Ecology and socialism
Interviewed by David Barsamian Santa Fe, New Mexico 20 March 2012
Interviewed by David Barsamian
Santa Fe, NM
March 20, 2012
available from Alternative Radio
You can listen to Chris Williams speak for himself here.
Chris Williams is a long-time environmental activist. He is professor of physics and chemistry at Pace University and chair of the science department at Packer Collegiate Institute. He is a contributor to the International Socialist Review and The Indypendent. He is the author of Ecology and Socialism.
Tonight, I want to unmask and hold up to the light the root cause of our ecological crisis and pose a series of questions and suggest some answers. First, why is it so important that we identify the primary cause? It is imperative that we identify the root cause of our “metabolic rift” with nature, to use Marx’s phrase, because if we misattribute the cause, we will misidentify the solution. We will believe we are solving the problem when in fact we’re not even addressing it. We will believe we are coming to the table with some great proposals, when in reality we’re not even sitting at the right table.
In contrast to many other explanations for the dire ecological situation we find ourselves in, such as population growth, consumerism or merely poor energy choices, I contend that it is the system of free market enterprise, otherwise known as capitalism that is at the root of our ecological crisis. Indeed, there is a clue within the words themselves that all may not be as it seems in the system of free market enterprise as it is a system where nothing is, in fact, free.
If it is capitalism that is, following Aristotle, the “efficient cause” of the crisis, then the solution swims into our vision through the murk of carbon-trading, techno-fixes or lifestyle changes with great clarity and simplicity: we need to change the system. This immediately begs the next question: how? And, if we want to get rid of capitalism, which I would argue is the only rational course of action if we want to bequeath a planet to our children that looks remotely like the one on which we were born, then what economic, political and social system would we replace it with that is ecologically sustainable? What, if any, writers or alternative models can we turn to for guidance?
I’m going to begin with a debate in the scientific community. This is not the debate over climate change or whether it’s caused by human activities; that debate closed some time ago. The debate I want to touch on is whether we have entered a new geological epoch. As the last ice age ended around 12,000 years ago and there was a radical change in global climate, plant and animal life geologists felt able to designate a new epoch called the Holocene, from the Greek meaning “entirely recent.” This relatively benign and stable climatic period coincided with the rise of human civilization that saw humans for the first time living in towns. We were able to shift from small nomadic bands of hunter-gathers to permanent, fixed communities and agriculture.
Geologists are now debating whether humanity, by our activities, has so changed the living and nonliving environment that it justifies the designation of a new epoch; the Anthropocene, which translates as The Age of Man.
Unfortunately, there are many arguments in favor of this epochal change. To mention only a few: 80% of the earth’s land surface has been modified by humans, with about 40% being used for agriculture. There are now more trees existing as farmed monoculture plantations than there are in natural forests. Deforestation is continuing at a rate of 80,000km2/year. More than 90% of the total biological mass of mammals in the world is either human or the animals that we have domesticated. The oceans are more acidic than they have been in 800,000 years and new data indicates the rate of change is faster than anything seen in 300 million years. On the off-chance I’m not depressing you enough, we are wiping out species faster than we can discover and classify them–at 100 to 1000 times the geological statistical norm, leading to what some are calling the Sixth Great Extinction.
By the vast and unprecedented burning of ancient sunlight–that is, fossil fuels low in radioactive carbon–we are changing not just the amount of carbon but also the isotopic ratio of carbon in the atmosphere. Through various scientific techniques, all of these changes would show up clearly in the geological record.
As a growing number of geologists are coalescing around a positive answer to the Anthropocene debate, the next question arises: when would we say that the Age of Man began? The most compelling answer that would be easily measurable over extremely long periods of time and which was a global and highly distinguishable phenomenon brings me here to New Mexico and July 16, 1945, the year of the first nuclear test at Alamogordo. Suddenly and irrevocably Man–and we are talking about men in this instance–changed the isotopic composition of the earth’s atmosphere. In other words, a more radioactive atmosphere may be the easiest and most obvious way to spot the legacy of humanity, in a way the crowning achievement of our technological prowess.
Is it possible to use nuclear weapons and their off-shoot, nuclear power, as a metaphor for the anti-ecological, never-ending expansionism and short-term time horizon of capitalism? Without realizing it, our very language has certainly been shaped by the Atomic Age. Words are important and like radon gas seeping unseen into underground mines, the phrases of nuclear physics have slipped quietly into our culture and everyday vernacular. Think about when you last heard or used these words: critical mass; meltdown; ground zero; chain reaction; fallout.
To quote from the 1946 “Report on the International Control of Atomic Energy” by the U.S. State Department, a report drafted in part by Robert Oppenheimer:
The development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes and the development of atomic energy for bombs are in much of their course interchangeable and interdependent.
While this connection is often denied by government and corporate apologists for nuclear power, how else are we to explain the ratcheting up of war fever against Iran for its civil nuclear program, which it is perfectly entitled to pursue under international law, by the only state to have developed and actually used nuclear weapons?
In yet more bad news, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a group formed out of the disillusionment and horror at the birth of the Atomic Age which they had helped usher onto the world historical stage, this year moved the Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to midnight based on two factors: the continued proliferation of nuclear weapons and the fact that virtually no concerted action is being taken to avert catastrophic climate change.
A small book that is mentioned as influential by one of the leading physicists who worked on the Manhattan Project, Leo Slizard, is by H.G. Wells, The World Set Free: A Study of Mankind. The book is remarkable as a piece of art and as a prophetic parable for our times. It is simultaneously a paean to the power of atomic energy as well as a warning about its dangers and connection to atomic weapons. Perhaps what is most remarkable is the prescience with which Wells writes in 1914, prior to WWI and only just after the discovery of the nucleus, about the future of the 20th century, after man has harnessed the almost immeasurable power of atomic energy:
This spectacle of feverish enterprise was productivity, this crowding flight of happy and fortunate rich people – every great city was as if a crawling anthill had suddenly taken wing – was the bright side of the opening phase of the new epoch in human history. Beneath that brightness was a gathering darkness, a deepening dismay. If there was a vast development of production, there was also a huge destruction of values. These glaring factories working night and day, these glittering new vehicles swinging noiselessly along the roads, these flights of dragonflies that swooped and soared and circled in the air, were indeed no more than the brightness’s of lamps and fires that gleam out when the world sinks towards the twilight and the night. Between these highlights accumulated disaster, social catastrophe.
There is an extreme disjunction between the technology that we have manufactured and the uses to which it is put; a disjunction that we can lay at the feet of capitalism, a social system which knows no other purpose than the accumulation of money. This dynamic was captured by the late Donald Trautlein, former CEO of Bethlehem Steel when he commented:
I am not in the business of making steel. I am in the business of making money.
More recently, you may have read the high profile resignation letter of Greg Smith, until March 14th an executive director at Goldman Sachs which was featured on the New York Times op-ed page where he stated:
I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them… It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off.
Now given the kind of angry, pitchfork-toting climate that quite rightly exists against bankers and the financial industry after they brought the world economy to its knees in 2008 and then got bailed out by the government for their troubles, one might think there might be a somewhat contrite response to this rather embarrassing revelation from one of their own. Not a bit of it. An editorial appeared on the financial site Bloomberg.com later that very day:
We have some advice for Smith, as well as the thousands of college students who apply to work at Goldman Sachs each year: If you want to dedicate your life to serving humanity, do not go to work for Goldman Sachs. That’s not its function, and it never will be. Go to work for Goldman Sachs if you wish to work hard and get paid more than you deserve.
Humility is not one of their strong points. Indeed Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs believes bankers in general and his company in particular are on a righteous, messianic crusade: in a 2009 interview with The Times of London he made his infamous claim to be an emissary from God:
We have a social purpose…we are doing God’s work.
Marx captured a similarly relentless and callous dynamic when he wrote of the dichotomy between machinery, humanity and the natural world under capitalism that contains within it one of the most problematic and contradictory facets of the system; its inherent short-termism:
In its blind unrestrainable passion, its werewolf hunger for surplus-labour, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the working-day. It usurps the time for growth, development, and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. It higgles over a meal-time, incorporating it where possible with the process of production itself, so that food is supplied to the labourer as to a mere means of production, as coal is supplied to the boiler, grease and oil to the machinery. It reduces the sound sleep needed for the restoration, reparation, refreshment of the bodily powers to just so many hours of torpor as the revival of an organism, absolutely exhausted, renders essential. It is not the normal maintenance of [a healthy human being] which is to determine the limits of the working-day; it is the greatest possible daily expenditure of [one’s] labour-power, no matter how diseased, compulsory and painful it may be…
Marx goes on:
Capital cares nothing for the length of labour-power. All that concerns it is simply and solely the maximum of labour-power that can be rendered fluent in a working-day. It attains this end by shortening the extent of the [worker’s] life, as a greedy farmer snatches increased produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility.
No doubt all of us can relate to having to eat “fast food” while on the run, work longer than we wish, often in utterly pointless activities, fall asleep exhausted, wake before we’re fully rested, live in unhealthy conditions without the time or resources to live anywhere else or in any other way. But with his reference to the “greedy farmer increasing production to rob the soil of its fertility,” Marx’s passage suggests that the exploitation of the social world is simply the mirror image for the exploitation of the natural world. Hence, if we are to overcome the challenge of our Age, and avert the incipient ecological crisis, we have to simultaneously operate and work toward a social and an ecological revolution. We must be equally social justice activists as much as we are ecological justice activists. The success of one is predicated on the success of the other.
In this part of the world, perhaps nothing demonstrates this argument better than those who were exploited in order to obtain the raw materials for the nuclear project in the first place. Unwittingly dying disproportionately from a host of malignant diseases and who continue to die because their land, now robbed twice over, remains lethally contaminated.
The Navajo, who were promised wealth and a chance to serve their country in return for their labor in the uranium mines of their reservation, were also told by their so-called Guardian in D.C. that their land would be returned to them in the state in which it was found. The hundreds of abandoned uranium mines, mounds of contaminated tailings and radioactive pools that litter the landscape of their ancestral home tell another story. One of decades of broken promises, racism and economic exploitation in the service of enormous corporate profit and the U.S. government’s nuclear weapons stockpile. The Department of Defense knew about the negative health effects of radiation from the late ‘40’s and indeed sought to carry out health studies in order to find out more.
The DoD “Program Guidance Report” of 1952 by the Joint Panel on the Medical Aspects of Atomic Warfare states:
Advantage should be taken of any opportunities for the study of the biological effects of radiation, particularly in man.
Of course, the Navajo were never told about the risks they were running from uranium mining. If they had been it seems unlikely that they would have taken to building their houses from uranium-laced mining waste or perhaps not even given permission to sink the mines in the first place. The cancer rate among Navajo’s doubled between the 1970’s and 1990’s and legal cases against the mining companies and the U.S. government to admit culpability and effectively clean up all of the contaminated land and water continue to this day, 70 years later. The clean-up is likely to continue for decades. The EPA, which by its own admission does not have an end-date, began work on remediating the reservation’s largest mine at Northeast Church Rock in 2005 and do not expect to be finished until 2019. When even some committed environmentalists talk of nuclear power as the clean alternative to fossil fuels and the answer to climate change, the long-term ravaging of once healthy communities and ongoing clean-up gives us a primary lesson in the toxic inheritance conferred by nuclear operations. Not to mention the priorities of a system based on profit.
As climate change takes hold and unusual weather patterns become the norm, ironically Los Alamos, the birthplace of atomic weapons, was itself threatened last summer by the largest fire in New Mexico state history— the Las Conchas Fire that started on June 26 burned more than 150,000 acres in northern New Mexico. The fire forced the evacuation of the lab and raises more questions about the spread of radiological waste by wind from the fire-devastated areas contaminated with nuclear waste from decades of Cold War-era nuclear experiments.
Fortunately, New Mexico and local anti-nuclear activists did obtain some good news recently as the Department of Energy announced they were deferring the construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility and plutonium reprocessing operation at Los Alamos National Labs. While there were the predictable howls of protest about jobs going elsewhere, New Mexico is another area of the world to suffer the so-called “resource curse” of capitalist exploitation. New Mexico is one of the poorest states in the country despite receiving a disproportionate amount of federal aid, lavished almost exclusively on Los Alamos and Sandia. Furthermore, not only is New Mexico one of the poorest in absolute terms, it also suffers as one of the states with the greatest disparity between rich and poor. It is one of the poorest, most unequal states, inside one of the most unequal countries.
I just returned from an area of the world which has been on the receiving end of the weapons developed here and is once again the scene of a nuclear catastrophe. Almost 1 year ago to the day, the people of Fukushima prefecture in Japan, already reeling from a gigantic earthquake and the ensuing tsunami that killed as many as 15,000 people, found they had to simultaneously contend with three nuclear meltdowns and explosions at the critically damaged reactors at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power complex.
We now know that such was the chaos after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear explosions, that contrary to initial reports that things were bad but under control, at one point TEPCO, the utility running the plants sent a report to the Japanese government arguing that Tokyo, a city of 35 million people, might have to be evacuated. The safety systems and emergency centers that were in place were either knocked out, unstaffed, not provisioned or not designed to be inside a high radiation zone – even though that was their express purpose. Many of the safety precautions that could have been mandated were instead voluntary. Hence, as a corporation focused on profit maximization, TEPCO took the logical decision not to implement them. If this sounds all too familiar to BP’s lack of concern for health, safety or the environment in the wake of the Gulf oil spill of 2010 or Massey Energy’s coal mine disaster in West Virginia of the same year, and you perhaps begin to discern a pattern, it’s because ultimately the dictates of bottom-line capitalism trump all other considerations.
Only through the bravery of the nuclear workers who stayed at the stricken plant, when TEPCO officials were saying it needed to be abandoned, was this much larger calamity averted. As bad as the situation is now, it is not possible to imagine what things would have been like if Daiichi had been abandoned, forcing the abandonment of the reactors at nearby Daiini and quite possibly Tokai, thereby forcing the evacuation of up to 100 million Japanese. Think about that for a second.
In Fukushima, I spoke with many people and they all said the same thing: they are now living in a state of constant fear and anxiety as they campaign for better information, more evacuations and better compensation. Because the government has clearly not been transparent, has been found to be far too cozy with the corporations and has constantly been minimizing or not testing for radiation, people have had to become amateur radiologists.
In order to minimize the number of evacuees – and there are still 110,000 of them, many of whom will likely never be able to go back to their homes in the radiation areas – the Japanese government arbitrarily raised the internationally accepted dose 20 times from 1mSv/y to 20. This new “safe” limit makes no distinction between the effects of radiation on adults versus children and pregnant mothers, nor between radiation exposure inside versus outside your body. In another sign of the importance of words, some evacuees are no longer referring to themselves as evacuees, because the word evacuee implies you will return. They are beginning to see themselves as members of the Fukushima “Diaspora” because they now think they will never go back.
A group of women from Kooriyama City showed me the government form they have to fill out for their children, noting down where their child has been for the day and what they ate, along with the radiation monitors that the children have to carry around with them. As one of the mothers, who would only give her name as Nihon Matsu, the town she is from for fear of reprisals, quite reasonably asked me, if it’s so safe here, why is the government giving us these? Imagine the kind of social, domestic and economic pressures the people are living under as they debate whether they should stay because of their jobs or leave because of their health.
I spoke with Hatsumi Terashima, a fisherman from Minima-Soma for the last 54 years. He showed me the 2-3 feet of foundations that poked up from the mud that are all that remain of his house. He was caught in the tsunami and dragged 3 kilometers inland, but unlike 5 of his family members, managed to survive. He can’t fish anymore not just because he doesn’t have a boat, a house or a crew, but because of fears of radioactive contamination of the fish off the coast. So even if he could go out, there’s no guarantee he could sell the fish once they are labeled as coming from Fukushima.
I met one inspiring person after another as people there are organizing and protesting. A young female DJ from Fukushima City called Chika Shishido ran to the local radio station after the earthquake and with one other DJ broadcast 24/7 for 10 days straight to get the word out about the state of infrastructure, emergency services and radioactive contamination. One of the striking things about the new movement against nuclear power in Japan is that it is mostly led by women who are not just challenging the nuclear power structure but also raising questions of gender equality. She was keen to tell me why that was so important:
It’s not a mother and child thing. It’s about women’s [rights]. People think that because [we are concerned with] the evacuation of women and children it makes it seem like it’s a traditional issue – [that women need to be protected]. We need to make this clear if we want change [That this is not why we are leading this fight]. It’s fundamentally about the right to life.
She would like to have a baby but is scared of the consequences and so has quit her job and is moving to Hokkaido in the north to try to find work and peace of mind.
I was taken to a mall in Kooriyama City where amongst the shops there is now a volunteer-run radiation testing center. They are testing food and they also have a full-body scanner. Anyone under 20 can get tested for free. Imagine going to a mall down the street and seeing the Citizens Radiation Testing Center. Or imagine walking into your apartment building to be met with a large chart listing weekly radiation readings from different areas in and around your building, with particularly high values circled in red. This is now the daily reality for people in Fukushima City.
I met the famous Japanese film actor, Taro Yamamoto. He has suddenly been without job offers since becoming an anti-nuclear activist. Given some of the hardships that have now been placed on him I asked him: why are you doing this? He replied:
Because I want to live. People’s human rights are being violated in Fukushima. And if they can do it to people here, eventually they will do it to me. And I don’t want to see Japan end. But this is not just about Japan, this is the whole world.
Completely by accident I bumped into him again at Tokyo train station. He was up on a soapbox with a megaphone exhorting people to sign a petition to demand a referendum on nuclear power. In the three months of the petition activists had collected an amazing 3 million signatures.
In parallel with the way the Navajo were treated as expendable labor here, so too we find in Japan that 80% of nuclear workers are subcontracted day laborers without employment rights, a pension or health plan. So even in such an inherently unsafe technology and dangerous industry as nuclear power, we still find corporations cutting corners to maximize profit. I had the honor of meeting one of the workers from Fukushima-Daiichi, Kitajima-San, when he was in New York City at a panel I moderated on the anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. He spoke of the day laborers’ situation in a recent interview:
They are paid day laborers, and they are cornered financially. They have no other choices. Those workers expect they will suffer from radiation poison or diseases caused by radiation in five years. But they have already given up hope of medical benefits or compensation from the federal government. It makes me angry to think of a system created to force these people to face this kind of danger. Sometimes I go through six changes of [radiation protective clothing] a day. They are not recycled, they are just thrown away. The clothes are disposable. And so are the people.
One has to wonder, who took the decision for Japan, a small geologically active island prone to earthquakes and tsunamis and known as “the land of volcanoes” to become so dependent upon nuclear power and in whose interests was that decision taken? Every single one of the 54 reactors in Japan is built along the coast. At the moment, only 2 of the 54 are operational and yet there are no blackouts. This is leading many Japanese to more questions, such as why did we build them in the first place? And why don’t we have a renewable energy sector worth mentioning despite the fact that we were once world leaders in solar technology?
As Kazue Suzuki of Greenpeace Japan has pointed out:
This disaster was predictable and predicted, but happened because of the age-old story of cutting corners to protect profits over people…the authorities are already recklessly pushing to restart reactors without learning anything from the Fukushima disaster and the people will once again be forced to pay the price of their government’s mistakes.
Of course, we know all about not getting renewable energy here too. Which U.S. president said the following:
Over the last three years we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight I’m directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources.
If you guessed the oil-and-gas misadministration of George W. Bush you would be wrong. That was President Obama in his most recent State of the Union address. And in case we were in any doubt about where his administration stands on the XL tar sands pipeline after the temporary halt forced on the administration by large anti-XL demonstrations outside the Whitehouse and the arrest of over 1,000 protesters, White House spokesman Jay Carney handily clarified that:
We support the company’s interest in proceeding with this project…We look forward to working with TransCanada…and we commit to taking every step possible to expedite the necessary federal permits.
The majority of this year’s budget request of $27.2 billion by the rather Orwellian-named Department of Energy is for nuclear weapons. While the Los Alamos project for processing plutonium was cut, there was still $7.6 billion for what is being called the “safe, secure” stockpile of nuclear weaponry, $2.5 billion for nonproliferation efforts and $5.7 billion to continue cleaning up the effects of nuclear weapons manufacture dating back 70 years that I mentioned earlier. Nuclear energy gets a further $770 million despite numerous reports documenting just how uneconomic it is. To mention one, Citibank, an institution that has rarely met a risky investment it could say no to, issued a report in 2009 on nuclear energy under the headline “Nuclear Power: The Economics Say No.” More recently, The Economist ran an article: “Nuclear Power: The Dream That Failed.” In contrast, the requested amount for solar energy was a mere $310 million.
Meanwhile, back at the Pentagon, they’re gearing up to embrace renewable technology. A front page New York Times article in 2010 reported:
Even as Congress has struggled to unsuccessfully pass an energy bill and many states have put renewable energy on hold because of the recession, the military this year has pushed rapidly forward. After a decade of waging wars in remote corners of the globe where fuel is not readily available, senior commanders have come to see overdependence on fossil fuels as a big liability, and renewable technologies – which have become more reliable and less expensive over the past few years – as providing a potential answer.
So, it appears that the U.S. military, which is the world’s single largest polluter, can have renewable energy to go and fight wars overseas, paradoxically to fight wars to secure access to fossil fuels, but we can’t have renewable energy here at home. To quote Martin Luther King from his historic 1967 Riverside Church speech in New York where he publically came out against the war in Vietnam:
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
To that, we can only add that we are now also approaching ecological death. So if we don’t want nuclear, and we don’t want fossil fuels, what are the alternatives? And if they exist, why aren’t they being implemented?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year released a “Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation” illustrating how it would be possible, given a change in political priorities, to generate 80% of world energy from a mix of six renewable sources by 2050. While I would take issue with promoting the extension of biofuels as a future source of clean energy the report is significant in that it has to be reached by consensus – all of the participating governments have to sign off on it. It can therefore be taken as eminently possible.
Other, more radical but still comprehensive reports have been released by Price Waterhouse Coopers, Greenpeace, the European Climate Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, and the Institute for Policy Research and Development all indicating how 100% carbon-free generation of electricity is entirely possible within 40 years. Whatever skepticism people may have, carefully and expensively cultivated by the fossil fuel and nuclear lobbies, they can’t all be wrong.
A study reported in Scientific American showed how it would be possible to have 100% of world energy provided from renewable sources by 2030. It would require manufacturing 3.8 million large wind turbines and 90,000 solar plants alongside numerous geothermal, tidal and rooftop photovoltaic installations. The cost estimate was significantly less than if the same power was generated via fossil fuels and nuclear power. The construction of 3.8 million wind turbines might sound like a lot over a 20-year period but as there are 70 million cars manufactured every year, it is in fact quite feasible.
To give you another frame of reference, there are 101,000 Terawatts of solar power falling on the earth from the sun. Current global energy use is 15 Terawatts. Hence we would only have to capture a small fraction of 1% of this energy to power the earth. I’m not saying that’s what we should do as we would need a plan, but it gives you some idea of the potential.
Furthermore, the scope for reducing energy consumption through the enactment of energy efficiency regulations for appliances and retrofitting housing, commercial and industrial stock for energy efficiency is enormous. Not to mention a massive public transit program so that we can move away from the enormous inefficiency, pollution and waste associated with reliance on private automobiles.
There are currently millions of Americans without jobs or in part-time jobs that would relish the opportunity to rebuild the infrastructure of tomorrow along sustainable and energy-efficient lines. But the priorities of capitalism dictate that they remain rotting on unemployment lines and the millions of jobs that need doing to rebuild our collapsing bridges, build new train lines, energy grids and energy-efficient buildings and infrastructure that are so urgently needed don’t get done. We are not offered those kinds of jobs, the only jobs we get offered are those that force us into a Faustian trade-off between jobs and the environment. The kind that just happen to coincide with corporate priorities such as building the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada to Texas.
Then there is the production of useless things, in-built obsolescence, marketing, advertising and the military, alongside the gargantuan waste generated by the daily operation of capitalism. One half to three-quarters of resource inputs to industry are returned to the environment as waste within a year. Capitalism is only efficient at one thing, the generation of money. The generation of waste is not a sign of the failure of capitalism, but conversely, a sign of its success. The more waste is generated, the faster things are wearing out and the more things can be sold to replace them.
The problem is therefore not technical at all but entirely social and political and revolves around the question of social power: who has it and who doesn’t. Who makes the decisions in society and in whose interests are they made? What Occupy Wall Street has exposed is the reality we’ve all been living with: the answer to both those questions is the 1%; the tiny number of the ruling elite in each country who run the system in the interests of the gigantic multi-national corporations that dominate the economic and political landscape and are busily trashing the natural landscape in their relentless and insatiable pursuit of profit.
Capitalism is a system that is driven by the need to make money in order to stay afloat that in turn drives the constant expansion of the system. Marx explains it very simply in just 3 letters: M-C-M prime. A capitalist starts with money, M; he turns that into a commodity, C, which he sells on the market for more money, M prime. Then the whole process starts again but this time on a larger basis with a bigger pot of money to invest. As we live on a finite planet, there is a clear, logical contradiction. We are now finding out what the limits of the planet are to tolerate this form of unending and destructive growth. Furthermore, there is no possibility to consider the longer-term effects of whatever it is that was just made because every company is in cutthroat competition with every other company. And there’s certainly no incentive to take care of either the worker or the natural resource base except when forced to by social regulation.
So we do need to fight for more government regulation to limit feckless corporations from evading all constraints on health, safety and the environment. But we also need a much broader and more extensive vision for change. We all currently live in a world dominated by a single system of production that’s built around competition and production for profit predicated on a lack of real democracy; this is the system that has brought us to the edge of the ecological precipice. I want to live in a world defined by cooperation and production for need based on real economic and political democracy where the goal is not more money, but social equality and natural harmony. Such a system is socialism.
Whether machines control workers, as under capitalism, or workers control machines, as under socialism, is a critically important point as it relates to sustainability because the tools and machinery we use are extensions of our physical and mental abilities to manipulate, control and investigate nature. These tools are the product of tens of thousands of years of human development and are what allow us to understand nature on deeper and deeper levels, right down to the sub-atomic. Machinery is, or should be viewed as, the physical materialization of our brains and hands. It is nature’s way of discovering and linking itself to itself for we are a part of nature.
If machinery and technology was reconstructed on the basis of efficient use of resources, longevity, its labor- saving potential and minimization of waste products, then all of humanity could be freed – freed to fulfill the full range of human interests and pursuits. These would include an exploration and understanding of our fundamental connection to the earth as material beings – rather than enslaved to the rhythm and relentless pace of emails, texts, the vacuous nature of 24 hour news cycles and empty advertising slogans, automated machines and agricultural machinery, the production-line and time-in- motion studies and every other facet of our alienated existence under capitalism.
On this basis, as machines increase in efficiency, take over human functions, and save human labor for more creative activities, they will transform humanity’s former relation of life-and-death struggle against nature into a new relation; one of free time, of leisure, cultural pursuits and the opportunity for the fulfillment of distinctively human needs.
For the first time in human history, we can begin to relate to external non-human nature in non-competitive ways and not simply as a utilitarian need – what can we get from nature, how can we use it, what is it good for, how can we subdue and dominate it?
Rather we will have the time to stand back in awe and fully appreciate the natural world purely for the sake of its existence and the psychological, spiritual and material sense of uplift it gives us to know that we are alive in its midst; the serene beauty of the stars, the magnificence of a sunset, the intricate evolutionary delicacy of a bird’s wing matched so perfectly to its function.
Under an alternative ecologically sustainable and socially just system, no product would be made without it meeting the highest standards of use-value – the questions will not be as they are under capitalism: how quickly can it be made, at the lowest possible cost and how quickly can we get it to wear out before someone has to buy a new one, but instead a whole set of new questions will be asked: what need does it serve, how little energy can it be made with, are the materials adapted to its purpose, how can it be made to last as long as possible, how much waste is produced in its manufacture and how can we best deal with this.
Humanity interacts with its environment while simultaneously the environment acts back on us. In the process, both are changed. The environment is no longer a passive object to be plundered, or in the words of Marx’s lifelong collaborator Frederick Engels, made “an object of huckstering”, but would play a role in making us what we are. In this view, it is impossible to speak of any living thing, humans and their activity included, as anything but deeply enmeshed within each other, in a constant process of mutual interaction, transformation and co-evolution. This is why I avoid the word “environment,” because it posits that there are humans and then outside of us is the “environment” as if we are somehow apart from the natural world around us. That is why we ought to use the word “ecology” and see humans as just as much a part of nature as anything else.
We would be able to begin to fulfill our spiritual needs, cultivating non-utilitarian knowledge of the universe for beauty, play, recreation and for the observation of plants, animals and the inorganic world in all its diverse and wondrous forms. To paraphrase the ecological and leftist thinker Barry Commoner, nature is a self-enclosed system of energy exchanges. Nothing is isolated, nothing totally disappears, and nothing is free.
Nature and society cannot be seen as diametrically opposed but should co-evolve with one another as human naturalism and natural humanism become different aspects of the same thing. For Marx it was necessary to heal the “metabolic rift” created between humanity and nature by capitalism: “From the standpoint of a higher socio- economic formation, the private property of particular individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in other men. Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, 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.” A concept which is totally alien to capitalism.
If you think talking in such terms is a utopian dream, I would answer that it is far more utopian to believe we can reform capitalism toward sustainability – and there are two decades of failed international climate negotiations as empirical evidence.
You know things are getting desperate when such a normally conservative group of people such as scientists are getting political. The March 16 issue of the leading U.S. scientific journal Science carries an article titled: “Navigating the Anthropocene: Improving Earth System Governance” where it is argued that: “Science assessments indicate that human activities are moving several of Earth’s sub-systems outside the range of natural variability typical for the previous 500,000 years,” and conclude that we have reached a “constitutional moment” in world politics. While they now recognize a significant international political rearrangement as necessary, we need to go further and indict the entire system.
Rather than have as humanity’s legacy the irradiation of the atmosphere, catastrophic climate change and planetary ecocide as implied by the term Anthropocene with which I began this talk, rather we should seek to enter an Age where we finally begin to understand what it means to be fully human; connected to each other and the land not as commodities to be bought and sold in the “callous cash nexus” of capitalism, but as a global community of cooperating humans working together toward a long term future of equality, sustainability and co-evolution with nature in all its living and non-living forms.
Capitalism itself was born through revolution as the rising bourgeoisie overthrew the previous feudal aristocratic ruling class in revolutionary upheavals such as 1776 and 1789 in order to impose the rule of the merchants and manufacturers that we have today. What was born through revolution can be ended by revolution. Thank you.
You talked about the inherent nature of capitalism and its drive for profits, privileging profits over people. What would you suggest as an alternative? You mentioned socialism several times. What do you mean by socialism? And hasn’t it been tried in the Soviet Union and other places and shown to be a failure?
I think it’s been tried once, and it did fail ultimately. But capitalism has failed many times, and we keep trying that. It’s worth giving socialism another chance. Without going into all of the details, the Soviet Union failed for very specific reasons. During its early years, in the 1920s, it had a very different attitude towards ecology. It was one of the first places that you could take a degree in ecology in 1924. There were huge parts of the Soviet Union set aside as ecological areas, where you couldn’t even do tourism or anything; it was purely for research, to see how they could rejuvenate damaged areas of the land. All that was reversed with the ultimate triumph of the bureaucracy, represented by Stalin. So I think that failed for very specific reasons.
But I don’t equate socialism with state control. If there’s no democracy, if the people aren’t making the economic and political decisions, then I don’t see how you could call that socialism. So if you think about China or Cuba or North Korea or any of these other countries that call themselves socialist, I would argue that they aren’t. You’ve just got one giant corporation called the state that runs everything. I think socialism is about real democracy. People in communities and workplaces, production for need, not profit, based on cooperation rather than competition.
In your book you talk about some of the attitudes toward nature. You quote Francis Bacon, for example. I think there is a theological aspect to the attack on nature, with people like Winthrop and his “city on the hill.” And to achieve that “city on the hill,” it was necessary to exploit nature, which was given to us as bounty by God. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been given to humankind.
Senator Inhofe has a similar opinion as to that.
The Oklahoma Republican.
He doesn’t believe that climate change is real because God has already told him that it’s not true. I think that there was a radical change. If you look at how the Earth was viewed, some of the language of which we still retain in terms of the “veins of ore” and be so on, the Earth was seen as a living thing in feudal times and before that, because people were much more connected to the land. Capitalism, if it wants to make money, has to make machines. That means it has to understand nature. Therefore, you get Bacon and others completely changing the conception. Nature is now not something that we live with and on but something that needs to be investigated and defiled in many ways. And generations before the emergence of capitalism, people would have seen that as a defilement, that actually was celebrated in very overtly sexual language, by Bacon in particular, that I mention in the book. And I think that rather than that, as I mentioned in the talk earlier, conception of nature, that we need to dominate and control it for our own ends, which are towards the profit motive, we need to see ourselves as co- evolving, as something equal.
The OECD recently came out with a very shocking report. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the major economies, came out and said that we may be heading towards a world that is 3 degrees to 6 degrees warmer than anything we’ve seen for hundreds of thousands, millions of years. Most scientists will tell you that 2 degrees is the maximum that we should be going up to. So they lay all this out—by 2050 we’re going to be 3 to 6 degrees higher, which would mean the sea levels would be heading towards 300 feet higher—and at the end of it they just say, the effect on GDP will just be a 14% reduction. So there are going to be no icecaps— that’s literally what they say—there are going to be no icecaps, there are going to be deserts across large areas of the world, but there’s only going to be a 14% reduction in GDP worldwide.
In other words, there’s this idea from economists and apologists for the system that we are essentially independent of nature. We can survive without air or water or a planet and things can roll along as they always have. Clearly, we need to change that radically and think about not just where we’re going tomorrow and making money from that, but a much longer-term, future- generational thing, which Marx talks about, as I mentioned.
And the impact on the most vulnerable. A couple of years I was in Nepal. At a place called Kala Patthar in the Himalayas, the Nepali cabinet met to dramatize the fact that the glaciers are melting. And around the same time, in the Maldives the cabinet met underwater to have a meeting to demonstrate their concern about rising levels of the oceans, which will inundate and wipe out the Maldives Islands. Again, the vulnerability of people in the so-called developing world is acute. I think a lot of us here may be insulated from that while we are busy driving fuel- efficient cars and recycling and doing the right thing, environmentally speaking.
Well, maybe, unless you go to Texas or the wildfires that were all over New Mexico last year or the unprecedented floods in the Midwest. I think that on the one hand we are certainly somewhat more insulated, but that doesn’t mean to say—I mean, people are already in a desperate situation in many areas of the world and are feeling the effects already. There are already climate refugees, there are wars because of the instability that climate change is bringing about in various areas of the world.
Part of this is also about the idea that we can save nature by setting aside small, little areas called national parks to protect it. Yet, how is that going to work if the climate is completely different? How are the animals that feed on other animals or plants going to survive when those things are moving north or south or up mountains, or the will the birds be able to migrate and change? Clearly, the whole idea that we can save nature in certain individual locations goes out the window with climate. So we have to rethink the whole climate on a sustainable and rational manner.
I would be depressed about all this stuff if it was that we don’t have the answers. We actually do have the answers. It’s not a technical problem. It’s much more about how do we take power from the people who currently have it and put it in our hands so that we can actually start implementing some of the answers that we know will work.
It was Eduardo Galeano who said, “We have to save pessimism for better times.” A bit more about Marx—he’s been dead for 150 years—and his relevance today. What is it about his analysis that you find urgent and vital and applicable to the problems that society is facing today?
What’s important about going back to Marx is not just the specific things that he talks about, because obviously we can’t backdate our concerns to him. And climate change was not on his horizon. But one of the things that he and Engels were both most concerned with was depletion of the soil. What was going on in his period of time, they were very concerned in Britain that the fertility of the soil was dropping and what would they do. They hadn’t invented artificial fertilizer by then. They had already raided the Napoleonic battlefields, digging up the corpses of people who died in their wars to take back as natural fertilizer for the fields of England. They had to go further away to go and start wars in South America over guano— there were the Guano Wars of the 1800s that Marx wrote about—in order to get that fertilizer back to England. So Marx and Engels, his collaborator, were very much involved with an ecological question. He was great admirer of Darwin.
But beyond that, I would say what’s most compelling right now is their analysis of not just capitalism but the methodology which they used. Because so often we’re taught in schools that history is not connected; they’re all a series of disconnected events. That’s one of the things that makes history boring. You think that something caused the First World War, and it wasn’t connected to the Second World War. You learn about famous people. There’s no relationship to what’s going on now in your life. In contrast, what Marx and Engels did, their methodology of historical materialism, was saying that everything is interconnected and everything affects everything else. That’s a very deeply ecological viewpoint.
Furthermore, when he talked about the “metabolic rift,” the word “metabolism” had only been recently invented, but it means an exchange of materials in and out of a single cell or an organism. What was revolutionary about the way he used it in the phrase “metabolic rift” is he applied it to the whole biosphere. That is an enormously powerful tool and way of thinking about energy in and energy out, waste, far ahead of his time, and I think is useful today.
Given the extraordinary depth of the economic collapse, with its attendant millions of homes foreclosed, millions of people thrown out of work, pensions lost, etc., do you see now a kind of Gramscian possibility for an opening for socialism? Do you think there’s more space now to even talk about a word that has been viewed so pejoratively in recent decades in the U.S.?
I think there’s enormous potential. When Barack Obama was first running for election, he was being accused of being a socialist.
That’s the “Change You Can Believe In” president?
That’s right, the change that didn’t come. But when he was running, he started being accused of being a socialist because the right wing thought that this would be a negative. It became the number one word Googled, because people were, like, Well, I like Obama. They’re calling him a socialist. I don’t like them. Maybe I’m socialist, too. Let me go find out about it. I think that is significant.
The economic crisis of 2008 coinciding with the ecological crisis is raising questions in young people’s minds and others’ that maybe there is a connection between those two things, maybe one caused the other. So they are open to the idea that there are new possibilities. I’m sure you saw the Pew poll that said young people in particular were more disposed to socialism than they were to capitalism because they know what capitalism is like, and who wants that in this day and age. So I think that that is something that has woken people up.
I also think that there was a huge change last year with the revolutions in the Middle East. It has just completely changed people’s reference point for what is possible. We’ve had 30 years of defeats. It’s been a terrible time since Reagan and Thatcher and the birth of neoliberalism. I grew up in the 1980s, a terrible decade. Very bad fashion sense, pretty bad music, too, unfortunately, with a few exceptions. But now things are very hopeful again. And people said, “The Middle East, what’s going to happen there? A bastion of reaction. Nobody is interested in democracy.” Then millions of people on the streets fighting for democracy. Fantastically inspiring.
I went to Madison, Wisconsin, as part of my union to see what was going on there last spring during the uprising and the occupation. It was amazing. Another area of the world, the Midwest, where we are told people are conservative, they don’t follow politics. People there were learning Arabic so that they could write their signs in Arabic and show their solidarity with the people in Egypt and Tunisia. It was amazing to be in a town so full of pro- union sentiment.
And then, of course, more recently, something I’ve been involved in, Occupy Wall Street. Phenomenal. It completely changed the narrative in this country. We haven’t won any practical victories yet, but we’ve won an enormous ideological victory. We’re not talking about the debt ceiling or any other nonsense. We’re talking about the rich, the 1%, and the 99%, everybody else, and why we need to get rid of them so that we can run things.
That’s fantastically exciting.
Indeed, the lexicon has changed. You mentioned the Middle East, a focus first of British and French imperialism, and then their successor, the United States, ever since 1945, having to do with a certain product that is known to be there under its sands. It might be a three-letter word.
God works in mysterious ways.
Talk about U.S. imperial policy dealing with energy issues and its relation to ecology.
It’s an enormously overlooked piece of the puzzle. There are a lot of great writers who write on environmental issues and ecological questions, and this question of imperialism is so often either overlooked entirely or barely given any kind of detailed analysis. I think that’s a real mistake. Because part of the big reason why the international negotiations go nowhere is because not only is there competition between individual corporations for power and prestige and profit, but there’s also, similarly, competition, economic and political, between countries.
That competition then leads and sparks warfare. Warfare is just as integral a part of capitalism as competition. So if you’re not talking about the economic and political competition that goes on between states and their desire to control resources and the geopolitical “great game,” as it used to be called, then you’re not providing a full analysis for people.
That’s one of the major reasons why they cannot get any kind of agreement on climate change. They have a hard time getting agreement on even things that they care about, like trade; but the things they don’t care about, like climate change, that is not even part of their frame of reference, they have even more problems with. If I regulate my economy more than you, then I suffer an economic disadvantage. You now can go places and do things and produce profits cheaper than I can, and I’m at an economic disadvantage. That kind of dynamic prevents them from coming up with a rational plan. They’d rather nuke each other over a disputed oil field than come up with an internationally coordinated plan to plant some trees.
What are your views on what is called sustainable capitalism?
You cannot have a sustainable capitalism, because every year every capitalist entity has to grow larger for the process that I mentioned earlier. There is this constant dynamic of growth that if they’re not growing, then they die. We see the economy today. What’s the conversation about? We need to go back to growth. Every nation on the planet needs to have 2% or 3% growth. Otherwise what happens? We fall into a tailspin of unemployment, layoffs, cuts to social spending, obviously not the military budget, but everything else. So without that growth the system starts falling apart. Capitalism is literally a system that is based on the maxim “Grow or die.” So the idea that in any way that could be sustainable or that they could somehow care about the resources that they put in or the waste that goes out is an impossibility, I would argue. They don’t even see resources as anything but a free lunch: they take something free from the environment and then they put it back in as waste. They don’t pay for that stuff.
So I infer from that, then, that you are perhaps skeptical of tinkering around the edges, cosmetic changes such as recycling.
I’m not against recycling, but I think it’s important to recognize that that’s the first thing that we’re told to do. And there’s a reason for that. Because it takes it away from the product itself and says the product is okay, it’s fine. The problem is with you as you a consumer and an individual. You are the problem because you don’t put it in the right receptacle. It evades the whole question of why was that thing made in the first place and why was it made of plastic. There’s nothing wrong with plastic. For example, people often talk about plastic water bottles, which is a $100 billion-a-year industry. Plastic is an amazing material. It lasts virtually forever. So why would you make disposable things out of plastic? It should be illegal. Really, it should be illegal.
Yes, but these are panaceas that are being served up. If you do these things, if you drive the right car, things will be hunky-dory.
Absolutely. I think the idea is very much ideological, that we feel good about recycling, that we take it away from the production and we focus on the consumption, and if we do that, then everything will be okay. However, if you look at waste, only 2 1/2 % of all waste is domestic, i.e., what all of us produce. So even if we could magically get rid of all of that, that would still leave 97.5% of industrial and agricultural waste. It would be irrelevant, in other words. Apart from the fact that plastic cannot be really effectively recycled in the first place, which is why even if you put it to be recycled, 95% of it never is. So that would be last thing that you should do, not the first thing. The first thing should be to look at the production process and then match things to their function. Then we can go from there and talk about, at the end, if we really can’t do anything, if we can’t reuse it again, or maybe we should never have made it in the first place—that’s a radical idea—we should then think about how could we best recycle it.
You can expand that to any kind of argument about this tinkering around the edges and the focus on that. Every time capitalism messes something up, it doesn’t try and correct that problem, it just tries to sell you something else. So the food system has become so toxic now that they invented another subset of the food system called organic food so that—what was wrong with the first stuff? What did you do to that to make it so bad that we have to go and pay more money, if we can afford it, to get organic food? You can replicate that on any number of levels. The food crises, the various food scandals. People may remember swine flu a couple of years ago, where they’ve concentrated the animals in such horrendous situations, totally unhealthy, that they’re diseased, they’re incubators for disease. So during the outbreak what did they do? Did they think, You know what, we really need to regulate these corporations so they treat these animals more humanely? No. They just said, No, we’ll sell them sanitary masks, and then that will be fine. So they just are constantly figuring out new ways. So if we accept that paradigm, that there’s something else that we should buy, then we’ve already fallen into their trap.
You talked in your presentation about the Bush period, the oligarchy, it was easy to kind of explain what was going on. These were people with close ties to the oil and gas industry. Yet, as you point out, Obama has followed basically the same template and has expanded and increased drilling permits and has opened up the Arctic.
It was very easy to blame George W. Bush. In some ways Obama has got away with more than Bush could have got away with in his wildest dreams. Certainly on civil liberties I think you could say that Obama has been worse than George W. Bush. And I think there’s argument to be made on ecological issues that the same is true. If you think about the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, in 2010 the Gulf oil spill, when Obama had supermajorities in both houses of Congress and a massive amount of public support at that time, he could have done anything. But he didn’t. In fact, he let the clean up to the criminal who carried it out in the first place, BP. So this is clearly not about changing Democrats for Republicans.
I also think it’s important to remember, all of the best environmental laws that we’ve got on the books—the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, etc.—came about under the presidency of a right-wing Republican egomaniac called Richard Nixon, who had already caused colossal environmental devastation, not to mention mass murder, in Southeast Asia. Why did he decide that now was the time I want to protect the water and the air? Because there was a massive movement on the streets that demanded it. So that’s really the answer. I don’t think it’s about the politicians; it’s about what we do on the streets and how organized we get.
The gravity of the multiple ecological crises demands collective and global action—not one-off, one country doing this or Canada doing that. How to get there, to collective action?
That’s the all-important question. We’ve had some examples I mentioned in the Middle East. Also, recently the massive protests in Germany against nuclear power completely changed another right-wing government, Angela Merkel’s, who is the premier and who is pro- nuclear. Yet now Germany has already shut nine of their nuclear reactors, they’re shutting down the rest within 10 years, and has a plan in place to reduce their carbon emissions by 30% by 2020, and then by 80% by 2050. That’s not because they suddenly became a green government. It’s because they were forced to become a green government. I think those kinds of things resonate around the world. The same is true in Italy and Switzerland which are also shutting down their nuclear power stations, and hopefully Japan will be the next country.
But I think it’s also significant that the countries that are resisting the most in terms of that kind of change are also the countries that have nuclear weapons. Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Japan don’t have nuclear weapons. So the movements there have more latitude. I think it would be extremely difficult in this country for the government ideologically to justify keeping nuclear weapons, which they want, but abandoning nuclear power. So I think that the campaign here has to be much more powerful.
How do we get to that? I think it’s the same as any other movement. I think occupy Wall Street, we haven’t been fighting for a long time and finally we are. That’s exciting. It’s finally become a two-sided battle. And we need to catch up with our organization. That is the next challenge as we move forward. Where do we go from here? Because we really are in the belly of the imperial beast. So I think it’s a question of organization more than anything else.
A lot of people may think or have the idea that they don’t need to get involved with politics or political organization. I joined my first political organization when I was 15, which was the ANC, the African National Congress, in Britain. That’s where the government in exile was. As a 15-year-old, I couldn’t understand why black people couldn’t have a vote in their own country. It just didn’t make sense. So I started finding out more about it. I got involved. Then I joined CND, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. All of these things eventually made me realize that they’re coming from the same source, the economic system. So I became a socialist.
Around the time of resistance at Greenham Common, the big U.S. military base in Britain.
Yes, the movement in the early 1980s was started by about 35 women from South Wales who went to Greenham Common, where they had just started putting nuclear weapons in this U.S. base. They could launch nuclear weapons from Britain without the consent of the British government. So people were, like, What the hell is this? So, just like the sit-down strikes in Greensboro, North Carolina, started with 4 people, the movement against Greenham Common base started with 35. One woman was killed during the occupation by a military truck that ran her over, Karen Davis. But it evolved within a few months into an occupation of 30,000, predominantly women, where they ringed the base and shut it down so that they couldn’t get trucks in or out, which sparked an international movement, in Germany in particular, to do the same thing. That occupation went on for 19 years, which is something worth being inspired by.
Interestingly enough, I was in Japan over December and January. One of the meetings that I went to, that was run by predominantly women, showed the documentary of the occupation from Greenham Common. So women a generation away and on the other side of the world were inspired by this message and taking heart from it as they went to campaign. So the working class, the people, have a long memory.
Do you have some concrete suggestions for people, some things they can do?
It’s not about buying green stuff. It’s about getting involved in politics. It’s the only thing we have. They have all the money, they have all the guns, but there’s not very many of them. We are always more—many, many more. What we need to do is get organized and show our power, because we’re the people who make all the stuff. If we don’t go to work, nothing happens. So if you’re not involved in some political organization, you should think about joining one, whatever is your particular issue. I was first involved in an anti-racist struggle, that led me to an anti-nuclear power and nuclear weapons struggle that I kind of generalized from. So whatever is your issue, I would urge you to get involved and join an organization and think about what is connecting. I believe, as a socialist, it’s the economic system that we need to get rid of, the whole thing. If you don’t find an organization around here in Santa Fe that you like, start your own. Get some of your friends involved. I think that that is the key thing. Because ultimately, as far as I’m concerned, if we don’t get rid of this system—and we haven’t got much time left, but fortunately, as I said, we’ve got some inspiration from 2011 that is very, very exciting and points a way forward—but if we don’t get rid of the system and implement something else, as I mentioned, based on cooperation, real democracy, and a long-term time horizon, then we face a very diminished future within many of our lifetimes. I’ve been an activist, yes, since I was 15, I guess, and I think it’s the only life worth living.
As Shelley said, “Ye are many, they are few.”
(Due to time constraints some portions of the interview were not included in the national broadcast. Those portions are included in this transcript.)
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