This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 4 April 2016 contains two articles. They may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as they are credited.
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Solar power and bees: Case studies in the plunder of nature and the world’s peoples
- The Ouarzazate solar plant in Morocco: triumphal “green” capitalism and the privatization of nature
- The disappearance of bees and the possibility of a new kind of society
The Ouarzazate solar plant in Morocco: triumphal “green” capitalism and the privatization of nature
4 April 2016. A World to Win News Service. Following are excerpts from an article by Hamza Hamouchene that previously appeared at jadaliyya.com and pambazuka.org. The complete article and citations can be found on those sites.
We find this a valuable article even though we disagree with the author on some points. For example, he states, “The climate crisis we are currently facing is not attributable to fossil fuels per se, but rather to their unsustainable and destructive use in order to fuel the capitalist machine. In other words, capitalism is the culprit, and if we are serious in our endeavours to tackle the climate crisis (only one facet of the multi-dimensional crisis of capitalism), we cannot elude questions of radically changing our ways of producing and distributing things, our consumption patterns and fundamental issues of equity and justice.”
If capitalism is to be replaced by new “ways of producing and distributing things”, how will the new economy be organized – around what basic principles? Even if that discussion is restricted to environmental issues, doesn’t the new economy have to immediately turn away from reliance on fossil fuels, since they are such a major factor in global warming? Doesn’t the same principle hold true for agriculture, for instance, which is often pesticide-dependent and monoculture-oriented, and other economic sectors in which the prevailing practices that are harmful for the environment (not to mention people) operate the way they do because of the compulsion inherent in the capitalist system of production itself? These issues are addressed in the accompanying article by Orpheus Reed from the 28 March 2016 issue of Revolution (revcom.us).
Further, capitalism has evolved into an inherently unequal world-wide system in which monopoly capitalists headquartered in a handful of powers engage in constant rivalry over the division of the world among themselves and “parasitically feed off the peoples of the rest of the planet. The imperialists achieve control over the resources of the whole world through investments, control of technology and dominance of markets. They gorge themselves on these resources – and then they shift back the pollution that they cause onto the very nations which they oppress and plunder.” (“State of Emergency: The plunder of our planet, the environmental catastrophe & the real revolutionary solution,” revcom.us)
Hamouchene’s article strongly shows how instead of saving the environment and overcoming crushing global inequalities, capitalism is rapidly and disastrously worsening both. In our opinion, it follows that the environmental crisis cannot be solved without revolution targeting that system in both the imperialist countries and the countries they dominate, with the aim of bringing an end to this global network of exploitative and oppressive relations in every country where revolution takes place and ultimately in the whole world.
Ouarzazate is a beautiful town in south-central Morocco, well worth visiting. That is not all what Ouarzazate has to offer as its name has recently been associated with a solar mega-project that is supposedly going to end Morocco’s dependency on energy imports, provide electricity to more than a million Moroccans, and put the country on a “green path”.
If we were to believe the makhzen (a term that refers to the king and the ruling elite around him) narrative, recycled without nuance or critical reflection by most media outlets in the region and in the West, the project is very good news and a big step toward reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change. However, there is space for scepticism. One recent example of such deceptive talking points was the official celebratory announcements of a “historic” agreement at the COP21 in Paris. My recent visit to Ouarzazate has prompted me to deconstruct the dominant narrative around this project. In particular, to scratch beneath the surface of the language of “cleanliness”, “shininess” and “carbon emission cuts” in order to observe and scrutinize the materiality of solar energy.
What seems to unite all the reports and articles written about the solar plant is a deeply erroneous assumption that any move toward renewable energy is to be welcomed. And that any shift from fossil fuels, regardless of how it is carried out, will help us to avert climate chaos. One needs to say it clearly from the start: the climate crisis we are currently facing is not attributable to fossil fuels per se, but rather to their unsustainable and destructive use in order to fuel the capitalist machine. In other words, capitalism is the culprit, and if we are serious in our endeavours to tackle the climate crisis (only one facet of the multi-dimensional crisis of capitalism), we cannot elude questions of radically changing our ways of producing and distributing things, our consumption patterns and fundamental issues of equity and justice. It follows from this that a mere shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, while remaining in the capitalist framework of commodifying and privatizing nature for the profits of the few, will not solve the problem. In fact, if we continue down this path we will only end up exacerbating, or creating another set of problems, around issues of ownership of land and natural resources.
The fact that the concentrated solar power (CSP) project in Ouarzazate involves the acquisition of 3,000 hectares of communally owned land to produce energy, some of which will be exported to Europe, lends itself to the notion of “green grabbing” as a frame of analysis. Green grabbing is defined as the appropriation of land and resources for purportedly environmental ends. It implies the transfer of ownership, use rights and control over resources that were once publicly or privately owned – or not even the subject of ownership – from the poor (or everyone including the poor) into the hands of the powerful.
The first public meeting on the solar installation took place in November 2010, a month after the king’s announcement of the project in Ouarzazate. The meeting consisted of a formal presentation of the environmental impact study in Ouarzazate’s most luxurious five-star hotel. Attendees included government officials, NGO representatives, village development associations, and representatives of the local population. Residents themselves, however, were excluded from voicing their opinions. Such meetings masquerading as a “consultation with the people” were only designed to inform the local communities about a fait accompli, rather than seeking their approval.
The sale price of the collective land to the state was at one Moroccan dirham per square metre (about 10 cents, based on the “marginality” and “non-productivity” of the land). This is in comparison to the price of ten to twelve Moroccan dirhams per square metre, the price at which collective land in Ouarzazate was being rent or sold. People were not happy with this sale and thought the price was very low. One noted that “the project people talk about this as a desert that is not used, but to the people here it is not desert, it is a pasture. It is their territory and their future is in the land. When you take my land, you take my oxygen.”
Land was increasing in value throughout the region, a result of speculation and the growing demand for land by agri-business and commercial livestock markets. The land was clearly worth a lot more. As if things were not bad enough, the duped local population were surprised to find out that the money from the sale was not going to be handed to them, but that it would be deposited into the tribe’s account at the Ministry of Interior. Additionally, the money would be used to finance development projects for the whole area. They discovered that their land sale was not a sale at all: it was simply a transfer of funds from one government agency to another.
About nine billion US dollars has been invested in the Noor solar power complex in Ouarzazate, much of it being private capital from international institutions such as the European Investment Bank, World Bank, African Bank of Development, l’Agence Française de Développement, KfWBankengruppe, and backed by Moroccan government guarantees (in case MASEN cannot repay).
There is no surprise regarding the international financial institutions’ (IFIs) strong support for this high-cost and capital-intensive project, as Morocco boasts one of the most neoliberal(ized) economies in the region. It is extremely open to foreign capital at the expense of labour rights, and very advanced in its ambition to be fully integrated into the global marketplace (in a subordinate position, that is). In fact, Morocco was the first country in the North African region to sign a structural adjustment package (SAP) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1983. As is well documented, SAPs are responsible for wreaking economic and social havoc across the global south.
The aforementioned loans are part and parcel of the strategy of the World Bank and other IFIs for the country where they continue to reinforce and justify the core neoliberal orientation and the deepening of pro-market policies. The World Bank has a major funding program in Morocco that covers three specific areas connected to the development of Morocco’s “green” capitalism. The first of these areas is support for the government’s 2008 Plan Maroc Vert (Green Morocco Plan, PMV), which sets out the country’s agricultural plan for the period between 2008–2020. The PMV aims to quintuple the value of export-oriented crops by shifting land away from staple cereal crops, promoting private investment in agriculture, and removing restrictions that stand in the way of private property rights.
The second major area of World Bank funding to Morocco is in support of the country’s National Initiative for Human Development (INDH), which has, according to some Moroccan activists and scholars, created an artificial and non-independent civil society that helps to deepen the marketization and privatisation of the society. The solar energy project figures in the World Bank’s third focus, encompassing a range of policy developments and project-specific loans. The World Bank’s disbursement levels to Morocco reached record levels in 2011 and 2012, with a major emphasis of these loans placed on promoting the use of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) within key sectors.
As has been well documented, PPPs are only a euphemism to outright privatizations, while providing public funds and guarantees. It is essentially about privatizing profits and nationalizing the losses. The Noor-Ouarzazate complex is being built, and will be operated, as a PPP with private partner, ACWA Power International, a Saudi Arabian company. This is an entirely private venture when it comes to ownership and management and it seems that the makhzen is transferring public funds to a private company and giving guarantees to pay MASEN loans in case the latter cannot pay, at the risk of further indebting the country and leading it to bankruptcy.
The Moroccan monarchy has framed its renewable energy plan as not only an economic development initiative, but also as a potentially export-oriented policy that would further liberalize its economy. There are also expectations that this will draw the country closer to the European Union (EU) by helping increase the percentage of renewables in the EU’s energy mix. It is no coincidence that “the Moroccan government designed a new energy strategy in 2009 mostly aligned with the EU’s energy trinity of energy security, competitiveness and environmental sustainability”. Morocco has joined a number of global and regional renewable energy institutions and programmes, including the International Renewable Energy Agency and the Solar Plan for the Mediterranean.
It has also stated its interest in joining the MENA region Desertec project, and registered its renewable energy project under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. CDM is part of what is called carbon trading and is one of the false solutions proposed to tackle climate change. CDMs were created to allow wealthier countries classified as “industrialized” to engage in emissions reductions initiatives in poor and middle-income countries, as a way of eliding direct emissions reductions. This mechanism, along with others such as REDD (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) and different offsets participate in putting a price on nature, commodifying it under the rubric of “green capitalism”. McAfee described this process as an attempt to sell nature in order to save it.
The idea that Morocco is taking out billions of dollars in loans to produce energy, some of which will be exported to Europe when the economic viability of the initiative is hardly assured, raises questions about externalizing the risk of Europe’s renewable energy strategy to Morocco and other struggling economies around the region.
One must pay attention to how this “green” trading relies on and reproduces the conventional economic notion of differential opportunity costs. In other words, that contributions to the improvement of the global environment should be sought where this is cheapest. This crucially depends upon and reinforces inequalities between poorer and wealthier landholders, between urban and rural areas, and between the global South and North.
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The disappearance of bees and the possibility of a new kind of society
4 April 2016. A World to Win News Service. Following are excerpts from an article by Orpheus Reed that appeared in the 28 March 2016 issue of Revolution (revcom.us).
Over the past decade, bees have been disappearing and dying worldwide in disturbing numbers. In the first years of this, beekeepers would often find whole colonies of their adult honey bees just gone, never to return. Often only a few bees would be left in the hive, taking care of the queen and the immature bees. This disappearance of bees from large numbers of hives came known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). In recent years, it has become more common to find huge numbers of dead bees around the hives – or colonies dwindling away to nothing with remaining bees weakened and unable to flourish.
The collapse, dying off, and weakening of honey bee colonies has become an ongoing worldwide phenomenon. It was not uncommon in “normal” years for fairly large numbers of bee hives to be lost due to various factors. But now, bee hives are being lost at about twice the normal rate.
The killing off of bees and other pollinators threatens the future of the world food supply with potentially huge consequences for large sections of humanity worldwide.
And beyond this, it’s a threat to world ecosystems in general. Nearly 90 percent of wild flowering plants depend to some extent on pollination by animals. These plants are increasingly at risk from the decline of pollinators. This can have enormous disruptive consequences for all the plants and animals that may interact with or depend on these flowering plants. So the decline of pollinators could have a cascading impact on entire ecosystems.
This is a very big deal, a serious threat to humanity and the natural world. But the ruling classes of the world are not responding to this crisis as the huge threat it is. More essentially, they are unable to respond in this way because of the way agriculture is carried out under the capitalist mode of production and how that requires them to interact with the natural world.
Environmentalists and others who care about what is happening to nature often argue that the problem is big monopolies and greedy interests that have too much influence in the political structures. And that in agriculture, the problem is control by big corporations that put profits before people or the environment. Yes, there is greed and big monopolies – but to really find the answers and solutions, to get at the real problem and solution, we have to understand why it is that the very laws of capitalism, the ‘”rules of the game” of this system, require it to operate in a way that is destructive of people and the environment. And that no amount of reforms, regulations, or changes in who runs this system will stop this. Why is this so?
Let’s look briefly at the ways capitalism operates that is destructive to bees and pollinators and nature in general, with a focus on agriculture, and why this is driven by the rules of capitalism and the nature of this mode of production – the ways capitalism is required to operate economically.
First, under capitalism, food is not and cannot be approached as a human need but only another “good” to be bought and sold – a commodity like all other goods and services, including human labour power. In the world today, food production is dominated by a global system of capitalist industrial agriculture to produce this commodity. In the US, for example, small-scale farmers have mainly been squeezed out by larger agribusiness interests that were able to mobilize huge assets, mechanize crop production, and lower the costs of production. These large capitalist interests have gained domination over the whole chain of food production, from the ownership of seeds, to the means through which agriculture is carried out to the marketing and distribution of the food itself.
This is a globalised system of agriculture – where vast monopolies, agribusiness interests of whole countries, and capitalist states are battling it out on a world scale over who will achieve the widest scale production, who can dominate the market for food products, and who can force conditions beneficial to their private interests against other big capitalist competitors. There is a vicious battle to win out, driven by the anarchy inherent in capitalist production. Each capitalist or group of capitalists face the compulsion to keep expanding and increasing profits, or be driven under by their competitors.
Capitalist competition drives forward the development of vast monocultures (single-crop production), including the mowing down of forests and wild lands – not so people can be fed, but in order to produce the most, the most cheaply. In monocultures, the single crop flowers at the same time. Monoculture has contributed to the widespread loss of diverse wild plants and more diverse crops that flower at different times, which is beneficial to bees and other pollinators. In the US and parts of Europe, honey bee colonies are shipped by trucks from one side of the continent to another to pollinate these monoculture crops, a practice that is likely a contributing factor to the stress on honey bee colonies. For instance, 60 percent of honey bee colonies in the US are brought together in California each year to pollinate the almond crop – under such conditions, pathogens can spread more easily among colonies.
Because of the anarchy of capitalist production, it isn’t possible for agriculture to be carried out with a sustainable, rational approach to growing food for the long-term health of humans and continuation of the natural world. Instead, geared to profit making and quick successes to beat out competitors, monoculture crops and seeds are cranked out – and that destroys much-needed genetic diversity that is best adapted to the environmental conditions in particular regions. Crops are engineered to be resistant to pesticides and dependent on use of chemical fertilizers that are required to keep monoculture crops growing. Crops and seeds are soaked in toxic pesticides like neonics to kill or ward off pests,” despite the fact that these pesticides do great harm and even can kill off the pollinators the crops need to produce as well as wild plants pollinators need. Herbicides kill other wild plants needed by pollinators. And these chemicals poison the soil, streams, lakes, air and animals, including people.
All of these requirements of how capitalism must operate mean that crops will be grown for the fastest, most profitable output to gain competitive advantage for individual capitalists. And overall, production and science are chained to the needs of empire and capital accumulation, not to ensuring the future of humanity and the environment. The production and burning of oil and other fossil fuels roar forward, despite the tremendous danger to the planet’s climate and species.
Capitalism-imperialism and those who rule have no solution – and they are incapable of coming up with a real answer – to the destruction of bees and other pollinators. In fact, the brutal workings and the ugly social and political relations of this system are causing immense damage to the environment overall around the world – and driving the world toward global ecological catastrophe, putting the future of humanity and the planet itself in urgent peril.
From “Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development”
The following is an excerpt from “Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development,” part of the special Revolution newspaper/revcom.us issue on the environmental emergency. As Revolution noted, “These principles, though not exhaustive, concentrate an orientation that enables socialist society to begin to tackle the environmental emergency with a global and internationalist perspective. In putting these principles before people today, we hope to open up debate and discussion that can contribute towards raising understanding of what we are confronting – and raise sights about the viability and desirability of communist revolution.”
Transforming the structure of industrial production, agriculture, and transport
The new socialist society will set out to transform the environmentally destructive structure and functioning of today’s imperialist economy:
- It must immediately begin to move decisively away from reliance on non-renewable and polluting fossil-fuel energy (oil, coal, and natural gas) – and to adopt and develop ecologically sound technologies, like solar, wind, and geothermal power. To move in this direction, the socialist economy must combine diversified large-scale with diversified small-scale production, and develop a rational mix of advanced and intermediate technologies.
- Major efforts must be made towards reorienting transportation away from private automobile ownership and from the auto-highway and fossil-fuel-centred systems of transport. Safe and efficient mass transit will be given priority in all new development, restructuring, and research.
- It will be necessary to develop agricultural systems based on principles of long-term land-use planning, comprehensive soil and water conservation, and agro-biodiversity. These agricultural systems – large, medium, and small-scale – must allow for technologies and practices that can be locally adapted, fitted to particular conditions, and that can respond to climate change and changes in demand. In reorienting agriculture, the goal must be to achieve high and sustainable yields of agricultural goods and healthful food products that minimize use of resources and minimize damage to nature and to people.
- Socialist society must be working to make conservation of resources a standard in all aspects of economic and social life: in technology development, in production, in the consumer goods that are produced and how they are used. It must promote recycling and multi-use of materials and products – this in place of the irrational upgrading of products (annual “new models”) and the wasteful consumption of materials of capitalist society.
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