7.4 Protecting the environment: Sustainable energy, environment & natural resource policy in a green social democracy

7.4.1 Necessary environmental reforms mean social transformation

Among the related issues that need to be addressed, in part, through environmental laws and regulations and their enforcement and, in part, through public investments are:

  • Mitigation of global climate change;
  • Restoration and maintenance of healthy ecosystems;
  • Maintenance of clean air, potable water and arable land as vital parts of the global commons;
  • Conservation of natural resources;
  • Protection of fisheries and marine environments;
  • Restoration and protection of healthy forests; and
  • Provision of healthy foods from sustainable agriculture and aquaculture.

There are environmental movements active on all of these fronts. Their confrontations with governments and multinational corporations are the subject of news headlines throughout the world – at least to the extent and in the manner that compromised commercial media permit.

Here we address these issues only in broad strokes, advancing what we believe are among the major policy initiatives needed to address the mounting problems. Most of these initiatives do confront and are likely to continue to face as obstacles the powerful opposition of the major private-for-profit corporations and the institutions and governments that represent them. For that reason, these initiatives are likely, in the main, to achieve their environmental objectives only with the political and economic demise and replacement of the corporations, institutions and governments that oppose them.

Adoption and enforcement of the new or renewed constitutional rights of the people outlined above in the section on justice would make a good beginning – probably a necessary one. It would mean, in effect, a new leadership for society, this time coming from the environmental and social movements and their political representatives. The legislation they would introduce to accomplish their aims would create what we have called a green social democracy. This achievement equates to the threshold between the current and a new socio-economic system.

7.4.2 Mitigation of global climate change

The need for as rapid a transition to alternate energy sources as humanly possible and the political opposition to doing so.

The International Climate Change Panel recommended a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 of 70% in order to avoid facing the prospect of catastrophic climate change, yet emissions continue to increase. No example of environmental reform makes the necessity of social transformation clearer than the need to mitigate global climate change. In the first place, the inertia and self-interest of the fossil fuel industry and its financial backers present a major obstacle to the scale of change that is needed. While their opposition is irrational in relation to the human need of a sustainable environment, it is rational in the narrow short-term perspective of these industries.

The logical, safer alternatives to increasing use of fossil fuels as energy sources include investments in energy conservation and in the development of wind, passive solar, and geothermal energy sources. All of these alternatives are highly amenable to a combination of small business investment and government support with infrastructure.

Small business competition, with government support, however, would reduce the opportunity now enjoyed by the fossil fuel industry to set prices and achieve the level of profits currently realized through monopolistic price setting. This, in turn, would reduce the profits available to investment capital. Given this common self-interest between the fossil fuel industry and investment capital in maximizing their profits, we have an evident explanation for their actions in downplaying the seriousness of climate change and in support of reckless fossil fuel extraction, production, transportation and consumption.

Evidently, the self-interest and inertia of the huge multinational corporations heavily invested in fossil fuels constitute a barrier to any humanly rational approach to the attendant problems of environmental degradation, including climate change. Nothing short of a political victory of the environmental and justice movements against these vested economic interests has a chance of making the change in direction that human survival in a sustainable environment demands.

The end of the neoliberal era.

Given the huge share of fossil fuels in energy consumption worldwide, reaching above 80% of all energy consumption, the scale of the demise of the related industries in favor of new ones will need major government intervention, perhaps at a level unprecedented in recent history. (In www.wikipedia.org see "World energy production and consumption.) Nevertheless, steps already taken by some countries and some local jurisdictions in other countries already confirm that this change is completely possible technically and financially. To be done within the time available to prevent the worst of environmental consequences is the challenge now before us. There is little time and space for the continuation of political rule by the representatives of big oil, gas and coal and no place for neoliberal policy and its denial of the necessity of government intervention on behalf of the people. A green social democracy is the necessary alternative.

For confirmation that the energy transformation is already technically possible and that it would, even in the narrow economic sense, actually save humanity tens of trillions of dollars in net cost, see: http://iea.org/newsroomandevents/pressreleases/2014/may/name,51005,en.html.

7.4.3 Restoration and maintenance of healthy ecosystems

Restricting and reducing the use of fossilized hydrocarbons

The exploration, extraction, transportation, chemical transformation, product use and waste from fossilized hydrocarbons play a large role in the degradation of Earth's ecosystems, ultimately threatening human and all life on this planet. Restricting and reducing the use of fossilized hydrocarbons and the products made from them to the level essential to human life would go a long way towards the restoration and maintenance of healthy ecosystems.

Expanding employment in ecosystem restoration and maintenance

The work of restoration and maintenance of healthy ecosystems will likely become one of the major productive activities within both the market and non-market sectors of the economy. Necessarily included in this activity will be stewardship of all the ecosystems our lives depend upon, including healthy soils, forests, marine areas, oceans, and fresh water lakes and rivers. These in turn will ensure us clean air and potable water, as well as provide some protection from coastal erosion, desertification, high winds, droughts, and other human-affected weather and climate events.

The scale of this activity will need to expand rapidly in response to the damage already done and the demands for a healthy environment from a global human population that may reach nine billion people during the lifetimes of half of our current population. Every one of these nine billion persons will have the equal human right to the essential resources for human life, including clean air, potable water, fertile soil and a high quality existence in healthy natural environments.

Stewardship councils

In response to the cozy alliance between centralized levels of government (such as state, provincial, national and federal governments) and the most powerful multinational companies engaged in the exploitation of the natural resources within their jurisdictions, many local communities have established or are in process of establishing their own stewardship councils. In many countries these include indigenous people's councils whose stewardship knowledge, experience and moral and legal rights add force to cooperative efforts to protect the environment. Individually and especially in combination these are a force for intervening and protecting the long-term interests of their communities in the health of the local ecosystems and other natural systems upon which their existence is largely based, including forests, agricultural land, fresh water rivers, lakes and watershed areas, recreational areas, marine ecosystems, coastal shores and other productive natural systems.

One of the first acts of a green social democratic government would logically be to institutionalize these stewardship councils, encouraging and supporting their environmental leadership, including responsibilities for monitoring, protecting and restoring ecosystems. Measurable standards, possibly in the form of indexes, should be created in relation to the health of ecosystems and other natural systems and as a basis for public policy and action.

7.4.4 Conservation of natural resources

Reducing material throughput in the economy, approaching a "steady-state" economy.

It should go without saying that the mineral resources of Earth are finite. Except for extremely slow renewal from the Earth's mantle and infinitesimal debris from space, our biosphere is for all practical purposes a closed, finite system in relation to mineral resources. The day when mineral resources could be regarded as infinite has long passed.

Thankfully, however, one resource exists in practically unlimited supply, energy from the sun. Managed intelligently, the combination of continuing solar energy and finite mineral resources should enable our species, and those that accompany our journey, to enjoy at least as long a future as we have enjoyed a past, namely hundreds of thousands of years. A green social democracy is one that would be dedicated to that goal.

Wherever possible, it only makes sense to use the renewable products of photosynthesis, such as wood, in place of finite, degradable mineral resources. But even our use of renewable resources needs to be controlled so that it does not exceed the long-term average rate of natural renewal.

When we do use finite mineral resources, especially those in shortest supply in relation to potential demand, durability of products, their maintenance and the recycling of their mineral components need to have high priority. An overall requirement in relation to both renewable and non-renewable resources is to reduce to the minimum their throughput in the economy. The need to reduce throughput to a steady-state value is the take-away message from those who advocate a steady-state economy. It is not the money value of the economy that needs to approach a steady amount, it is the material throughput from nature that passes through our economic systems, market and non-market taken together, that should approach that goal.

A green social democracy is one that would translate all the achieved wisdom from the environmental movement, including that from environmental economics and indigenous cultures, into public policy.

Life cycle stewardship of manufactured products.

Current, modest initiatives in the direction of recycling will need to be expanded in a green social democracy to embrace life cycle stewardship of all manufactured products. Rather than short term production for private profit, the economy of a green social democracy would be one driven by the aim of fulfilment of human needs with the minimum of waste. Consequences would include a policy preference for durable products and buildings and the reduction of waste to as close as possible to zero. Policy would include stewardship responsibilities at every point in the cycle of production, distribution and use. There would be little if any room for profits as a motive for production. A genuinely conservative society is necessarily a non-capitalist one. In capitalism's place, a green social democracy will need to be constructed to achieve a sustainable society.

7.4.5 Restoration and protection of forests, fisheries, and arable land

Because of their vital importance to human life, three natural environments should be singled out for special attention when people's green social democratic assemblies first convene: the forests, agricultural lands and fisheries within the jurisdiction of these assemblies. Given the level of their degradation in the hands of megalithic forest industries and agribusinesses, these environments merit special measures of protection, effectively taking them out of the profit-driven big business part of the capitalist market economy.

The first steps of the people's green social democratic assemblies should include:

  • making the environmentally destructive forestry, agricultural and fisheries practices of oligopolistic industries illegal,
  • passing conflict of interest legislation that would make the use by these companies of their economic power to influence politics illegal, and
  • adopting legislation that would give the employees of these companies, in addition to the other rights of labor adopted in the new or revised constitutions, additional powers in relation to degraded forests, agricultural lands and fisheries, including the opportunity to assume the responsibility to the local people's assembly, or to the corresponding Stewardship Council, of management of these companies in the public interest.

In effect, these measures would protect the forests, agricultural lands and fisheries by taking the large businesses operating in them out of the capitalist sector of the economy, replacing them with worker operated and managed businesses, governed by policies that prioritize the long term sustainable environment interests of local communities over the private profit motive of the largest capitalist companies. A corresponding step that should be taken when the nature of the business makes this feasible would be to break up geographically extensive businesses into a large number of (possibly autonomous or loosely federated) worker operated and managed community based ones.

Welcome!

This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New

NEW & REVISED

Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them

OPINION

Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement

REVIEWS

Charles McFadden, The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.

US CORNER

William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class

CANADA CORNER

George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP

RECOMMENDED

Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018

FEATURED WORK

ECONOMICS

1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism

HISTORY

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems

LABOR

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.