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Would Socialism Prevent Global Warming?
June 18, 2016
by William P. Meyers

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Part of the left still argues that the population can continue to grow and workers can get more material goods without causing global warming or other dangerous environmental impacts

This is an argument started by Tom Wetzel on my Facebook feed. Tom is the former chair of Workers Solidarity Alliance and former editor of its magazine Ideas & Action. Most global warming deniers are on the right, and Tom is not exactly a global warming denier, he just thinks that Capitalism causes global warming, which he'll lay out below. Also commenting near the end is Darryl Cherney, a well-known Earth First! activist who was seriously injured, along with Judy Bari, in a car-bombing attempt on their lives during the Redwood Summer campaign of 1990. I would add that I wrote articles for Ideas & Action back in the day, and agree with Tom about just about everything important except for this issue.

Tom Wetzel Overpopulation is not the cause of global warming. Cost shifting (negative externalities) are inherent to the logic of capitalism. This is the source of pollution, including greenhouse gases. Saying it is caused by overpopulation is just a way to let capitalism off the hook.

William Meyers Such a pile of bullshit, Tom. Socialist industry would cause just as much CO2 emissions. A capitalist steel mill, a communist steel mill, or an anarcho-syndicalist steel mill will all require the same amount of coal and oxygen, and hence CO2 emissions, to make the same amount of steel. You sound like a Maoist who has gone off the deep end.

Tom Wetzel So the fact that power companies don't have to pay for costs to health & global warming for CO2 output has nothing to do with why they use coal to generate electricity. I think you're full of shit. Especially since invective is your only reply.

Tom Wetzel And fact oil companies don't have to pay for CO2 emitted by burning of the gasoline they produce, nor auto makers either.

Tom Wetzel Electricity generation is 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions & transport is 28 percent, according to dept of energy. electricity could be generated without CO2, why isn't it? transport could be carried on without burning of fossil fuels. why isn't it?

Tom Wetzel as to making of steel, electric arc furnaces are used now. why isn't the electricity generated without producing CO2?

William Meyers And socialized industry did not have to pay for CO2 emitted either. If you want steel, you emit CO2. If you want to feed 7 billion people, you deforest and use monoculture and move water around and produce CO2 in the process. Or you let people starve. Who pays what may be social justice question, but it does not affect CO2 production or global warming.

Tom Wetzel there's never been any authentic socialism. a socialized industry would have to work within constraints of mass control over access to eco commons, which would give them power to prevent being polluted on. Right now state prevents that, ensures ability of firms to pollute.

Tom Wetzel water pumps for moving water work on electricity, in case you didn't notice.

William Meyers Right Tom. Only your small band of brothers can run an utopian world where 7 billion people magically don't impact the environment, using magical economics and magical technology.

Tom Wetzel You're not paying attention asshole. I said mass control over access to eco commons. you're misanthropy is getting the better of your brain.

Tom Wetzel and industrial capitalist agriculture has same problems of unlimited and uncontrolled access to right to dump...pesticides into air & water, petro based fertilizers. there are agroecological alternatives to this, but it needs a different economic framework.

William Meyers I am paying attention, you keep repeating nonsense. I have a material analysis of production. You have an assertion that mixes up the real issue of externalities with the real problem that human externalities affect the whole ecosystem/earth, no matter how you organize the distribution of money within the human system.

Tom Wetzel it's not about "money" but power. your brain dead materialism ignores the reality -- material reality -- of social institutional structures & their effects.

William Meyers At each point in recent (post 1700) history we see a level of ecological destruction roughly based on population times the average level of consumption. There are many examples of non-capitalist destruction of the environment, including the "axe culture" of the early united states that cut down vast areas of forests in order to clear land, by hand, to grow export crops like corn, cotton, and tobacco. No matter what the social system, multiply the number of humans by the average consumption, and you will have a level of planetary destruction.

Tom Wetzel export crops to export to capitalist britain. if you look at CO2 per capita, there is a VAST difference between USA and India, Bolivia, Senegal. so that refutes your thesis right there.

William Meyers No, because the poorer nations want all the things that CO2 brings. Are you saying American workers should live like Bolivians to reduce their CO2 per capita? Because that would be agreeing with me.

Tom Wetzel It's a question of re-organizing the social framework governing production so as to empower masses to ban or price polluting emissions including CO2. this forces production to change to reduce its ecological burden. so the point is this: It is possible to reduce the ecological damage per person from social production. there is no need for the competitive drive for constant growth in capital accumulation and things like planned obselescence. so a different economic framework allows people a reasonable well being without deprivation but in a way that keeps us from going over the cliff.

William Meyers Well you work on that, Tom, and good luck to you.

William Meyers You should make an economic model, if you can, to prove your point. If the numbers crunch (and I mean all the global numbers), I'll proclaim that you are right and I was wrong. Even if I can't see a way to get from here to there.

Tom Wetzel Robin Hahnel discusses the relevant model (he's a professor of economics) in his book "Economic Justice & Democracy".

William Meyers My model is the real world. There was a lot of eco-destruction at 1 billion. More at 2. More a 3, 4, 5, 6, and now 7. It is measurable. We are way beyond the number of humans that can be carried at any level of human technology. Hahnel's book does not have a model for making industrial society less destructive to nature, much less for making more population magically less destructive than less population. I'm all for justice & democracy, but I don't see how that makes houses made out of wood without cutting down trees.

Darryl Cherney Overpopulation represents 1) the enslavement of women 2) the source of a cheap labor pool 3) the source of large armies 4) the source of religious believers and 5) the source of children who theoretically will take care of their parents (how's that working out for us?). I'm probably leaving something out. Overpopulation is not the cause of global warming. It's not the cause of anything. It's a huge symptom. So if you want to defend it, it's like defending cancer or small pox. And the human imprint from an aerial view, looks just like a gray, growing, inflamed, lit up cancer on the planet.

There's too many damned people on the planet. Period. Anyone who thinks otherwise, is one of the too many. Birth control and education are simple answers. We've taken the blessing of not having to die in childbirth anymore and used it to create billions more of us. While consumption of first world v. third word is certainly a factor, the third world is just as screwed as the first: Everyone is miserable and simply destroying our home planet at different rates--all of them quick, some just quicker.

Tom Wetzel I'm glad you agree with me that overpopulation is not the cause of global warming.

William Meyers You could argue that if the population had stabilized at 1 billion, then changing to a fossil-fuel economy would have caused global warming at 1/7th the rate of a 7 billion population. But when A & B are causes, saying A would not be a cause without B is spinning if not falsifying the argument. Also, the non-fossil fuel method of cooking and keeping warm, wood fires, would also contribute to CO2 levels rising, and would have led to even more massive deforestation. The kind we have seen in areas of Africa where people could not afford to buy fossil fuels.

Some further notes:

To get steel you need to make iron first, which is made from iron oxides. If you are recycling and you recreate iron or steel with little or no CO2 production.

To replace all fossil fuels with solar would require much more massive solar cell production than is taking place right now, perhaps 10 to 100 times as much depending on the timeframe allowed. That has its own externalities since it requires a lot of energy to separate silicon from quartz. In addition the creation of the factories to do this also requires a lot of energy, as does feeding and sheltering the work force.

It is not about CO2 alone. Water is already in short supply. So is food, which can be produced economically only on arable land.

Dams, wind turbines, and nuclear power plants only produce electricity without CO2 if you ignore their externalities. Dams ruin ecosystems and require large quantities of cement (a major CO2 contributor); turbines require metal production; nuclear power is the worst because mining and separating uranium is very energy intensive, plus you have the materials for the plant itself, and then the danger of catastrophe and the cost of disposing of radioactive waste.

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