Magazine article Monthly Review

A Reply to Parenti

Magazine article Monthly Review

A Reply to Parenti

Article excerpt

THE EDITORS

Our friend and MR author Christian Parenti misunderstood our brief comments ("Notes from the Editors," MR, November 2013) on his article in the summer issue of Dissent. We did not challenge the science of climate change, which tells us that carbon emissions must cease before one trillion metric tons of carbon have been emitted-a tipping point that will be reached in about 2040 under business as usual. There is no question that the fossil-fuel industry must go. In fact the reality that the world is confronted by a planetary emergency with respect to climate change (and the global ecological problem as a whole) and that the critical threshold will likely be approached by around 2040 (or even sooner) under capitalist economics as usual, is one that has been insisted upon by Monthly Review for twenty years (see in this respect John Bellamy Foster, The Vulnerable Planet [1994], 11-12, 27-28, and more recently John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, "The Planetary Emergency," MR, December 2012).

Where we strongly disagree with Parenti is in his notion that such an enormous transformation in the structure of the economic and social order as is now required can be accomplished through what he presents as a mild, and thus necessarily slow, "reformist" strategy, relying primarily on the two proposals he advances: (1) using the power of the executive branch of the federal government in the United States to order the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to impose additional costs on fossil-fuel use through the Clean Air Act, and (2) ordering government agencies, presumably at the initiative of the White House, to use their purchasing power to "buy clean energy, electric vehicles, and retrofit buildings for energy conservation." Based on such measures, Parenti contends, it is possible that "capitalism can transition off fossil fuels over the next several decades."

All we can say in reply is that the scale of the problem requires far larger transformations in the United States and in the world as a whole than he envisions. One only has to think of how much the EPA, a regulatory agency traditionally captured by the regulators, would be likely to accomplish in this respect through the Clean Air Act, or how much difference government purchasing of "clean energy" is likely to accomplish by itself-even with the Democrats in office! (Parenti tells us that the government's own expenditure is the key to change since "government is more than a third of the U.S. economy." But this is correct only if one adds in transfer payments, which are spent not by the government but by private individuals. Total government spending on consumption and investment, including state and local spending, is less than 20 percent of GDP, and federal government purchases of goods and services-most of which are on the military-are considerably less than that.)

In MR we have consistently supported leading climate scientist James Hansen's fee-and-dividend strategy (technically a carbon fee rather than a tax) to be imposed on fossil-fuel companies and ratcheted up steadily, with one hundred percent of the revenue going to the population immediately. The effect would be that the great majority of the population-who have less than average carbon footprints-would gain from the exchange. We see this as an approach consistent with class-based political mobilization. We have also explicitly supported most other parts of Hansen's strategy (though not his promotion of nuclear energy), including stopping the recourse to unconventional fossil fuels in the face of the peaking of crude oil, and the closing of coal-fired plants. It is the Hansen approach that has become the core of the really existing mass-based, grassroots climate struggle against coal and unconventionals (in particular tar sands oil and the Keystone XL pipeline) in the United States. The same general strategy toward curtailing emissions could conceivably be adopted globally, but will depend on the generation of a powerful popular-front strategy from below-which, given the deep conflict with the vested interests, will have to be truly radical in character (see John Bellamy Foster, "The Fossil Fuels War," MR, September 2013). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.