AntiCapitalist MeetUp: Are carbon markets like papal indulgences
Like Martin Luther objecting to Pope Leo X selling indulgences to raise money for a variety of excesses, the environmental costs of carbon markets far exceed the benefits. Austerity would have denied us Renaissance art which is less at risk in an age of non-fungible tokens. Today the consequences for the planet are more dire in the face of globalization and climate crisis. Following the analogy, ecosocialism is one form of Counter-Reformation requiring us to examine the failure of carbon commodities and the necessity of CO2 remediation as a function of degrowth policies.
As the IMF working paper says, an inconsistency exists between capitalistic policies and environmental needs. We should then analyze these type of investments through shareholders’ value theory rather than through stakeholders’ value theory, treating green finance products like regular investments made in a highly financialized economy to seek and redistribute profits among the investors. It cannot be otherwise, since “the financial system is a set of ordered economic relations, comprising markets and institutions with characteristic profit-making motives which are necessary to support capitalist accumulation.” Green finance can ultimately be seen as another characteristic of monopoly capital’s financialization, where financial institutions replace public provision even for the environmental protection.
So, as long as carbon markets and green finance in general produce a profit, they “work” even while failing to reduce emissions. What’s more, they let investors appear to value environmental protection. It is not surprising, then, that the Financial Times suggests that carbon markets are like the papal indulgencies that Luther fought.
The solution to global warming depends on democratic control and economic planning. There is no alternative.
 Costas Lapavitsas, Profiting without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All (Verso Books, 2013), 37.
It’s a false hope that like Pope Leo X, Trump, despite his evangelical pandering, would be the last secular idiot to be POTUS*. Similarly, this would be no different than accepting his involvement in the 1/6 insurrection, a sacking of the Capitol. The previous guy’s reign was Stalinesque in its climate denials and environmental policy idiocy, parroting the usual GOP stupidity about exploitative land use and laissez-faire economics. Trump did his best for his crony fossil fuel interests, including those of US rivals and Russian oligarchs, further placing the global ecology in jeopardy.
There are neoliberal incentives that remain to be addressed by a range of efforts including the possibilities that Modern Monetary Theory will point towards new fiscal policies with eco-socialist implications for the wealth paradox. Demonizing MMT as “a free lunch” only parodies the rhetoric of bankrupt monetarist thinking. MMT suggests that deficit financing can be used without harmful economic effects in circumstances of low inflation rates and low interest rates, conditions that currently exist despite indications that the country is at full employment. As with most MMT prescriptions, there is the importance of state intervention in a recent article to “seize the means of carbon removal”.
Trees do the same thing, but the fan machines would ideally be built in areas where you couldn’t plant trees, such as deserts, Popular Science reported.” src=”https://images.dailykos.com/images/920669/large/DAC.png?1614120573″ title=”Canadian company Carbon Engineering is building machines that suck carbon dioxide out of the air by pulling it through a fluid, where it can either be discarded or recycled to be used as fuel.
Trees do the same thing, but the fan machines would ideally be built in areas where you couldn’t plant trees, such as deserts, Popular Science reported.”/>
Prior stories have discussed the contradictions of carbon capture discourse and the climate crisis such as that of Keen-Nordhaus on global warming discounting and the failure of carbon market economies in implementing Direct Air Capture (DAC) technologies.
The political economy of carbon removal involves not a few capitalist perversions, as well as the need to confront state-intervention in utility regulation and ownership.
An unavoidable question looms. We have seen how DAC is steadily proceeding in all the wrong directions – indeed has been doing so from its inception: rendering ideological and extractive services to fossil capital; feeding a frenzy of carbonous commodification where permanent storage appears as little more than an afterthought; burdening the planet with yet another source of phenomenal hunger for energy and resources and finances. Should we throw it out as a potential tool in the mitigation toolbox? Must the exclusive focus of the left remain on radical fossil-fuel phasedown, any suggestions for technological carbon removal rejected as buying into a sham? Or might there, despite all of the above, be use for DAC yet, provided we can detach it from its present capitalist perversions?
We have seen how capital in general and fossil capital in particular co-opt and corrupt DAC along two lines: sequestration as a sewage system and utilisation as a business of air-mining. Who could unshackle it and push it in another direction? Both Buck and Parenti, two of the very few scholars of the left who have bothered about DAC, point to the state as the sole actor with a potential to mobilise resources for something of this scope. Less predictable, perhaps, is the clamour for state intervention from the leading start-ups and scientists championing DAC: no one else, they plead, can establish the subsidiary infrastructure (including pipelines conveying the CO2 to oilfields for enhanced recovery).142 No one else could furnish the basic research (a dependence in place from its inception: the Los Alamos National Laboratory belongs to the US Department of Energy; Climeworks is a private spin-off from ETH Zürich; the Icelandic plant owes its existence to a public utility, and so on). And because of the implacable thermodynamic parameters, no one but the state could make commodities from the air undercut those derived from fossil fuels. Synthetic jet fuels might never outcompete the petroleum varieties of their own force, certainly not when oil prices are as low as in the wake of Covid-19. Only some heavy financial penalty on emitting CO2 – a price, a tax, a rationing system – could make synfuels and other derivatives of DAC competitive across the board.143
‘Policy needs to come in, and quickly’, is a mantra in the ‘space’.144 Those who harbour hopes of a DAC-fuelled boom thereby find themselves in the awkward position of having to trust in the state as its catalyst. Omnipresent regulation must come to their aid and skew markets in favour of DAC, which means that its hyper-bourgeois boosters, as Buck wryly notes, suffer from ‘tremendous cognitive dissonance’.145 It also raises the question of what exactly the state should do with DAC: pave the way for utilisation or open the shafts to sequestration. Doing both, on this count, is hardly viable. There is, as we have seen, no escaping the trade-offs: a quantum of DAC capacity allotted to diamonds or synfuels for the class of frequent flyers will be so much DAC capacity not devoted to removal. The more carbon in the air and the greater the burden to offload, the sharper these trade-offs will become.146 The alternative is an aggressive pursuit of sequestration folded into a programme for ‘euthanizing the fossil fuel industry’, in Parenti’s words: and the two could be fully unified in one act. Private producers of fossil fuels could be nationalised and converted into organisations for capture and storage. This would, as Buck has argued, be the most logical solution: compelling the polluters to clean up their own mess; making good use of their geological and chemical expertise; transferring workers in a doomed industry to new jobs, without having them move one mile. The company formerly known as ExxonMobil: a public utility for drawing down all the emissions it has caused and then some.147
A similar policy needs to come for the automobile industry. The apostles of DAC often calculate that 10 or 20 million DAC machines should be manufactured every year and argue that this is entirely within the realm of the feasible, since more than 70 million cars – devices of comparable size and sophistication – are turned out annually from the world’s factories. But the contention would be more credible if it came with the proposal that one fourth of the automobile industry be converted to DAC manufacturing (and the rest to other segments of the transition).148 The state could force the pace of development by acquiring the secrets from start-ups. It could open the valves of funding to improve the tech – yes, Manhattan Project-style – at maximum speed. Only the state could navigate the minefield of DAC energy and resource requirements and prevent unconscionable trade-offs. But most importantly, it is difficult to see any other actor that could release DAC from ‘the universal domination of mankind by exchange-value’ and let it work for something to which no such value can attach: a stable climate for all, impossible to bring to the market in a shining green bottle or white shoe.149 States could supplement DAC with other forms of drawdown, provided these are compatible with progressive ambitions – natural forest regeneration on land taken from the hands of the meat industry, for instance. For the time being, however, it appears that direct air capture, mineralisation and sequestration could be an important part of removal. After zero-emissions, this process can start lifting the burden, stone after incremental stone, let the earth go free and heal the wounds to the best of its ability. But best-case scenarios are, of course, in very short supply in this overheating world. That is why the politics of carbon dioxide removal will be defining for decades to come.
After a decline due to the Covid-19 lockdowns, air pollution levels are bouncing back to their pre-pandemic numbers, according to an analysis of satellite imagery. https://t.co/xThQueYEVP pic.twitter.com/BcvofqMZpW
— CNN International (@cnni) March 22, 2021
Control of space, land, and minerals, as well as capital will be primary in addressing a climate crisis built on human inequality. There remain a variety of positions of which eco-socialism has a vanguard role.
Marxism and Ecology: Common Fonts of a Great Transition John Bellamy Foster (October 2015)Socialist thought is re-emerging at the forefront of the movement for global ecological and social change. In the face of the planetary emergency, theorists have unearthed a powerful ecological critique of capitalism at the foundations of Marx’s materialist conception of history. This has led to a more comprehensive conception of socialism rooted in Marx’s analysis of the rift in “the universal metabolism of nature” and his vision of sustainable human development. This work resonates with other approaches for understanding and advancing a Great Transition. Such a social and ecological transformation will require a two-step strategy. First, we must mount struggles for radical reforms in the present that challenge the destructive logic of capital. Second, we must build the broad movement to carry out the long revolutionary transition essential for humanity’s continued development and survival.
With the rise of systems ecology, Marx’s concepts of the “universal metabolism of nature,” the “social metabolism,” and the metabolic rift have proven invaluable for modeling the complex relation between social-productive systems, particularly capitalism, and the larger ecological systems in which they are embedded. This approach to the human-social relation to nature, deeply interwoven with Marx’s critique of capitalist class society, gives historical materialism a unique perspective on the contemporary ecological crisis and the challenge of transition. Marx wrote of a rift in the soil metabolism caused by industrialized agriculture. Essential soil nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium contained in food or fiber were shipped for hundreds, even thousands, of miles to densely populated cities, where they ended up as waste, exacerbating urban pollution while being lost to the soil. He went on to emphasize the need for rational regulation of the metabolism between human beings and nature as fundamental to creating a rational society beyond capitalism. Socialism was defined in ecological terms, requiring that “socialized man, the associated producers, govern the human metabolism of nature in a rational way…accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature.” The earth or land constituted “the inalienable condition for the existence and reproduction of the chain of human generations.” As he declared in Capital, “Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, it beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations as boni patres familias [good heads of the household].”15
Wind, solar, coal, and nuclear energy all take up very different amounts of space. Here's why that matters: https://t.co/oXrLDVqgUs
— TED Talks (@TEDTalks) March 18, 2021
For each power source, there’s variability in how much power it can generate per square meter, but these numbers give us a general sense of the space needed. Of course, building energy infrastructure in a desert, a rainforest, a town, or even in the ocean are completely different prospects. And energy sources monopolize the space they occupy to very different extents. Take wind power. Wind turbines need to be spread out— sometimes half a kilometer apart— so that the turbulence from one turbine doesn’t reduce the efficiency of the others. So, much of the land needed to generate wind power is still available for other uses.
02:34But the baseline amount of space still matters, because cities and other densely populated areas have high electricity demands, and space near them is often limited. Our current power infrastructure works best when electricity is generated where and when it’s needed, rather than being stored or sent across long distances.02:54Still, space demands are only part of the equation. As of 2020, 2/3 of our electricity comes from fossil fuels. Every year, electricity generation is responsible for about 27% of the more than 50 billion tons of greenhouse gases we add to the atmosphere, accelerating climate change and all its harms. So although fossil fuels require the least space of our existing technologies, we can’t continue to rely on them.03:25Cost is another consideration. Nuclear plants don’t emit greenhouse gases and don’t require much space, but they’re way more expensive to build than solar panels or wind turbines, and have waste to deal with. Renewables have almost no marginal costs— unlike with plants powered by fossil fuels, you don’t need to keep purchasing fuel to generate electricity. But you do need lots of wind and sunlight, which are more available in some places than others.03:55No single approach will be the best option to power the entire world while eliminating harmful greenhouse gas emissions. For some places, nuclear power might be the best option for replacing fossil fuels. Others, like the U.S., have the natural resources to get most or all of their electricity from renewables. And across the board, we should be working to make our power sources better: safer in the case of nuclear, and easier to store and transport in the case of renewables.
Natural resources remain key in the coming economic struggles. eco-socialism remains a complex area of discourse
Eco-socialism, green socialism or socialist ecology is an ideology merging aspects of socialism with that of green politics, ecology and alter-globalization or anti-globalization. Eco-socialists generally believe that the expansion of the capitalist system is the cause of social exclusion, poverty, war and environmental degradation through globalization and imperialism, under the supervision of repressive states and transnational structures.
In the “Ecosocialist Manifesto” (2001), Joel Kovel and Michael Löwy suggest that capitalist expansion causes “crises of ecology” through the “rampant industrialization” and “societal breakdown” that springs “from the form of imperialism known as globalization”. They believe that capitalism’s expansion “exposes ecosystems” to pollutants, habitat destruction and resource depletion, “reducing the sensuous vitality of nature to the cold exchangeability required for the accumulation of capital“, while submerging “the majority of the world’s people to a mere reservoir of labor power” as it penetrates communities through “consumerism and depoliticization”.
Eco-socialists are highly critical of those Greens who favour “working within the system”. While eco-socialists like Kovel recognise the ability of within-system approaches to raise awareness, and believe that “the struggle for an ecologically rational world must include a struggle for the state”, he believes that the mainstream Green movement is too easily co-opted by the current powerful socio-political forces as it “passes from citizen-based activism to ponderous bureaucracies scuffling for ‘a seat at the table'”.
For Kovel, capitalism is “happy to enlist” the Green movement for “convenience”, “control over popular dissent” and “rationalization”. He further attacks within-system green initiatives like carbon trading, which he sees as a “capitalist shell game” that turns pollution “into a fresh source of profit”. Brian Tokar has further criticised carbon trading in this way, suggesting that it augments existing class inequality and gives the “largest ‘players’ … substantial control over the whole ‘game'”.
In addition, Kovel criticises the “defeatism” of voluntarism in some local forms of environmentalism that do not connect: he suggests that they can be “drawn off into individualism” or co-opted to the demands of capitalism, as in the case of certain recycling projects, where citizens are “induced to provide free labor” to waste management industries who are involved in the “capitalization of nature”. He labels the notion on voluntarism “ecopolitics without struggle”.
Technological fixes to ecological problems are also rejected by eco-socialists. Saral Sarkar has updated the thesis of 1970s ‘limits to growth‘ to exemplify the limits of new capitalist technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells, which require large amounts of energy to split molecules to obtain hydrogen. Furthermore, Kovel notes that “events in nature are reciprocal and multi-determined” and can therefore not be predictably “fixed”; socially, technologies cannot solve social problems because they are not “mechanical”. He posits an eco-socialist analysis, developed from Marx, that patterns of production and social organisation are more important than the forms of technology used within a given configuration of society.
Under capitalism, he suggests that technology “has been the sine qua non of growth”; thus he believes that even in a world with hypothetical “free energy” the effect would be to lower the cost of automobile production, leading to the massive overproduction of vehicles, “collapsing infrastructure”, chronic resource depletion and the “paving over” of the “remainder of nature”. In the modern world, Kovel considers the supposed efficiency of new post-industrial commodities is a “plain illusion”, as miniaturized components involve many substances and are therefore non-recyclable (and, theoretically, only simple substances could be retrieved by burning out-of-date equipment, releasing more pollutants). He is quick to warn “environmental liberals” against over-selling the virtues of renewable energies that cannot meet the mass energy consumption of the era; although he would still support renewable energy projects, he believes it is more important to restructure societies to reduce energy use before relying on renewable energy technologies alone.
The eco-socialist policy discourse discusses the global political economy of natural resource extraction and the emergence of post-neoliberal resource regimes. For example the dynamics of extractive capital and the imperialism of the twenty-first century, help construct neoliberal states’ trade and energy policies.
— CSIS (@CSIS) March 20, 2021
A confluence of these developments has elevated the strategic importance of securing critical minerals supply chains, especially to a group of economies that are home to innovators and manufacturers. Some governments have modernized or expanded existing strategies to address the challenge, while others have outlined action plans or articulated their perspectives on only specific portions of the supply chains. The author identified a select set of economies whose approach to the security of critical minerals supply chains is likely to be consequential in terms of geopolitics. Through a literature survey and interviews, the author reviewed the statuses of these economies’ critical minerals supply chains as well as their strategies to address the supply security concern. This report illuminates the key economic, security, and geopolitical factors behind the recent evolution of these economies’ strategies and their approaches to the security of critical minerals supply chains.
Key observations include:
▪ The security of critical minerals supply chains is a strategic issue, in light of the expected exponential demand growth led by clean energy technology deployment around the world.
▪ Sustained political commitment to technological innovation is essential to managing the growing competition over resources and clean energy manufacturing value chains.
▪ China’s development of midstream and downstream capacities has turned it from a supplier of raw minerals and materials to a key consumer of them. China’s commanding position along critical minerals supply chains is a key factor that shapes other economies’ strategic responses. 3 | Jane Nakano
▪ Different economies are motivated by different concerns reflecting the heterogeneity in their resource endowment profiles and industrial structures. The United States appears most concerned about import dependence that can be exploited geopolitically, while the European Union and Japan appear primarily concerned with the effects of supply disruptions on their industrial competitiveness.
▪ Recent efforts to strengthen critical minerals supply chains include the United States’ development of midstream capacities, the European Union’s orchestrated support for its battery sector, and Japan’s stockpile modernization and resource development abroad.
▪ Competition over critical minerals supplies is also rising between import-dependent economies. Such competition could hinder effective international partnerships that might otherwise mitigate existing risks to supply chains.
lt’s always about infrastructure in the context of painting, made more interesting in considering this post-Raphael work. Note the illusory architecture of the below fresco, as this work was commissioned by the de Medici pope Leo X, as Martin Luther’s critique of indulgences was developing.