Between the Devil and the Green New Deal (Excerpt with an introduction by Internationalist Perspective)

August 31, 2019 at 6:22 pm (Uncategorized)

This article was recently published on Internationalist Perspective’s website


In 2009, Internationalist Perspective published a lengthy article entitled “Capitalism, Technology and the Environment.”

In the article, looking at the relationship between capitalism and the environment, E.R. wrote:

Capital’s relationship with nature has a history of its own; it has a trajectory of development, of ‘advancement’, of ‘progress’. But, we need to ask, an advancement and progression toward what? Capitalism has transformed nature over the years no less than it has transformed labour and the working class. Capital has to such an extreme extent, by today’s advanced stage in its historical development, interfered with, appropriated, manipulated, in a word, messed with the earth’s overall natural environment that it is in fact increasingly difficult any longer to find any feature, any aspect, any part of it that hasn’t been changed in one way or another as a result. This change, this messing with nature by capital has by now done such catastrophic damage to the natural, evolving, inter-connected, highly complex and self-sustaining ecosystems and processes of the planet that the question of sustainability itself in regard to capitalist economic processes in interaction with the natural environment has become an increasingly important concern for the capital class itself (at least at the political level).

A lot of water, much of it polluted, has flowed under the proverbial bridge since the publication of that article. Climate change continues unabated; the rate at which the polar ice caps melt increases; the rain forest disappears to fund development; industrial pollutants choke the air. Yet, despite widespread concern about the environment and its destruction, no revolutionary movement to avert this catastrophe has emerged. As a result, many leftists and “progressives” have instead  looked favourably toward the wing of the Democratic Party led most prominently by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez promoting  the “Green New Deal.” (GND)

According to its right-wing critics, should the GND become a reality, American society would fundamentally change: Aeroplanes and cars would be banned; hamburgers too would disappear from menus; electricity would be produced solely by windmills, and would only be available when the wind was blowing.

None of this is true, for even though the GND’s proposals are much less radical than those suggested, they are no less impossible. Even the reform proposals would mean that capitalism would act contrary to its own nature: Instead of this rapacious profit-driven system, an environmentally friendly capitalism combining growth and environmental responsibility, along with a goal of zero emissions by 2030. It is the ultimate politician’s promise: Give up nothing and receive everything in exchange.

In the current issue of The Commune, a “popular magazine for a new era of revolution,” Jasper Bernes argues in an essay “Between the Devil and the Green New Deal” that despite the hopeful feeling and the concerns it seeks to address, the GND is doomed to failure because it is rooted in a fundamentally false world view: It remains entirely within the framework of capitalism, and capitalism is inexorably tied to growth that guarantees the kind of environmental destruction and devastation the sincerest advocates of the GND hope to end.

It not simply that capitalism is tied to a growth “perspective,” growth is intrinsic to the nature of capitalism. Any changes which are made in the direction of a “green” economy are ultimately subordinated to production of value and the search for profit. We can already see how elements of capital are adapting concern for the environment into a way of increasing profit. But this search for profit ultimately leads to overproduction, to falling rates of profit, and ultimately to the destruction of value.

The reform of capital in the face of economic (and now environmental) disaster is not new, but as with efforts in the past, it cannot be successful. It is not an accident that this is named a Green New Deal, as it shares an underlying framework with Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Whereas the New Deal needed only to restore growth, the Green New Deal has to generate growth and reduce emissions. The problem is that growth and emissions are, by almost every measure, profoundly correlated. The Green New Deal thus risks becoming a sort of Sisyphean reform, rolling the rock of emissions reductions up the hill each day only to have a growing, energy-hungry economy knock it back down to the bottom each night. (Bernes)

In fact, Bernes, argues that in order to even attempt to reach its goals, the GND will worsen conditions. In the opening passages of the essay, Bernes vividly describes  the beautiful horror of the Bayan Obo mine in China, an area which contains the largest deposits of rare-earth metals in the world,  but notes that “To meet the demands of the Green New Deal, which proposes to convert the US economy to zero emissions, renewable power by 2030, there will be a lot more of these mines gouged into the crust of the earth.”

This is an important article which deserves to be both widely read and discussed. We reprint below, the first part of Bernes’ article in the hope of starting such a discussion.

To read the full article, visit the Commune magazine’s website

Internationalist Perspective  August 2019


Between the Devil and the Green New Deal  (Excerpt)

We cannot legislate and spend our way out of catastrophic global warming.

From space, the Bayan Obo mine in China, where 70 percent of the world’s rare earth minerals are extracted and refined, almost looks like a painting. The paisleys of the radioactive tailings ponds, miles long, concentrate the hidden colors of the earth: mineral aquamarines and ochres of the sort a painter might employ to flatter the rulers of a dying empire.

To meet the demands of the Green New Deal, which proposes to convert the US economy to zero emissions, renewable power by 2030, there will be a lot more of these mines gouged into the crust of the earth. That’s because nearly every renewable energy source depends upon non-renewable and frequently hard-to-access minerals: solar panels use indium, turbines use neodymium, batteries use lithium, and all require kilotons of steel, tin, silver, and copper. The renewable-energy supply chain is a complicated hopscotch around the periodic table and around the world. To make a high-capacity solar panel, one might need copper (atomic number 29) from Chile, indium (49) from Australia, gallium (31) from China, and selenium (34) from Germany. Many of the most efficient, direct-drive wind turbines require a couple pounds of the rare-earth metal neodymium, and there’s 140 pounds of lithium in each Tesla.

It’s not for nothing that coal miners were, for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the very image of capitalist immiseration—it’s exhausting, dangerous, ugly work. Le Voreux, “the voracious one”—that’s what Émile Zola names the coal mine in Germinal, his novel of class struggle in a French company town. Capped with coal-burning smokestacks, the mine is both maze and minotaur all in one, “crouching like some evil beast at the bottom of its lair . . . puffing and panting in increasingly slow, deep bursts, as if it were struggling to digest its meal of human flesh.” Monsters are products of the earth in classical mythology, children of Gaia, born from the caves and hunted down by a cruel race of civilizing sky gods. But in capitalism, what’s monstrous is earth as animated by those civilizing energies. In exchange for these terrestrial treasures—used to power trains and ships and factories—a whole class of people is thrown into the pits. The warming earth teems with such monsters of our own making—monsters of drought and migration, famine and storm. Renewable energy is no refuge, really. The worst industrial accident in the history of the United States, the Hawk’s Nest Incident of 1930, was a renewable energy disaster. Drilling a three-mile-long inlet for a Union Carbide hydroelectric plant, five thousand workers were sickened when they hit a thick vein of silica, filling the tunnel with blinding white dust. Eight hundred eventually died of silicosis. Energy is never “clean,” as Muriel Rukeyser makes clear in the epic, documentary poem she wrote about Hawk’s Nest, “The Book of the Dead.” “Who runs through the electric wires?” she asks. “Who speaks down every road?” The infrastructure of the modern world is cast from molten grief.

Dotted with “death villages” where crops will not fruit, the region of Inner Mongolia where the Bayan Obo mine is located displays Chernobylesque cancer rates. But then again, the death villages are already here. More of them are coming if we don’t do something about climate change. What matter is a dozen death villages when half the earth may be rendered uninhabitable? What matter the gray skies over Inner Mongolia if the alternative is turning the sky an endless white with sulfuric aerosols, as last-ditch geoengineering scenarios imagine? Moralists, armchair philosophers, and lesser-evilists may try to convince you that these situations resolve into a sort of trolley-car problem: do nothing and the trolley speeds down the track toward mass death. Do something, and you switch the trolley onto a track where fewer people die, but where you are more actively responsible for their deaths. When the survival of millions or even billions hangs in the balance, as it surely does when it comes to climate change, a few dozen death villages might seem a particularly good deal, a green deal, a new deal. But climate change doesn’t resolve into a single trolley-car problem. Rather, it’s a planet-spanning tangle of switchyards, with mass death on every track.

It’s not clear we can even get enough of this stuff out of the ground, however, given the timeframe. Zero-emissions 2030 would mean mines producing now, not in five or ten years. The race to bring new supply online is likely to be ugly, in more ways than one, as slipshod producers scramble to cash in on the price bonanza, cutting every corner and setting up mines that are dangerous, unhealthy, and not particularly green. Mines require a massive outlay of investment up front, and they typically feature low return on investment, except during the sort of commodity boom we can expect a Green New Deal to produce. It can be a decade or more before the sources are developed, and another decade before they turn a profit.

Nor is it clear how much the fruits of these mines will help us decarbonize, if energy use keeps climbing. Just because a United States encrusted in solar panels releases no greenhouse gases, that doesn’t mean its technologies are carbon neutral. It takes energy to get those minerals out of the ground, energy to shape them into batteries and photovoltaic solar panels and giant rotors for windmills, energy to dispose of them when they wear out. Mines are worked, primarily, by gas-burning vehicles. The container ships that cross the world’s seas bearing the good freight of renewables burn so much fuel they are responsible for 3 percent of planetary emissions. Electric, battery-driven motors for construction equipment and container ships are barely in the prototype stage. And what kind of massive battery would you need to get a container ship across the Pacific? Maybe a small nuclear reactor would be best?

Counting emissions within national boundaries, in other words, is like counting calories but only during breakfast and lunch. If going clean in the US makes other places dirtier, then you’ve got to add that to the ledger. The carbon sums are sure to be lower than they would be otherwise, but the reductions might not be as robust as thought, especially if producers desperate to cash in on the renewable jackpot do things as cheaply and quickly as possible, which for now means fossil fuels. On the other side, environmental remediation is costly in every way. Want to clean up those tailings ponds, bury the waste deep underground, keep the water table from being poisoned? You’re going to need motors and you’re probably going to burn oil.

Consolidating scientific opinion, the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report projects that biofuels are going to be used in these cases—for construction, for industry, and for transport, wherever motors can’t be easily electrified. Biofuels put carbon into the air, but it’s carbon that was already absorbed by growing plants, so the net emissions are zero. The problem is that growing biofuels requires land otherwise devoted to crops, or carbon-absorbing wilderness. They are among the least dense of power sources. You would need a dozen acres to fill the tank of a single intercontinental jet. Emissions are only the most prominent aspect of a broader ecological crisis. Human habitation, pasture and industry, branching through the remaining wilderness in the most profligate and destructive manner, has sent shockwaves through the plant and animal kingdoms. The mass die-off of insects, with populations decreasing by four-fifths in some areas, is one part of this. The insect world is very poorly understood, but scientists suspect these die-offs and extinction events are only partially attributable to climate change, with human land use and pesticides a major culprit. Of the two billion tons of animal mass on the planet, insects account for half. Pull the pillars of the insect world away, and the food chains collapse.

To replace current US energy consumption with renewables, you’d need to devote at least 25–50 percent of the US landmass to solar, wind, and biofuels, according to the estimates made by Vaclav Smil, the grand doyen of energy studies. Is there room for that and expanding human habitation? For that and pasture for a massive meat and dairy industry? For that and the forest we’d need to take carbon out of the air? Not if capitalism keeps doing the thing which it can’t not keep doing—grow. The law of capitalism is the law of more—more energy, more stuff, more materials. It introduces efficiencies only to more effectively despoil the planet. There is no solution to the climate crisis which leaves capitalism’s compulsions to growth intact. And this is what the Green New Deal, a term coined by that oily neoliberal, Thomas Friedman, doesn’t address. It thinks you can keep capitalism, keep growth, but remove the deleterious consequences. The death villages are here to tell you that you can’t. No roses will bloom on that bush.

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Music Notes August 2019

August 31, 2019 at 6:17 pm (Uncategorized)

And so summer comes to an end. 

1 Purple Mountains  – Purple Mountains 

I wrote about David Berman earlier this month, but it would be remiss if I didn’t mention again what wonderful this album is.

2. BEAK > – >>>

The soundtrack for an unfilmed science- fiction masterpiece. The third side project album by Geoff Barrow (of Portishead). Music for highways (to space) ?

3. 75 Dollar Bill – I Was Real

This Brooklyn based post-blues is top of my “I really really want to see them live” list. A fantastic, hypnotic album.

4. The Ruts – The Crack

Listened to this a few weeks back for the first time in years. A really amazing punk rock record. Energy and hits. I remember when Malcolm Owen died.

5. The Cramps – Live at Napa State Mental Hospital 

The film is only twenty minutes long, it’s shot on a hand held camcorder, and the production values are godawful, but this is so rock n roll, you won’t believe how good it is until you see it. Amazing stuff.


6.  Bryan Ferry  /  Roxy Music – Street Life: 20 Greatest Hits

If you’re only ever going to buy one Roxy Music album, and you want all the hits, this is probably the one to have. However, I’m betting if you go that route, you’ll want to explore the rest of the catalogue too.

7. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin

It took me a long time to come around to Led Zeppelin, but I’m slowly picking up all the albums. The first is one of those albums that bursts fully formed into the world. Blues sure, but a different sort of blues, prefiguring much of what came later. The deluxe edition has a live set as disc two.

8. Common People – Brit Pop: The Story 

Brit Pop happened about a decade and a half after I moved to Canada, so I observed from afar. I really liked Elastica, here represented by “Stutter, ” and this 3-CD set is a fairly representative selection of the genre’s highs and lows. Still, it’s been said that a Brit Pop comp without Blur and Oasis is a bit like a British invasion sampler without the Beatles or the Stones. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of good stuff like Supergrass, James, the Stone Roses, Black Grape and much more (you can probably live without hearing stuff like Denim or Gay Dad twice, but I digress). Worth a listen.

9. The Umbrella Academy s/t 

Including this because I saw Tom Hopper and Emmy Raver-Lampman at Fan Expo this year and they were talking about music in the series. Maybe it’s because I really loved the show, but any soundtrack with Radiohead, Tiffany, They Might be Giants and the Bay City Rollers is worth investigating.

10.  Punk in London

Punk was the first significant musical genre I followed. I was a little too young to experience it (I was 12 in 76), and I lived in a small town near Oxford. Still, I succumbed to the nostalgia virus, and I was  pretty sure I’ve seen all the films about punk around. But then, I came across this. Wolfgang Buld’s documentary. There’s not a lot of insight into the subject, and the absence of titles make it tricky to figure out who is who (unless you already know), but the content is simply amazing. Live footage and interviews with X-Ray Spex, Chelsea, Sham 69, the Clash, the Lurkers, the Boomtown Rats, Subway Sect, Wayne Count and the Electric Chairs, the Adverts, Rodent (!), and the Jam. There are some pretty cool “interviews” including at Rough Trade, and the Stranglers almost make it in. Well worth seeking out.

Till next time.

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News of the Weird #5 – Faux Populist Edition

August 15, 2019 at 9:02 pm (Uncategorized)

Populism. In Fully Automated Luxury Communism, Aaron Bastani defined populism as a politics that “refuses to recognize the prevailing common sense in managing the economy.” Bastani was likely thinking of a leftist populism, but it can hardly be denied that in recent times, populist has been associated with a rightist version. Yet, more rightly (ouch), the new populism is a faux-populism because despite the lip service paid to “the people” it is committed to keeping the same elites in power (and it might well be argued, this is the core of populism philosophy anyway – but let’s take a look) how it works in practice

1 Donald Trump.

A few weeks back, I mused about whether Trump should be called a fascist because of the racism of “go back to  your own country” tweets. A few days later, the warning signs were even more apparent. Trump gave a proto-fascist rally performance worthy of Mussolini. As the crowd, whipped up and incited by his behaviour, chanted “Send Her Back” Trump basked in their adoration. The following day, a little sheepishly, he walked it back claiming it was the crowd that said it, lying that he disagreed and had tried to stop them “Very quickly.” (Ron Howard voice: No he didn’t) The following day he announced once again the crowd were wonderful people.

In the week so so since, we witnessed a blur a blur of vintage Trump nonsense (“American wine is better than French wine because it looks better) and more of the same racist nonsense, but at a subsequent rally, there was no “Send her back” but rather the old classic “Lock her up.”  Trump has tweeted several times that he is the least racist person on the planet (although on one occasion, he simply quoted himself)  Edging towards it, but not there yet.

This week however, Turmp presented further evidence that it is not a drive to fascism that motivates him, but narcissism, racism, ignorance and, well, more narcissism: Following the mass shootings of last weekend. Trump visited El Paso and Dayton (not California though) where he bragged about crowd sizes, and staged what might be the most grotesque photo-op in history: Posing with a two month old orphan while grinning and flashing a thumbs-up sign. On Saturday, Trump spoke at a fundraiser in the Hamptons where he claimed the Democrats used the racism argument because they had no other weapons, insisted they were the real racists, and then mocked Asian accents when talking about Japan and Korea. And in the aftermath of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide, Trump retweeted a conspiracy theory suggested the Clintons had had him killed.

Oh, and it should also be mentioned, as a final faux populist note, in a tweet the other day, he argued that Liberals weren’t the elite it was people like him. (Sorry, Donny, the real elite don’t consider you one of them)

Too lazy and stupid to be a fascist…Stephen Miller on the other hand.

2. Boris Johnson

To no-one’s surprise Boris Johnson was chosen as Theresa May’s replacement as British Prime minister. Almost everything that needs to be said about Johnson can be found in the appropriate epsidoe of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, but it should also be noted that despite the rhetoric, there is not populism. Something like 6% of the British population attend private schools. In Johnson’s cabinet, the number is close to 70%.

3. Doug Ford

Ontario’s third favourite Ford brother (I hear Randy is making a comeback), Doug Ford has been quiet of late. With the recess in the Ontario Legislature, Doug Ford has slipped below the surface of the public radar, and yet he still has an impact. It is widely believed that the extra-long break was at the request of Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who saw Ford’s widespread unpopularity as a potential kiss of death for his own chances (at a recent press conference in Toronto, Scheer tirelessly avoided using Ford’s name) . It’s odd though because Ford, despite is disavowals, appears to have federal ambitions, and with Scheer crushed he could swoop in – Ford Nation goes national! It could be argued though that given Ford’s populist “For the People” rhetoric, he might have a more ideological home in Maxime Bernier’s People”s Party, except  for a couple of facts. The PPC is polling around 1% currently. Why would Ford want to tie himself to the Titanic? Also, the Good Ship PPC already has a captain destined to go down with the ship in Max Max. And lastly, Ford’s estranged sister-in-law Renata is running as a PPC candidate in the upcoming Federal election. So, it’s clear to the Man of the People, Scheer has to go. A few days ago, Ford gave a radio interview in which he opined that violent mental patients should “be dealt with in prison.” Not at all sinister that.

3. Andrew Scheer

Scheer is the leader of the Conservative Party in Canada. It should have been Maxime Bernier, who led 12 of the 13 ballots to replace previous leader Stephen Harper. At the end of the day though, there were just too many people who thought Mad Max was electoral suicide and opted for blandy Andy. As Bernier has taken on political correctness, global warming and a bunch of wacky fringe causes, Scheer has boldly taking to attacking…the Canada Food Guide. (“Chocolate milk saved my son’s life”)

5. Maxime Bernier

The American Trotskyist James P Cannon once said if you look yourself in a small room long enough with a small group of people, you can convince yourself of anything. Bernier seems to be the living proof. Bernier is a legend in his pwn lunch hour, and while it is possible he will retain his seat (he has been a popular MP for a number of years), the idea that his  party will repeat the rewards of a population tired of political correctness , yearning for the right to be as racist as they like (er…) is at this point simply a fantasy.

And so it goes.

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David Berman R.I.P.

August 15, 2019 at 7:48 pm (Uncategorized)

I was going to include a brief appreciation about David Berman in the round-up Music Notes, but I’ve been listening to the Purple Mountains debut a lot, and decided not to wait. This isn’t an obit, not is it reminiscence either. It simply is.

I wasn’t a Silver Jews fan by any means. I first heard of the band on an old Drag City comp (Hey Drag city), and probably heard a few of their albums, but I was really never into them. In retrospect, I wonder how these things happen: Bands you should know about, but somehow remain just out of sight.

Last Tuesday, I was in Soundscapes in downtown Toronto  and picked up the new issue of Mojo. I flicked through the issue on the subway heading home, noting the feature review for the new releases section was Purple Mountains’ self-titled debut. My stop came up, and I decided to read the review later. The following day, I heard the news of Berman’s passing.

Purple Mountains isn’t the only record I’ve listened to since then, but it’s the one I’ve listened to the most. It’s a beautiful collection including ballads, indie-rock sounds, alt-country, and more. as I write these words, “Margaritas at the Mall” is playing, and I realize how utterly I’m failing to convey how good this is, and how much of a loss Berman’s death is.

How do we remember people? By what they leave behind.



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