condition prior to the capitalist and communist metabolic rifts – let alone to its condition in perhaps 200,000 BCE when humans first started using fire to modify vegetative cover.59 It is also impossible to restore what is being destroyed now. Capitalism is destroying nature irreparably.

Love Our Planet, protest on Market St San Francisco, CA. Photo: Ronan Furuta, Unsplash

Restitution and Restoration in the 21st Century

Over time the spectre of planetary peril has belatedly coaxed responses at a planetary scale: from the Pentagon’s basing of its military planning and technologies on the assumption that global warming will not be halted; to massively detailed scientific assessments, (including the Vatican’s apostolic academies’ weighty volumes of evidence and the Pope’s denunciation of greed and indifference); the adoption of market mechanisms to abate CO2 emissions, the institutional conditions for which cannot be met;60 and regular rounds of conflictual deliberations and inadequate voluntary pledges by the planet’s 196 nation-states.61 There is no lack of blueprints. Faced with the disparity between the evidence and the social reaction, with cognitive dissonance and insufficiency of will on a global scale,62 some people take to cycling and shop for vegan food with cloth bags, avoid single-use plastic, segregate and recycle waste and buy renewable electricity and ‘green gas’. Determined local groups invest in solar panels on school roofs, cities tax and try to ban diesel vehicles, and frequent fliers get trees planted. But extreme weather events and climate-change-related migrations and conflicts mean that already more and more people are dying. With restitution as the object of human development nothing but a utopian vision, socialists have to confront the limited but nonetheless imperative question of figuring out how the destruction of the remaining ecological space for human life can be halted in time. The first steps towards what Richard Smith has called ‘post-capitalist ecological democracy’,63 a move towards human development in harmony with nature, cannot avoid an engagement with the conditions of actually existing capitalism.

In full awareness that I am practising the reductionism I have criticised above, gyrating between the abstract and the concrete and historical, reviewing literatures trapped in disciplinary silos which carve nature into special – often mutually incomprehensible – fields, and being unavoidably forced, for reasons of space, to try to summarise extensive fields of knowledge, I turn now to looking at restorative initiatives for just one of the nine planetary sub-systems on which life depends: air. Although each subsystem has its own specific material and political problems, the dimensions of all of them are clear enough from what is known about air;64 and the drivers of gaseous pollution and atmospheric heating are also driving crises in the other physical subsystems. Following the template for full human development, I ask three kinds of questions about the initiatives on offer: how is science being used; how is it proposed that the use of materials and energy will be minimised, and waste re-used; and what forms of social organisation and control are envisaged for them?

Restoring the Earth’s Air
What we inhale when we draw our first breath has become invisible garbage. Our ways of living in the 21st century have finally confronted us with a phenomenon first identified in the early 19th century; the effect of waste gas on atmospheric temperature, and on the health of everyone. Making the world a better place means both stopping the (rate of) rise in global temperature and lowering the pollution in our atmosphere. Despite wars of denial and scepticism, the atrophy of US research funds, and the disappearance of websites, science has been mobilised for the ecological crisis across the board.

Here we take one iconic text as the product of the collective work of science. In 2016, the UN’s climate change body, the IPCC, set about organising 91 climate scientists (and 188 contributing authors) from 40 countries in a particularly focussed way65 to assess the prospects for damage-limitation. Organised into working groups for physical science, impacts and adaptation, and mitigation, they painstakingly reviewed about 6,000 research papers and fielded 42,000 peer reviewers’ comments. All the while, the voluntary pledges from the 195 national signatories to the Paris accord of 2015 were adding up to a total which suggested  their target of a maximum rise in global temperature of 1.5 degrees above the 1850-1900 average was going to be overshot by 100 per cent – i.e the pledges  implied an increase of 3 degrees. In late 2018 the scientists estimated and extrapolated the damages that could be expected to result from a global temperature rise of 2 degrees over the 1850-1900 average, and compared them with those resulting from 1.5 degrees. On the assumption that business-as-usual continues, the scientists estimated that the temperature will hit the 1.5 threshold somewhere between 2030 and – a strangely specific date – 2052.  They also asked how global temperature rise could be kept under 1.5 degrees by 2100 and how to halt the rate of change of atmospheric gases.66

The IPPC accepted a brief that covered the whole planet. Its 30 background chapters are extensive, detailed, the opposite of hubristic – and rarely read. Its conclusions are carefully qualified with references to the varied dynamics of regional ecosystems – especially the most vulnerable coastlines and drylands, the Arctic, small islands and poor agrarian populations. And throughout its argument, general statements drag around their balls and chains of confidence levels and probabilities. The ‘carbon budget’ – the amount of CO2 that can be released into the atmosphere – that remains if temperature rise is to be kept under the 1.5 degree target is subject to substantial uncertainty – between 580 and 770 Giga tonnes (Gt) – due to there being several accepted definitions and measurements of global temperature. To make things worse, without controls, other gases than CO2 could reduce this budget by anywhere from 100 to 250 Gts.

The IPCC responded to the need for action by producing some 90 complex integrated assessment models generating planetary emissions pathways, four of which are published as illustrative simplifications, replete with wide margins of probability. They reveal what is at stake. Pathway number one simulates an immediate start to the process of restoration, by banning fossil fuel, lowering energy demand while increasing the standard of living in the ‘south’, investing heavily in afforestation, and decarbonising rapidly – indeed completely by 2050. Pathway two involves the UN’s sustainable development goals which require investment in contemporary versions of human development, changes in land use and consumption, aid for a global convergence in sustainable development, comparatively limited use of bio-energy and carbon capture and storage technology (BECCS), and considerable low Carbon innovation. Pathway three assumes historical patterns of fossil fuel and nuclear technology with emissions reductions from decarbonised energy and drops in demand, with BECSS intensifying dramatically over time. Pathway four represents GHG-intensive lifestyles, overshooting 1.567 and with a delayed response requiring correspondingly greater compensation by intensive Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and BECCS.

The IPCC’s report makes clear the great difficulty of making a single conclusion for the planet. But its banner headline is that to limit heating to the 1.5 target would require global annual net human-caused emissions of  CO2 to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.68

Minimising Energy, Materials and Waste
All four extrapolations into the future involve rapid ‘far reaching’, ‘unprecedented’ transitions in energy, land use, infrastructure and industrial systems. These are not transitions in the sense in which lay people understand the term. Although it is commonly said that the technology exists, none of the major carbon-reducing mechanisms required by these pathways exists at scale. It is climate scientists not economists who are assuming there is a can-opener. If it exists at all, how the carbon draw-down technology is to be scaled up,  whether it could work in varied conditions across the world and whether land exists sufficient for the scale of bio-energy production required are unproven questions. However, the later the process of restoration is initiated, the steeper the reduction gradient and the greater the need for these imagined technologies. Overshoot is modelled, perhaps reassuring politicians, but the technical problems with atmospheric cooling technology (let alone the effects on the earth) suggest that overshoot should be avoided at all costs.69

The IPCC excludes ‘solar radiation modification measures’ from its technological armoury (speculative geoengineering, at present including  clouds of sulphur dioxide, orbiting sunshades, injections of aerosols in the stratosphere, pan-oceanic fertilisation by iron filings to stimulate carbon sequestration by phytoplankton, etc). But the transformation of energy systems, the extraction and storage of carbon, the slashing of the output of other green-house gases, new ways to lower the materials intensity of production-consumption systems, and the scaling up of bio-energy sources, would all affect the biosphere in ways currently unknown. For ecosystem restoration, the estimated quantities of of livestock pasture needing conversion, mostly to forests – 0.5 -11m sq km – are extraordinary; just as the accompanying vegetarian revolution in global diets is far-fetched in its authoritarian assumptions.70 And while the IPCC sees gaseous waste as the problem, it overlooks the handling of other waste gases and other waste in the production-consumption system.

The mind-boggling amount of new inventions assumed for all four pathways casts precaution to the winds, while their compatibility with the incentives and requirements of the (unmentioned) capitalist economy is simply assumed.

Social and Political Control
Although time is of the essence, the IPCC report’s planetary scope means the pathways to emissions reductions have to be ahistorical and asocial. Yet they cannot avoid being political projects. The IPCC’s depoliticised politics speaks of ‘emissions portfolios’ that are imagined to be held by, or assigned to, each national state. These can vary in energy and resource intensities, rates of decarbonisation, and permutations, combinations and sequences of CO2 removal technologies.

The IPCC report is far from an encomium to neoliberalism. Conventional market-mechanisms such as carbon trading (which have so far failed) go unmentioned, while calls for effective governance (as well as governance systems and multi-level governance) and transformational adaptation are strewn about the report. So are repeated warnings about ‘barriers’: socio-economic, financial, institutional, technological and environmental barriers. Delay is another obstacle – escalating costs, locking-in polluting infrastructure, stranding assets and reducing flexibility.

For the IPCC, state capacity and competence is paramount in overcoming these barriers and obstacles. States are assumed able to direct and control capital. Since individual national projects of restorative environmental action will churn indiscriminately in global atmospheric currents,71 states are assumed capable of acting in the planetary interest and of suppressing temptations to free ride. There is more. Remarkably, the IPCC calls for careful management of poverty reduction and careful consideration of ethics and equity. It expects achieving the 1.5 goal to generate ‘synergies in excess of trade-offs’ in technocratic swathes of sustainable human development: in health, food and human security livelihoods, cities and economic growth – all delivered, by implication, through ‘green capitalism’. Is this less utopian than Andreas Malm’s ecologically-sensitive reformulation of the communist manifesto,72 or than the collective work of restitution achieved though the rich human development envisaged by Marx?

In subsequent discussions, some of these scientists have shown that they see politics as ‘ideology’, something they seek to avoid. When calling for unprecedented transformations, they mean unprecedented technologically, not politically. Politicians just lack ‘political will’. What their ‘pathways’ clearly call for is a powerful planetary political authority, yet there is no call for it.

‘Out of the Mouths of Babes’

At first sight, nothing could be more different from the IPCC’s report than a single iconic child. ‘School Strikes for Climate’ was initiated as a protest by 15 year-old Greta Thunberg in August 2018, struggling, as she explains, with her inability to live in a state of cognitive dissonance between the climate science and daily social life.73 After her address at the Katowice COP 24 meeting, by March 2019 an estimated 1.4 million children in 112 countries had joined the Friday School Strikes for Climate. They were joined by many parents and by an independently mobilised, militant and effective mass movement of civil disobedience, Extinction Rebellion.74 In the May EU parliamentary elections the ‘Greta effect’ on adult voters was widely credited with the one-third increase in the number of Green party MEPs across the EU. Greens, previously an isolated, mostly left minority, were now being referred to as ‘kingmakers’.75

Thunberg in front of the Swedish parliament, holding a “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (transl. School Strike for the Climate) sign, Stockholm, August 2018. Wikipedia Commons

Thunberg is consistent in her desire to restore. She protests about popular ignorance, official silence, political apathy about the climate science, political concealment, denial and hostility. She appeals to states to fulfil the (inadequate) Paris Agreement pledges and to ban fossil fuels. She demands that the EU lives within planetary boundaries, doubling the target rate of emissions reduction from 1990 levels from 45% to at least 80% by 2030 and including the reduction of pollution from aviation and shipping. She exemplifies individual lifestyle environmentalism as a vegan, an austere consumer and a ‘flight-shamer’ who uses public transport and electric cars.

Three aspects of the movement she has triggered are noteworthy. First, Thunberg reads the science as implying a catastrophe and sees the IPCC report as arguing that ‘we are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes’, or ‘from an irreversible chain reaction’.76 Whatever its faults, and although the document stresses urgent action, we have seen here that this is not exactly what it says. However, the 12- year time-frame has been seized on by the media and in popular consciousness either as counting-down to the end of the world (i.e. the sixth extinction, including of humanity), or alternatively as a useful political escape hatch in electoral democracies currently unwilling to address the complexity of climate change where politicians are ‘decision averse’.

Second, Thunberg concretises a politics of generational responsibility. ‘You are stealing our future.’ And public figures as varied as Pope Francis, Antonio Guterres, Prince Charles, George Monbiot, and Michael Gove have confessed guilt at the profligacy of their generation, at their procrastination and at the failure of their efforts to counter climate change. Naming and blaming a generation may make a useful case for rapid action. But climate change is not the work of a generation but the manifestation of a metabolic rift caused by global capital, energised by fossil fuel, devouring material resources, unfolding in historical time and victimising those least responsible – in terms of regions,77 of nations and of their constituent labouring classes. Let’s not forget that some of the aged have fought life-long inside and outside their workplaces against capital and its waste. If the ideas of young people not yet in the workforce were to prevail over capital – without identifying it – and if they could mobilise economic and political force where trade unions and many other civil society and politically activist organisations have failed, this would be an achievement unique in world history.

Third, comes the question of state competence, for Thunberg’s call for action is directed – as is that of the IPCC – to politicians and officials. Her point is that gesture is not action. Decades ago, the legal scholar Philip Alston argued that signatures and intentions are but the first step in any process of action.78 Public interest commitments have to be codified; provision and claim need to be institutionalised; mechanisms for redress for non-provision established and enforcement empowered. Each of these processes embodies a political struggle against opposition. Without these institutional mechanisms in place, intentions cannot be operationalised. At national levels, the unprecedentedly complicated policy processes for restoring the air and transforming global society have barely started and are not co-ordinated.79 Meanwhile a considerable scholarly literature questions the competence of the now commodified and captured state to do anything much other than capital’s bidding.80 And, as Aeron Davies reveals, even capital’s bidding is compromised by the ‘precarious, rootless and increasingly self-serving’ elites permeating the state. After 20 years of research, he concludes they are ‘reckless opportunists’.81 Joseph Stiglitz, the within-system dissenting economist who earlier computed the costs of the disastrous Iraq war, and is expert at the arts and sciences of global accounting, calls for a ‘war footing’ on climate change.82 But as the civil servant credited with sensitising Thatcher to climate change, Crispin Tickell, warned exasperatedly in 2010, ‘we have lost the capacity to plan’.83

 A National Response: The UK Labour Party

The British Labour Party’s 2017 Manifesto champions the environment in brief, dense paragraphs which outline an anti-market, pro-state policy and commit to 60 per cent renewable energy by 2030. Yet as Jeremy Gilbert observed, nothing in the manifesto suggested an eco-socialist vision unhitched from industrial capitalism and growth.84 In late 2018 the Labour Party consolidated its commitments in an Environment Policy paper, which was explicitly grounded in the IPCC science plus a wider science and technology literature, but focussed on preventing the tipping points and feedback loops which the IPCC had pointedly steered around in its report.85 The paper is evidence-based and – following Keynes and Samuelson – commits to revising policy in the light of changes in knowledge. Reducing materials and polluting energy are prominent priorities in its stresses on renewable energy, ultra-low emissions vehicles and energy efficiency in buildings and industry. Labour will also reverse bio-diversity decline. Tree-planting and conservation are principles for policy in agriculture and fisheries. Atmospheric and non-atmospheric waste is to be reduced through public transport and an assault on plastics.

The politics of this environment policy are complicated. Like the IPCC, Labour calls for transformational change and the rebalancing of economic power away from markets (proven to be inadequate for the task) and towards coordinated planning. It mainstreams livelihoods in such planning, building on the ‘just transition’ of international labour movements.86 Unlike the IPCC, Labour is also able to be quite specific about banning fracking, and about the renationalisation of electricity transmission, distribution and grid connectivity,87 railways (including an extended Hi-speed2 to Scotland) and water. To enable this, Labour would create a National Transformation Fund of £250 billion over a decade. The policy also recognises the principle of subsidiarity through local government control over home insulation to high performance standards, zero carbon affordable new building, and cycle networks. Local government already controls waste disposal and recycling. In agriculture and fisheries, subsidies for small scale sustainable practices are proposed, and the routine use of antibiotics in livestock rearing would be banned.88

Labour’s internationalism will shape an environmental foreign policy; development aid will avoid fossil fuel investments and encourage low carbon and SDG convergence worldwide. Vagueness may be encouraged by the IPCC demonstration effect. Labour is unspecific about the redistribution of resource control e.g. whether and how the ultra-low emissions vehicles will be manufactured – or imported, how future airport and aviation expansion will be ‘severely’ regulated. Several of IPCC’s central concerns are conspicuous by their absence: the phase out of (imported) coal, the controversial future of nuclear energy and the holy grail of carbon capture and storage. Like the IPCC report, Labour’s policy is not conflictual. The social preconditions needed for it to work are not identified, nor are its workforce implications, nor is opposition to it. Buying opposition out, by-passing or destroying it are tactics not incorporated into into the party’s policy.

Labour’s policy for a green transformation is noteworthy for three related reasons. First it bears a close family resemblance to several other prominent blueprints, some over a decade old: not just the Green New Deal legislation Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has presented to Congress,89 but also the UK’s Green Party’s 2009 Million Jobs Green Recovery Package, and the Campaign against Climate Change (CACC) Trade Union branch’s Million Climate Jobs project (updated between 2009 and 2014) which put work central.90 Second, all these projects embrace the need for social and political transformations both as necessary in themselves and as preconditions for the technological project to restore the damaged atmosphere.91 Third, reluctantly or with conviction, explicitly mentioning capital or euphemising it, all these projects argue that the crisis can be addressed through reforms within the system. Though the UK has joined the declarations of a ‘climate emergency’, this never threatened the Conservative Government’s neoliberal world-view. ‘No special powers have been put in place’.92 Labour’s radical reforms, such as ending fossil fuel monopolies and redistributing control over resources, themselves co-exist with anything but transformative sounding competitive commitments to develop export markets for green technology and access to the EU’s internal energy market.


This has been a hard essay to write, first because of the vast variety and accelerating pace of activity throughout the world demanding ‘action’; second because the project of restoration has yet to be paid the attention it requires; third because of the inexorable and unremitting degradation of the planet’s physical sub-systems as the metabolic rift deepens and becomes more complex; fourth because of the need to contain the scope of this essay by being selective in the choice of sub-system and sources. It does not help that the science is organised in proliferating sub-fields and sometimes has to operate with wide margins of probability.

What does the science say? Almost all the findings point in the same direction. For a blueprint to restore the atmosphere, there is no planetary alternative to the IPCC’s. The longer an unprecedented global assault on the causes of GHG emissions is delayed, the less likely the planet will be habitable in ways we recognise.

What does it mean we need to do and by when? The IPCC 2018, representing 196 governments, is indeed at pains to stress the urgency of the growing ecological crisis. To have a chance to keep the rise in global temperature below 1.5 degrees, global emissions have to be halved by 2030. How? It’s not our department said IPPC. It involves technologies for materials and energy efficiency, land-use change and carbon extraction that are currently unproven and at scales that are currently imaginary.

Can it be done in time under the assumption that the world remains capitalist? The project is without historical precedent. But the IPCC, the School Strikes, New Deals, Extinction Rebellion etc, not to mention the Pentagon all assume the need to work extremely fast, through competent states, and within capitalism – without explicitly considering its nature and mechanisms. Concerned individuals are pitted against the energy majors, so it will be left to these corporations to self-destruct, which at present is highly unlikely.93 Even restoration needs growth, materials and energy. Paul Burkett has visited this issue, arguing that such solutions as ‘recycling and waste management, environmental restoration of forests, strip mined lands and plundered maritime eco-systems, all become ecologically impoverished constitutive parts of the problem, requiring a fresh expenditure of energy and materials rather than being ecologically restorative’.94

What can be done in any one country? The British Labour Party plan confronts some of the obstacles but, like all the national movements involved in the problem, operates under capitalism and also faces the free rider objection. An exception to the latter though not the former, Costa Rica has a lot to lose from the impact of climate change on its mountain-cloud forests, while the results of its commitment to carbon neutrality by 2021 will pass unnoticed in the troubled atmosphere.95 Will its refusal to free ride have ripple effects, just as the butterfly does in chaos theory?

How should socialists act given these constraints? Marx proposed a relationship with the material world, one of restitution, that would require a socialist society to develop and maintain, and which would at least not degrade that world further but would try to improve it. This is however a utopian dream, especially given the non-existence of socialist forces and the time-scale of the threat.96 Restoration has no counter-hegemonic politics.

So, given that the problem is capitalism, are socialists defining the ecological crisis as one of restorative class struggle? The Labour Party, even under its current socialist leadership, does not do this. Can it be afforded politically? Can socialists engage practically with the science? Is the time frame of a focus on socialist education, organisation and agitation consistent with the time frame of essential action to keep human life on earth viable? If not, then what?

Barbara Harriss-White is Emeritus Professor Development Studies, Oxford University. Between 2006-2009, she helped to guide Zarni in research on Burma. Since 1969 she has researched India’s political economy, mostly through field-work. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Harriss-White
In retirement she works on India’s rural development and is vexed by the economy as a waste-producing system.

Barbara Harriss-White

Barbara Harriss-White, FAcSS, Emeritus Professor and Fellow, Wolfson College, Oxford University
Visiting Professor, Jawarharlal Nehru University; Research Fellow, Max Weber Forum, New Delhi, India

Acknowledgement: ‘first published by www.merlinpress.co.uk  in socialistregister.com


For the memory of Delys Weston whose 2012 thesis was very useful. And with thanks to Greg Albo, Maryam Aslany, Arndt Emmerich, Alfy Gathorne-Hardy, M. Ali Jan, Colin Leys, Xu Huijiao, Leo Panitch and the Oxford Institute for Science, Innovation and Society’s 2019 seminar on modelling, evidence, and truth in science and policy.

Banner image: TIME IS UP. Global climate change protest demonstration strike – No Planet B – Lorenzer Platz, Nürnberg, Deutschland. Photo: Markus Spiske, Unsplash

Footnotes –

  1. Noam Chomsky in an interview by Scott Casleton, June 2019.  https://bostonreview.net/politics/noam-chomsky-scott-casleton-choosing-hope?fbclid=IwAR0_HZy2W4L68NEVv9NuVVjK6KzSFzhfx2VcRqK7yQ6MrOc-i6haTtTUjbw
  2. James Lovelock who named it Gaia, 2000. http://www.jameslovelock.org/articles/
  3. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty: Summary for Policymakers, Incheon, South Korea/IPCC, 2018. https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/sites/2/2019/05/SR15_SPM_version_report_LR.pdf
  4. Johan Rockstrom, Will Steffen et al., ’A safe operating Space for Humanity’, Nature. 461, 2009 pp 472–475 https://www.nature.com/articles/461472a.pdf (Rockstrom); updated by Will Steffen et al, ‘Planetary Boundaries: Guiding human Development on a changing Planet’, Science, 347, 2015 pp1-10 https://science.sciencemag.org/content/sci/347/6223/1259855.full.pdf. Steffen et al. respond to challenges about the definition and comprehensiveness of these nine sub-systems, as well as the ecological significance and measurement of thresholds beyond which development is not bio-geophysically safe.
  5. Richard Heede ‘Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854- 2010’, Journal of Climatic Change, 22,1-2 2014, pp 229- 241
  6. To this, David Schwartzman would add the military industrial complex: ‘Beyond Eco-catastrophism: the Conditions for solar Communism’, Socialist Register 2017, 53 2016 pp143-160
  7. Redundancy involves the co-existence of similar species, known to support ecosystem resilience. Marten Scheffer, et al ‘The Evolution of Functionally Redundant Species; Evidence from Beetles’. Plos One,10,10, 2015 DOI: 1371/journal.pone.0137974
  8. Elisabeth Kolbert The Sixth Extinction, London, Picador, 2014
  9. For fuller referencing and many examples see the review in: Barbara Harriss-White ‘Globalisation, Development and the Metabolic Rift’, SOAS Lecture, 2015  (Harriss-White SOAS) https://www.southasia.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/southasia/documents/media/general-south_asia_wp21_soas_globalisation_lecture.pdf
  10. Rockstrom, p 473
  11. Ulrich Poschl ‘Atmospheric Aerosols: Composition, Transformation, Climate and Health Effects’, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed.  44,  2005, pp 7520 – 7540
  12. Annie Gabriel ‘Saving the Ozone Layer: why the Montreal Protocol worked’ The Conversation, Sep 9th 2012, http://theconversation.com/saving-the-ozone-layer-why-the-montreal-protocol-worked-9249
  13. Robert Wills, David Battisti et al., ‘Extracting Modes of Variability and Change from Climate Model Ensembles’, Seventh International Workshop on Climate Informatics September 2017 https://atmos.uw.edu/~david/Wills_etal_2017a.pdf (Wills). These require global collective action to address.
  14. No records exist for 1750, established as the key pre-industrial date. See Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner ‘The Hartwell Paper A new direction for climate policy after the crash of 2009’, , LSE, 2010; https://eprints.lse.ac.uk/27939/1/HartwellPaper_English_version.pdf. IPCC 2018
  15. Bojana Bajzelj and Keith Richards ‘The Positive Feedback Loop between the Impacts of Climate Change and Agricultural Expansion and Relocation’, Land 3, 2014, pp 898-916
  16. ibid; and see Barbara Harriss-White and Elinor Harriss ‘Unsustainable Capitalism: the Politics of Renewable Energy in the UK’, Socialist Register 2007, 43, Merlin Press, 2006. Pp 72-101
  17. Sasha Lilley et al Catastrophism:  The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth, PM Press/Spectre 2012.
  18. Greta Thunberg No-one is too small to make a Difference, London, Penguin Random House, 2019
  19. See Richard Smith ‘Capitalism and the Destruction of Life on Earth: Six Theses on Saving the Hum ans’, Truthout, November 2013 https://truthout.org/articles/capitalism-and-the-destruction-of-life-on-earth-six-theses-on-saving-the-humans/ Rupert Read 2019 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnonKverhOg&fbclid=IwAR2SrczTHaSYEr9EZ9EMgjRk7z9-_l9opjKboYal2Qd1sPLyAibyOi8KBpA
  20. See Doug Henwood quoting Engels in  Lilley et al Catastrophism PAGE?
  21. Royal Society People and the Planet London Royal Society 2012 https://royalsociety.org/-/media/Royal_Society_Content/policy/projects/people-planet/2012-04-25-PeoplePlanet.pdf
  22. For examples see (eds) Leo Panitch and Colin Leys, Coming to Terms with Nature: Socialist Register 2007, 43, Merlin Press 2006
  23. Leo Panitch and David Harvey Red Talks, Episode One  2014 http://vimeo.com/115366001
  24. Harvey’s use of alienation encompasses the day-to-day lack of care of socially alienated people and the condition of the subsumption of work and ‘many aspects of daily life’ under the power of capital – at the limits of which anti-capitalist movements will rise up. David Harvey ‘Universal Alienation and the real Subsumption of Daily life under Capital: A Response to Hardt and Negri’, Triple-C 16,2, 2018, pp 449-453.
  25. John Bellamy Foster ‘Marxism versus ‘Anxiety-Driven Ecological Catastrophism’?’ Climate and Capitalism, March 12th 2007  https://climateandcapitalism.com/2007/03/12/marxism-versus-anxiety-driven-ecological-catastrophism/
  26. The Labour Party The Green Transformation: Labour’s Environment Policy. London, Labour. 2018 https://www.labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/The-Green-Transformation-.pdf (Labour Green Transformation)
  27. Paul Burkett ‘Marx’s Vision of Sustainable Human Development’, Monthly Review, 57,5, 2005; https://monthlyreview.org/2005/10/01/marxs-vision-of-sustainable-human-development/ Michael Lebowitz ‘The Unifying Element in All Struggles Against Capital Is the Right of Everyone to Full Human Development’, Monthly Review, 63,6, 2011 https://monthlyreview.org/2011/11/01/the-unifying-element-in-all-struggles-against-capital-is-the-right-of-everyone-to-full-human-development/Paul Raekstad ‘Human development and alienation in the thought of Karl Marx’, European Journal of Political Theory 17,3, 2018 pp 300–323 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1474885115613735?casa_token=k9usk4i7JT8AAAAA:_67UnWwbug1Vkfoz4PrFetkGQ5p6ckCbqmrbX9FVcdXO-VatrR2py-A2FPvs0OosfITDXzG1rok:  Peter Dickens ‘Marx and the Metabolism between Humanity and Nature’, Alethia, 3,2, 2000, pp 40-45, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1558/aleth.v3i2.40?casa_token=HHxXoiMxz9IAAAAA:xU-Ok7GLhEO4VVKgTTNhsH58qJEpXVqDhoozJdTunGcPfz7kPqkMqczdVvfxG7S7ovs7vMKm0QY
  28. Throughout this essay. Man refers to man and woman. The gendering of the argument cannot be covered in the space here and is for another essay.
  29. Karel Ludenhoff ‘Marx, Socialism and Ecology’, Logos 17,2, 2018 Marx, Socialism, and Ecology’, Logos, 17,2, 2 https://www.imhojournal.org/articles/marx-socialism-and-ecology/
  30. Ecological references in Marx’s published writings have been criticised as scattered and incoherent. John Bellamy Foster has put paid to that notion in his  Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature, New York, Monthly Review Press  2000 (Foster Marx’s Ecology) .  Now both Kohei Seito and Peter Critchley have published significant and meticulous evaluations of the ecological contributions of his notebooks translated in the MEGA (in full) project. Kohei Saito Karl Marx’s Eco-socialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy  New York, Monthly Review Press  2017 (Saito Eco-socialism) ; Peter Critchley Social Restitution and Metabolic Restoration in the Thought of Karl Marx, 2018. (Critchley Social Restitution) https://www.academia.edu/36925164/Social_Restitution_and_Metabolic_Restoration_in_the_Thought_of_Karl_Marx and see http://pcritchley2.wixsite.com/beingandplace/publications
  31. Marx Economic Manuscript of 1861-63 and Capital vol 1 p 283, 290 JBF p 380
  32. Foster Marx’s Ecology p 159 quoting Tim Hayward
  33. Karl Marx ‘Estranged Labour’, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/labour.htm
  34. Elmar Altvater developed this analysis ‘The Social and Natural Environment of Fossil Capitalism’, Socialist Register 2007, 43, 2006 pp37-59
  35. Karl Marx Capital Volume 1, p 638; Volume 3, p 754 quoted in Foster Marx’s Ecology p 164
  36. See John Reid ‘Marx on the Unity of Man’, The Thomist 28,3 1964 pp 259-301, for an extended discussion on the concept of unity with nature in Marx
  37. Heather Rogers ‘Garbage Capitalism’s Green Commerce’, Socialist Register 2007, 43, 2006, pp231-253; and see Robin Hahnel ‘The Growth Imperative: beyond assuming Conclusions’, Review of Radical Political Economy 45,1, 2012 pp 24-41 on growth and on entropy as waste.
  38. See Critchley Social Restitution, p265
  39. Karl Marx Capital Volume 3 1981  Chapter 48 https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894-c3/ch48.htm
  40. The modern project of human development is attributed to Pakistani economist and GDP heretic Mahboob Ul Huq, while working at UNDP from 1988 and involves the provision of a series of basic needs and standards for a decent life.
  41. This is the starting point of the critique by Saito of critics of Marx’s promethianism (Eco-socialism).
  42. Marx and Engels wrote as early as 1845 in the German Ideology that ‘(t)he nature that preceded human history…today no longer exists’ https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01b.htm
  43. For example low or zero weight is given to microbial relationships which humans cannot see.
  44. Marx, K (1976). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, ch 15, section 10, p  637-8. The German term in the original is Restitution, as  in ‘Systematische Restitution der Stoffwechselbedingungen’ .
  45. The extent to which this is embedded in energy is very rarely acknowledged either by mainstream advocates of human development or by socialists.
  46. Marx Capital Volume 3 1981 chapter 46
  47. This is an obligation stronger either than that of contemporary ‘sustainable development’ ,which now stresses at best the maintenance of stocks of material and energy for future generations, or that of human development, which is now sliced into 17 technocratic subfields.
  48. Justus von Liebig Naturwissenschaftliche Briefe über die moderne Landwirthschaft 1859  https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008600294 (Liebig Letters)
  49. John Thompson and Rodrigo Medel ‘Coevolution and the Web of Life’, Evolution: Education and Outreach,3, 1, 2010, p6
  50. Liebig  Letters on Modern Agriculture 1859 p175-77 https://archive.org/details/lettersonmoderna00lieb/page/n8 p144
  51. Liebig Letters p111 p144, p186, p217, p 2
  52. Liebig Letters p 245
  53. Critchley Social Restitution p35
  54. Delys Weston The political economy of global warming, PhD Thesis, Curtin University, Australia.
  55. Lesley Green ‘Towards a Politics for Soil Restitution’, https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2019-02-05-towards-a-politics-for-soil-restitution/. According to Weston, the Restitution of Land Rights Act’, passed in 1994 by the South African government, was aimed at addressing the injustices of racially based land dispossession in the past as well as establishing a more equitable distribution of land ownership – land reform being a cornerstone of poverty reduction programmes.
  56. ‘Redistributing care, land and work so that everyone has a chance to contribute to the improvement of their lives and to that of the ecology around them’  Jason Moore and Raj Patel ‘Unearthing the Capitalocene: Towards a Reparations Ecology’, Resilience January 2018  https://www.resilience.org/stories/2018-01-04/unearthing-the-capitalocene-towards-a-reparations-ecology/
  57. Jean-Marie Baland and Jean-Philippe Platteau  Halting Degradation of Natural Resources: Is There a Role for Rural Communities?, Oxford, Oxford University Press
    [58] https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Air_pollution_statistics_-_air_emissions_accounts#General_overview. See also Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services 2019
  58. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Air_pollution_statistics_-_air_emissions_accounts#General_overview. See also Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services 2019
  59. Juli  Pausas and Jon Keeley ‘A Burning Story: The Role of Fire in the History of Life’, Bioscience  59,  7, 2009  pp  593-601
  60. Jon Hilsenrath ‘Cap and trade’s unlikely critics: its creators’ Wall Street Journal. August 2009
  61. The UK has cut emissions to 19th century levels by a rapid switch to renewable energy, but also by slow growth, the exclusion of activities like aviation, and ‘exporting’ emissions to countries from which commodities are imported. Agricultural, residential and public sector/government emissions are up. See David Hendry ’First-in, first-out: Driving the UK’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions below 1860 levels’, Centre for European Policy Research (CEPR) Policy Portal, December 2018 https://voxeu.org/article/driving-uks-capita-carbon-dioxide-emissions-below-1860-levels
  62. Patrik  Sorqvist and Linda Langeborg ‘Why People Harm the Environment Although They Try to Treat It Well: An Evolutionary-Cognitive Perspective on Climate Compensation’, Frontiers of Psychology 04, 2019 https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00348
  63. Richard Smith ‘Beyond Growth or beyond Capitalism?’, Real-world Economics Review 53, June 2010, http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue53/Smith53.pdf
  64. For soil, see the review by Peter Betary et al ‘The role of agri-environment schemes in conservation and environmental management’, Conservation Biology 29,4, 2015 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cobi.12536. For biodiversity see Benjamin Phalan ‘What Have We Learned from the Land Sparing-sharing Model?’, Sustainability 10, 2018, 1760.
  65. to which some signatories are known privately to object. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/28/ipcc-climate-costs-estimate-meaningless
  66. IPCC 2018 (see endnote 4)
  67. Though 81/90 models involved overshoot 1.5.
  68. The IPCC 2018 summary for public opinion and ‘policy makers’ reduces atmospheric GHGs to CO2, but where possible adds separate analyses of the additional physically significant non-CO2 radiative forces (variously methane, nitrous oxide, black C, fluorinated gases and ozone precursors).
  69. Though additional energy investment between 2016-2050 is estimated at roughly $850 bn /year, IPCC also appeals to ‘knowledge gaps’ in cost benefit analysis in fact filled Simon Dietz et al. ‘The Economics of 1.5°C Climate Change’, Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 43, 2018, pp455-480  https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-environ-102017-025817. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer in June 2010 put net zero at £1tn for the UK and was roundly criticised for scaremongering.
  70. Underwritten by the EAT-Lancet Commission Food in The Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems, thelancet.com/commissions/EAT.
  71. Wills
  72. Andreas Malm ‘Revolution in a Warming World: Lessons from the Russian to the Syrian Revolutions’, Socialist Register 2017, 53, Merlin Press, 2016 pp 120-142
  73. Greta Thunberg The disarming case to act right now on climate change, TED Talk Stockholm, November, 2018 https://www.ted.com/talks/greta_thunberg_the_disarming_case_to_act_right_now_on_climate?language=en
  74. For Extinction Rebellion see https://rebellion.earth/the-truth/about-us/ – downgraded to a ‘climate change protest’ by BBC Radio 4 in April 2019.
  75. From 52 in 2014 to 74 in 2019.
  76. Greta Thunberg speech to EU, Brussels,  February, 2019 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWQPDsHJ0gc
  77. Marcus Taylor The political ecology of climate change adaptation: Livelihoods, agrarian change and the conflicts of development, London, Earthscan 2015
  78. Philip Alston ‘international Law and the Right to Food’ chapter 11 in (eds) Barbara Harriss-White and Raymond Hoffenberg Food: Multidiscplinary Perspectives, Oxford, Blackwells1994 pp205-216
  79. France’s new development law and programme, being codified in 2019, is an attempt to step in the right direction (not without flaws). https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/politique-etrangere-de-la-france/aide-au-developpement/politique-francaise-de-developpement-et-de-solidarite-internationale-projet-de/
  80. Colin Leys ‘The Cynical State’ Socialist Register 2006 42 2005 pp 1-27
  81. Aeron Davis Reckless Opportunists: Elites at the End of the Establishment , Manchester University Press 2018
  82. Joseph Stiglitz ‘The climate crisis is our third world war. It needs a bold response’, The Guardian, June 2019,  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/04/climate-change-world-war-iii-green-new-deal
  83. At the then LSE director Tony Gidden’s Climate Change conference, LSE, 2009.
  84. Jeremy Gilbert ‘Leading richer lives’, in (ed) M. Phipps For the Many : Preparing Labour for Power, London, OR Books 2017, pp 163-80
  85. Labour Green Transformation
  86. See documentation on the just transition at https://www.ituc-csi.org/just-transition-centre
  87. Not production
  88. Bowing to special humane single interest groups and showing their power, hunting and wild animals in circuses are also both to be prohibited. It does not propose a phase-out of livestock production.
  89. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ‘Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal’. H. RES. 109  February 2019 https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hres109/BILLS-116hres109ih.pdf
  90. Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Branch ‘ One Million Climate Jobs : tackling the Environmental and Economic Crises CCAT 2014 https://www.cacctu.org.uk/sites/data/files/Docs/one_million_climate_jobs_2014.pdf
  91. See also a most interesting Leeds University research project about human development within biogeophysical thresholds  https://goodlife.leeds.ac.uk/
  92. Ed Miliband in Prospect June 2019. https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/ed-miliband-climate-change-economy-save-planet?fbclid=IwAR2BzhkNWwSyvDvmTx5aIx8jSbLt3Euvm8cLYSU3CRrWZxQ6l10txhoF-ck
  93. British Petroleum BP Energy Outlook  https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/energy-outlook.html 2019
  94. Paul Burkett Marxism and Ecological Economics, London, Haymarket  2009 p 170. As Alvater warned in 2007, Jason Hickel and Giorgos Kallis have also shown with evidence that growth cannot be decoupled from material resources is not possible under capitalism: ‘Is Green Growth Possible?’, New Political Economy  2019 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13563467.2019.1598964
  95. Yessenia Funes ‘Costa Rica Lays Out Plan to Zero Out Carbon Emissions by 2050’, 2019, available at https://earther.gizmodo.com/costa-rica-lays-out-plan-to-become-carbon-neutral-by-20-1832898711
  96. For Peter Critchley, the real contradicts the ideal (p 12)

Posted by Barbara Harriss-White

Barbara Harriss-White is Emeritus Professor Development Studies, Oxford University. Between 2006-2009, she helped to guide Zarni in research on Burma. Since 1969 she has researched India’s political economy, mostly through field-work. In retirement she works on India’s rural development and is vexed by the economy as a waste-producing system.