The ecosocialist proposal to the current global crisis

The ecosocialist proposal to the current global crisis

By Fernando de la Cuadra

A set of environmental indicators reveal that if humanity does not change its development style, in less than a century we will put the survival of the planet and the human race at serious risk. Contemporary ecosocialism was born precisely as a response to this self-destructive dimension of capitalism and is proposed as a rational and feasible alternative to the socio-environmental and civilizational crisis that humanity faces.

The latest events that have shaken the world reliably demonstrate a phenomenon that has been exposed and discussed for several decades. The exhaustion of a productivist and predatory model that increasingly threatens the material foundations of life on the planet. Climate change is a fact that at this point we cannot deny. Although there is an almost global agreement among the scientific world about its inevitability, there is still considerable uncertainty about the effective consequences that it may have. In Latin America, it is estimated that the greatest impacts of these changes will be especially on agriculture, fishing and access to drinking water. Such a situation makes even more evident the second contradiction of capitalism, that is, that which, in addition to the classic contradiction between capital and labor power, poses a preeminent contradiction between the destructive and predatory forces of capital and nature.

The theme of ecological limits to economic growth and the interrelationships between development and environment were reintroduced into Western thought [1] in the 1960s and early 1970s by an important group of theorists, among whom Georgescu-Roegen can be highlighted. , Kapp, Naess, Sachs and Schumacher. For example, in a pioneering work by Ernst F. Schumacher "Small is Beautiful" published in 1973, the German-British economist makes a forceful critique of the productivist model of Western societies that would lead us to environmental disaster and of life itself, to try to understand the problem as a whole as humanity and begin to see the ways of developing new production methods and new consumption patterns in a lifestyle designed to remain and be sustainable. Despite the differences in approach and the more or less militant position of each of these thinkers, what appears as an aspect in common to all of them is the vehement criticism of the production and consumption model inherent in capitalist development.

This model, which has generated an exponential growth in the exploitation of natural resources and which stimulates unbridled consumerism, especially in the countries of the northern hemisphere, is responsible both for causing a depletion of resources and for producing tons of garbage that daily pollute the waters, air and land. [2] Every year 14.6 million hectares of forests and thousands of species are lost, irreversibly reducing and eroding biological diversity. The devastation of the forests continues, with which the world loses about 17 million hectares annually, which is equivalent to four times the size of Switzerland. And as there are no trees to absorb surplus CO2, the greenhouse effect and overheating are exacerbated. The ozone layer, despite the Montreal Protocol, will not recover until the middle of the 21st century. Carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere (370 parts per million) has increased by 32% compared to the 19th century, reaching the highest concentrations in the last 20 million years, and today we add more than 23,000 million of carbon dioxide annually to the atmosphere. tons of CO2, accelerating climate change. Carbon dioxide emissions are projected to increase by 75% between 1997 and 2020. Each year we emit about 100 million tons of sulfur dioxide, 70 million nitrogen oxides, 200 million carbon monoxide and 60 million of suspended particles, aggravating the problems caused by acid rain, tropospheric ozone and local air pollution.

In short, a set of environmental indicators studied in recent decades seem to reveal more and more clearly that if humanity does not change its style of development, in less than a century we will put the survival of the planet and the human race at serious risk. As Mészáros reminds us, with each new phase of forced postponement, the contradictions of the capital system can only worsen, bringing with it an even greater danger to our own survival.

The successive environmental and “climatic” catastrophes that the planet has suffered since Chernobyl and the recent tragedy of the Fukushima plant, allow us to sustain without exaggeration that we are in an advanced stage of manufactured risk or structural crisis, not only of capital, but also of the sustainability of the species. The 21st century has started with a catastrophic mark, with a degree of ecological and natural disasters unprecedented in world history. [3] Faced with this uncertain and bleak outlook, various initiatives have emerged (such as the World People's Conference on Climate Change) that seek to build alternatives to the currently prevailing productivist, predatory and exploitative model. Contemporary ecosocialism was born precisely as a response to this self-destructive dimension of capitalism and is proposed as a rational and feasible alternative to the socio-environmental and civilizational crisis that humanity faces.

As stated in the Ecosocialist Manifesto written by Kovel and Löwy, “the ecological crisis and the crisis of social deterioration are deeply intertwined and should be viewed as diverse expressions of the same structural forces that shape the dynamics and expansion of the world capitalist system. This crisis would have its origin, first, in the accelerated industrialization process that exceeds the capacity of the earth to process, cushion and contain it, and, together with it, as part of the globalization process, with all the consequences and disintegrating effects on the societies where it is imposed. (…) The current capitalist system cannot regulate the crisis that it has set in motion, much less overcome it. The system cannot solve the ecological crisis because doing so requires setting limits to accumulation, which is an unacceptable option for a social system based on the imperative to grow or die. In short, the world capitalist system is historically bankrupt and in ecological terms it is deeply unsustainable; it must be changed or replaced, if the future is to be worth living. "

In this way, ecosocialism seeks to break drastically with destructive practices and predatory forms that derive from a highly demanding mode of production and consumption of natural and human resources. The ecosocialist response represents a break with both the expansionist model of capital and the productivist perspective of "real socialism." For ecosocialists, either the logic of the market and profit, as well as the bureaucratic productivism of vulgar economist Marxism, are considered models that are absolutely incompatible with the urgent and urgent demand to preserve the environment.

Some detractors of this current have pointed out that the ecosocialist conception is a utopia, a mere fantasy, literary creationism without scientific basis or viability to be put into practice. However, even if we do a quick read on the future of the planet, we can directly come to the conclusion that it is urgent to rethink, in the first place, the current energy matrix used to make the earth "work". Dependence and excessive use of fossil fuels not only have direct disastrous effects on ecosystems, but also cause permanent and bloody conflicts over the control of oil resources. So ecosocialism necessarily incorporates a proposal on other sources of clean and renewable energy that radically alters the myth and the relationship of domination / usufruct / destruction of man over nature.

Furthermore, the use of alternative energies (geothermal, solar, wind, etc.) must be accompanied by a broad debate regarding the same notion of progress / development based preferably on economic growth. [4] The idea of ​​degrowth can also be considered illusory, a kind of naive and retrograde philosophy, but recent evidence on the devastation of the planet may point in another direction: the alternative for degrowth and the discussion about power and the unequal distribution of use Natural resources should surely be an essential part of any agenda that seeks to discuss the future of humanity. In this sense, the debate on degrowth can also be considered part of the construction of an environmentalist and socialist project, since it includes in its core the conception that it is necessary to move towards a different mode of functioning of society, more democratic, egalitarian, participatory and that drastically redefines the current production and consumption model, trying to achieve the well-being of all within the framework of a new relationship between humanity and nature.

In this way, both ecological socialism and the perspective of degrowth represent a reorganization of life in many areas, they suppose renouncing artificial consumption to undertake self-limited consumption adapted to the real needs of people, they suppose thinking about the use alternative and clean energies, mean reducing the ecological footprint through activities on a local scale and more equitable relationships between members of a community.

In short, ecosocialism, degrowth or Sumak Kawsay, centrally seek to reflect on the strategies that are being built in order to reverse the deleterious consequences of the current pattern of production and consumption, to formulate a change at a civilizing level that allows to aspire to a "good living ”Within a framework of respect for peoples and nature.

Fernando de la Cuadra - Chilean sociologist. Graduated from the University of Chile. Doctor in Social Sciences from the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro. Consultant to the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, IICA. Member of the University Network of Researchers on Latin America (RUPAL). -March 22, 2011-


[1] We are referring to a reintroduction, since we consider that at the origin of these concerns is the anticipatory work of a contemporary of Marx, William Morris, who had already introduced elements of an ecosocialist vision in his writings, especially in his novel Utopian News from Nowhere.

[2] For example, it is estimated that if the average energy consumption in the United States were generalized to the entire world population, known oil reserves would be depleted in just 19 days.

[3] A report by the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), a United Nations agency, pointed out that 2010 was the year in which the highest number of natural disasters were recorded in the last three decades, with the number of people who lost their lives due to these incidents reached the figure of 300 thousand victims.

[4] For a decade, a debate has arisen that has been gaining space in academic circles and in civil society about the urgent need to replace the current growth pattern with a sustainable 'degrowth' model.

Video: What Democratic Socialism Does to Economic Prosperity (June 2021).