“Ecological Survival and Revolutionary Change”

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Given the rapid degradation of the Earth’s environment, it is now indisputable that humankind’s ecological survival will require revolutionary change.  Today’s social leaders are shepherding our species towards catastrophe and quite possibly extinction.  They must be quickly replaced by leaders who are fully dedicated to a sustainable future.

In Ecological Survival and Revolutionary Change (PDF) I develop and substantiate this thesis.  After 25 years of independent analysis I offer this document as my mature assessment of our ecological predicament and my contribution to a possible means of escape.

My primary target audience is the disillusioned young.  Because they are young they will suffer intensely from ecological collapse, thereby motivating them to spur fundamental change.  Because they are disillusioned they understand that today’s environmental initiatives are almost entirely symbolic.  They may therefore be prepared to take a militant stance in order to salvage both their future and the future of life on Earth.

A summary of this lengthy document is provided below.


Ecological Survival and Revolutionary Change explains why revolutionary change is required for ecological survival, and how it might be achieved.  In the first part I discuss the ecological crisis itself, the rational response to it, and the extraordinary measures that have been taken to block this response.  I then address the shift from capitalism to a sustainable economy, the revolutionary change this necessitates, and a strategy to achieve this end.  Below is an overview of each topic.

The ecological crisis is overshoot – the violation of multiple environmental limits by the relentless expansion of the global capitalist economy.  This crisis, which began around 1950, has two components: the greenhouse gas (GHG) crisis and various non-GHG impacts.  The GHG crisis, which is deceptively called “climate change,” is an extreme emergency that requires concentrations to be rapidly reduced to their safe levels.  The non-GHG impacts are at this point less urgent.

The goal in tackling the crisis is not to “avoid the worst consequences” – today’s standard formulation – but to minimize humankind’s current damage and to repair the damage we’ve already done.  The rational response thus comprises four steps:

  1. Minimize current GHG damage through emissions reductions;
  2. Repair past GHG damage by reducing concentrations to their safe levels;
  3. Minimize current non-GHG damage by maximizing non-GHG efficiencies;
  4. Repair past non-GHG damage through various forms of ecological restoration.

In addition, minimizing current damage will require sharp reductions in population and consumption levels in the rich countries.  The most critical measure is solar radiation management (SRM).  Although not a long-term solution, SRM is indispensable as a “techno-shield” to prevent runaway global warming while the other measures are implemented.

The rational response outlined above was rejected because it threatens capitalism, economic growth, and the material interests of the global rich.  This rejection was achieved by diminishing the crisis from ecological overshoot to “climate change,” acknowledging the latter to pacify the concerned, and then blocking any threatening solutions.  The main instrument of this ecocidal obstruction has been the IPCC, which downplays or ignores four of the five possible measures for the GHG crisis: reduced consumption, reduced population, GGR, and SRM.

Because the rational response cannot be implemented under capitalism, the system must be replaced by a sustainable economy.  This will require a social force with sufficient coercive power to enforce the shift, a new economic theory, and the minimization of social resistance. The first requirement is addressed below.  My proposed starting point for the economic theory is the Economics of Needs and Limits, or ENL.  Social resistance can be minimized by altering capitalism only as required for sustainable well-being – a principle called minimum effective change.  The labor market must also be modified so that reduced economic activities result in a shorter work week rather than unemployed workers.

The document’s core assertion – that ecological survival requires revolutionary change – is based on four arguments:

  1. Humankind’s response to the crisis must be proportionate to the problem. Politically this means the replacement of the current social leadership with a sustainable group.
  2. Mainstream sources correctly claim that reaching net-zero emissions will require massive social change.  It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the vastly more ambitious safe-concentration approach will necessitate a revolutionary shift.
  3. Capitalist societies are ruled not by their governments, but by dominant groups that derive their political power from economic ownership and control. Pressuring governments for fundamental change is therefore futile.
  4. Revolutionary change is the first, crucial step in species redirection: humankind’s ecological shift from an expansionary to a contractionary trajectory.

Revolutionary change is fueled by intense anger and energy from below.  It also requires a social entity that can forcibly depose the existing social leadership.  In my proposed strategy the young supply the anger and energy, and the military supplies the force.  Based on U.S. Department of Defense documents, the military understands the environmental threat, but embraces the standard misconceptions and remains loyal to current leaders.  The young should therefore educate the military about environmental and political realities, and underscore its duty to safeguard the people.  Although older generations have as a group dismissed the rational response, as individuals they possess valuable knowledge and experience, and many will likely support the young in their bid for ecological survival.


The document includes an appendix that outlines the differences between the economic logic of capitalism and that of an ENL-based economy.  The term “economic logic” refers to the various factors that drive an economy’s activities and thus determine its outcomes.

The goal of capitalist logic is maximum growth and profits.  It establishes the economy’s output mix through money-backed consumption desires, and it makes four critical assumptions: natural sources are infinite, natural sinks are infinite, workers are labor inputs only, and the populace are consumers only.  Under most conditions, this logic degrades people and destroys the environment.

By contrast, the goal of ENL logic is sustainable well-being.  This logic determines the economy’s output mix through human and environmental criteria, and it makes four very different assumptions: natural sources and sinks are strictly limited, and workers and consumers are not just economic actors but also human beings whose well-being must be maximized.

Frank Rotering
May 3, 2019

 

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