Climate Change

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The Covid-19 pandemic shows the need for change. For a real ‘Reset’.

Button with label "Push to reset the world"Photo by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez on Unsplash

‘We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.’

Ursula K Le Guin

The year 2020 will be not be remembered with any great affection. So much suffering, loss of human life and economic uncertainty has left the nation in turmoil. Whilst in normal times we would be welcoming the new year with resolutions and hope for better days to come, the prospects for the future remain very uncertain.

Whilst the government’s handling of this pandemic crisis has been chaotic and indecisive with disastrous consequences, it has also revealed the dire state of our public and social infrastructure for which decades of ideologically driven government policies have been responsible. That, combined with the vast wealth and other inequalities that exist in both rich and poor countries across the planet and the climate tsunami following up frighteningly behind, should leave a bad taste in our collective mouth. It should start to make us question the very foundations of the economic model now turning to sand before our very eyes.

Covid-19 has exposed in the most distressing way the damaging consequences of the pursuit of balanced budget narratives which have allowed governments to justify public sector rationalisation or austerity on the grounds of unaffordability, and overseen a huge increase in poverty and inequality. Successive governments have abdicated their responsibility for the lives of citizens; their responsibility to create a fairer distribution of wealth and real resources and ensure that the public infrastructure meets their needs. Instead, they have plumped in favour of that elusive but all-seeing ‘god of the market’ which, in real terms, has meant ceding control to global corporations who direct the policy orchestra and pouring public money into the pockets of those same corporations with little transparency or accountability.

Whilst the government has found the power of the public purse to manage this crisis, there have been winners and losers throughout which reflect its ideological persuasion. It has only been with public pressure that it has been forced into political U-turns to help some of the poorest people in our communities, whilst leaving still others in distress and without adequate support. The road to Damascus moment still eludes a government which has chosen a path that so far has only led to economic hardship and inequity for many and yet great wealth for a few others.

It has also done so with the usual threats of a financial price to pay in the future to keep the household budget narratives of state spending alive and well. It would not do for the public to be disabused of the notion that taxes fund spending, that government has to borrow to cover its deficit and that public debt is real and will require difficult decisions at some unspecified time in the future. Such narratives are vital to government and will, without challenge, allow them to be able to finish off the job of destroying publicly paid for and managed public and social infrastructure and thus ensure the continuing dominance of global corporate power. We do indeed face a continuing hollowing out of democracy in favour of a growing alliance between the state and big business and the big political revolving door.

Whilst GIMMS and other educational organisations across the world have made huge strides in raising awareness of how money really works, the task ahead remains a daunting one. The weekly news is testament to the ongoing consequences of government policies and the spun narratives of how government spends but also encouragingly shows the power the public has to effect change, and not just through the ballot box. The on-going saga of free school meals continues to rumble on and elicit government U-turns. The latest, and most shameful, were the pictures on social media of the meagre ‘rations’ from a private company contracted and paid huge sums to provide substandard food packs which it turned out largely reflected government guidelines and did not meet the standards for the nutritious, balanced diet all children need to grow and thrive. It is to be regretted that the government, in the same week, went on to tell headteachers in England not to supply vouchers and food parcels to disadvantaged children during the February half-term, signalling it was already doing enough which is clearly not the case. There are no excuses for hungry children, or hungry adults for that matter.

The fiasco was yet another example of public money being poured into private profit and at the same time failing to address the reasons for children going hungry in the first place. Poverty and hunger are not new phenomena. Covid-19 has, without doubt, put a spotlight on the prevailing economic system and the economic decisions of successive governments which have not only been responsible for increasing poverty and inequality through employment, welfare and taxation policies but also shifted blame and created widening societal divisions which allow the real authors of economic distress to go scot-free.

It is therefore shameful that the Chancellor Rishi Sunak whilst facing opposition from campaigners is still considering cutting the meagre £20 per week universal credit uplift which has helped people struggling to get by during the pandemic. The consequences of the crisis will be with us for many months to come, possibly years, and therefore the government with its power of the public purse has no excuses when it comes to ensuring that its citizens can pay their bills and put food on the table while the disruption continues. Instead, its policy responses have proved not strategic but piecemeal and ill-thought-out with plenty of U-turns along the way.

Whilst we need the power of the public purse to mitigate the economic consequences of the current crisis, we also need a government with a long-term strategy for addressing the poverty and inequality that has arisen over decades and which has allowed top managers to reap excessive monetary rewards whilst depriving working people and their families, whose standards of living have declined substantially through low incomes and insecure employment.

Boris Johnson suggested earlier this week that he was still in favour of reducing Universal Credit saying:

‘what we want to see is jobs, we want people in employment, and we want to see the economy bouncing back. And I think most people in this country want to see a focus on jobs and growth in wages than on welfare’.

A change of heart? Given that the Tory government has presided over exactly the opposite over the last 10 years through austerity and economic policies which have increased economic instability whilst at the same time serving the corporate estate, instead, it is likely to be yet another in a long line of so far undelivered promises to level up. However, the sentiment is correct and is what should be driving government policy. We need a recognition of the power of the public purse to pursue full employment through a Job Guarantee and the vested power of government to legislate fair employment terms and conditions with the aim of shifting the balance of power back to working people instead of where it currently lies in corporate hands with government approval. We need a government prepared to address the key issues of our time using its currency-issuing powers, not just for the coming months but for always. Whilst Rishi Sunak calls upon the nation to spend the savings resulting from lockdown to get the economy going again (aside from the fact that he is turning a blind eye to the many millions of people as reported by the Resolution Think Thank this week who have lost out or got into further debt as a result of the pandemic adding to their already insecure lives) the looming crisis of climate change has been put on the back burner and time is running out. The god of growth must be worshipped anew to get the economy back into shape.

Aside from the fact that people are unlikely to spend their savings like drunken sailors in the near future, given the on-going uncertainty about the economy and jobs, exhorting the gods of growth and indiscriminate private consumption as a solution to economic slow-down would not only be folly but denies the clear power of government to spend to effect real and sustainable change.

We need a sea change in how we live our lives to address the already happening climate catastrophe and indeed, it will only be through large scale government action in spending policies and legislation that will enable this to happen. There is a pressing need for a national investment strategy that includes a massive and long-term investment in education and training in order to secure our future productive capacity. We much focus on high-skilled, low-carbon and well-paid jobs both for the private sector and in a much-expanded public sector to ensure high-quality basic services are provided to everyone, including our disabled and elderly citizens. Our nation must become more productive if we are to reduce our working week and support our retirees and support to those nations without the necessary real resources to support their communities.

The overarching need is to protect our environment for future generations which should also include acting to redress the vast wealth inequalities that exist. We need to restore our sense of the value of publicly paid for and provided public sector work to national well-being, implement a Job Guarantee to provide stability through an effective countercyclical response to the inevitable economic ups and downs all economies face, and a living income for anyone who is unable to work for health reasons or caring or other essential duties including higher education. Of course, these will not be magic bullets to bring about a perfect world, but provide a basis for a conversation that we need to have.

These are important decisions, not just concerning the big macroeconomic questions about creating an efficient functioning economy, but also relating to the sort of society we want to see. For left-wing progressives, this would suggest creating a fairer and more equitable society where people have sufficient wages to live comfortably with adequate nutrition and good living conditions as well as good public services such as health and education. Assuming that the future will bring forth a political party that has the express intention of addressing these issues, change is in our collective hands as an electorate and we should not forget the power we hold.

It is regrettable that currently there is no such party dedicated to the change we need and that all roads are still leading to an ever-distorted capitalism wherever you place the X on the ballot paper.

Whilst the very real human consequences of government decisions and its policies continue to play out in our communities and our families the government, opposition politicians, economists and journalists continue to pound out the messages of monetary scarcity; either talking about the need for ‘hard choices’ to deal with the deterioration of the public finances or delaying the ‘repayment pain’ until economic conditions will allow.

Whether it’s Rishi Sunak the Chancellor or his shadow opposition sidekick Labour’s Annaliese Dodds, they both adhere to a household budget narrative of the public accounts, in other words, the diktat of sound finance as if a government suffered from the same constraints as business. The operative question in either case being, at what point do you enact such fiscal tightening, not whether you actually need to. How the state really spends cannot have escaped their notice, and yet they stick to the orthodoxy like glue.

Whilst that is undeniably to be expected with the Conservatives, whose agenda is more about creating an alliance with big business under cover of stories about monetary scarcity and ‘hard choices’, Annaliese Dodds in this week’s Mais lecture indicated clearly her party’s on-going adherence to the false notion that government constraints are monetary. Whilst, to be fair, she gave a cutting analysis of the effects of government policies on people’s lives both before and after the arrival of Covid-19, she stuck to the orthodox economic mantras. Namely keeping the City sweet by maintaining the joke of supposed Central Bank independence and having a ‘responsible approach to government debt.

She summarised her approach to fiscal policy as requiring ‘a set of rules around both annual and the stock of debt, that simultaneously demonstrates a prudent approach to the public finances and leaves space for investment in the future and the ability to adapt to crises’. A sound approach to the public finances she said must ‘also include consideration of the quality and effectiveness of public spending.’ Whilst such evaluation should always be a part of government spending strategies (and clearly, we have seen in recent months and years the exact opposite) the concept of sound finance continues to be the guiding doctrine of politicians on both sides of the political spectrum. They might have different spending objectives, but both are couched within the clear limitations of household budget thinking.

As society implodes as a result of rising poverty, inequality and ill health which has arisen as a result of government policies and placed increasing pressures on public services such as our NHS which this last year has bravely served the nation in a deliberately created environment of insufficient staff, facilities and other resources, there is only one direction in which we can place the blame. Governments whose decisions have favoured market solutions through privatisation and legislative policies which favour them – with shocking consequences.

In similarity to nature’s web of life, which is defined by its interdependence, our economy does not exist as disparate parts. The economy represents the lives of working people and the businesses that employ them, and its health is reliant on the public and social infrastructure provided by the government to support it. Remove one vital link and you risk that eventually the whole will collapse.

This is the frightening consequence we already face, not just in the real but finite resources upon which our societies are built and owe their existence, but also our dependency on the goodwill and care we express for others. As reliance on charitable institutions to feed hungry people or deal with rising homelessness increases, or rich philanthropists replace public institutions with the equivalent of poor law boards dictating the pace and deciding who will be a beneficiary, our society will continue to break down on the basis of a ‘convenient lie’ that the state has no money of its own and there is no alternative course of action.

Instead of examining the public accounts and deducting from the financial position the health of a country, a future government should be turning that idea on its head to see the reality of the challenges we face. The reality of the real constraints which are not money but real resources and how they can be managed fairly in the interests of all citizens. The fast-approaching reality of climate change and its consequences threaten to engulf us if world governments fail to work together to create better, fairer and more sustainable solutions.

We need a ‘Reset’. Not the ‘Great Reset’ being promoted by the World Economic Forum which, whilst sounding just the thing to address rising inequality and climate disaster, will maintain the same power structures with the same corporations dictating the rules in the interests of accumulating more profit and wealth whilst still clinging to the sham economic model which seeks to keep power in the hands of the few.

We need quite a different ‘Reset’ as suggested by Associate Professor Fadhel Kaboub in a GIMMS ‘in conversation’ event last week. One where public purpose, not profit or greed, directs government spending and legislative actions for a sustainable and fairer future and without which the light at the end of the tunnel will recede, not get closer.

There is an alternative and history is still to be written on the choices we make. We once believed that the Earth was flat, that it was at the centre of the universe and the sun and planets revolved around it. Those notions were disproved by the observations of scientists like Copernicus and Galileo. We need now to disprove the notions that money is scarce – not because knowing it makes a difference in itself, but because knowing it will enable us to decide what history will eventually record about the decisions that were taken as a result.

We can be on the right side of history if we choose to be.

 

Upcoming Event

Phil Armstrong in Conversation with Pavlina Tcherneva – Online

January 24th 2021 @ 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm GMT

GIMMS is delighted to present another in its series ‘In Conversation’.

Phil Armstrong, author of ‘Can Heterodox Economics Make a Difference’ published in November 2020, will be talking to Pavlina Tcherneva.

Pavlina is program director and associate professor of economics at Bard College and a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute. She conducts research in the fields of modern monetary theory and public policy and has collaborated with policymakers from around the world on developing and evaluating various job-creation programmes. Her work on the Job Guarantee spans over 20 years.

Author of the recently published book ‘The Case for a Job Guarantee’, she challenges us to imagine a world where the phantom of unemployment is banished and anyone who seeks decent living-wage work can find it – guaranteed. It will be of particular relevance as we begin to grapple with the economic fall-out of the Covid-19 pandemic but for anyone passionate about social justice and building a fairer economy it should be essential reading.

We invite you to join us for this informal event which we are sure will be both stimulating and insightful.

Tickets via Eventbrite

 

Past Event

Phil Armstrong in Conversation with Fadhel Kaboub – Online

Author and MMT Scholar Phil Armstrong talks to professor of economics and president of the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity Fadhel Kaboub about how MMT insights apply to the global south, colonial reparations, the MMT Job Guarantee contrasted with Universal Basic Income, and much more.

Audio via the MMT Podcast here

Video will be available soon.

 

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The post The Covid-19 pandemic shows the need for change. For a real ‘Reset’. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

The Country That Invites New Immigrants to Dinner

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/01/2021 - 7:00pm in

Breaking bread

A program to break down barriers between natives and newcomers in the Czech Republic has brought together some 1,676 families.

Started in 2004 by a film producer who fled to the Czech Republic from war-torn Sarajevo, Next Door Family brings together immigrants and Czech natives for casual conversation over a leisurely meal. In its first year, 200 families participated, half of them Czech and half of them foreign. To ensure compatibility, participants are matched based on traits like age, language and hobbies. A migrant “assistant” shares in the meal and facilitates the conversation. 

The fact that so many of the participants continue to stay in touch afterward speaks to the program’s success. According to a study, 65 percent of the participants meet up at least once later on, and some 47 percent are still in touch over a decade later. As word of the effort has spread, the organizers have received requests from around the world asking them to bring the model to other countries. It has since been implemented in Belgium, Slovakia, Malta, Hungary, Italy and Spain, to name a few. And they recently heard from a family in Texas who wants to use it to bring Americans and Mexicans closer together.

Read more at The Local

Any special skills?

Of course, it’s not just in the Czech Republic where immigrants can have trouble gaining a foothold. The example of the taxi driver who used to be a surgeon is often used to illustrate the difficult task of transferring foreign credentials to the U.S. Tulsa is pursuing a fix for this problem with a program called Flourish Tulsa, which creates career pathways for internationally trained immigrants and refugees.

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There are approximately two million college-educated immigrants in the U.S. working in low-skill jobs. Flourish Tulsa helps these folks put their foreign certifications to use in the American workforce. If a direct transfer of their credentials isn’t possible, Flourish Tulsa can help them reapply their skills in fields like education, engineering or mental health — professions that the initiative says many immigrants are qualified for. “We are trying to reduce the number of years it takes individuals to build a career in the U.S., as well as the trial and error that costs them time, effort, and financial resources,” said one organizer. 

Read more at Next City

Keep on greenin’ on

We recently told you about 112 good things that happened in 2020. This week, Grist is offering six more. For instance: 2020 was the year that major universities like Georgetown, Brown, Oxford and Cornell divested from fossil fuels. New York State’s $266 billion pension fund laid out a solid plan to do the same.

solarA solar powered house at Cornell University. Credit: Department of Energy

Meanwhile, green energy continued its upward surge, with renewable power generation outpacing coal on many days of the year. In the U.S. alone, wind power alone has doubled in capacity since four years ago. And across the world, cities, countries, companies and utilities made commitments to achieving carbon neutrality over the next several decades — promises that Grist has vowed to follow up on to make sure they’re sticking to them.

Read more at Grist

The post The Country That Invites New Immigrants to Dinner appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Stay in the doughnut, not the hole: how to get out of the crisis with both our economy and environment intact

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/01/2021 - 8:34pm in

pxfuel, CC BY

Warwick Smith, University of Melbourne

Before the recession we were on a collision course with environmental disaster.

The recovery provides a rare opportunity to do things differently; to rebuild a better economy that can support living standards without irretrievably damaging the environment.

The closer we get to irreversible climate change, the harder that will become.

kateraworth.com

Doughnut economics, a concept principally developed by UK economist Kate Raworth, provides an intuitive way of thinking about it.

The ideas outlined in her book, subtitled Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, are increasingly being used around the world, including by a new collaboration Regen Melbourne, that’s looking at ways to making Melbourne a better, more socially-just and environmentally-responsible city.

The image to keep in mind is that of a doughnut, on the inside of which is economic and social freefall.

We need a certain amount of economic and social/political development to ensure everybody can live a good, healthy life with full social and political participation.

doughnuteconomics.org

On the outside of the doughnut is an unsustainable impact on the environment.

The sweet spot, the “safe and just space for humanity” is, of course, in the doughnut itself. Mmm… doughnuts.

Conceptually it’s pretty straightforward. Practically, it is challenging.

Economics is traditionally defined as the study of the way societies allocate scarce resources. But in the modern world the reality is that, for rich countries such as Australia, there is no overall scarcity.

The challenge is to remain within the doughnut

Such countries have homeless and hungry people, for sure. But the also have enough resources, homes and food to provide for them. That they don’t is a question of distribution rather than scarcity.

In terms of the diagram, we already use enough resources to ensure nobody need be left in the hole on the inside of the doughnut. The danger is that we use too many resources and move beyond the outer edge of the doughnut into climate and ecological breakdown.

Here’s another diagram.

For quite some time amongst economists there’s been faith in what’s called the Environmental Kuznets Curve, where increasing consumption is said to lead to increased environmental degradation up to a point.

Beyond that point, as a society becomes post-industrial, extra consumption is said to lead to less environmental degradation as people become more environmentally conscious and use their wealth to buy different things – more services (such as yoga classes) and fewer goods (such as hamburgers).

economicshelp.org

While the Environmental Kuznets Curve does indeed appear to be real, there is every indication that the global peak in environmental impact is far higher than the biosphere can withstand, which means a diagram like this:

We will need to bring the peak down, and that will be difficult for precisely the same reasons that people remain poor amid extraordinary wealth.

One is the capacity of deep-pocketed interests to influence regulators and governments to maximise profits. The other is the extent to which neoliberal economic thinking permeates social and political structures.

The modern neoliberal thinking tells us the best outcomes are achieved when markets are “free” without government “interference”.

Government attempts to tax, fine or charge for environmental damage are portrayed as interference, rather than protecting the environment.

This is easy because each individual hectare of vegetation that’s cleared doesn’t, by itself, do much damage to the environment, just as each tonne of carbon dioxide that’s released doesn’t do much damage to the climate.

It’s possible to introduce a carbon price or a carbon tax, but its easy to lobby against. Australia’s lasted two years, and governments are frightened to have another go.

The pandemic has expanded what’s possible

The pandemic has shown us that it’s possible to overcome that fear.

Environmental campaigner George Monbiot points out that for 10 years the number of people living – and dying – on Britain’s streets had climbed year by year. There wasn’t enough money to house them.

Then suddenly when the pandemic hit, and they were seen as potential carriers, the money could be found.

He says for decades government and industry had claimed that people would never give up international holidays and business flights. When humanity’s future was seen to be on the line, they did.

It now feels possible to embrace a shift to what Monbiot calls “private sufficiency and public luxury”.

Double Down News.

This is a challenge not only to economics but also to individual economists.

For better or worse, our discipline has a lot of power in the modern world and our views carry disproportionate weight.

We need the best of our economic minds helping us to build frameworks that will keep us in the doughnut. The future of our species depends on it.The Conversation

Warwick Smith, Research economist, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. The article was also republished by ABC News.

Young People in Georgia Fight for Climate Ahead of Runoff Elections

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/12/2020 - 6:54am in

Throughout this election season, young voters and activists have forced climate change to center stage. The Georgia runoff is no exception. Continue reading

The post Young People in Georgia Fight for Climate Ahead of Runoff Elections appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Re-Worlding—with a Pluriversal New Deal

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/12/2020 - 3:03am in

Ecological sustainability, economic sufficiency and the infinite beauty of cultural difference

So, where to start but with the Anthropocene, this nonsensical civilisation where the ‘means’ to life has overtaken ‘ends’?

The Eurocentric fantasy of mastering nature has always been a problematic ontology. Ecologically minded feminists believe this ancient drive to power re-enacts a sublimated form of ‘mother killing’, allowing men to ‘birth themselves culturally’ without dependence on mysterious natural flows. In any event, pandemic anxieties have released a shadow epidemic of terror by men on to the bodies of women. French statistics show a 30-per-cent rise in domestic violence; in Australia the figure is said to be 50 per cent.1

Traditionally, the same patriarchal dissociation, or ‘othering’ mindset, has been used to keep Black folk and children in line, and it remains essential to military roles and policing. But if othering sets up an externalised world of objects and abstractions, its mirror image is sensuous and might be called ‘holding’. This reflects the original moment of human self-formation in a mother’s arms. Holding speaks our embeddedness in the metabolism of nature. And when people sense themselves as ‘nature-embodied’, they understand how all Life-on-Earth is linked to everything else.

As a labour form, holding is reproductive as distinct from productive. It preserves the integrity of biophysical processes—say, the precautionary nurture of a child or life-affirming Indigenous commitment to a mountain forest. Holding is ‘a way of worlding’ that teaches an alternative epistemology.

Karin Amimoto Ingersoll describes this sensibility among Hawaiian fishermen:

a non-instrumental navigational knowledge about the ocean, wind, tides, currents, sand, seaweed, fish, birds, and celestial bodies, as an interconnected system that allows for a distinct way of moving through the world. In this oceanic literacy, the body and the seascape interact in a complex discourse…an alternative to the grand narrative of Western thought-worlds, which keep our ‘selves’ separate…

Seeing thus becomes a political process…a reading of all memories and knowledges learned within oceanic time and space but which have been effaced by rigid colonial constructions of identity, place, and power…

 [Too] much of the world proceeds without memory, as if the spaces we inhabit are blank geographies, and thus available for consumption and development…2     

Today, in our globally dominant civilisation, both political Right and Left assume that labour must be ‘productive’, which is a way of saying that it is about transforming material nature into something else—‘man made’ and thus having ‘value’. Usually, ecosocialists, Green New Dealers and political economists will argue quantitatively—for relocating care work under the formal economy. But the value of holding labour is qualitative, experienced directly as ecosystems regenerate, and human bodies with them. As distinct from exchange or even use value, the gift of reproductive labour is a ‘metabolic value’ and does not need to be measured.

The universities don’t teach that capitalism is simply the most recent incarnation of hyper-masculinity.3 In fact, patriarchy and capitalism are historically nested frames, with capital both protected inside and energised by the more ancient frame of sex-gendered relations.

But there are, on Earth, economic ways of worlding that can meet human needs without biodiversity loss and climate change—the devastating Humanity–Nature rift caused by the arrogant drive to master nature.

Thinking about the origins of COVID-19, there’s no doubt that the twentieth-century development model—land clearing, dam construction, transcontinental supply chains, global warming and threatened species—has scrambled planetary ecologies, opening up spaces for viral mobility. Suggestions that COVID-19 was an accidental by-product of genetic-engineering experimentation for medicinal purposes, or even particulate escape from a biological-weapons lab, can be read in the light of anxieties caused by such large-scale system breakdown. Some people claim that the outbreak has been an elite ploy to put in place profitable new Silicon Valley technologies for public surveillance and social control, but we do not have to go down that track to know, per Naomi Klein’s ‘shock doctrine’, that capitalism amorally exploits any disaster, as it most certainly has this pandemic.

One thing is certain: the world economy was already in free fall before the pandemic began. Now millions of displaced people have become a pliable labour resource for the next wave of capital growth. Is the trade-union movement up to the challenge? Workers aside, the pandemic has set loose a mood of outrage among women suffering government vacillation over support for the nameless reproductive sector. Already in the 1930s, Australia’s great feminist Jessie Street argued for economic recognition of women’s domestic labour time, and a wages-for-housework call was made again by 1970s autonomous feminists in Italy. Ninety years on from Street’s call, this materially embodied basis of production is still stymied by sex-gender discrimination. As the neoliberals will claim: ‘There are only individuals…[well], and families…’.

At the United Nations, and big multilateral summits, ‘the other’ experience of caregivers, smallholders and First Nations peoples is treated as cultural, not economic. This keeps their astute provisioning models—alternative ways of worlding—outside the white middle-class masculinist government and agency discourse. But since the Seattle People’s Caucus in 1999, that attitude has been challenged by movements like the World Social Forum, Via Campesina, the Indigenous Environment Network, World Women’s March and Extinction Rebellion, to name a few.

The book I co-authored in 2019, Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary, honours these initiatives, not to mention the decolonial inspiration of visionaries like Ivan Illich, Ashis Nandy and Wolfgang Sachs, and ecofeminists Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, with their powerful critiques of ‘maldevelopment’.4 The pluriverse project has since opened into a cross-cultural sharing among Andean buen vivir exponents, Indian swaraj communities, European de-growthers and others. The common call is that from now on ‘global is local’. In other words, the dissociated productivist values of capitalist development will be replaced with values that are ‘reproductive’ of Life-on-Earth.

To paraphrase the great Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef: self-managed local cultures are synergistic. They satisfy many needs at once. They’re not only environmentally benign but creatively social. Besides subsistence, they foster learning, participation, innovation, ritual, identity and belonging. A high quality of life can be enjoyed on three hours’ work a day. By contrast, the engineered satisfiers of urban industrial societies like cars, computers and bureaucracies cost much energy and time, sabotaging the very convenience they were designed for.5

Under the dominant global order, the 1 per cent tries to keep social-protest movements ‘single-issue’ and competing for recognition. The outcome is an identity politics, widespread in transatlantic democracies, and often made worse by sterile academic debates over intersectionality. The famous US environmental justice movement was captured by this ‘rights-based’ approach. Started by Black mothers in communities affected by industrial pollution along the Mississippi River, the initiative soon came to be managed by professional men. People struggling for alternatives need to be aware of the ever-present risk of ideological subsumption.

Looking at the worldwide ‘movement of movements’, the political choice for women in the Global North is the same as for colonised subjects in the Global South. There is either an option of emancipation via liberal individualism or self-realisation in communal reciprocity. But the path is fraught for both groupings. Women, for example, relied first on the mechanism of equal rights managed by the nation state, but this further legitimised the masculinist way of worlding. Thus feminists in that twentieth-century generation studiously avoided conceding any aspect of their experience to ‘nature’, in fear of the perennial patriarchal put-down that ‘like children, natives, and animals, women are closer to nature than men’.

Yet there were counter-trends. On every continent, women in urban or rural neighbourhoods organising to stop pesticide use, nuclear testing or water privatisation opted for an ecological feminism. They saw that the enclosure and commodification of natural resources in capitalist patriarchal economies paralleled the enclosure and commodification of women’s and Indigenous bodies. Some, like Evelyn Fox Keller, pioneering a gender-free science, even spoke of nature as a subject, with a heart that pulses through our own body cells.6

Now, in the twenty-first century, many more people are taking big civilisational steps to join humanity and nature back together. The New Water Paradigm and Peoples’ Tribunal on the Rights of Nature are significant here. But the dissociated idealism of global governance can easily slide such moves backwards by repressive tolerance. Too often, well-intended actions for change reinforce the abstract ‘universalising’ premises of modernity. Among these are the circular economy, climate-smart agriculture, digital tools, earth-system governance, reproductive engineering and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In the Pluriverse book, each such reform is found to fracture living ecosystemic flows between town and country, what Marx called the ‘metabolic rift’.7 In the name of mastery and control, the Eurocentric imaginary diminishes most other natures—class, race, sex-gender, age, ableness, species. And non-capitalist patriarchal cultures are judged in need of ‘development’. Conversely, a pluriversal politics, inspired by the Zapatista practice of democracy, enjoys ‘a world in which many worlds fit’. This is the very definition of a pluriverse, and itcelebrates the practical creativity of peoples outside the global monoculture.

A pluriverse fosters alternatives that can ground political change in biophysical processes. It is responsive to the material limits of geographic place. A Pluriversal New Deal will look for local models of commoning that preserve social diversity and biodiversity together. This ‘peoples paradigm’ reaches for a Biocivilisation to replace the life-negating formulae of viral states—and the lonely high-tech individualism expanding so rapidly under Big Data. Against the rationalist cogito of ‘I think, therefore I am’, contrast the profoundly healing South African ubuntu ethic, premised on the conviction that ‘I am because you are’. Other ways of worlding that understand humans as nature-in-embodied-form are buen vivir, eco-villages, hurai, the gift economy, kyosei, sentipensar and swaraj. These onto-epistemologies are now in conversation together, weaving a global tapestry of alternatives.

In a Pluriverse entry on Oceania’s kastom ekonomi, anthropologist Kirk Huffman paraphrases the experience of Vanuatu villagers:

Foreigners used to tell us that we needed to Change; then they told us we needed Progress, and now they tell us we need Development. It usually means they are after something we have—either our forests or our land or what is under our land, or our souls, or language or culture, or our feeling of contentment with our way of life…

[S]mart Melanesians tend to see Kastom as protecting them from bad development and the disease that comes with it—Sick blong Mane—or money addiction.8

Not surprisingly, food sovereignty is a central goal of pluriversal activism. This is not to be confused with the regular UN Food and Agriculture Organization concept of ‘food security’, which simply means more agro-industrial profiteering. Its costs are land dispossession of peasant livelihoods, toxic petro-farmed monocrops, engineered seeds from Big Pharma, ever more planetary pollution from transcontinental Free Trade, and subsidised imports for unhealthy processed foods. The final stage of capitalist farming is, of course, the Dust Bowl.

Sadly, international awareness of these ‘externalities’ is unevenly developed. Activists from affluent metropolitan nations, even elites from the global periphery, continue to frame policy in ways that downplay the metabolic cost of their own—our own—urban consumer lifestyles. And I don’t deny the ethical dilemma I myself feel while using digital technologies to write and share this article with you. Increasingly, too, academic disciplines are tailored to the neoliberal university, with its deadly positivist culture of management by algorithm.

We are facing big questions here and they need big answers. Mainstream feminists and ecological economists, even some on the Left, and Greens, are confident that the dominant paradigm can be adjusted. But the idea of ‘a fair and sustainable distribution’ of the world’s social product makes no thermodynamic sense. The fact is that, to meet the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals, the global economy would have to grow to 175 times its present size, even as it already overshoots planetary capacities by 50 per cent each year.9

So what does it mean to talk about ‘metabolism’, metabolic rift and metabolic value? The word ‘metabolism’ covers the totality of human biophysical interchanges with the natural world. These can be extractive, as under capitalism, setting up a ‘metabolic rift’ between the Global North and Global South. But skillful small-scale provisioning, focused on needs rather than commodities, regenerates ‘metabolic value’.

As ecofeminists point out, such ‘gifting’ does not need to be measured, as in the usual economic fetish. Metabolic value is simply observable as children dance by, as trees bear down with fruit, as corn shoots up from the soil. Indigenous gatherers enjoy the wealth of metabolic value when clean river waters deliver new season’s fish. The ‘metabolic value’ form inheres in the circulation of Earth energies.

It is critical that humans cease firing up climate and sea rise and burning down species habitat. Could ecosocialists consider the political role of an ‘other’ labour class—‘meta-industrials’ from the domestic and geographic peripheries of capital? Here, at the edge of theory, are the unspoken workers who meet the material needs of all classes, effectively making today’s capitalist system possible. Their daily care of embodied and ecological energy flows tunes the humanity–nature metabolism. In the work of deliberative holding, this class comes to learn a systemic epistemology and ethic of nature as process. Such labour has no use for the abstractions of a dying Eurocentric era, the Anthropocene, with its psychological dissociations of subject over object, humanity over nature, man over woman, white over black, economy over ecology.

Meta-industrial workers are politically autonomous—and more, their tacit system principles can readily guide a Pluriversal New Deal, one that decolonises the notion of sustainability. There are twelve such vernacular principles, which you can read about in our 2009 Eco-Sufficiency book, but to give a few here:

  • scale is intimate and hands-on, maximising responsiveness to matter/energy transformations in nature
  • judgement is built up over time by trial and error, a cradle-to-grave assessment over a multigenerational time horizon
  • in domestic, organic farm settings, or gathering livelihoods, multi-criteria decision-making is essential
  • regenerative work patiently reconciles human time with unpredictable, non-linear timings in nature
  • meta-industrial provisioning is eco-sufficient because it does not externalise costs through debt on to other humans, or on to nature as entropy.10

In the words of Australian Indigenous elder Jessie Wirrpa, ‘our way of life has good fit with country’. For Kombumerri philosopher Mary Graham, this sensibility resonates with First Peoples’ approach to community governance where Land is Law.11

To achieve eco-sufficiency and global justice simultaneously, the most effective ‘millennial goal’ for settler nations will be to restore Indigenous stewardship to territories stolen in the name of progress. And an enlightened nation state might also encourage bioregional self-reliance among post-pandemic refugees, unemployed youth and discarded older women, by giving out land parcels, instead of paper dollars in the service of GDP.

The template for re-worlding with a Pluriversal New Deal is clear: Indigenous science for grounding ecological sustainability; subsistence economies for nurturing equality and care; a pluriversal politics for celebrating the infinite beauty of cultural difference.

Only once people know themselves as nature-in-embodied-form will they be able to design a civilisation for generations to come.

Notes

  1. UN Women, ‘Violence Against Women and Girls: The Shadow Pandemic’, 6 April 2020: www.unwomen.org. See also: www.euronews.com.
  2. Karin Amimoto Ingersoll, ‘Sea Ontologies’, in Ashish Kothari, Ariel Salleh, Arturo Escobar, Federico Demaria and Alberto Acosta (eds), Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary, New York: Columbia University Press, and New Delhi: Tulika/AuthorsUpFront, 2019, pp. 299–301.
  3. Ariel Salleh, ‘Editorial: Towards an Embodied Materialism’, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 16(2), 2005, pp. 9–14.
  4. Ivan Illich, Energy and Equity, New York: Boyars, 1977; Ashish Nandy, The Intimate Enemy, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983; Wolfgang Sachs (ed.), The Post-Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power, London: Zed Books, 1992; Maria Mies, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, London: Zed Books, 1986; Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development, London: Zed Books, 1989.
  5. Manfred Max-Neef, Antonio Elizalde and Martin Hopenhyan, Human Scale Development. Development Dialogue, Uppsala: Cepaur-Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, 1989.
  6. Evelyn Fox Keller, A Feeling for the Organism, San Francisco: Freeman, 1983.
  7. John Bellamy Foster, ‘Marx’s Theory of Metabolic Rift: Classical Foundations for Environmental Sociology’, American Journal of Sociology, 5(2), 1999, pp. 366–405.
  8. Kirk Huffmann, ‘Oceania’s Kastom Ekonomi’, in Pluriverse, pp. 15–17.
  9. Jason Hickel, ’The Problem with Saving the World’, Jacobin Magazine, 8 August 2015.
  10. Ariel Salleh (ed.), Eco-Sufficiency and Global Justice: Women Write Political Ecology, London: Pluto Press, 2009, pp. 302–3.
  11. Deborah Bird Rose, Nourishing Terrains: Australian Aboriginal Views of Landscape and Wilderness, Canberra: Australian Heritage Commission, 1996; Mary Graham, ‘Some Thoughts about the Philosophical Underpinnings of Aboriginal Worldviews’, Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion, 3(2), 1999, pp. 105–18.


There’s No Time Left Not To Do Everything

Arena Quarterly no. 3

Tim Hollo, Sep 2020

…continuing a supplicant politics, where we beg or demand of governments that they act, is both destined to fail and underplaying our hand.

(Re)municipalisation – purging the barbarians from inside the gate

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/12/2020 - 1:32pm in

This post is a followup to a blog post I wrote a few weeks ago – ABCD, social capital and all the rest of the neoliberal narratives to undermine progress (November 12, 2020) – where I discussed the trends in government policy delivery and regional and community development thinking, which have emerged in the neoliberal period and attack the idea of government. These approaches claim that
only through the development of social capital and a reliance on local initiatives, free of government interference, can communities reach their latent potential. These ideas have led to the scrapping of regional development planning (replaced by new regionalism), outsourcing of welfare policies (replaced by social entrepreneurship) and other madcap approaches (like ABCD). Our public service bureaucracies have bee converted from service delivery agencies into contracted brokering and management agencies (to oversee the outsourcing and privatisation of public service delivery) and have, often, been filled up with characters who are borderline sociopaths. The point is that it is not the ‘state’ that is at fault but the ideologues that have taken command of the state machinery and reconfigured it to serve their own agenda, which just happen to run counter to what produces general well-being. Today, I continue to analyse that theme and outline what needs to be done to rebuild our damaged public sectors.

I get it that some progressives have been lured into the social capital trap.

They have seen the way in which modern public service bureaucrats, who serve the interests of the elite classes rather the advancement of general well-being, dish out treatment to communities who need nurturing rather than rules-based bullying.

The conclusion they reach is that the only way forward is to build local capacity and take matters into their own hands.

So the lure of ‘social capital’ and self-determination is strong.

And that sort of attraction then leads to an embrace of ‘market-based’ allocations, because, by definition, these avoid dealing with these bureaucrats.

And, as a consequence, the neoliberal pattern is established.

Avoid the state, disable it, and solve important problems independently of it.

If this sort of thinking then runs into Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) logic, there is tension.

Once the MMT light bulb goes on, there is no escaping the fact that the mainstream macroeconomics that is built up to justify all the social capital nonsense is exposed as being fraudulent.

And as that awareness unfolds, it becomes obvious that the reconfiguration of the state machinery to deliver public policy – the outsourcing, the almost unlimited use of consultant buddies to write vapid reports about nothing, and all the rest of it – was an ideological device designed to transfer real income from workers to those at the top-end of the income distribution.

So why not extend that awareness to realise that all the rest of the narrative about the wonders of social capital, ABCD, etc is just part of the same smokescreen.

The Third Way is no way!

The tension then is that the lived experience of these sociopaths in bureaucracies who enforce the neoliberal rule have left scars and progressives who come to realise that there are no financial constraints on national, currency-issuing governments cannot make the next step to realise that spreading the word about MMT also requires we reclaim the machinery of policy, rather than just think of the government as a funding source for community-led action.

Many progressives – the ‘tax the rich to fund hospitals’ crew – do not even get to the MMT light bulb moment.

So part of ‘reclaiming the state’, is to reclaim the way in which the state operates.

The macroeconomics of the reclamation is clear.

But how progressive forces expunge the neoliberalism from the state machinery is another challenge.

The point is that the two go together.

A suspicion and hatred of the existing state bureaucracy that leads one to reject government policy implementation in favour of ‘market’ or Third Way solutions is not going to yield progressive outcomes.

The Third Way appears to embrace both corporate and not-for-profit commercial behaviour in its proposals to achieve social objectives and/or seek cost-cutting efficiencies or revenue diversification

The third way solution package locates the key to the ‘problem’ of dependency within the aspirations of individuals in local communities, largely detached from the state and certainly detached from the macroeconomy.

In doing so, and by default, it proposes microeconomic market solutions to what are essentially macroeconomic problems.

In this way, its economic assumptions are indistinguishable from the neoclassical approach. To suggest that what works in a microeconomic context will deliver similar results if applied to the entire economy represents a fallacy of composition, the primary lesson learnt from the Great Depression.

Furthermore, we contend that its microeconomic assumptions are problematic.

There is an extensive literature that points to:

1. Commercial venturing by local, non-profit organisations typically are prone to goal deflection, which leads to ethical compromises.

2. The entrepreneurial activities and abilities of individuals appear to take primacy over the social dimensions of the mission.

For example, how does a social entrepreneur allocate resources between profit-making and welfare-providing activities?

Moreover, many progressives have fallen prey to the neoliberal argument that entrepreneurially generated profits via commercial activities are required to cross-subsidise welfare provision because fiscal outlays need to be tightly constrained in order to record surpluses.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that ‘markets’ are unable to advance social requirements, especially where people cannot afford to pay.

Those who are attracted to Third Way constructs, but who then encounter MMT (and accept its insights) then have a problem.

They realise that the state has all the financial capacity it needs to fund community developments.

But the distrust with the bureaucrats that have dealt out the punishment hiding behind the ‘government has no money’ lie still pushes them to localised solutions free of government.

One idea that was popular among Third Wayers was the so-called ‘community pooling’ model, where the government transfers for health, education, housing, training and employment and social security payments, which would normally be paid to individuals as part of their rights of citizenship, are captured by some local entrepreneurs/community organisations, pooled and then allocated according to the priorities of these organisations.

So all the MMT understanding in this instance would lead to is seeing the government as a venture capital provider to underwrite, among other things small-scale capitalist production, which the data shows is subject to massive failure rates.

We then get the problem of moral hazard.

The government in this instance would be obligated to ensure the entrepeneurial venture does not fail completely.

In turn, the local organisations face distorted risk and return choices because they can effectively ignore downside risks of any investment or activities.

Endemic market failure would result in a proliferation of wasteful investments.

The process of (re)municipalisation

I read an interesting book recently – The Future if Public (published on May 12, 2020 by the Transnational Institute, TNI).

The book documents one initiative that is part of the fight against privatisation and outsourcing.

The authors consider that – (re)municipalisation – is a “powerful force for change”.

It involves:

… the reclaiming of public ownership of services as well as the creation of new public service

And it is growing rapidly in more than 2,400 cities across 58 countries, at the time the book was published.

TNI argue that:

… public services are more important than ever in the face of the climate catastrophe, mounting inequalities and growing political unrest. The COVID-19 crisis too has made painfully clear the disastrous effects of austerity, social security cuts and privatised health care systems, but it has also demonstrated that public services and the people who operate them are truly the foundation of healthy and resilient societies. Years of privatisation and austerity have choked off democratic control and sufficient funding to this foundation. As privatisation fails, a growing international movement is choosing (re) municipalisation as a key tool for redefining public ownership for the 21st century.

The book is a collection of narratives that document the “diversity of (re)municipalisation efforts, which “expand democratic public ownership to all levels of society” and are “opening up new routes to community-led and climate conscious public services”.

The point is that this is not a Third Way approach to community development.

It is state-centred and seeks to reconfigure the state policy delivery machinery.

How does it work?

1. Termination/non-renewal of private contracts.

2. Public acquisition.

3. Insourcing/bringing services back in house.

4. Avoiding all forms of privatisation – “including ‘public-private partnerships’ (PPPs), ‘private finance initiatives’ (PFIs), outsourcing, corporatisation, ‘right to choice’, forced competition and market liberalisation.”

Then:

1. New public service programs (perhaps even a Job Guarantee).

2. New public organisation – cleaning out the neoliberal influences in the bureaucracy.

The antagonists to (re)municipalisation, include private corporations and financial markets who have made a killing from the hollowing out of the state process.

Not only have the contractual arrangements delivered massive income flows to the owners of the privatised firms, but lawyers, management consultants, strategic planning companies, and all the rest of the network of parasites that bleed public spending dry have benefited from this neoliberal era.

And the revolving door phenomenon has seen regular flows in and out of government from the top end of corporate life – influencing policy, extracting massive salaries and privileges.

The trend has infiltrated our higher education sector, where the managers, are paid ridiculous salaries for enforcing regimes that increasingly seem to be disclocated from the interests of the academic staff.

TNI find that citizens are fighting back though.

They find that “remunicipalisation is still going strong in sectors like energy and water. We also discovered vibrant remunicipalisation and municipalisation trends in unanticipated sectors like telecommunications.”

There is now a “growing network of progressive green municipalities is tackling climate change and rising inequality using strategies that feature (re)municipalisation.”

Often, a failed privatisation requires the state re-enter the fray.

TNI report that:

Bankruptcies and corporate collapses reveal the truth behind privatisation’s false promises of efficiency and innovation; many privatisation deals are economically unviable. Outsourcing contracts and public-private partnerships are often designed to prioritise profits and dividends over service quality.

That alone tells us that all the claim about risk being shifted to the private sector – to justify the high profits they earn from the privatised activity – are just false.

If there is an essential service involved, then risk shifting can never happen. The state will always have to ensure the service is maintain, irrespective of who owns it, which leads to immense distortions of the risk and return process among the private firms involved.

This is a general version of the ‘too big, to fail’ claim about financial corporations (banks, etc).

Privatised firms also unwilling “to deliver services to areas, communities or user groups that are not profitable enough, cannot afford to pay or are more expensive to serve” and distort contracts accordingly.

The evidence, to date, as (re)municipalisation examples increase is that:

1. “lower costs of operating the services”.

Privatisation is expensive – profits have to be generated, “substantial fees are paid to consultants and lawyers”, outsourcing then invites price gouging as the outsourced firm outsources to other firms, etc

2. “investment in the improvement of the service and environmental protection”.

3. Vastly improved working conditions for the “workers that provide public services”.

This last point is important.

Once the mission of the state department is reconfigured and the management philosophy changes, we see workers enjoying “enhanced and markedly improved” conditions.

The role of the trade union also becomes central to these progressive shifts in the workplace.

Neoliberalism demonises the unions or coopts them to agree to undermine workers’ conditions.

The latter case is evident in Australia where union bosses of a union covering the lowest paid and most vulnerable workers have done dirty deals with management in recent years, which have reduced the pay and security of its workforce in return for largesse and spin-offs to the leaders.

4. “A significant number of de-privatisations are making a positive impact on local economies by delivering secure employment and attracting new business and research centres.”

5. “(re) municipalisation has resulted in improved democratic control under public ownership … increased accountability, transparency and information disclosure to the establishment of participatory governance in public corporations.”

6. Importantly, “(Re)municipalisation can reverse precarious work.”

One of the things the pandemic has exposed is the problematic nature of precarious work, which has risen in coverage as a result of the outsourcing and privatisation.

TNI say that “by cutting jobs, eroding working conditions and undermining collective bargaining, privatisation is a powerful driver of precarious work.”

The evidence is that by taking back contracts, government bodies can offer “better pay and improved working conditions” and reduce user-pays fees, where appropriate.

Conclusion

I am investigating these options at present and will report back when I know more.

The point is that abandoning the state because the barbarians have taken it over is no solution to community problems.

Local bodies do not have the capacity to solve systemic problems.

The financial and organisational machinery of the state is required for that.

And the solution is not to abandon the state but to purge the barbarians and their failed policies.

(Re)municipalisation is one such activity that works to this end.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2020 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

John Kerry’s Think Tank Calls for War With Russia Over Climate Change

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/12/2020 - 4:35am in

Recently-appointed Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry has announced his intention of dealing with the pressing issue of global warming as a national security concern. “America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is,” the 76-year-old former Secretary of State wrote. “I am proud to partner with the President-elect, our allies, and the young leaders of the climate movement to take on this crisis.”

The announcement drew praise from many professional climate activists and groups, perhaps assuming that Kerry was taking his lead from Bernie Sanders, who has for years been saying the same thing. Executive Director of the Sunrise Movement, Varshini Prakash said his statement was an “encouraging move,” while 350.org’s Bill McKibben, predicted Kerry would be an excellent climate czar. Yet, as media critic Adam Johnson argued, Kerry’s proclamation should deeply concern progressive activists and will likely lead to expanding the already bloated military budget.

Kerry is a founding member of the Washington think tank, the American Security Project (ASP), whose board is a who’s who of retired generals, admirals and senators. The ASP also hailed the appointment of their man, explaining, in a little-read report, exactly what treating the climate as a national security threat entails. And it is nothing like what Sanders advocates.

For the ASP, climate change constitutes an “accelerant of instability” and a “threat multiplier” that will “affect the operating environment,” and notes that Kerry will have three priorities in his role as President Biden’s right-hand man. What were those three priorities? Making sure people in the Global South could eat and have access to safe drinking water? Reparations? Disaster relief or response teams? Cutting back on fossil fuel use? Indeed not. For the ASP, the primary objectives were:

  1. A huge rebuilding of the United States’ military bases,
  2. Countering China in the Pacific,
  3. Preparing for a war with Russia in the newly-melted Arctic.

The ASP notes that rising sea levels will neutralize or destroy dozens of American naval bases around the world, including the world’s largest such base in Norfolk, VA. The ASP recommends “prioritizing the measures that can protect readiness” of the military to strike at any time, also warning that rising sea levels will hurt the combat readiness of the Marine Expeditionary Force. Thus, a rebuilding of the U.S.’ worldwide network of military bases is in order.

US Military Kerry

Protesters opposed to US military bases voice opposition to a planned visit by Secretary of State John Kerry, July 27, 2016, in Manila. Bullit Marquez | AP

The report notes that the nations most immediately affected by climate change are South Pacific island chains like Vanuatu or the Marshall Islands, claiming that these countries are “strategically important in the contest between the U.S. and China.” It recommends that the U.S. must use all tools available to remain in control of those islands, claiming that China is “showering cash” on them, building seawalls, ports, and clean energy stations that are a threat to U.S. dominance of the region.

The ASP also notes that the Arctic is the fastest-warming area of the world, and envisions a pitched battle with Russia to control the area, which is increasingly open to maritime traffic thanks to melting arctic ice. “NATO faces a severe military challenge in the European Arctic area of operation,” it writes, advocating that, “the U.S. military should actively participate in Arctic joint exercises, and publicize U.S. military deployments to the region, with particular focus on the Russian border – perhaps by returning the U.S. Marine deployment to Norway.” “There is no time to waste,” it concludes, insisting that, “the region needs a concerted diplomatic, security, and economic push from the U.S. government.”

What will the designation of the climate crisis as a “national security threat” entail domestically? Last year, the ASP wrote that “Given that climate change will force more families to migrate, funding for border security should include improving facilities for holding and transporting migrants.” In other words, an expansion of the militarized border and network of detention centers, often condemned as “concentration camps.”

Michelle Flournoy, tipped by many for a top job in Biden’s team, also argued that the military as part of the solution to climate change, suggesting it could be turned into a force for environmentalism. Yet there is little chance of this happening. The Pentagon is the largest single polluter in the world, and the U.S. has historically insisted on exempting the military from any climate treaties. Just one B-52 bomber consumes as much fuel in an hour as an average car driver uses in seven years. As the Institute for Policy Studies wrote, “militarism and climate justice are fundamentally at odds” while “climate change and border militarization are inextricably linked.”

While many activists may have taken heart at Kerry’s tough words, it is doubtful whether occupying Norway or expanding the network of ICE camps was exactly what they had in mind when they said they wanted the government to act on climate change.

Feature photo | U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to troops at America’s only base in Africa, Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti, Djibouti, May 6, 2015. Andrew Harnik | Pool via AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post John Kerry’s Think Tank Calls for War With Russia Over Climate Change appeared first on MintPress News.

This Is What Real Anti-Semites Look Like

I really don’t want to labour the point about the witch hunt and victimisation of decent, anti-racist members and supporters of the Labour Party under the pretext of purging it of anti-Semitism. But I wanted to show graphically how utterly pathetic and grotesque it was. Images that showed how far from reality the Blairites’ and British establishment’s idea of who anti-Semites are.

This photo below is of John Tyndall and Martin Webster, two of the fuhrers of the National Front at a demonstration. It’s from Richard Thurlow’s Fascism in Britain: A History, 1918-1985 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1987).

They were the face of British Fascism when I was growing up in the 1980s. The caption for the photo reads:

John Tyndall and Martin Webster at an NF demonstration. Tyndall’s imitation of Mosely’s style with the use of flags, megaphone and inter-war economic and political programmes is combined with a thinly disguised and cleaned-up version of Arnold Leese’s obsession with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and gutter racism. It is presented in the more acceptable language of the conservative fascist tradition with due homage to the influence of A.K. Chesterton.

And This Is What They Don’t!

This is Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, one of the two left-wing Jews recently suspended from the Labour Party. She’s the vice-chair of Chingford CLP and one of the leaders of Jewish Voice for Labour, and has been vocal in her support for Jeremy Corbyn. She is absolutely no kind of racist, anti-Semite or Fascist. Quite the opposite. I found this photo of her on the web. It’s from the Socialist Workers’ YouTube channel, SWP TV. And while I don’t agree with the Socialist Workers, the image does show her commitment to combating racism. The image is blurred, but behind her there are posters urging people to fight Fascism and racism, as well as the attacks on benefits and climate change.

She’s been targeted because, like Moshe Machover, Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein, Martin Odoni and many others, she’s the ‘wrong kind of Jew’. The British establishment wants the Jewish community to conform to an unswerving support for Israel. Any Jew that steps out of line, like the peeps above, is immediately accused and reviled as ‘self-hating’ and anti-Semitic. They suffer truly horrific abuse and death threats. Mira Bar Hillel, another Jewish journalist, has said that many Jews are afraid of speaking out about Israel because of this. But as these images show, there are very many Jews like Naomi and the others, who aren’t afraid to criticise Israel and attack its apartheid and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

This appears to be Naomi at another pro-Palestinian event, and as you can see from the slogans and the name of the organisation on the banner, it’s a Jewish event. The slogan reads ‘It’s Kosher to Boycott Israeli Goods’. And underneath the organisation’s monicker is Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods.

This is why Naomi and the others are being accused of anti-Semitism and self-hatred. Despite the fact that they are not ashamed of their Jewish identity. If they were, they’d try to hide it, and if they really were Nazis, you’d see them with real Nazis. They wouldn’t stand on the barricades fighting them, as the above do.

Here’s another, related pic showing a banner for the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network.

I don’t know who this organisation is, but I would imagine they were another group of Jews outraged at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. So, more of the ‘wrong kind of Jews’, the kind of Jews the establishment don’t want you see or even know exist.

I hope these images show very clearly the difference between the real and falsely accused anti-Semites. The real anti-Semites are Fascists thugs like Tyndall, Webster, and their successors, Nick Griffin, National Action and the rest. They aren’t respectable Jewish ladies or eminent Israeli mathematicians and philosophers, like Moshe Machover, or ordinary, Labour supporting Jews like Martin Odoni or Tony Greenstein. Real Nazis and anti-Semites tend not to speak to Marxist gatherings about anti-racism and the fight against fascism.

It’s a travesty that left-wing Jews like Naomi and the others are being smeared and purged simply for being left-wing and critical of Israel. Just as it is that decent, anti-racist non-Jews like Mike, Ken Livingstone, Marc Wadsworth and Jeremy Corbyn himself are being smeared.

This shameful farrago has to stop. Now. They should all be reinstated and their accusers instead suspended and tried for their sectarian anti-Semitism. It is they who are really bringing the Labour Party in disrepute!

Humanity Faces Climate “Suicide” Without US Rejoining Paris Agreement, Says the UN Secretary General

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/12/2020 - 4:56am in

Joining China and other big polluters, Biden’s pledge of “net zero” US emissions by 2050 brings the Paris Agreement goals “within reach” Continue reading

The post Humanity Faces Climate “Suicide” Without US Rejoining Paris Agreement, Says the UN Secretary General appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Reimagining Regional Relationships

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 24/11/2020 - 4:27pm in

Detachment

Melbourne’s second lockdown and the enforced separation of the city’s residents from those of regional Victoria and the rest of the world has proven a sobering time in which to reflect upon a complex relationship. Across Melbourne, lockdown has delivered a collective jolt to the senses, a striking realisation of how deeply integral mobility is, in its myriad forms, to our taken-for-granted sense of the rhythm and texture and stimulations of day-to-day life. 

For many of us our new physical immobility has been accompanied and enabled by a proliferation of digital connections. Whether for work, family or recreation, we have turned to digital technologies to keep us linked to ‘the world’, downloading and uploading content, communicating in groups small and large, observing and participating in events. While offering thin lines of connection, being ensconced in a Zoom box within an urban box within a quiet city hour after hour can be deeply disorienting. Like watching a film in the dark on a plane, only to pull the headphones off and hear nothing but a wall of white noise and see nothing but motionless shadowy figures around you, to live in lockdown Melbourne is to feel untethered from reality. Instead of the spatial mobility and digital disconnection experienced on a flight, it is spatial immobility and an overabundance of digital connection that now leave us with a sense of floating in space, disembedded from the Earth.

In both cases this sense of physical detachment is a dangerous mirage. It is a denial of the destructive physical processes underlying plane travel and digital systems, and it shores up the foundational phantasy of hypermodern capitalism: the figure of the human being as autonomous and disembodied, and the world as the mere ‘plastic modelling clay’ of capitalism, as Frédéric Neyrat puts it.1 More than the mere separation of humans from nature, today this vision imagines humans as ‘residing off-planet, outside the Earth, without any kind of vital relation with the ecosphere, detached and separated as far away as possible from the Earth object to be reformatted’.2 Lewis Mumford diagnosed the emergence of this imaginary in the 1960s:

Our age is passing from the primeval state of man [sic] marked by his invention of tools and weapons and for the purpose of achieving mastery over the forces of nature, to a radically different condition, in which he will have not only conquered nature, but detached himself as far as possible from the organic habitat.3  

Mumford was writing in the midst of the ‘space race’ that quite literally sought to sustain humans ‘off-planet’. It was a period of intensive research and development that delivered not only the airborne capsules needed for space travel but much of the computing, satellites and ICT that now enable our global digital connectivity and help sustain the belief that we can transcend geographical and natural constraints.

Mobile food

Many of us know that such a belief is ridiculous, notwithstanding the new force it has been given by the Silicon Valley space race accelerating in 2020. When offline, living in lockdown Melbourne has been a jolting reminder of how grounded and emplaced we are. Local parks have never been more popular, and many people seem to have directed their new spare time towards gardening, adding to what feels like a particularly spectacular spring, with blossoms and new growth in all directions. Home cooking has also had a resurgence, directing attention to what we eat and our households’ and bodies’ reliance on constant inflows of food. For some this has included sourcing food from new backyard ventures, whether vegetables, or eggs from some of the many chickens that have recently populated the suburbs. Some were lucky enough to have farmers markets still operating within their allowed 5-kilometre travel radius and were able to have their turn processing around stands of produce, walking the periphery of peri-urban Melbourne in miniature.  

For many Melburnians though, lockdown has led to an unprecedented reliance on their local supermarket. Today a ‘local’ supermarket is something of an oxymoron, referring merely to a nearby branch of one of a small number of interlinked global corporations, most likely Coles or Woolworths, which together account for approximately 70 per cent of Australian supermarket sales. Once a genuinely local shop in Melbourne, Coles is now part of Coles Group, selling not just groceries and liquor but petrol and financial products, and is owned primarily by UK-based bank HSBC, Australia’s largest company Wesfarmers (which trades in chemicals, fertilisers, coal mining, and industrial and safety products as well as retail), and US-based JP Morgan, the world’s largest financier of fossil fuels. Woolworths similarly began as a local shop in Sydney but is now part of the Woolworths group that also owns most of Australia’s liquor and hotel businesses, including the Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, which operates more than 12,000 poker machines. Like Coles, Woolworths is majority-owned by HSBC and JP Morgan. Woolworths has enjoyed record sales during lockdown. Yet in the midst of the turmoil of the pandemic, the company was forced to compensate staff for $90 million in underpaid wages. It also quietly announced the redundancies of 1350 warehouse workers, who will be replaced with robots. 

Here, in the knotted bowels of the corporate world, we see once again the phantasy of disconnection. In such spaces, food appears on balance sheets as one commodity among others, its intimate relationship with particular ecosystems and human bodies peeled off and hidden from view. We, meanwhile, enter our local store and encounter a pricing system that magnetically draws us to products—two-dollar two-litre containers of milk, for example—with complete detachment from how such pricing comes about and its devastating consequences for dairy farmers. Just like the minerals and coal that are physically imbricated throughout food chains, food is now thoroughly financialised. 

Involved in this financialisation are what Jennifer Clapp calls two types of ‘distancing’. The first is the increasing number of actors involved in ‘adding value to’ (that is, extracting profit from) food chains, making many of them so long as to be virtually untraceable and unplaceable.4 As Jane Dixon notes, major supermarkets disembed local food economies through their global supply sourcing.5 Second, financialisation operates by separating food into material and nutritional components, abstracting them as commodities and reconfiguring them into ‘bundles of resources’ to be traded on derivatives markets.The result is that, as Marc Edelman writes, ‘the lion’s share of the vast wealth that rural zones produce…has accrued to shareholders in corporations and financial institutions headquartered in a handful of distant, economically dynamic urban centers’.6 

Wheat is a case in point. One of Australia’s major export crops, wheat exists in the world not only as a plant, a seed or even a material such as flour, but as ‘futures’ and other fictions traded on the Chicago Stock Exchange by financial actors with little interest in or concern about its value as food. As Lesley Head and colleagues describe in their analysis of Australian wheat in the global food system, besides existing as a genetic code, pharmaceutical filler and land use, wheat features as an information flow. ‘We could track flows of virtual wheat as currency traded through different markets. It flowed across computer screens in various symbolic ways—on graphs, in recipes, in mixtures of stock feed’.7 Wheat’s spaces thus stretch far beyond the rural ‘wheat belts’ of northwestern Victoria or southern Western Australia, and even beyond the trade routes, warehouses, feed lots and factories that feed off it, to encompass complex webs of digital abstractions and financial value, including information feeds flowing through computers and smart devices in home offices across Melbourne. The result is that while wheat has many points of connection in the world—indeed one of the most extensive fingerprints of any commodity—its real connections, its roots and soil and the intricate human dance involved in cultivating it, are hidden from view as it is blended into the plastic modelling clay of capitalism. 

For us kneading sourdough in lockdown Melbourne in an increasingly half-hearted effort to remain grounded and sane, it is worth appreciating the hypermobile, fragmented and capitalised world that our flour is part of. At the same time, bread is a quintessential staple—an age-old icon of reliable sustenance. As Justin Clemens wrote in Arena no. 3 in relation to the pandemic, even as funding has been turned off for everything the Coalition does not like: ‘it’s still the case that bread and circuses must never stop—especially not now in the end times, when so many people are forcibly locked down or otherwise holed up’. His point was about the Herculean effort devoted to ensuring that the circus of the AFL football season continued at all costs. But it turns out that we cannot take the more mundane matter of bread for granted. This was underlined during the early days of the pandemic, when people were stocking up on goods like well-trained preppers and Melbourne ran out of bread flour. On this and numerous other items, the logistics models that underpin supermarkets’ just-in-time supply chains failed to anticipate consumers’ emotional responses to the pandemic and the resultant surge in demand, despite their continuous flows of information from expensive NASA satellite-enabled smart technologies. These breaks in supply chains quickly led to confronting scenes of empty supermarket shelves, strengthening people’s suspicion that we could not trust existing systems to keep us fed and well. ‘Next we’ll be queuing for cabbages!’ we feared.

That bread flour in particular was missing from the shelves arguably said more about the pace of flour mills than the availability of wheat. As a highly preservable product, wheat is an exemplary foodstuff in the modern food system, highly amenable to the sort of purification, dehydration and long-term preservation that contemporary food technologies now regularly perform. Spin-offs from NASA’s ‘space food systems’, these technologies are used by corporations around the world not to provision shuttle crews but to process, preserve, package and deliver ingestible substances for non-astronauts. This includes the increasing use of controlled-environment technologies such as Airocide to purify air and stabilise temperatures in order to slow deterioration and eliminate pests and pathogens, including viruses. The resultant physical stability of the substances—what Bruno Latour might term ‘immutable mobiles’—immunises them against their surrounds, enables standardisation and deliberate decomposition, and provides a blank surface on which any financial value can be projected. It also implicates a wide range of other actors as food circulates through the global food system in capsules, encased in oil-based plastic as well as containers and hulls, all of which makes its arrival at any destination an achievement of the fossil-fuel and steel industries as much as the food industry. COVID-19 is amplifying this focus on prophylactic security, scaling the enclosures from food parcels to buildings, cities and nations.

The immutability of foodstuffs such as flour contrasts with the highly mutable and ‘recalcitrant’ character of wheat and the myriad other living things we grow to consume. Plant growth is a delicate undertaking. How seeds or seedlings react to the particular patterning of temperature, UV, atmospheric chemistry, rain, soil qualities and organisms in their immediate environment is difficult to completely control. They quite literally have a life of their own. Satellite-enabled environmental sensing and automated technologies do their best to create lab-like conditions, but there is always an element of chance. The resultant uncertainty calls for probabilistic thinkingand turns farming into an increasingly digitised form, crafted from flows of information and advice as much as seeds and soil. Farmers spend more and more time in offices glued to screens not dissimilar to those captivating the attention of the many urban actors integral to modern agricultural information ecologies trying to choreograph their production activities to the syncopated rhythms of international currencies, commodity markets, futures markets, energy and water prices, interest rates, brokers’ bets and seasonal forecasts. 

Among the uncertainties they have to deal with are those increasingly generated by the certainty of climate change. Rains no longer arrive on schedule or deliver as expected over winter. They often come in a rush over summer in destructive downpours, feeding weeds and groundwater more than crops, or cruelly catching the latter late in the season, on the cusp of harvest, when they have absorbed every investment and effort but are sitting vulnerable in the paddock, yet to offer a return. Temperatures are shifting and sparking across the calendar, rushing plants to bud and flower too early, throwing them under clear skies into the fridge of sudden winter frost, then thrusting them into the oven of a heatwave, often so quickly and locally that such events do not register in the information flows of urban media. Then there are the pests, whether considered by a farmer to be every organism other than the commodified species or a short list of specific tricksters that need to be carefully negotiated. 

Climate change is warping ecological relations as species respond individually and move across the landscape where they can, creating new problem ecologies and undermining the ‘ecological services’ our farming systems rely on, such as those of pest predation and pollination. In the northwestern Victorian wheat belt, the prevalent pest, the bird-cherry oat aphid, is likely to be negatively affected by climate change, migrating southward and disappearing off the coast of Victoria. Yet this depends in part on how stressed its host crop plants are by new climatic and other pressures. These include the yellow dwarf virus that the aphid carries, which is likely to quickly increase in higher temperatures as plants host the aphid earlier in the season and allow it to spread further.8 At the same time, climate change is beginning to affect the aphids’ predators, including migratory birds, whose numbers will likely fall as rainfall declines, depending on how soil moisture and vegetation respond to less rain.9 On farms, the result may be an increased turn to chemical pesticides, which are also sensitive to temperature, rain and wind and may prove unreliable allies in a changing climate.

As it turns out, pesticides are also sensitive to another virus—COVID-19. Among the pandemic’s innumerable impacts on the world has been the disruption of glyphosate production in China. Glyphosate is the key active ingredient of Roundup—the ‘miracle’ chemical that corporate behemoth Bayer is now being sued for by cancer-afflicted farmers—and its sudden inaccessibility ‘crippled’ farmers in Australia in the early days of the pandemic as they prepared to seize the autumnal climatic window when grain seeds are positioned to take root in their sanitised pockets of soil. Adding to the disruption were similar problems in flows of synthetic fertiliser from China. Among these fertilisers were not only those reliant on phosphate and potassium mines in Russia, Brazil, India and Canada but also those based on atmospheric nitrogen—an emissions-intensive chemical transformation devised by the father of chemical warfare, Fritz Haber. What the Germans call ‘brot aus luft’—making ‘bread from air’—the invention of nitrogenous fertiliser is a ‘miracle’ long hailed as proof of humans’ ability to overcome nature’s limits with technology.10 By disrupting the apparent ability to make bread from air—that is, by disrupting the long chains of intensive physical processes underpinning wheat production—COVID-19 exposed the global industrial complex into which Australian agriculture not only feeds commodified goods but also feeds off, in an attempt to control the lively mutability of production. 

Pushing against centrifugal forces

But this is not simply a story of COVID disruption. These are some of the ways in which agricultural production is embroiled in techno-capitalism’s globalised processes, processes that in turn connect rural communities to those of us stuck in the metropole. With the burgeoning of industrial-scale agriculture, many rural areas have become sites of extraction—‘sacrifice zones’, in the words of anthropologist Marc Edelman—where profit-making growth is the main game and wealth is generated and exported elsewhere in a model originating from early colonial days. Today Canadian superannuation funds are the single largest investor in Australian agriculture, though they still do not rival the United Kingdom, China or the United States in terms of foreign ownership of Australian farmland and water.

Technologised, neoliberal transformations in agriculture don’t just result in the mass exportation of food and economic wealth; they also lead to significant reductions in the number of people employed in agricultural work. While the populations of larger rural towns continue to grow steadily, the shifting nature of employment in these areas is telling: for example, in Mildura—regional centre of one of Victoria’s prime food bowls—between 2001 and 2016 there was a 50-per-cent reduction in the number of people directly employed in agricultural work and a simultaneous 84-per-cent increase in the number employed in ‘human services’. In a recent public talk,11 Mildura businessman and community leader Ross Lake painted a devastating picture of the disassociation, distress and fragmentation associated with the intergenerational stripping away of local controls over water, land and productive labour. While people live in rural places, they are increasingly likely to work in ways that result in their being as disconnected from the land and from each other as those who reside in metropolitan cities. 

Paradoxically, it is this same technologically enabled disconnection that fuels the latest COVID-driven imaginary of a mass exodus from the capital-city ‘bunker’ for a better ‘work–life balance’ in regional Australia. Work-from-home employees are now ‘liberated’ from the need to attend physical workplaces and thus look to ‘capitalise’ on cheaper real estate as well as an imagined simpler life in the country, a life free of the deadening weekday hours of commuter gridlock. What they may encounter in their rural retreat, however, are not just the wonders of internet connection. At least for those escaping Melbourne, there may be a familiar sense of being encased in white noise, not simply because of their underdeveloped local relationships but because Australia’s news and policy are so city-centric, leaving many outside the enclosures of capital cities feeling as left out as those in lockdown Melbourne. Also familiar will be the food on offer, given that an increasing proportion is supplied by the long arms of Coles and Woolworths. Known for ingesting its competition, Woolworths is now trying to purchase rural food supplier PFD, which would not only homogenise consumer choices but cut off a market for the small rural producers PFD currently supports, producers that try to resist the prevailing treatment of food as a mere widget of the capitalist economy. 

Such distanced, distinctively cultured ways of relating to rural places have a long tail. In 1946, Australian children’s author, farmer and environmentalist Elyne Mitchell made a rousing and impassioned plea for a national reimagination. In her book Soil and Civilization,12 Mitchell presciently tracks the disconnection of people from the earth via the growth of urban populations, industrialised agriculture, standardised education, the expansion of technologised communications and governance, and growing dependence on foreign trade for food. At the heart of her argument is the idea that soil fertility and health is foundational and symbiotically connected to the creativity and health of a people—a binding spiritual connection that Australia destroyed at colonisation. In its place we have built an industrial society hell-bent on exploiting the land, giving rise to erosion, desertification, dust bowls and people who are alienated and emptied out. 

Mitchell’s critique draws attention to the contingencies of energy flows—environmental, biological, electrical and spiritual—that should be symbiotically fused; a set of interlinked creative forces that we have fragmented and enabled to drain away. These ideas find passionate and practical force in the work of a new generation of farmers, activists and environmental writers, including American Wendell Berry, who writes of the need for human communities to exert ‘a kind of centripetal force, holding local soil and local memory in place’. Berry’s appeal to ‘the work of local culture’ is a plea to refuse the impoverished and toxic returns that flow to the country as a result of power being located in commercial centres, ‘which have drawn irresistibly into themselves both the products of the countryside and the people and talents of the country communities’. Berry echoes Mitchell’s warning that this is no simple opposition of city and country but rather an interpenetration of processes and orientations such that ‘country people more and more live like city people, and so connive in their own ruin’. 13 

Local cultures

Whether we approach these dilemmas through the ecological prism of soil or the social-philosophical idea of the common good, as Jane Goodall does in The Politics of the Common Good: Dispossession in Australia, the message is the same: without the cultivation of attention to and care for the specific conditions of the places in which we live and work we are destined to live a rootless life, regardless of where we live. Rootlessness in this sense is not a matter of mobility so much as attitude, understanding, commitment. It is an attitude that infuses too many of the policies that shape rural places, penned as they are by city-based or at least urbanised authors reliant on but intellectually disconnected from the realities of rural life.

To begin to explore what the ‘work of local culture’ might look like in any place in the present is not to overlook existing local cultures—especially Indigenous cultures, which have been battered by these processes the longest—nor is it to altogether dismiss globalisation. It is to spark a debate about the first principles and values we have lost sight of, or sold off, and that need to be brought back to the centre of shared concern. Australian society has been described as suffering selective amnesia as well as ‘settler innocence’.14 The former applies to those countless instances of governments wilfully bulldozing or selling off places of community value and heritage for the sake of corporate interest, in a bewildering kind of second-wave, self-colonising violence. 

To disentangle, make sense of and push back against these hollowing-out processes is also to ask what kinds of relationships need to be prioritised to foster flourishing regions. A first lead might be taken from those Aboriginal activists, fire ecologists and custodians of country working against the forces of prolonged drought, the confounding and sometimes competing layers of commercial governance of water and land, and the myriad effects of accelerating climate change. These activists have been moved to decentre the politics of Aboriginal land ownership in favour of a more urgent need to cultivate a new, collectively shared love and responsibility for country. In so doing, they do not diminish the specific forms of Indigenous association and relatedness; rather, they call for shared rejection of capital-organised attitudes to land, water, places, species, environments.15  

Berry identifies loss of memory as a crucial element of the erosion of local culture. ‘When a community loses its memory, its members no longer know each other. How can they know each other if they have forgotten or have never learned each other’s stories?’16 In settler-colonial nations like Australia, memory and storytelling are highly contested ground, integrally connected with the workings of power and legitimacy. The prospect of an enriched coexistence turns upon the possibility of a differently figured exchange of stories, memories and traditions. On this we must look first to Aboriginal communities, but also to the post–Second World War generations of migrants who brought with them distinctive traditions of working and honouring the land, drawing upon them as anchors and inspiration as they made new homes, families, businesses and communities, in cities and rural towns. 

For decades rural producers have relied on itinerant backpackers and fly-in, fly-out Pacific workers for seasonal work, including the harvesting and packing of fruit and vegetables. Pacific labourers bring with them specialist skills that Australian farmers value, including bodily familiarity, confidence and pleasure in working with the produce of the earth derived from their own customary practices of land cultivation. For these labourers, among our closest regional neighbours, seasonal stints in Australia offer rare opportunities to accumulate savings that, once remitted home, can be life transforming. But the closure of state and international borders has triggered a shortfall of as many as 26,000 workers needed to harvest Australian crops in coming months if the produce is not to be left to rot. Industry lobbyists are calling for exceptional travel permits to enable the continuing movement of Pacific labour migrants between their home countries and Australia. Domestically, the Morrison government is promising relocation payments to welfare recipients willing to move to areas where seasonal labour is needed. 

If earlier attempts to lure unemployed city residents to the bush have failed, why should this campaign be any different? Young city folk don’t readily see country-based work as an option. Nor do many young rural folk, who frequently grow up with the implicit message that personal ‘success’ involves getting an education and job in the city.17 Their consequent out migration strengthens the gravitational pull of the city on society and weighs against anyone without even family ties heading off to the country for work. 

Farmers too express anxieties about the government’s proposed quick-fix labour programs and make clear that they won’t tolerate workers who don’t approach their crops with care. At the same time, poorly regulated work conditions can be onerous and exploitative. The hotter temperatures emerging out of the intersection of industrial capitalism with the atmosphere are making physical work in the agricultural sector especially difficult and demanding. In October a North Queensland farmer was fined following the death of a Belgian backpacker who collapsed as a result of heat stress while picking pumpkins. The agricultural industry has long been characterised by a largely dismissive attitude towards occupational health and safety, and bodily vulnerability to heat is often pooh-poohed as a sign of ‘non-Australian’ weakness, even as most of us increasingly exist in air-conditioned enclaves.18 

Temporarily moving large numbers of labourers into Australia’s agricultural production zones during a pandemic is a complex exercise, and only one more factor that leaves open the question of how to approach the deeper webs of dependencies and denials that characterise urban–rural relationships and the broader global patterns  the pandemic has helped to reveal. Mitchell again: 

Can we see a living relationship between the city worker and the mountains from which comes the water for living bodies and for electric power? There must be such breadth of vision, the understanding of fusion between all living things, and between life and the inanimate environment, if we wish to save this world-wide civilization by halting the forces of disintegration and re-creating it as a living unity.19 

As partly documented by Charles Massy in Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, a New Earth,20 thousands of small farmers and producers are already disentangling themselves from the disempowering relations that have captured agriculture and re-instating modes of production more re-productive and more re-generative of life, land and habitable futures for all of us. Neyrat advocates for such an ‘ecology of separation’, an approach that seeks to forge relationships that deny ‘Earth denial’ in order to ‘announce or propose another vision of the world…another configuration of existence’—one that reconnects to place and people.21 

Rebuilding regional life by prioritising its location, local cultures and crucial importance to urban existence would compel us to look with fresh eyes at the relationships that shape and constrain agricultural production, relationships between the residents of cities and the bush, relationships between white and black Australians and our Pacific neighbours. A post-COVID, post-neoliberal ordering of these relationships needs a new shared imagination to take us somewhere very different from where we find ourselves today, staring at digital wheat futures and unwrapping space-food in lockdown Melbourne.

Notes

1. Frédéric Neyrat, The Unconstructable Earth: An Ecology of Separation, translated by Drew Burk, New York: Fordham University Press, 2019, p. 19.

2. Neyrat, p. 5.

3. Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human Development, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966, p. 3.

4. Jennifer Clapp, ‘Financialization, Distance and Global Food Politics’, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 41(5), 2014, p. 798.

5. Jane Dixon, ‘Supermarkets as New Food Authorities’, in David Burch and Geoffrey Lawrence (eds), Supermarkets and Agri-food Supply Chains: Transformations in the Production and Consumption of Foods, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2007, pp. 29–50.

6. Marc Edelman, ‘Hollowed Out Heartland, USA: How Capital Sacrificed Communities and Paved the Way for Authoritarian Populism’, Journal of Rural Studies, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2019.10.045.

7. Lesley Head, Jennifer Atchison and Alison Gates, Ingrained: A Human Bio-geography of Wheat, London: Ashgate Publishing, 2012, p. 131.

8. Sarina Macfayden, Garrick McDonald and Matthew Hill, ‘From Species Distributions to Climate Change Adaptation: Knowledge Gaps in Managing Invertebrate Pests in Broad-acre Grain Crops’, Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 253, 2018, pp 208–19; Hazel Parry, Sarina Macfadyen and Darren Kriticos, ‘The Geographical Distribution of Yellow Dwarf Viruses and Their Aphid Vectors in Australian Grasslands and Wheat’, Australasian Plant Pathology, 41, 2012, pp 375–87; Narelle Nancarrow, Fiona Constable, Kyla Finlay, Angela Freeman, Brendan Rodoni, Piotr Trebicki, Simone Vassiliadis, Alan Yen and Jo Luck, ‘The Effect of Elevated Temperature on Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus-PAV in Wheat’, Virus Research 186, 2014, pp 97–103; Piotr Trebicki, Narelle Nancarrow, Ellen Cole, Nilsa Bosque-Pérez, Fiona Constable, Angela Freeman, Brendan Rodoni, Alan Yen, Jo Luck and Glenn Fitzgerald, ‘Virus Disease in Wheat Predicted to Increase with a Changing Climate’, Global Change Biology, 21, 2015, pp 3511–19.

9. Ary Hoffmann, Andrew Weeks, Michael Nash, G. Peter Mangano and Paul Umina, ‘The Changing Status of Invertebrate Pests and the Future of Pest Management in the Australian Grains Industry’, Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, 48, 2008, pp 1481–93.

10. Matt Huber, ‘Reinvigorating Class in Political Ecology: Nitrogen Capital and the Means of Degradation’, Geoforum 85, 2017, pp 345–52; https://www.bbc.com/news/business-38305504.

11. Ross Lake, ‘Food, Water, and Community’, public presentation at the Institute of Postcolonial Studies, December 2019; recording available at: https://ipcs.org.au/recording/food-water-and-community/

12. Elyne Mitchell, Soil and Civilization, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1946.

13. Wendell Berry, ‘The Work of Local Culture’, available at: https://thecontraryfarmer.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/wendell-berry-the-wor...

14. John Hinkson, ‘The ‘Innocence’ of the Settler Imagination’, in Jon Altman and Melinda Hinkson (eds), Coercive Reconciliation: Stabilise, Normalise, Exit Aboriginal Australia, Melbourne: Arena Publications, pp 287–94.

15. Yin Paradies, ‘Unsettling Truths: Modernity, (de-)coloniality and Indigenous Futures’, Postcolonial Studies, 23(4), available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13688790.2020.1809069

16. Berry.

17. David Farrugia, ‘The Mobility Imperative for Rural Youth: The Structural, Symbolic and Non-Representational Dimensions Rural Youth Mobilities’, Journal of Youth Studies, 19, 2016, pp. 836–51.

18. Lauren Rickards and Elspeth Oppermann, ‘Battling the Tropics to Settle a Nation: Negotiating Multiple Energies, Frontiers and Feedback Loops in Australia’, Energy Research & Social Science 41, 2018, pp 97–108.

19. Mitchell, p. 46.

20. Charles Massy, Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, A New Earth, Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 2017.

21. Neyrat, p. 183.

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