Report-Back on “Eco-Socialism or Extinction: Can We Overcome the Existential Threat of Capitalism?”

On Sunday, January 6th, 2019, around 80 people gathered at the Westside Peace Center to attend a panel discussion entitled “Eco-Socialism or Extinction: Can We Overcome the Existential Threat of Capitalism?” Organized by the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice (CPRSJ), co-sponsored by Extinction Rebellion Los Angeles and Sunrise Movement Los Angeles, and endorsed by System Change Not Climate Change-Los Angeles (SCNCC-LA), the event brought together a panel comprised of eco-socialists and climate-justice organizers, followed by a lively group discussion with participants.


First, moderator Javier Sethness, Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation (personal capacity), introduced the panel and its speakers. Reviewing recent “climate alarms” and the August 2018 “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” paper, which describes the risks the “Earth system” faces due to biosphere degradation and the violation of environmental boundaries, beyond which feedback loops would render global warming a self-perpetuating phenomenon, resulting in the grim reality of “Hothouse Earth.” Identifying the primary obstacle to the realization of a global eco-socialist transition away from the path of climate breakdown as being capitalist hegemony and concentrated State power, whether in the hands of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Mohammed bin Salman, or Jair Bolsonaro, he recommended a radical strategy characterized by managed decline, ecological restoration, “natural” geo-engineering, and green syndicalism.

Next, Mariah Brennan Clegg, from the Bonfire Anarchist Collective and UC Santa Barbara Campus Marxist-Humanists, spoke in favor of eco-decentralization, following from their analysis that ecological devastation results from hierarchy, and that participatory solutions can help build popular community resilience. Clegg emphasized the dysfunctionality of centralized economic systems, resulting in the dyads of ‘sacrifice zones’ (such as the “cancer villages” of Louisiana or China) and ‘sanctuary zones’ (Beverly Hills, malls, gated communities). Instead, they argued in favor of the unification of bio-regions (or biological regions) with “techno-regions,” by which they mean spaces in which the trans-human dimension is integrated into production and social institutions designed for use-value in place of profit and self-management in place of domination.


Sydney Ghazarian, from the Democratic Socialists of America-Los Angeles Climate Justice Committee and DSA Ecosocialist Working Group, dedicated her comments to thinking through many of the implications of the October 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report for leftist organizing: that is, given that it warns us clearly that mass-extinction is a very real near-term possibility, due to the hegemony of capitalism. She emphasized firstly that the findings of this report must inspire a strong sense of urgency on the part of the radical left, considering that we have at most 11 years to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown. Ghazarian added that the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) estimates that, 1-2 years before the deadline for the Aichi Targets on biodiversity (2010), “average wildlife population sizes could decline by two-thirds from their 1970 levels.” Secondly, that left organizing strategy under these conditions should take advantage of the multiple emerging crises to bring about a wide-ranging eco-socialist regeneration of society. Ghazarian calls this the “people’s shock doctrine,” and it echoes Andreas Malm’s recommendations on eco-socialist strategy, based on an observation and analysis of the Russian and Syrian Revolutions. Rooted in a vision of an interconnected, multi-level plan to project people power against hegemonic capitalist power, Ghazarian’s proposal would unite the climate movement and the left to transform the economic and political spheres into a zero-emissions society that would restore devastated ecosystems and human communities. Citing a letter published in Nature in 2017 which concludes that we have approximately a 5% chance that global warming will be limited to 2°C, she underscored that ecological revolution might be humanity’s last chance.

Next, Sherry Lear, from the South Bay Los Angeles 350 Climate Action Group, discussed the founding and history to date of, contrasting the scientific reason for its existence as a goal for a safe climate, referring to a goal for the atmospheric carbon concentration in parts per million (ppm), with the ever-worsening emissions of carbon-dioxide, resulting in 410 ppm and rising. Observing that Los Angeles County contains some of the worst air-quality in the U.S., Lear framed this as following from the petrochemical pollution resulting from extraction and production in South Los Angeles and Long Beach, especially the Port of Los Angeles, the “gem of capitalism in the U.S.” Lear shared that there are about 900 oil derricks in L.A., yet added that City Council has no grounds to regulate oil refineries within city limits, in a reflection of the power of the fossil-fuel industry: rather than be a mere “stakeholder” within economic decision-making processes, it appears to have captured the State entirely! Lear criticized both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for refusing to support a ban on campaign financing from fossil-fuel interests, as well as organized labor for tending to mobilize in favor of extractive jobs that could be threatened by the application of environmental regulations. Unfortunately, Lear did not raise the important concept of a just transition for affected workers and communities, but stated that she finds hope for the future in microgrids, the youth, anti-consumerist movements, and increased consumer choice for clean energy.

Lastly, Gene Warren, Jr., from Converging Storms, Solidarity Los Angeles, and the Socialist Party USA, provided an update to his essay “Too Late? A Horror Story”, published on the SP website one month before the publication of the latest IPCC report. Warren expressed his concern that the IPCC’s estimates are typically conservative, and based in consensus; detailing his anti-productivist eco-socialist commitments for nearly a half-century, he expressed his dismay that it’s taken so long for both the left and society at large to recognize the scale of the environmental crisis. Calling into question the positivist and promethean “can-do” attitude he attributes to the Enlightenment legacy, Warren shared recent reports about melting at the polar ice caps being much worse than previously understood, with East Antarctica beginning to break up, and worse in the Arctic regions. Citing the IPCC’s conclusion that “countries will have to cut global CO2 emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by around 2050” to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown, Warren called for an unprecedented popular mobilization to demand the necessary changes in line with the science before it’s too late. Concurring with his comrade Richard Smith, Warren closed by endorsing Smith’s demands to

  1. Declare a State of Emergency to suppress fossil fuel use: Ban all new extraction, ration gasoline and diesel, ban production of new fossil-fuel vehicles. Nationalize the fossil fuel industry to phase it out. […]

  2. Institute a new federal Public Works Administration-style jobs program […] to re-employ every worker in the fossil fuel-related industries at equivalent pay and benefits in other useful but low-emission work. […]

  3. Launch an emergency state-directed crash program to phase-in renewable electric generation, replace fossil-fuel powered transportation with electric propulsion, discourage individually-owned vehicles where possible and encourage their replacement with public transit, shared vehicles, bicycles and other non-fossil fuel modes of transportation.


Following these presentations, the event’s co-sponsors and endorsers encouraged participants to get involved with their respective efforts, including Extinction Rebellion LA and the Sunrise Movement.


Finally, about an hour of productive discussion with the audience followed, during which several important issues were raised, including: the question of converting the world’s deserts, or the Sahara Desert in particular, into solar-energy fields, and whether that would not render these ecosystems yet another “sacrifice zone”; the differences between promethean and anti-productivist eco-socialists; the looming water wars of the future, and the implicit need for common or collective property in order for us to be able to “grow our own food”; the parallels between the contradictions of capitalism in terms of homelessness and climate destruction; the importance of an anti-militarist focus in environmental organizing; the worsening problems of electronic waste (or “e-waste”) and the phenomenon of privatized firefighting services; and the extent of environmental destruction and repression in Yemen, Syria, and Iran, including the recent reported assassination attempt of an Ahvazi Arab environmentalist in Denmark, supposedly ordered by the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as the capital charges faced by environmentalists at home.


In light of the new finding that the excess heat absorbed by the world’s oceans due to global warming in recent decades is equivalent to between three and six Hiroshima atomic bombs per second, this was a very timely forum.


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