Friday, 2 January 2009

Ecology and Economic Development

Cover of the booklet “A Change of Climate is Necessary”, produced by ZSP Warsaw. Copiest are available to Polish-speaking comrades. Write to:

In December the conference UN Climate Change Conference COP14 took place in Poland. Some members of ZSP took part in a demonstration and gave out leaflets explaining why we believe that the whole socio-economic system must be changed. The event provided an opportunity to explore some issues. There were critical texts published which unfortunately did not result in the intended debate in the ecological or labour movements, but rather in the different fractions of the anarchist movement. The former movements decided to ignore the arguments made and some declined requests for debate, which is one way to treat a challenge – to pretend it is not worth answering.

Among the issues brought up were the interconnections between capitalism, state capitalism and viewing the planet and people as instruments for creating wealth and whether or not change could be made by lobbying the existing system or by supporting the electoral ambitions of the Green Party.

It is important to note that some labour unions and part of the left are lobbying against limits on CO2 production since they feel this will hurt the economic potential of heavy industry in Poland. In particular, they are heavily defending the coal industry and thus are totally against Greenpeace’s anti-coal campaign.

The “coal miner” issue inspired an interesting debate amongst anarchists. In the course of the debate I had occasion to refer to many classical ideas of anarchism which have either been forgotten by the movement or never made their way into the discussion in modern times. (For example, some basic works of anarchism which may provide interesting approaches to the issues have never been published in Polish.) We were all reminded of the fact that the anarchist movement has long proposed creating safe workplaces and limiting work which is hazardous or which negatively impacts on ecology and health to what is necessary. With different social and economic values, society can work together to explore safer technologies, more environmental solutions and to find ways of dividing the impact of dirty work in a more equitable manner. We mustn’t lose sight of this positive vision which we can offer or be afraid to offer a more complex view on the matter, which happens if we allow ourselves to get bogged down in a black and white debate. Some have been trying to reduce the issue as one of protecting jobs and suggest that people must oppose a reduction in coal use for this reason. But even reformist, single issue Greenpeace has acknowledged in reports, analyses and recommendations that there is a social cost in terms of coal miners jobs and they have tried to argue that since we bear many other costs as a society to deal with the impact of global warming, and since jobs are also lost as an effect of global warming we are better off investing in cleaner energy alternatives and creating jobs in those sectors. The anarchist movement must not duck this issue. We have something to propose which is much richer than the simplistic “defend coal to save miners’ job” approach.

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