Ecosocialism

Less is more! This is something we say in many different contexts. Italians say it when they cook, French when they dress, Swedish when they decorate houses, and Ecosocialists... when they theorise the future of our world. 

Ecosocialism Ecosocialism

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    In fact, "less is more" can be a synonym for anti-consumerism or, in other words, for the idea that we are producing too much, consuming too much, and in the process, inevitably changing our planet for the worse.

    Find out about this branch of Ecologism and how it relates to socialism in the following explanation!

    Ecosocialism definition

    Ecosocialism, also known as eco marxism, is a branch of Social Ecology, which in turn is a division of the political ideology of Ecology. Before delving into Ecosocialist thought, let's briefly define what we mean by Ecology and Social Ecology.

    Ecology studies the relationship between all living beings seen in ecological terms, i.e., in a relationship of interdependence. Lately, it is usually associated with theoretical efforts to find a solution to the Challenges of Climate Change.

    Social Ecology, in particular, studies ecological issues in relation to socio-economic issues. Social Ecologists believe that we cannot tackle the challenges of climate change if we do not understand the social inequalities contributed to the issue.

    Social Ecology differs from other radical branches of Ecology, such as Deep Ecology, by inserting a social analytical lens into its theory. Social ecology breaks downs into three strands: Ecosocialism, Eco-anarchism and Ecofeminism.

    Check out our fantastic explanation of Ecologism to learn more about Ecology and its internal theoretical divisions!

    If Eco-anarchism sees hierarchy and domination of groups over others as the root, and Ecofeminism sees patriarchy and climate change as related, Ecosocialism identifies Capitalism as the root of the problem.

    Ecosocialism is a branch of Social Ecology that believes that the emergence of capitalism as the dominating economic system in the world has led to the current human-caused climate crisis. Therefore, it proposes an alternative socio-economic approach to respond to the Challenges of Climate Change.

    Human-caused Climate Crisis

    With the human-caused climate crisis, we refer to the current climate catastrophes that many places on Earth are experiencing due to climate change. For example, increased frequency and intensity of droughts and floods, and rising sea levels resulting from CO2 emissions in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil used as sources of energy in many industries.

    Ecosocialism, Droughts global warming, Ecosocialism definition, StudySmarterFig. 1, Dead tree and cracked ground from drought

    Ecosocialism main points

    The main points of Ecosocialism revolve around a critique of capitalism and the idea that it must be replaced with a new socio-economic system, such as a socialist one. Therefore Ecosocialists assume that a socialist state differs from a capitalistic one in its articulation of growth.

    In particular, ecosocialism borrows the fundamentals of socialism, such as:

    • A strong and managerial state that controls the economy and provides welfare to its citizens.

    • Common ownership: it can look different according to the extent of collectivisation of the economy. Modern and reformist socialists argue for state control of fundamental parts of the economy, such as infrastructure or energy, in relation to climate change.

    • Equality of outcome and conditions: this signifies that everyone has more or less the same gains and that their conditions of access to life are more or less the same. One could eliminate social gaps such as gender, class, and racial inequalities to achieve this. Classes are particularly crucial to classic socialist theory.

    Against green capitalism

    In particular, Ecosocialists oppose the idea that capitalistic economic growth and the environment can be reconciled. This is usually referred to as (mainstream) Sustainable Development or green capitalism and is part of Modernist Ecology and Shallow Ecology.

    According to Ecosocialists green capitalism cannot solve the climate crisis because, just as capitalism, it is still based on:

    Theme

    Concept

    Example

    Profit

    Capitalism always seeks greater profit. Businesses will conform to sustainable energy only if it benefits their profit. However, the transition to a green economy would require less production and a revenue fall; hence private industries would not accept it.

    Norway is an example of a green economy that cannot fully control its petrol extracting sector. Indeed, even if Norway is based on green energy, it still exports its petrol in the name of boundless profit.

    Neoliberalism

    Neoliberalism, the economic set of principles that informs capitalism today, refuses a strong state.

    The USA, one of the highest polluting countries, has seen under the Trump presidency a divestment of green policies in favour of the fossil fuel sector because of the lobbying of private corporations that weakened the state.

    Private science and technology

    Capitalism privatises scientific and technological research, so there is no certainty that they do not follow private corporations' interests. Indeed, they are likely to seek out profit over ecological principles.

    An example is how in some cases, the meat industry, which accounts for nearly 60% of all greenhouse gases,1 lobbies for legislation that impedes naming meat and dairy substitutes with terms tied to animal products such as 'soy milk'.

    Private property

    Capitalism's base is private land ownership instead of collective control and organisation. According to Ecosocialists, without collective communal and local ownership, we cannot act in the interest of the environment and of communities as private ownership engrains the idea of superiority over nature.

    Most American indigenous communities are based on collective ownership of the land and environmental consciousness. Buen Vivir, an Amazonian ecological philosophy and political movement, is an example of a struggle to re-collectivise and decolonise one of the world's most fragile ecosystems.

    Now you know that the main points of Ecosocialism are articulated around the inadequacy of capitalism in finding a solution to the climate crisis. However, many Ecosocialists go further than this and maintain that capitalism caused the current climate crisis.

    Neo-marxism and climate change

    Ecosocialism, Marx and Engels, Socialist ideology, StudySmarter Fig. 2, Marx and Engels

    Neo-Marxist political-economic theory can be used to analyse how capitalism has impacted the environment. Under this logical climate change and capitalism are in a relationship of causality, where capitalism causes climate change.

    Capitalism as a system tends to maximise profits by exploiting "external" goods, which are human labour and natural resources. This exploitation leads to the commodification of these goods, which were not commodified (they were not on sale) before. This is because, before capitalism, nature was the primary source of sustainment, but it was exploited in respect of its cyclical flows.

    In particular, there was a historical shift from using renewable resources (e.g., soil, water, etc.) to non-renewable resources (e.g. coal), which do not have cyclical flows and will end. According to Ecosocialists nature started being seen for its exchange value and not for its role in sustaining human life.

    According to Socilsitss, exchange value is the value something has in terms of how much it can be exchanged for. For example, if you could exchange one kg of coal for five kgs of rice, then the exchange value of one kg of coal is five kgs of rice.

    Ecosocialism Michael Löwy

    Michael Löwy is a Marxist sociologist and philosopher and one of the pioneers of Ecosocialism.

    In 2001, alongside Joel Kovel, he authored a manifesto called An Ecosocialist Manifest, which is the base of many grassroots organisations that coordinate socialist action against climate change.

    Here is an overview for you to remember the main arguments:

    • The social struggles that many are facing and the climate crisis result from the same structural forces.
    • They denounce industrialisation and globalisation as the manifestations of capitalism responsible for the above crises.
    • They believe that liberal democracies use human rights to justify the exploitation of labour and resources from developing countries.
    • They believe that capitalism can not resolve the social and ecological crises of the world as it is based on accumulation, while we require a decrease in consumerism and production.
    • Socialism is the only way to overcome the crises of capitalism.
    • They recognise that socialism has failed in some of its historical applications. Inserting Ecologism will hopefully make socialism adapt to respond to the current crises.
    • Ecosocialism must ideologically transform the idea of production and adapt it to the limits to growth that is necessary to address the climate crisis. This does not signify a society based on a lack of resources but a new idea of production and consumption, funded on quality and not quantity, social and equal welfare and not profit.

    Ecosocialist movement

    The above manifesto contains principles that are fundamental to many Ecosocialist movements around the globe. Let's look at two of the main ones.

    Extinction Rebellion

    Extinction Rebellion and Animal Rebellion are two related movements born in London, UK, in 2018 that demand new management of the climate crisis based on collective assemblies of citizens and peaceful civil disobedience, e.g. occupation of key buildings.

    We know the world is spinning towards catastrophe. We know it’s time to act. And we know our “leaders” aren’t doing enough. [...] That’s why we need a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice to break the deadlock and to put fairness and justice at the centre of decision-making.2

    Therefore, their approach focuses on grassroots action that permits citizens to come together and decide how they believe we should act on climate change. This approach is socialist since it gives everyone equal opportunities and conditions to determine the best method for climate change, weakening the private sector's power.

    Eco socialism Picture of an Extinction rebellion protest in London with a banner reading "Rebel for life" StudySmarterFig. 3, Extinction rebellion protest in London

    Climate Justice is Social Justice

    Fridays for Future is is a students' movement which aims at global school strikes on Fridays to draw attention to the urgency of finding a solution to preserve the liveability of the planet for future generations.

    Furthermore they illustrate how this would also require a just redistribution of the resources of our planet and especially because climate change challenges people unequally: the Global South is generally more impacted, and even in the Global North, when climate catastrophes hit, not everyone will have the same resources to adapt.

    During this Summer of 2022, Pakistan has once again experienced severe floods that have brought to the death of almost 1000 people and are related to climate chnage.3

    Therefore, these Ecosocialist movements believe that the solutions are climate justice and social justice; in other words, we cannot solve the climate crisis without also theorising how resources and opportunities must be redistributed equally.

    Eco Socialism - Key takeaways

    • Ecosocialism is a branch of Social Ecology that maintains that to resolve the climate crisis, we must create an alternative system to capitalism, therefore believe that the climate crises and social injustices must be tackled in relation to one another.
    • Like socialism, Ecosocialism believes in a strong state, common ownership, and equality of outcomes and conditions.
    • Ecosocialists believe that sustainable development or green capitalism cannot solve the climate crisis since they are based on the same paradigms that have created the crisis.
    • Micheal Löwy is one of the creators of the Ecosocialist Manifesto, which professes the need for an ideological shift in our idea of production and consumption.
    • Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future are examples of Ecosocialist movements which believe that we cannot reach climate justice without social justice.
    • Extinction Rebellion is socialist in its focus on citizens' power in the resolution of climate change challenges.

    References

    1. The Guardian (2021) 'Meat accounts for nearly 60% of all greenhouse gases from food production, study finds'.
    2. Extinction Rebellion, 'Citizens' Assembly'.
    3. Al Jazeera (2022) '‘It rained like never before’: Pakistani flood survivor'.
    4. Fig. 1, Dead tree and cracked ground from drought (https://www.pexels.com/it-it/foto/foto-dell-albero-nudo-marrone-sulla-superficie-marrone-durante-il-giorno-60013/).
    5. Fig. 2 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels ( https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?search=marxism+&title=Special:MediaSearch&go=Go&type=image).
    6. Fig. 3, Extinction rebellion protest in London (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:London_November_23_2018_(19)_Extinction_Rebellion_Protest_Tower_Hill.jpg) by David Holt licenced by CC-BY-2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/).
    Frequently Asked Questions about Ecosocialism

    What is ecosocialism?

    Ecosocialism is a political ideology and a branch of Social Ecology which tries to solve the climate crisis by creating an alternative economic system to capitalism. 

    What do ecosocialists believe?

    Ecosocialists believe that capitalism and its exploitation of human labour and natural resources have led to the climate crisis. Therefore they believe in a system based on a strong and managerial state, common ownership, and equality of outcome and conditions. 

    How does eco socialism differ from eco marxism?

    Ecomarxism is a synonym of Ecosocialism. Neo-marxism and classic Marxist thought are the ideological basis of Ecosocialism and its critique of capitalism. 

    What is ecosocialist work?

    Ecosocialist work is the application of ecosocialist thought into politics through grassroots initiatives such as citizens' assemblies. 

    What are ecosocialist policies?

    Ecosocialist policies are, for instance, legislation that permits state control of national energy production and taxation of private corporations so as to reduce their ability to control resources. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    There are three branches of Social Ecology. Ecosocialism, _______, and _______.

    Which of the following investment and/or divestment would you say is central to Ecosocialist thought?

    All Ecosocialists believe in complete common ownership and the abolition of private property.

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