Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/749/16025
Planning for the Planet - How socialism could save the environment, by Pete Dickenson
This book's theme is apparent before you pick it up. The cover bears a striking image of a polar bear marooned on an iceberg: summing up the devastation of global warming.
As author Pete Dickenson explains in the preface, it builds on the Marxist analysis of capitalism's rape of our planet in his Planning Green Growth (2003) and Bill Hopwood and Martin Cock's Global Crisis (1996), as well as material in the Socialist Party's other publications.
The first chapter brings up to date their analysis of the way profiteering continues to poison and irradiate the planet
Pete, however, dedicates the much larger second chapter (and most of the remainder of the book) to what he calls "the critical threat of global warming".
Writing before the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and the horrific bush fires in Tasmania, Pete analyses the arguments of climate sceptics and concludes by arguing the "need for urgent and effective action to reduce emissions", without which the continuation of life on the planet is threatened.
He persuasively argues that the only viable way to do this is harnessing renewable sources of energy: wind, water and solar power.
The new and important contribution of this book is the comprehensive way that Pete Dickenson uses socialist economic analysis to demonstrate not only that the profit system is responsible for global warming but that the market and private ownership of the means of production will be an insurmountable barrier to solving it.
In a chapter entitled 'How green will the capitalists go?', he analyses the Kyoto, Durban and Copenhagen summits and shows how their failure was rooted in imperialism and its crisis: "the costs of taking action were relatively small, but growing economic and political tensions between the principle capitalist countries prevented agreement": an analysis borne out by the subsequent failure of the 2012 'Doha round'.
Pete counterposes the alternative of a socialist programme for the environment to this capitalist disaster.
He argues that socialist planning provides the only means to overcome capitalism's contradictions and save the planet.
He tackles head-on the environmental disaster which is the legacy of the Stalinist planning in Russia, Eastern Europe and Mao's China, arguing that socialism requires not only common ownership of the means of production but also workers' democracy.
In Russia: "the destruction of the environment and the systematic poisoning of the population was a direct result of bureaucratic misrule".
He goes on to demonstrate that even the limited steps that capitalist economists have made to measure and control the impact of production on the planet have their roots in Marxist understanding of the economy.
Pete's exposition of the 'Commoner-Erlich Equations', used by environmental scientists to measure the impact of economic growth, is technically rigorous but presented carefully both to make them (relatively) accessible to lay readers and in such a way that the bits which I couldn't understand on first reading didn't get in the way of the bigger arguments! Rather than 'blind us with science' he carefully uses it to light the way.
The 'input-output' model of the Nobel prize-winner Wassilly Leontief was derived both from his experience as a state planner in 1920s Russia and the theoretical model which Marx used to explain the reproduction of capital.
Pete explains how insights, derived from Leontief, into the environmental impact of deploying resources could be used as part of a democratic socialist plan.
Using Leontief's model he also shows the barriers which private ownership and the nation state create to harmonious relationships between sectors of the economy, social classes, and humankind and our environment.
The book concludes by rejecting the false dichotomy shared by monopoly capitalism, bureaucratic 'socialism' and the 'limits to growth' school of environmentalism (including many 'Green Socialists'): between economic development to meet the needs of humankind and environmental sustainability.
Pete argues that, just as private property, competition for profits, and the nation state cause social alienation and economic dislocation, they also alienate us from the environment.
Quoting Karl Marx's collaborator Friedrich Engels, he explains that we: "do not rule over nature like a conqueror of a foreign people... after the mighty advances made by natural sciences... we are... in a position... to control... our day to day production activities.
"But the more this progresses, the more will men not only feel but know their oneness with nature."
Viewed in this light, the polar bear on the front cover can be seen as a powerful metaphor not just for global warming but for the wider destruction brought by capitalism which leaves workers stranded and dislocated from the resources which could sustain us.
This book makes a convincing case that only through common ownership and planning can we heal the damaging rifts in society and achieve a sustainable relationship with nature.
In The Socialist 23 January 2013:
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