The following is an excerpt from the introduction to John Cowsill’s new book “Safe Planet: Renewable Energy plus Workers’ Power.” John is an eco-socialist and his work reflects that. He clearly identifies capitalism’s central role in the environmental crisis and in the barriers to pursuing a clean renewable energy program. He has agreed to share this excerpt; I believe it will give you some idea of where he is coming from. I recently reviewed the book and gave it a big thumbs up. I hope you will enjoy it as well. – Rowan Wolf, Editor in Chief
Safe Planet – Introduction (excerpt)
The capitalist system is in a seemingly never ending political, economic and ecological crisis. In the last few years, dictators have been toppled, large chunks of the banking sector have gone and are going bankrupt and the earth’s ecosystem is gradually being degraded. The planet’s life support system is being destroyed by the very same mechanisms that are to blame for the financial and economic instability1.
Billions of ordinary people are humiliated by unemployment, debt and insecurity while those lucky enough to have employment have had their wages cut. Coincidentally, the fortunes of a tiny minority of the world’s population, the rich, the so called ‘high net worth individuals’ have risen to new heights. This wealth transfer is happening while the ecosystem degradation is blighting and destroying the lives of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people as the extreme weather, floods and droughts brought on by global temperature rise wreak their havoc. I aim to show, in this book, how the two aspects of the crisis have the same cause.
One of the less obvious effects of the crisis is the way it influences ideas and opinions. So, for example, I am interested in the potential for renewable energy. All the time I am confronted with ideas like: ‘Humanity cannot provide the energy and power it needs using renewable sources of energy alone’; ‘Renewable power is uneconomic’; ‘It is impossible to provide the power we need without nuclear’; ‘Windpower will always need back-up from conventional generation’
I am writing this book, firstly, as a challenge to these kinds of notions and assertions about renewable energy. I do this by showing, in some detail, how two example states, California and the UK, can provide all the power and energy they need using renewable sources alone. I argue that if it is possible in those high consumption states it is achievable everywhere. Meeting this challenge is the first task of the book and I have attempted to do this – in Part 1 – starting with two sets of real meteorological data from the two geographical locations.
However, completing that task isn’t enough because that technical explanation does not explain the lack of progress towards producing an energy infrastructure based on renewable sources of energy. So a second task is to attempt to understand and explain what is behind the lack of progress towards a more rational energy infrastructure.
There are many aspects to the crisis. Food prices are sky-rocketing, there is a homelessness crisis, water supplies are under threat in many parts of the world and there is a major loss of bio-diversity. Those are just a few of the many problems. The list of problems seems endless. Of course, I am not able to deal in any detail at all with all of these things. However, I believe, and attempt to show here, that all the crises are linked, and in the second part of the book I try to address some of these issues, and show that the solution to the climate crisis, and to the financial crisis, is also the solution to all the other crises such as those in agriculture and construction etc.
The book is not being written from an unbiased position. It is not possible to be unbiased in this very unbalanced world. Those who say they comment on world politics and economics from a ‘balanced’, neutral position, are either being extremely naïve or are disingenuous.
I am on the side of the vulnerable and oppressed. I am on the side of all those who are fighting back. This book is written from the point of view of the 99 % and against the 1 %. It is against the bankers and their friends with their million dollar bonuses and against the faceless bosses who make millions from selling arms and promoting war – the death trade. It is on the side of disabled people fighting cuts, it is on the side of the Occupy movement, it is on the side of the Indignados (the outraged). It is for those fighting against sexual harassment. It is for those fighting sexism, racism and homophobia and all forms of discrimination. It is for workers and unemployed workers everywhere standing up and fighting for a better world.
Having said that, having said which side I am on, I think it is necessary to be objective, to be scientific, to face the facts, in short, to tell the truth about what is happening as I see it. In the chapters on how it is possible to provide all our energy from renewables, this is fairly simple. I take some wind speed data, and some data about the strength of the sun at specific times, and match it up with the power demand at those times. By doing that I calculate how many wind turbines, how much solar panelling and how much storage will be required to satisfy the demand.
In Part 2 and the chapter on ‘the enemy within’ it is a little more difficult. It is impossible to get hold of all the relevant information on the fossil fuel and nuclear power companies, the banks etc, as these companies value their ‘commercial privacy’ extremely highly and keep a lot of important information away from the public. However, there is more than enough available in the public domain to achieve what I want to achieve.
I sift through some of this evidence to show firstly how the fossil fuel companies are a major part of the problem – a major ingredient in the twin crises – but I also try to show how the men and women currently working within these organisations can be a major part of the solutions. I do this by examining the record of these corporations to see to what extent the oil, coal and nuclear corporations – and their closely linked governments – are central to the running of the global economy, but to see to what extent also, they are dishing the dirt on us and on the planet.
Five years ago, at the start of the current financial crisis, massive fraudulent activity was discovered at the very heart of the system. When Lehman Brothers, one of the world’s largest banking groups and AIG, which was at the time, the worlds largest insurance company, were being consigned to the dustbin of history, worried and panic-stricken politicians, like the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and his chancellor, Alistair Darling, could be seen on television looking tired and dishevelled due to having been up all night ‘saving the world’ as Brown described it, talking bluntly about the failure of capitalism itself.
Karl Marx, the author of ‘Capital’, a bit of an expert about capitalism, had he still been alive, would have been laughing out loud at the thought of that.
In the months and years following the collapse, governments around the world have printed and spent billions of Dollars, Euros and Pounds in an attempt to bail out the system. They are trying to do this without upsetting the senseless luxury, extravagance and ridiculous wealth of those who are the prime beneficiaries of this unbalanced, unequal world. And they are doing it by squeezing harder and harder those who are already squeezed dry, the 99 %, the vast majority, the people whose work creates all the wealth.
Part 2 then, is firstly about what is all wrong with things and how it got that way.
But it is also about solutions – it identifies the agency for change.
All across the world, in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, in the United States, in China, Turkey, Spain, Brazil and in many other countries, people are rising up to demand change. The capitalist system is showing signs of cracking under the strain.
All round the world students are marching, workers are striking and people everywhere are challenging the old order. The ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings began, in Tunisia, as a response to the austerity measures which were imposed on the population by a brutal dictator. That dictator has now gone as has the Egyptian people’s tormentor, Mubarak. But the story is still being written. The confusion and horror of the war in Syria which began as a reaction by the existing regime when part of the population also rose up to remove their oppressors must be leveled at the capitalist system. Those weeping, lethal chemical weapons unleashed upon now dead innocents were developed in Britain (in Cornwall, a quiet and peaceful backwater of England!) and Germany and sold to Syria by faceless arms dealers. It also serves as a timely reminder to would be revolutionaries; those who half make a revolution are destined to fail.
Some capitalists and apologists for the system – most likely because they fear the wrath of those who are suffering under austerity measures designed to make the majority pay for a crisis they did not create – argue for curbing some of the excesses of those bosses who pay themselves multi million pound salaries on top of their multi million dollar bonuses.
The Bankers and the friends of the bankers want to make everyone else pay for the crisis created by the bankers and their friends. They think that everything will then be back to normal. This is what the 1 % want. Well, first of all, there never was ‘normal’, and second of all, it is not possible to go back.
The bankers and big business – the bosses – can act together, as a class, when they need to. This is the secret of how they remain in power. The 99 % do not yet act as a block, as a class. When they do act in this way, they will, at the same time, develop the ability to consign the 1 % to the dustbin of history and in turn, create the means for building a society fit for free human beings.
Capitalism has not been in existence for very long – in historical terms, it has been around for no time at all, perhaps three or four hundred years. When human beings have lived on the planet for millions of years, those among the 1% who argue that there is no alternative to the present system, Capitalism, either do not have a very good imagination or they are trying to fool us.
Safe Planet: Renewable Energy plus Workers’ Power by John Cowsill