Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Climate Change -- the Worst-Case Scenarios. Can Something Be Done?


Dear friends,

just a few days ago, I read a very interesting essay by an American journalist, who interviewed several top-level climate scientists – among them some who had actually discovered global warming, climate change and related facts in the 1980s and thereafter. In his essay, David Wallace-Wells, the author, summarizes what he heard from these scientists and what he had read on the subject. In it he depicts the worst-case scenarios that would emerge if the worst fears of the climate scientists come true.
    The essay has gone viral, has been read by over 2 Million people and commented on by over 400 people including myself. I think all political activists, especially those leaders in politics and the media who make or influence policy, should read it.
    I admire the author for writing this important text. But I also find it deficient in its concluding part, in which he only repeats the technological optimism of the scientists.
    Below I give you the links to the article and the text of my comment.

With best wishes

Saral Sarkar


My comment:

It is a very good piece of work. My sincere thanks to Wallace-Wells for imparting to us, activists and non-scientists, all the relevant knowledge we need. Yet, the conclusion is disappointing. Here he does not express his own thoughts, but only reproduces the optimism of the scientists he interviewed, which he seemingly shares.
    After we have learnt all that, the question remains: what can and should be done? Here, I think, the author makes several mistakes:
    (1) He mixes up discovery and invention, science and engineering. The scientists and the author have presented here much information about discoveries. They discovered the hole in the ozone layer. But some engineering and political decision-making were necessary to patch it up, e.g., by replacing one gas, CFC, with another, so that consumers did not have to forgo a single refrigerator. The Apollo Program was a huge feat of engineering that enabled man to land on the moon – at the cost of enormous amounts of energy and materials plus enormous amounts of carbon emission and other pollutions. All engineering feats, all increases in production increase GHG emission and pollution.
He writes about "our debt to nature". Wonderful! But how do you pay this kind of a debt back and become debt-free? Do you then, as usual in usual kinds of debt, undertake new engineering projects and increase production and income? In real life, in certain situations, the debtor simply cannot increase his production/income. Then he reduces his consumption in order to pay off the debt. Our (carbon) debt to nature is not a usual kind of debt. It can only be paid off by reducing carbon emission, i.e. by reducing production. Through its Apollo Program, humanity did not reduce its carbon debt to nature. On the contrary.
    In the text I did not find any mention of renewable energy technologies, but spraying sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere and carbon capturing were mentioned. Application of all these technologies would entail producing more CO2 with uncertain results. To place our hope in such technologies is "another form of delusion
    (3) Instead of relying on engineering, we should rely more on social or socio-political engineering. We should bring our ingenuity to bear on this area.
    Wallace-wells says reduced global output would lead to reduced per capita GDP. But per capita GDP is a function of both GDP and population size. If we ourselves collectively start a dual project of deliberately reducing global output and, simultaneously, reducing global population size, then the pain would be bearable. I believe such a social-engineering project would have more and quicker effect than the hard engineering ones the scientists are dreaming of. Reducing consumption in the rich countries and raising more taxes there to be channeled to reforestation and population control projects in the poor countries would not only be just but also help immediately.

Friday, 9 June 2017

What is Eco-Socialism, Who is an Eco-Socialist

A few days ago I read a longish interview that Prof. John Bellamy Foster.1 had given to a leftist journal called Left Voice (LV). Prof. Foster is a renowned American Marxist scholar and a leading eco-socialist theoretician. Among many other things, he expressed in the interview his high regard for Naomi Klein, who had, 2–3 years ago, published a best-seller entitled This Changes Everything –Capitalism vs. the Climate. That would not have been any problem for anybody. But Prof. Foster also said: "She is aligned with eco-socialism". What the phrase "aligned with" actually meant was not clear. So Richard Smith, another renowned American eco-socialist, took it as meaning Klein is an eco-socialist. According to Smith, who has read Klein's 576 page book, she is not an eco-socialist. He criticized Prof. Foster for thinking so, probably meaning thereby also that Foster was thus diluting the content of eco-socialism.2  Thereafter several comments appeared in the website of the forum the Simpler Way.3 I too published there my first quick response to the debate. Below I am posting a revised and expanded version of my response.

It is not really important to know whether or not Klein is an eco-socialist. There are probably a few hundred leading, prominent and intellectual activists in the movement to prevent the worsening of climate change (call it whatever you will) or any other popular environmental movement. It is not possible to know what all they have written or said or done. Many people join such one-point movements because they support the movement's particular limited cause – demand something or prevent something. That is good. Also we eco-socialists should join them if we think they deserve our support. But parallel to such popular one-point movements, it is necessary to build up a really eco-socialist movement. Only in such a movement, if and when it emerges, will it be useful, even necessary, to know who is a true eco-socialist. For that, however, it is necessary first to have clarity about the essential points and convictions of eco-socialism.
    In the early 1970s, when I read the book Limits to Growth, I had exactly such a thought as Klein expressed in the phrase "this changes everything". I was in those days a supporter/friend of political activists, whose parties and groups were roughly called CPI (Marxists-Leninist).Their basic theory ("ism") was called, broadly speaking, Marxism-Leninism-Mao-Tse-Tung-Thought. The common point between them and me was only that they and I were all socialists.
    After reading Limits to Growth, I exclaimed: My God, if that is all true, then it changes everything.4 But was it all true? What I read there was, for me at least, convincing. After all, nobody could deny that non-renewable resources are limited and would sooner or later be exhausted, that even renewable resources such as fresh water and fertile land are available in limited supply.5 And we could see that even in a poor, rock-bottom low-wage country like ours not everything could be recycled. Every city had to have a waste disposal site.6 A few years later, I read in a serious German journal that even Soviet communist scientists had said that the conclusions of the report to the Club of Rome were irrefutable. I thought: well, then it is impossible to build up a socialist society in India. I/we had in those days no other conception of a socialist society than the one we had received from Marx, Lenin, Mao and their disciples: (put briefly) in regard to production, prosperity through development of the productive forces; in regard to distribution, from each according to his ability, to each according to his need; in regard to exercise of power, governance through the associated producers etc. It was simply a conception of
cornucopian socialism.
    That was the beginning. I started distancing myself from Marxism, Leninism and Maoism, although I and the Marxist-Leninist-Maoists I knew remained friends at the personal level. More thinking and more reading led me to eco-socialism. All that took place in the 1970s, before any knowledge of climate change existed. Now think of this: Klein, a 45 year old highly educated Western journalist, suddenly had her awakening in the second decade of the 21st century, when she learnt something about climate change, and she concluded that capitalism is the enemy of our planet's climate. And she wrote a 576 page book on the subject. And there is so much tam-tam about it.
    Let us now come to the essential points of eco-socialism. I think, they are the convictions that: (1) there are limits to growth – not only to economic but also to population growth7; (2) we have already overshot these limits to a dangerous level; (3) there are no technological solutions to the global resource and pollution problems;8 (4) therefore the world economy must now be subjected to a process of deliberate contraction and gradually brought to a sustainable steady state; (5) this contraction must proceed in a planned way, otherwise human societies would collapse one after the other; (6) both the burdens and benefits of economic contraction must be distributed equitably; otherwise citizens would not accept the planned contraction; (7) the goal must be to reach a sustainable and egalitarian steady-state economy and society at a much lower level than today's.
    Taken together, these essential points/convictions may be called
eco-socialism. Let those who have read Klein's book now say whether she may be considered to be aligned with eco-socialism. I have more important things to do.
    However, before concluding this text, I would like to point out
a few flaws in this debate between Bellamy Foster and Smith.
    (1) Smith maintains, both in the title of his critical comment and further down, that "Klein is … not an
eco-socialist". But Bellamy Foster has reduced the question to
"Is Klein a socialist?" That is not good for creating clarity. For if the two terms did not mean different things, there would not have been any need to coin the new term eco-socialism in the first place.
    The determinant element in the concept eco-socialism is the prefix eco. And that means the rejection of
industrialism. To be a good socialist one only needs to rejects capitalism. But to be an eco-socialist one must also reject industrialism as a future perspective for mankind, and agree to a program of de-industrialization (often clumsily called de-growth) – of at least the overdeveloped countries to start with. I do not see this difference taken up in the debate. (It won't do, however, if you agree merely to transfer the excessively polluting and resource-and-labor-intensive industries to China, India and other relatively under-developed countries, and then import the products of the same industries for consumption at home.)
    (2) Bellamy Foster writes that Klein
defended "Hugo Chávez’s 21st century socialism in Venezuela." This information is irrelevant for the debate. No sensible person could ever think that "Hugo Chávez’s 21st century socialism." was socialism. I always called it petro-socialism, which totally depended on the country's oil bonanza. Chavez only distributed the revenues from it more equitably. As a result of this good deed, Venezuelans forgot how to produce food on their own land. Chavez was a good man, that's all.
    (3) Also irrelevant, not important, is the information that "she [Klein] is openly anti-capitalist." One can rail at capitalism and yet not be a socialist. Example: Pope Francis of Rome. Moreover, even if one is a socialist, one is not necessarily aligned with eco-socialism.

Notes and References

1. See

2. For Smith's critique and Foster's response, see

3. See them in!forum/thesimplerway

4. Some years later, after reading Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolution, I started using the term "
paradigm shift" in the sense that it changed my whole line of thinking.

5. Later I came to regard also
nature's ability to absorb human-made pollution as a resource. And that too is limited.

6. In those days, in the environmental movement, there was much glib talk about garbage being actually "resources stored at a wrong place". Even a thinker like the late André Gorz wrote that we could recycle almost everything. Much later did I learn – thanks to Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen – why that was impossible, and why, if theoretically possible, it was not economically viable. It was because the
entropy law also applied to matter (materials).

Population growth has for a long time been a taboo topic for almost all leftists, progressive-liberals, and Marxists. That is actually the worst of all the theory-legacies of Marx, Engels and Lenin. I think those who do not understand the importance of the population issue have not understood the essence of ecology. But 134 years after Marx's death, things are changing. Today, many eco-socialists understand that they cannot call for de-growth and let exponential population growth go on.

8. All ideas of
technological solutions such as raising resource efficiency, de-coupling of economic growth from resource consumption, renewable energies (solar, wind etc.) are bunkum. Technological solutions can be helpful for solving one problem of one particular firm or region, but not for solving global ecological and resource problems. Because if you in this way solve one problem at one place, that would generate a new problem at another place.

NB. All these points have been thoroughly discussed in my book Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? – A critical Analysis of Humanity's Fundamental Choices. 1999, Zed Books, London.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Giving Rights to Trees. But Forgetting the Forests

Some four weeks ago, I posted my text on the "Rights of Rivers" (see below!), with which I had responded to a discussion that was going on in a google discussion group called Radical Ecological Democratic List. That was the beginning of another discussion in the said group: on the right to life of individual chimpanzees. A participant had informed us earlier that in the USA, a lawyer-philosopher had won court cases which he had lodged on behalf of two chimpanzees. The court ruled that the two chimps deserved a peaceful retired life after serving humans for many years.
    I responded with the following text:

Once more
reg. Rights and duties of rivers, trees, chimps, elephants and ad inifinitum.
Giving rights to trees. But forgetting the forests that are destroyed

This is again a very abstract discussion. Of course, also interesting as a piece of news on the idiosyncrasies and fads of a few particular lawyer-philosophers. Maybe this way they can do good to a particular chimp or two, whom they have come to love after coming to personally know them, by chance (Incidentally, they surely themselves feel well. Who does not, if she can do something good?). But what should radical ecological activists, nature lovers and animal lovers in general say? Those who are neither a lawyer nor have ever come to love a particular chimp?
Prof. Singer at least philosophized on liberating the animals, all animals, wanted to win human rights for all big apes, because they are so much like us.
    I remember a film entitled Free Willy. The activist boy, who fought for freeing Willy, had come to love this particular killer whale. But killer whales are not as intelligent as chimps. So what? I love this killer whale. Good film, touched the viewers' heart. But what about thousands of whales that are still being killed by whalers of Norway and Japan? At least some Americans and Europeans are trying to save them. But the chimps and gorillas of Africa who are not fortunate enough to be loved by some particular white humans? Hundreds of them are being killed for their meat (called bush meat) by humans of Africa. This is a very difficult issue. Even Arne Naess, the famous original philosopher (not an activist) of Deep Ecology could not but notice the problem. He wrote:

"When we attempt to live out our relationship with other living beings, difficult questions naturally arise. … Our apprehension of the actual conditions under which we live our own lives … make it crystal clear that we have to injure and kill, in other words, actively hinder the self-unfolding of other living beings." (emphasis added).

We can of course tell Africans of the Sahel zone, they should, because they could, become vegetarians. But can we say that to the Inuits of Greenland?
   How many of us are committed to saving the remaining living space of the remaining chimps and gorillas of the African jungle, that of the remaining Orangutans of the rain forests of Borneo, that of the majestic lions and great elephants of the African Savanna, and that of the Indian elephants of the Terrai region? Theoretically, all of us. But, in reality, these animals are rapidly losing their living space to humans because, firstly, the latter's total number is growing exponentially, because, secondly, in these poor underdeveloped regions of the world, growing numbers of farmers need more and more land, thirdly, because growing numbers of cattle breeders need more and more grazing land. And, last but not least, because also capitalist agri-corporations must expand or perish. Soon there will be "no room for wild animals" any more.
    How long will we keep our eyes shut and "pretend that we just do not see" the real, deeper causes of the killings of lions and elephants and rhinos and gorillas and chimps? Those very few of leftists who still call themselves communists or Marxists do talk about capitalism being the real culprit. But they see red if anybody mentions population growth being one of the deeper causes. But also most ecology activists do not raise the population issue. Why? Because, I guess, they are humanists. Humanists after all cannot see humanty as the culprit. Moreover, they are protagonists of human rights, and reproductive rights and democratic rights, and what have you, of everybody and all peoples and cultures of the world. So they suggest all kinds of technological fixes and/or small projects for all ecological problems, but never utter the P word. But radical ecologists? When will we say openly and loudly that the growing number of us humans is another "culprit"? They after all know very well the connection between the total number of humans and the total number of the other species, that they are inversely proportional. Paul Ehrlich, a famous American biologist, wrote addressing people like us, leftists and/or radical ecologists: "Whatever [be] your cause, it is a lost cause, unless we control population [growth]".
    Compared to the overall situation today, are not the cases of individual chimps,
Tommy, Kiko, Hercules, and Leo, much ado about insignificant things? These animals are after all not being brutally eliminated! Are not these cases distracting us from the great tasks of today?

Friday, 28 April 2017

Rights of Rivers? -- Are They Realizable?

Some two weeks ago I read an interesting article in which it was reported that on March 20 a High Court judge of a province of India called Uttarakhand has issued a ruling that the rivers Ganga and Jamuna, considered holy by the Hindus, and their tributaries have rights as a ‘juristic/legal person/living entity’. Five days before this, the New Zealand Parliament had passed into law the Te Awa Tupua Bill, which gives the Whanganui river and ecosystem legal personality, guaranteeing its ‘health and well-being’.
    The purpose of the authors of the said article – Ashish Kothari and Shrishtee Bajpai – was not just to report about these cases. They analysed the implications of the ruling on the Ganga and Jamuna and speculated on the possibility and difficulties of implementing the ruling in the real world.
    I read the article with great interest, because, in the mid 1990s, I had read a few eco-philosophical texts of the deep ecology school. The article triggered in my head further thoughts, which I wrote down and posted as a short comment.
    Later, the article gave rise to a long chain of letters in a google discussion group, in which the contributors further speculated on the possibility or otherwise of making the ruling of the Uttarakhand High Court judge operational.
    A few days ago, I had been admitted in this google group as a member. So I got all the letters. I read them and found them too abstract. Then I too made a contribution to the discussion.
    Below, I first give the link to the article of Kothari and Bajpai. Then you will find my comment on the article posted in the same journal. Thereafter I append my contribution to the discussion in the google-group.
    I request my readers to first read the article of Kothari and Bajpai, and thereafter my two texts.

Saral' Comments on the Article

Many thanks to Kothari and Bajpai for this highly informative article. It not only informs but also points out the contradictions involved in this particular piece of court ruling. However, the judges and our authors have opened a Pandora's Box, that cannot be closed without killing many "holy cows". That is to say, they have revealed several more fundamental contradictions that sincere ecological activists know about since long. Let me mention here just the two most fundamental ones: (1) that between economic development per se and protection of the rest of nature, and (2) that between modern humans as a whole and the rest of nature.
    For citizens of India it should be of interest to know that already before 1947, Gandhiji and Nehruji had a very serious dispute on the question of development, which Gandhiji totally rejected and which Nehruji wholeheartedly promoted. They kept their related correspondence under lock and key for fear that, if published, it would split the independence movement
    As regards the other contradiction, it relates to the number of humans living in any habitat or the whole world (taken as one habitat) and their conception of basic needs and good living. Neither the 1.3 billion humans in India nor the 7.5 billion humans in the world can live, let alone live well, without degrading every part of nature. You simply cannot eat the cake and have it too.
    Not Gandhiji, nor the vegetarians of India, but Arne Naess and his followers who initiated the Deep Ecology movement in the West formulated the first of the eight principles of the Deep Ecology Platform as follows:

"The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman Life on Earth have value in themselves (synonymous: intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes."

    Can we resolve these contradictions through a compromise? That may be possible, but surely not just through a ruling of a court. May I request Kothari and Bajpai to contribute another, a longish, article on these questions?


Saral's Contribution to the google group Discussion, dt. 27.04.2017

I have been reading this discussion from the very beginning, i.e. beginning with the article of Ashish and Ms. Bajpai, on which I commented in* In the meantime so many things have been said by so many participants that I do not remember who said what. That is however unimportant, because my following comments are very general.

(1) The terms right and duty are necessarily anthropocentric. Neither inanimate beings, such as rivers and mountains and nature reserves nor animals other than humans have such concepts in their head, let alone have the ability to articulate them. So, logically, it is only humans who can give rights to other humans and pronounce duties of humans to fellow humans and inanimate entities.

(2) The whole discussion is too abstract, so abstract that it is of little use either for government action or for activities of political groups. A right or a duty does not at all become more real or useful if a judge of a court declares it in a ruling.
    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was pronounced in 1948 by humans (UNO) for humans. But, as we know, till today, even such concrete human rights mostly remain on paper, unrealized. Why? Because, as of today, in any big society, say all inhabitants of a village in India, the humans are divided in various interest groups (call it class, caste, religious group, gender or whatever). A particular human right is not in the interest of all members of a society.
    Among humans, an aggrieved person or a group of persons can fight for her/his right. But what can a river do, or a mountain, or a tract of land (nature reserve)? Humans, who are supposed to fight for the rights of a river etc. are themselves divided on the basis of their own material interests.

(3) This is so because water, fertility of land, minerals in or below a mountain are resources needed by humans.
    I remember, as early as in the 1950s (or the 1960s), India and East Pakistan (since 1971 called Bangladesh) fought on the question of right to use the waters of the Ganga. India wanted to build a barrage on the river at Farracka to divert water to the port of Kolkata which was rapidly silting. East Pakistan was worried about the navigability of the river on which the port of Khulna lay.
    In the meantime, the population of both countries have tripled or quadrupled and their needs have skyrocketed and even now growing exponentially.

    In conclusion, I would say if we political activists want to do something about the undeniably abstract rights of such inanimate entities, we should rather pay more attention to the practical questions of material interests of humans, interest conflicts among them, resource and consumption needs of humans, and especially the growing human population.
    Sometime back I formulated an impossibility theorem. It is as follows:

It is impossible to fulfill the continuously growing demands, wishes, aspirations and ambitions of a continuously growing world population while our resource base is continuously dwindling and the ability of nature to absorb man-made pollution is continuously diminishing. It is a lunatic idea that in a finite world infinite growth is possible.


Further Comments of Saral

I think I should here add another important point that occurred to me later:

Both in the article of Kothari and Bajpai and my two comments/contributions we have discussed how difficult it is to make the ruling on the Ganga and Jamuna operational. But in my subsequent readings, till now, I have found no such discussion on the matter in connection with the Whanganui River, as if the New Zealanders and Maoris involved cannot imagine any difficulty that may arise after passing of the said law. I think this difference can be explained if we consider the following facts:
    New Zealand's population density is 17 per km2 , India's 368 per km2. These figures are for the whole area of New Zealand and India respectively. If we could have the figure for the Ganga-Jamuna basin, we would surely see that the figure far surpasses that of India as a whole. I could check the figure for Uttar Pradesh, which is a part of the Ganga-Jamuna basin. It is
829 per km2.
     Kothari and Bajpai have described, in a few sentences, the demands that economic development is making on the Ganga. On the just 290 km long Whanganui River we can read the following sentences: "It is essentially left in its natural state, since it does not flow through any big population or industrial centre. On the contrary, it flows through two national parks and is New Zealand's centre of river Kayak sport" (the German Wikipedia). I hope everything is clear now.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Nafeez Ahmed's Book: Failing States, Collapsing Systems, Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence


Dear friends,

I know you as a politically interested person. You may even be a political activist. If you know me and my writings (, then you know that I have been writing since long about limits to growth, peak oil, unviability of renewable energies, the general ecological crisis, crisis of capitalism, the danger of collapsing states etc.
    Recently, Johny Rutherford, a young friend from Australia, informed me about a publication which has pleased me very much. It is a small book, just 94 pages, by Nafeez Ahmed entitled

Failing States, Collapsing Systems, Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence.

In it the author has collated all the relevant biophysical data – global as well as from various problem countries – that explain why countries like Somalia or Yemen have failed and why he thinks that even such a rich country like Saudi Arabia is in danger of becoming a failed state. Ahmed thinks that even China, the second biggest economy of the world today, and India, a self-styled emerging economic superpower, may suffer the same fate.
    After reading a review-summary of the book made by
Alice Friedman (see below), I find Ahmed's reasoning very convincing.
    The book is very dear, but the review-summary is available free of cost in the internet. I
appeal to all politically interested and active people to read at least the latter and forward it to all political decision makers and opinion leaders of their country (add also your appeal to them) plus to all those who are worried about the fate of their native country and humanity at large. I am going to do the same.

With best wishes

Saral Sarkar


Alice Friedmann:

Monday, 13 February 2017

John Foran's Response


 Dear Friends,

 after I posted my essay The Ecology Movement is Not a Social MovementA Response to John Foran's Article on the How-Question,, an online journal sponsored by the Post Carbon Institute (PCI) published it too. Thereupon, Foran published his response to my response in the said journal in the form of a letter to me. It is not just a comment, it is an article. I thought I should post the link to the article in my own blog, so that my readers who generally do not access are made aware of it. Here it is: 

With best wishes
Saral Sarkar


Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Ecology Movement is not a Social Movement -- A Response to John Foran's Article on the How-Question

John Foran has issued a wake-up call, a "call to arms", and addressed it to colleagues and comrades:1
    I feel spoken to. Not only because of its subject, but also because I am both a colleague and a comrade of Foran. I have namely been both studying and writing about social movements as well as actively participating since the 1950s in all movements for radical social change – in India and Europe.2 I am a bit dissatisfied with the contents of Foran's article.

Climate Change is Only a Part of the General Global Ecology Crisis Affecting Societies

In the beginning Foran speaks of an
unprecedented crisis, in a world beset by massive social problems. He enumerates the latter and then names the unprecedented crisis: it is "climate change" which he regards as "a crisis of humanity and of all species." But climate change did not suddenly fall from the sky like a "wicked" meteorite. Firstly, it is only a part, albeit at present the most dangerous part, of the general global ecology crisis. Climate is changing because of global warming, which in turn is being caused by a particular kind of air pollution, namely excessive concentration of CO2 and some other green house gases in air. Secondly, this unprecedented crisis of humanity has really been brewing, without being noticed by many people, for nearly two hundred years now, i.e. since the beginning of the industrial civilization. It was already foreseen and indicated in 1972 in the book Limits to Growth, the subject matter of which had six years earlier been dealt with by the American social scientist (political economist) Kenneth Boulding as the central theme of his essay on spaceman economy and cowboy economy (1966).3
comprehensive and historical view of today's "unprecedented crisis of humanity" is actually lacking in the wake-up call of Foran. He of course mentions the term "ecology", but only in the context of a scientific principle. I did not find in the article the term ecology crisis. Instead, he uses the term "environment" in the phrase "movements for environmental, climate, and social justice".
    In my experience, the terms ecology and environment (German: Umwelt) are generally loosely used synonymously. But I think, for the sake of clarity, they should be understood as slightly different things.
Ecology is the branch of biology that studies relations among populations of organisms in an habitat – including both symbiotic and prey-and-predator relations – and between them and their respective physical and organic environment that contains the resources the species need for survival. As soon as we bring in humans in our considerations and study their interactions with other organisms and the physical environment of the particular habitat, ecology becomes a social science, political ecology, because humans are political animals (zoon politicon).
    When a group of humans are trying, say, to keep the air clean – locally or globally, in their own interest or not – it is an
environmental movement. The same applies to a movement to protect e.g. a particular marshland or all marshlands of the world or mangrove forests. But when the environmental conditions in a particular habitat or on the whole earth or the numerical relations between humans and other organisms have deviated so much from the equilibrium/optimum (i.e. deteriorated) that the resource base, hence survival, of (a population of) humans is in danger, then we should speak of an (global) ecological crisis. We should use the term (global) ecology movement when we are speaking of the efforts of the whole humanity or a part thereof to restore the equilibrium, i.e. health, of our one and only habitat because it is so important for our survival. To make it clearer, an environmental movement of the NIMBY (not in my backyard) type must not be called an ecology movement. In theoretical ecological literature there is a formula for showing the level of ecological crisis:

Impact = Population  x  Affluence  x  Technology 4

     In Foran's wake-up call, however, there is no mention of these elements of the crisis, no mention of overpopulation – of particular populations of humans or of the seven and a half billion humans in the world, no mention of the standard of living, i.e. affluence (resource problem), no mention of high-tech as a problem. There is also no mention of the conflicts of interests and power struggles between different populations of humans (ethnies, nations. identity groups etc.) that result from changes in the above elements. But without such a comprehensive view – global warming being only a part of the total impact of our present civilization – we would neither understand the crisis of humanity nor would we be able to save the biosphere of the planet, humanity's only home. Without such a view, we would also not find a solution to any of the social problems Foran mentions.5

What is to Be Done? Are the Social Movements of Any Help?

Nevertheless, unlike his friends Bill McKibben and Co., Foran seems to have realized that we cannot tackle the unprecedented crisis of humanity only by tackling climate change, and that too only by means of a very rapid and massive technological change – 100% renewable energies – brought about with the help of engineers and investors. He is a member of So I guess he takes it for granted that, firstly, such a massive technological change is necessary and possible, and that, secondly, it is possible without much negative impact on human society and the global environment. But, unlike many others in his scientific community, he thinks that is not enough. That is why he speaks at the very beginning of

"a world beset by massive social problems – the obscene poverty and inequality that neoliberal capitalist globalization has wreaked on at least two-thirds of humanity, the immobility of the political elite almost everywhere, and cultures of violence that poison our lives from the most intimate relations to the mass murder of the world’s wars.
    These interconnected problems are rooted in long-standing processes of inequality – patriarchy, racism,
colonialism, capitalism, and now corporate-controlled globalization – whose ongoing, overlapping legacies are making the early twenty-first century a crucial hinge of history."

That is why he is also calling – and this is his great merit – for a radical social change. He writes:

"We may need a combination of both a dense network of movements and a totally new type of political party to achieve anything like deep radical social change. These movements will have to develop both powerful political cultures of opposition, and compelling political cultures of creation."

That is why he wants to make the global climate justice movement the most radical social movement of the twenty-first century. And that may also be his reason for being a member of the Green Party of California. But there are a few problems:

The Ecology Movement is not a Social Movement, Because
There is a Conflict Between Them

Social movements as we know them are not useful for solving the crisis of humanity that we are talking about now. I came to this conclusion in the 1990s. Let me repeat, with a few changes, what I wrote then:

We must realize that there is a fundamental difference between the ecology movement and social and socialist movements of the past. Until the ecology movement emerged, most large movements arose from social problems. In earlier epochs, in the industrial societies, most social problems could, at least partly, be solved through more or less continuous economic growth. Acute poverty could be overcome and wages increased. The poor, the unemployed and students got financial help. Care of the old and the ill was provided for, Women got the franchise and also better paid jobs in industry and trade. Democratic rights were recognized and extended. The demands of all social movements could be fulfilled to a large extent, thanks to the growing cake. But with the emergence of the ecology movement, the situation has changed completely. Now, not only must the cake not grow, it must shrink. The very basis of the ability of industrial societies to solve social problems in its particular way must be attacked if the problems from which the ecology movement arose are to be solved. For the first time in history, a mass movement "promises" to lower the standard of living of the masses.6

    In fact, in my experience in Germany from 1982 till now, I have known some old social movements as special opponents of the ecology movement (but not of the environmental movement) and some others as indifferent to the questions and doubts raised by the ecology movement. Thus in the early 1980s, the ecology movement and the Green Party – in its early years, when it was really radical – were opposed and abused by the trade unions and, generally speaking, the working class movement as destroyers of their jobs and prosperity. The latter two, for example, actively opposed the anti-nuclear- energy movement, they opposed the movement to close down the lignite mines. And they opposed the idea of drastically raising petrol prices in order to reduce private motorized transportation (automobile traffic). Roughly the same was the attitude of activists of the Third World solidarity movement. They were generally uninterested in such issues and causes. Their focus was on anti-imperialism, Third World countries' right to development, fair trade, development aid etc.
    In contrast to their oppositional stance or indifference toward the above mentioned radical ecological demands and proposals, no social movement, old or new, have ever hesitated to support e.g. the movement against dying of forests (due to air pollution) or the demand to fit every car with catalytic converters in order to keep the air in urban areas clean. These latter issues are, in my opinion, typical for the
environmental movement.

New Social Movements

One may now object that Foran is not a defender of the old social movements (e.g. the old working class movement, old Women's Movement), that he is seeking to mobilize the new ones in order to build "a dense network of movements" and so to "make the
global climate justice movement the most radical social movement of the twenty-first century." Right. But it should be in order, I think, to also examine this movement a bit. Here is first its short self-introduction:

"Young people across the globe are leading a movement for a real power shift: we're addressing the climate crisis by standing up to corporate polluters and tackling root causes of the crisis, while lifting up community and people-centered solutions.
    Countries like the United States, who have greater historical responsibility for causing climate change must be held to higher standards for reducing emissions and addressing impacts,
including adequate financial support.
    The dirty energy industry is jeopardizing the future of young people, indigenous peoples, people in developing nations, and the very survival of small island states, but there are young people across the planet who are passionate and committed to stabilizing the climate, restoring democracy, upholding human rights, and transforming the climate crisis into an
opportunity to design new systems."7

    I do not here want to repeat my critique of the logic of isolating the climate crisis  from the whole ecology crisis nor my doubts about the feasibility and viability of the idea of transition to 100% renewable energies for solving the global climate crisis. See for these points my articles on the optimism of McKibben, Krugman, COP21 declaration (Paris) 8 But even otherwise this self-introduction does not inspire me very much.
    They claim to be "tackling the
root causes of the crisis", I do not see any sign thereof. What are the root causes? Like all old-left radicals before them, they too are blaming the crisis solely on "corporate polluters", "the dirty energy industry", and capitalist/imperialist "countries like the United States" etc. And they want to lift up community and people-centered solutions, as if the communities and the people are totally free from any responsibility for the climate crisis, global ecology crisis or the crisis of humanity. This is a very simple black and white picture. Like in Foran's wake up call, and McKibben's grandiose plan, there is no mention of population and affluence, the most variable and the most important factors in the equation mentioned further above. They may even be saying these two may or must be allowed to continue to grow.
    And then there are the
tall claims: "Young people across the globe are leading a movement for a real power shift." How can you lead a movement without first presenting a convincing analysis of the crisis? After all, global warming did not suddenly fall from the sky! Some such radical young people sometimes also talk of the need for system change. Not bad, but at best they mean by "system" capitalism, not industrialism itself. However, the secrets of power of the powerful and the longevity of the system are not that easy to understand, they need deep, thorough and sincere analysis. Radical slogans and presence on the streets in large numbers are not enough.
     Let us now look at a few other new or currently very active old movements that are pursuing a social end, each for itself. They enjoy mass participation, hence they may qualify as a social movement: Unfortunately, after the withering away of the
old international socialist movement, which was truly global both in the sense of its presence in the whole world and in the sense of fighting for a socialist society for the whole humanity, the social movements of today (at least those I know of) have reduced themselves to movements for what is generally and properly called identity politics. The separatist movements of today – those of the Catalans, Basques, Scots etc. belong to this category.
    In the USA, the human rights movement is mainly represented by the
Black Lives Matter movement. Earlier such movements – Black Power Movement and the Black Panthers – have, like the current one, clearly been movements of and for the Blacks and against their oppression and discrimination in the USA. In the media I have several times come across the slogan "white lives matter too". But there is no general movement against the high-handed, now and then even murderous behavior of the US police forces. I haven't ever heard of any contribution of the Black Lives Matter movement (we are here not talking of individuals) to other general or particular causes related to the struggle against capitalism or imperialism nor to the struggle for protecting the environment or the ecology.
    Roughly the same can be said about the
new women's (feminist) movement, although there are some feminist theorists who have realized the problem and call themselves eco-feminists, while some others among them organized in the past some conferences and demonstrations on some general issues (e.g. women against nuclear power plants, women against genetic engineering) in which exclusively women were invited to take part and speak. But the anomaly remains. The justification for such special identity-based demonstrations and conferences on general issues is not clear, since there has never been an eco-masculinist nor a patriarchal ecological theory or movement.
    The anomaly recently became clear in the campaign phase of the 2016 US presidential election, in which all women (50% of the voters) were called upon to vote for Hilary Clinton, because now "it was the turn of a woman" to become president, because the "glass ceiling" had to be broken through. But the majority of white women voted for Trump. I recently read an interesting and revealing article on this anomaly. The author Susan Chiradec9 asked some white young women about their explanation for Clinton's defeat. She reports that white young women did in their majority vote for Clinton, but "their enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders during the primary seemed to say that
for some, feminism’s traditional preoccupations seem out of date." In October, Chiradec had asked some such women "about their perceptions of Clinton." One politically active woman "said she found Mrs. Clinton’s feminism outdated, failing to prioritize climate change, income inequality and the toll of American intervention overseas." Chiradec writes further, "the brand of feminism that spoke to her, though, wasn’t about breaking historic barriers. It was more specific: 'progressive feminism, eco-feminism.'
    When one speaks of the
ecology movement (as distinct from the environmental movement), one should bear in mind that this movement is not so much in the interest of or for the wellbeing of the present generations of grown-up people as for the wellbeing of the future, yet unborn generations – at the most for that of the children of today. And it is about us modern humans withdrawing from much of those territories that we encroached upon in the past decades and centuries – in order to leave enough space for the rest of nature, i.e. for the other species, so that they can continue to exist on this blue planet.10 That means, not only must our ecological footprint be drastically reduced, but also the sheer numbers of humans. The women's movement's persistent opposition to any kind of population control program in developing countries in the name of reproductive rights of individual women is not compatible with this imperative, nor the Third World developing nations' right to development.
    To take another example, in India, the "
Dalits" (members of the lowest castes among Hindus plus the indigenous tribes) have since time immemorial been suffering from social discrimination and through it also oppression and economic deprivation. In the decades before and after India became independent (1947) they struggled to overcome the caste system. But in the 1990s, they began fighting for special economic rights in the sense of reservation of jobs and places in universities for them. When these demands were accepted, the movement succeeded but it also moved away from its great goal of reforming Hindu society and "annihilate caste". This huge identity-based social movement has nothing to contribute to the struggle to save the biosphere of the planet. Even if, as is happening of late, they realize the limitations of their kind of movement and ally themselves with the national left movement for social justice11, they will have nothing to contribute to it because the whole national left movement has nothing but the interests of the currently living working class in mind.
    Such identity-based movements may very well be necessary as long as a particular group of citizens (Blacks, women, Dalits) do not find adequate attention to their sufferings and particular grievances, oppressions and discriminations in the established political system. But it must be clear that ultimately a black person, a woman, a Dalit etc. is also a member of society at large, citizen of a particular state along with all others, ultimately, as a human being, a citizen of the world. They cannot free themselves completely from their own particular oppression and discrimination unless the system of oppression and discrimination as a whole is overcome. Nor can they secure the future of their children unless the biosphere is protected. Of course, they may get certain concessions, such as affirmative actions to favor them in economic and job matters. The most intelligent and qualified among them can be co-opted in the ruling elite. But the general rule is that favors to particular groups in society do also generate animosity in the other groups, as the recent history of US and India shows.

A Network of Movements and a New Type of Party

Foran's concluding idea is: "We may need a combination of both a dense network of movements and a totally new type of political party to achieve anything like deep radical social change "
    This is not a very new idea. I have experienced, participated in, and studied such a combination in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s. The result of that study commissioned by the United Nations University (UNU) is a two-volume book, written in English and published by the UNU Press.12 In Germany it began with the state-wide anti-nuclear-energy movement and it was quickly followed by the Citizens' Initiative Movement consisting of hundreds of groups (generally called a citizens' initiative) struggling for a cause or against some project of the state or private economic interests. These included the state-wide Peace Movement and a plethora of smaller and mostly local/regional one-issue one-demand movements for protecting an aspect of the environment. The sum total of the latter kind of movements, which were also very much connected, were also called the Environmental Protection Movement. In the same way there arose the Alternative Movement, Women's Movement etc.etc. And finally, from all these movements, arose the Green Party of Germany (Die Grünen), which at the beginning understood itself as an "anti-party party" and as the "electoral-political arm" of the new social movements mentioned above. These movements mostly have had the same qualities that Foran lists in connection with the modern-day social movements that he wants to bring together in a network. As far as I am informed, such movements arose in most highly industrialized rich countries of Europe and North America.
     The point I want to make here is that these movements, in my objective overall judgment, ultimately failed – except some of the one-issue one-demand movements. They either fizzled out or were co-opted into the system, particularly their leaders. Die Grünen have become a pillar of the current system. (Neither PODEMOS nor SYRIZA are willing to be the electoral-political arm of the ecology movement.) There is no space here to go into the details, and one may disagree with this assessment of mine. But, this is in short my argument, if they had been successful there would not be any need today for a climate justice movement, nor for a cry to protecting the biodiversity of the planet.

My own conclusions

In short, all efforts are doomed to failure unless at first an
honest analysis of the present world situation is made and propagated and unless it is accepted by the majority of those who form opinions and make decisions. Unfortunately, the majority of those whose task it is to make this analysis and propagate it, are cherishing several illusions. I have elaborated this critique in several contributions to the debate, and presented my own analysis of the present world situation in my major writings.13
    So far as the contribution of concerned citizens of the world is concerned, they may organize themselves in a truly ecology movement and not be satisfied with just some environmental improvements (see above for the difference).
    In this connection I may inform the readers that in some countries of Europe a truly ecology movement has begun. It is the
De-Growth Movement. There is also an organization called Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) with branches in many industrial countries. And since without the promise of social justice and without global economic equality no poor person, nor any poor nation, would accept an ecology movement that inevitably entails economic contraction, it is necessary to enlarge the ecology movement to a global eco-socialist movement.

Notes and References


2. Relevant in the present context are the two empirical studies:

Sarkar, Saral (1993) Green-Alternative Politics in West Germany. Vol. I. The New Social Movements. Tokyo: United University Press.
Sarkar, Saral (1994) Green-Alternative Politics in West Germany. Vol. II. The Greens. Tokyo: United University Press.

3. Boulding, Kenneth E. (1966) "The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth"

4. See: Meadows, Donella H.; Dennis L. Meadows; and Jörgen Randers (1992) Beyond the Limits, London; P. 100.

5. For this point see my critique of Bill McKibben's and others' calls for a massive World War II like industrial effort to achieve a quick transition to 100% renewable energies:

6. Sarkar, Saral (1999) Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? A Critical Analysis of Humanity's Fundamental Choices. London: Zed Books. P. 226f.


8. Some of my articles on the subject:

See also the following latest info:

" reports: The climate friendly electricity generated by solar panels in the past 40 years has all but cancelled out the polluting energy used to produce them, a study said Tuesday. Indeed, by some calculations, the so-called “break-even point” between dirty energy input and clean output may already have arrived, researchers in the Netherlands reported."
    On this Euan Mearns commented: "The numbers in the excerpt are quite damning – 40 years of PV development and it seems that we only now got the first net energy to society."

Susan Chiradec: Feminism Lost. Now What?

10. Let me here state clearly that I am not calling upon the indigenous people to withdraw from e.g. the Amazonas or the rain forests of Indonesia. Their ancestors did not encroach upon these territories in the recent centuries. These constitute their home since time immemorial.

11. On this issue see:

"When Jai Bhim meets Lal Salaam"

12. See note 2.

13. See : Sarkar 1999 (note 6) and

Sarkar, Saral (2012) The Crises of Capitalism. A Different Study of Political Economy. Berkeley : Counterpoint.