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Ecological Politics

Ecological political economy is not easy to understand as there are a hundred flowers blossoming under its banner, so to speak. What overlaps and what differs among these varieties in terms of educational campaigns and political programmes and if, at all, they may coalesce into focused activism against immoral capitalism are daunting issues worth examining.

A dominant strand is ecofeminism as an activist and academic movement that sees critical connections between the domination of nature and the exploitation of women, both caused by men and their phallocentric/capital centric worldviews wherein constant expansion and accumulation by capturing markets and landscapes is like capturing women and doing wartime sexual violence at the extreme. But this movement is subdivided into liberal, cultural, social and radical variants in relation to whether capitalism, women’s culture or socialism should be the ultimate objectives of political action. Common to these variants, though, is the concept of reproduction that includes the continued biological and social reproduction of human life and the continuance of life on earth and the common goal of restoring the natural environment and quality of life for people and other living inhabitants of the planet.

Ecofeminism is pitted against environmental damages of corporate globalization and colonialism, and calls for relentless activism to protect both women and nature (see Thorpe, 2016; Brinker, 2009; Mellor, 1997).

Ecofeminism points to the very real interactions that women, particularly in developing countries, have with environmental degradation, and how their disempowerment is related to serious ecological problems. For instance, women are often the gatherers of food and water for their households and so are called natural resource managers. This means that their lives are pretty heavily intertwined with a healthy, flourishing landscape.

There are numerous organisations, missions and workshops pursuing ecological economics and politics. For example, there is the Friends of the Earth International with campaign issues such as economic justice and resisting neoliberalism, forests and biodiversity, food sovereignty, climate justice and energy, desertification, Antarctica, water, maritime, mining and extractive industries, nuclear power, consumption and intensive meat production. To put it differently, this organization pursues peace (countering the multiple assaults on people and the natural world), ecology (supporting production for sustainability; safe food, air and water free of chemical, genetic or atomic pollution, preventing environmental including climate disasters through renewable energy use, conservation of energy and natural resources, sustainable transport, construction, development and lifestyles) and global justice (opposing corporate control and cultural destruction worldwide and working for social and economic justice), through the activism of women (Friends of Earth, 2015). There is also the Women and Life on Earth Internet Project (www.wloe.org) with a mission to connect women internationally, share information and support changes necessary to ensure peace and ecological sustainability. There is also the Local Futures mission to protect and renew ecological and social well-being by promoting a systemic shift away from economic globalization towards localization and community participation. Led by the woman Helena Norberg-Hodge, this mission has the purpose of promoting an economics of personal, social and ecological well-being—the economics of happiness—and is related to the Right Livelihood movement in the world. There is the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, co-founded by the great political economist and the first woman Nobel laureate in economics, Elinor Ostrom, which addresses how to theorize collective self-governance of common-pool resources (forests, fisheries, oil fields, grazing lands and irrigation systems) and how to solve the collective action problem of coordinating work against environmental destruction. Her amazing fieldwork in different parts of the world has shown how common resources can be successfully managed by people themselves without government regulation or privatization, contrary to the widely held view among the male economists that natural resources collectively used by their users would be overexploited and destroyed in the long term (Ostrom, 2010). There is also the very interesting Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy that clearly envisions “good life” of zero economic growth on planet earth. It states, inter alia, thus: “The evidence is all around us—the global human economy has grown too large. Continued economic growth (especially in high consuming nations) is at best irresponsible and at worst risks ecological collapse and resource deprivation for future generations. The logical way forward for nations of the world is to take a different path to achieve sustainable, healthy, and equitable lifestyles for citizens. The alternative to continued economic growth is a non-growing or steady-state economy. Sustainability is achieved when the human economy fits within the capacity provided by Earth’s ecosystems. Economic activity degrades ecosystems, interfering with natural processes that are critical to various life support services. Adjusting the scale of the economy through accurate measurement of benefits and costs, through trial and error, through regulation of markets, and through the political will to achieve sustainability is the great challenge of our time. Since continuous growth and sustainable scale are incompatible, growth cannot be relied upon to alleviate poverty, as has been done (ineffectively) in the past. If the pie isn’t getting any bigger, we need to cut and distribute the pieces in a fair way. In addition, poor people who have trouble meeting basic needs tend not to care about sustainability, and excessively rich people tend to consume unsustainable quantities of resources. Fair distribution of wealth, therefore, is a critical part of sustainability and the steady-state economy. Ecological economists support many market strategies to accomplish efficient allocation of resources—but only after achieving sustainable scale and fair distribution” (see http://www.steadystate.org; also see Dietz and O’Neill, 2012).

Another powerful strand of ecological politics and economics is the theory and praxis for ecosocialist civilization by the real-world economist, Smith (2013). According to this variant, capitalism has no solution to the ecological crisis, no way to put the brakes on fast approaching collapse, because its only answer to every problem is more of the same growth that is killing us.

To put an end to this, around the world, struggles against the destruction of nature, against dams, against pollution, against overdevelopment, against the siting of chemical plants and power plants, against predatory resource extraction, against the imposition of GMOs, against privatization of remaining common lands, water and public services, against capitalist unemployment and precarious forms of employment, are growing and building momentum.

If we really want a sustainable economy, one that “meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” then we would have to do immediately at least some or all of the following:

1. Put the brakes on out-of-control growth in the global North—retrench or shut down unnecessary, resource-hogging, wasteful, polluting industries like fossil fuels, autos, aircraft and airlines, shipping, chemicals, bottled water, processed foods, unnecessary pharmaceuticals, and so on. Abolish luxury goods production like jewellery, handbags, mansions, Bentleys, yachts, private jets and so on. Abolish the manufacture of disposable, throw away and ‘repetitive consumption’ products. All these consume resources we are running out of, resources which other people on the planet desperately need, and which our children and theirs will need.

2. Discontinue harmful industrial processes like industrial agriculture, industrial fishing, logging, mining, fracking, and so on.

3. Close down many services—the banking industry, Wall Street, the credit card, retail, PR and advertising industries built to underwrite and promote all this overconsumption.

4. Abolish the military-surveillance-police state industrial complex, and all its manufactures as this is just a total waste whose only purpose is global domination, terrorism and destruction abroad and repression at home.

5. Reorganize, restructure, reprioritize production and build the products we do need to be as durable and shareable as possible.

6. Steer investments into things society does need like renewable energy, organic farming, public transportation, public water systems, ecological remediation, public health, quality schools and other currently unmet needs.

7. De-globalise trade to produce what can be produced locally, trade what cannot be produced locally, to reduce transportation pollution and revive local producers.

8. Equalize development the world over by shifting resources out of useless and harmful production in the North and into developing the South, building basic infrastructure, sanitation systems, public schools, health care, and so on.

9. Devise a rational approach to eliminate and/or control waste and toxins as much as possible.

10. Provide equivalent jobs for workers displaced by the retrenchment or closure of unnecessary or harmful industries, not just the unemployment line, because otherwise, workers cannot support the industries we and they need to save ourselves.

All of the above cannot be done by individual choice in the marketplace. They require collective democratic control over the economy to prioritize the needs of society, the environment, other species, and future generations. This requires local, national, and global economic planning to reorganize the world economy and redeploy labour and resources to these ends. In other words, nothing but global socialist governance that guarantees full employment and good quality of life is required.

By Annavajhula J.C. Bose, PhD
Department of Economics, SRCC

REFERENCES

Brinker, Rachel. 2009. Dr. Vandana Shiva and Feminist Theory. Conference on Earth Democracy: Women, Justice, and Ecology. Oregon State University. October 23.

Dietz, Rob and O’Neill, Dan. 2012. Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources. Berret-Koehler Publishers.

Friends of Earth. 2015. Why Women Will Save the Planet. Zed Books.

Mellor, Mary. 1997. Feminism and Ecology. New York University Press.

Ostrom, Elinor. 2010. Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Ecological Systems. American Economic Review. Vol.100, No.3.

Smith, Richard. 2013. Capitalism and the Destruction of Life on Earth: Six Theses on Saving the Humans. Real World Economics Review. Issue No. 64.

Thorpe, J. R. 2016. What Exactly is Ecofeminism? www.bustle.com. April 22.

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