Confronting The Carbon Capitalists

| Resist!

Above Photo: From

Last summer brought another record wildfire season to the Pacific Northwest. Smoky air from fires in the region caused hellish air quality around the entire Northern Hemisphere. The causes of the forest fires and the destruction of our forest ecosystem generally are incontrovertible. Over one hundred years of fossil-fueled capitalist development and hundreds of years of violent colonial oppression–of people and the biological world–have driven the Earth to the brink.

Northwest forests, once some of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, have been clear-cut and laden with biocides. Complex interrelationships have been smashed with saws and machinery to make way for monoculture “working forests” devoid of biodiversity. Decades of fire suppression by the Forest Service on behalf of timber companies have left trees to grow on each other like matchsticks waiting to be lit.

In the face of all of this, liberals, true to form, have resorted to self-flagellation and hand-wringing. The New York Times Magazine’s recent piece, “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change” by Nathaniel Rich, places the blame of climate change and ecocide squarely at the foot of an undefined human nature. The author mostly chronicles failed climate negotiations between nation-states at the United Nations.

In his telling, we were so close to breakthroughs, but then greedy human nature stopped everything. Our collective desire for more stuff led to the failure of negotiations being made in good faith between nations. There is no other possible direction for history to have unfolded. Or so the story goes.

International diplomacy’s climate failures are a failure of all humans in the eyes of the liberal elite like Rich. That a nation-state would act counter to the will of its subjects is unthinkable to the privileged classes.

The victims of colonialism and capitalism have always known otherwise. At the same time “human nature” was failing to protect the earth in UN meeting halls, working-class people were mobilizing against extractive industry in Northern California and being targeted for assassination. Indigenous peoples around the world were suffering from state violence for fighting against the very oil drilling that state officials said they were trying to curb. Everywhere the triplet monsters–capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy–tread, organized resistance by the oppressed fought back. Contrary to the pearl-clutching lament that “human nature led to this,” water protectors, land defenders, and workers have laid their bodies in front of the machinery of extractive capitalism countless times. And this is nothing new.

Andreas Malm’s recent book, Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming, lays bare the earliest history of the carbon economy. He chronicles the rise of the coal economy in the British textile industry–an industry that was previously powered by a combination of water and exploited human labor. Huge public works schemes built elaborate reservoirs and channels to power the mills with the water in Britain’s rivers, but then, like today, industrial production used only a small fraction of this renewable energy. Almost none of the massive water power projects came close to reaching capacity.

Cotton bosses found that workers at the mostly countryside mill towns could easily organize strikes and work stoppages to win demands. Bosses responded by shifting to coal-fired steam engines located in cities and towns. There, freed from the rivers’ constraints and supplied with increasing numbers of dispossessed workers, cotton bosses learned that fossil energy was one of the ultimate means of power over workers–the power that mattered most to them.

The new coal-powered production led to new forms of labor insurrection: militant unions, Chartism, and other revolutionary movements. One notable action mentioned in Fossil Capital is the 1842 General Strike, also called the Plug Plot Riots; workers and community members marched through towns pulling boilers’ plugs to quench the coal fires, smashed coal-powered machinery, and shut down coal mines. It was, in effect, one of the first mass direct action and sabotage campaigns targeting the fossil fuel economy.

Of course, labor and ecological exploitation has remained vast and systemic since then, and the story is always the same: colonize a population, use violence to break them from their land and means of subsistence, extract fossil capital, then move on and leave the decimated landscape to the locals.

A recent example of this strategy is happening now. Fossil capitalists and their cronies in the colonial Canadian and American states have inundated the Pacific Northwest with proposals to punch pipelines, oil trains, and other infrastructure through already decimated lands. Most have been defeated, but some are dangerously close to completion. The Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline expansion through British Columbia, recently purchased by the Canadian federal government after months of militant direct action delayed construction, would triple the amount of tar sands moving through the Salish Sea.

The fiercest resistance to these plans has come from the frontlines: Indigenous communities, and Indigenous women in particular. Whether they will succeed in this particular battle isn’t clear, but if we want to permanently end this war on the environment and live in harmony with the Earth, we must end capitalism. As Fellow Workers, Wobblies, and caretakers of our verdant (for now) planet, it is our historic mission to do just that. And in order to be successful we must join with our Indigenous and colonized comrades to confront carbon capitalism and learn what it means to be in harmony each other and with the Earth.


  • mwildfire

    I think it’s true that capitalism must be terminated to rescue the planet. But that’s not enough–there was domination, exploitation, slavery, environmental damage before there was capitalism, and the communist countries have mostly been no better. We need to do more than tear down the current system–we must first come up with a clear picture of a better successor.

  • chetdude

    You are correct that human’s experiment with dominator hierarchies, the latest being entirely fossil-fueled and capitalist is the root of nearly all problems.

    But, FYI, there has NEVER been even a Socialist country (yet), let alone a Communist one.

    And environmental degradation at the levels that fossil-fuels have allowed was NEVER possible before…

    We must tear down Dominator Hierarchies and I suggest THIS brand of Socialism as a pretty clear picture and goal for the first replacement:

    Socialism is Worker and Community (THE PEOPLE’S) OWNERSHIP of the means of production coupled with democratic processes for decision making that allows the people to achieve consensus about where, when and what to produce, how much and how to do it along with how to fairly and equally distribute what’s produced. In order to work for society in a future that will increasingly be hampered by fossil-fueled, capitalist AGW/Climate Change, a primary goal of a Socialist society must be Sustainability according to the following definition:

    1. The integration of human social and economic lives into the environment in ways that tend to enhance or maintain rather than degrade or destroy the environment;

    2. A moral imperative to pass on our natural inheritance, not necessarily unchanged, but undiminished in its ability to meet the needs of future generations;

    3. Entails determining and staying within the balance point among population, consumption and waste assimilation so that bioregions, watersheds and ecosystems can maintain their ability to recharge, replenish and regenerate.

  • mwildfire

    We can’t stay within sustainable limits if we’ve already far overshot those limits, as is almost certainly the case. And doing what we need to do to rescue ecosystems is unfortunately not popular, though it’s hard to tell as it is rarely discussed. Another problem with your proposal is, I believe the age-old problem that has brought us to this pass over the ten thousand years of history: we have never found a good solution to the problem of aggressive, expansionist neighbors. So the aggressive cultures take over more and more of the Earth. My suspicion is that well-run, egalitarian nations are not possible–we need to break into thousands of small entities, where real democracy is at least possible.

  • Johnny Prescott

    Are you familiar with what is happening in Rojava? Imprisoned PKK leader Ocalan took some of Murray Bookchin’s greatest ideas and a system of democratic confederalism has been implemented there. It is quite fascinating.

  • mwildfire

    Yes, but it’s under attack by Turkey now, isn’t it? There are similar experiments ongoing in Chiapas and Oaxacan, Mexico. I wonder if those have been as successful as they’ve been because their regions were semi-abandoned by the nation-state, so they were left in peace to create a better arrangement. I think relatively small groupings of people CAN come up with egalitarian, peaceful, sustainable arrangements–but only if not overrun by some damn army, sent by a government intent on 1–stamping out a good example 2–stealing resources 3–getting the people back to work at slave wages.

  • chetdude

    1 1/2 Billion to 2 Billion humans have a shot at staying within the Planet’s limits.

    Without constant input of fossil-fuels (and AGW/Climate Change it causes), there’s no way for 7 1/2 billion humans to exist at all.

    If it’s true that humans cannot embrace the better angels of their natures en masse and reject our negative, counter-productive, suicidal impulses (that are nearly ALL imposed by our sick socioeconomic system and its propaganda machine) and be as tolerant, courteous and kind as almost everyone IS in most of our everyday lives and interactions with each other, then there really is no hope and now that we have the technology to do it, species extinction within a century or two is inevitable…

    Or we can grow the f*ck up!

    “Nation” is another artificial, meaningless, commercial construct that dominator hierarchies use to create artificial “scarcity” and inequality and to divide and conquer us…

    That’s why I say “Piss on ALL Flags!”…

    Climb out of the box — Think Bio-Regions…