The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
Heather Rogers's book offers radical and viable alternatives to the environmental crisis brought on by neoliberalism
Carbon offsets, organic food, biofuels and eco-friendly cars and homes are all central to eco-capitalism. But do they really work?
The theory is that we can buy our way out of our problems. Similarly to the self-serving narrative arisen from the global financial crisis, the answer for the environmental crisis is clear. Capitalism will fix itself.
Consumption-based politics and lazy environmentalism, as Rogers calls it, can be linked to the Marxist notion of false consciousness. We are encouraged to consume certain goods that fill us with optimism of creating a "greener" world, thus channelling us into a psyche of denial and avoiding conflict.
Rogers argues eloquently how "seeing our options through the lens of consumption, even when it's well intentioned, is keeping us from using tools we already have to protect the ecosystems everyone needs."
The lack of radical action against the ills of capitalism - a system based on the reckless degradation of the air, water and soil of the earth - is clearly destined to avoid the substantive economic and social shifts needed to create a better world.
Apart from its analysis, the book is an entertaining and personal journey.
Rogers travels extensively and in Paraguay visits a mammoth organic sugar plantation where the fuzzy nature of certified organic labels is exposed. It doesn't spray its organic acreage with chemicals but it does monocrop, uses chicken manure from factory poultry farms as fertiliser and is benefiting from the felling of trees to expand its organic cropland.
The absurdity of the zero-sum Kyoto legacy of businesses and countries buying carbon credits from one another is discussed and Rogers argues how the very term carbon offsetting is deeply problematic. The narrative created is that "greenhouse gases and global warming contribution can be successfully, and quickly, annulled," she comments.
On visiting carbon offsetting projects in India, Rogers found corruption, incomplete projects and various smokescreens to prevent any accountability to ensure such projects are ever or effectively carried out.
In Borneo, Rogers sees first-hand the destruction of rain forests in the name of biofuels. Palm oil plantations are arguably the most disastrous of "green solutions" out there, driving out indigenous communities and destroying the precious little habitat left for orang-utans and other animals.
But there is some space for optimism among the gloom. Through every crisis an opportunity arises and this book argues against apathy in the struggle for a more sustainable world and for open debates about what society we want to create to live in.
It is a fascinating read in an under- researched area, with the only limits being lack of space offered for the radical alternatives. Rogers looks to a future where we can reconceptualise the notion of growth "away from liquidating nature and exploiting people" - in other words, profit - and towards a measure of how outcomes improve the standards of living for everyone.
Unequal power relationships between the global north and south and between the one and the 99 per cent are at the root of the environmental, political and economic problems we face.
We do indeed have the capacity to find solutions to environmental degradation so we need to win the battle of ideas against neoliberalism and global capitalism and move beyond it, rather than trying to tweak a failed system.
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