July 11, 2009

“War Socialism”?

Filed under: Peak Oil — Tags: , , — Russ @ 5:54 am
In an earlier post I laid out the basics of “resource fascism”, the blueprint according to which the power elites of the First World will attempt to maintain their privilege and high-consumption lifestyles under conditions of increasing resource scarcity. I’m not the only one thinking along these lines. In this post I want to discuss two similar visions/nightmares.
 Alexis Zeigler describes the same prospect, with the same foreboding, with what he calls nationalistic environmentalism. Environmentalism here means not real solicitude for ecosystems, but the forced compliance with resource limits, which will then be dressed up as “green”. Zeigler rightly sees biofuels as “emblematic of the dark side of green capitalism”. Few things are so intrinsically or symbolically evil as taking food from the mouths of the global hungry so a fat Westerner can fill his gas tank to continue his frivolous enslavement to the car (a luxury by any real-world measure).
This predatory global stance will necessitate a “very aggressive foreign policy on the part of the industrial powers”. Everyone from hard-right neocons (who want to seize the oil) to mainstream environmental organizations (who want “greener” high-consumption, powered by aggrofuels and “clean coal”, but high-consumption nonetheless) will get on board. “We will see the rise of a passionate, chest-thumping environmentalism, built on the foundation of green capitalism, that dwarfs the current movement”. There are historical analogues for this, in Russia in the 1990s and in Britain right now with the BNP. So far we have more and more of the policies in place – biofuels, importing tar sands bitumen and syncrude, the SPP. We don’t quite have the “chest-thumping” yet, primarily because the Republicans have made environmentalism into a culture war issue, and it’ll take some time to reshape that political template.
“There is no way the US and the global consumer class can maintain its dominion without powerful military pressure, and that martial stance will favor authoritarian political development”. We are all too familiar with a political space defined by the Global War on Terror and the Patriot Act. But this will be and can be only for the benefit of the power elite. “The global elite have more in common with each other than with their fellow national citizens. Civil liberty has always been largely defined by class”. This class elite will try to establish a permanent two-tiered world, elite consumers riding the backs of a mass of slaves. “It is possible for a limited number of people to transition to a highly efficient consumer society, but only if a couple billion of our fellow humans suffer deprivation, or perhaps even outright destruction, along the way”.
One big gated community. That’ll be the fortress world.
This brings us to Jay Hanson’s war socialism.The terminological similarity to the Bolsheviks’ War Communism probably isn’t accidental. There’s an affinity between the two programs, for both involve a beleaguered elite attempting to maintain its power while at least claiming to seek the weal of all. Hanson doesn’t seem to regard war socialism as optimal, but rather as the best America can do if it insists on trying to prop up its high-impact energy-intensive hedonism.
America as it is today has no discernable end or goal or purpose at all other than feudal wealth accumulation. Therefore the existing system cannot solve any problems, since its inertia is completely along the status quo vector. So it will have to meet the Peak Oil challenge in the familiar way – the “green” scam, outsourcing and offsetting environmental destruction, economic colonization, generate energy at any cost however wasteful, boost luxury consumption at all costs. The main difference in Hanson’s vision is that unlike resource fascism (or environmental nationalism), which will seek to internally colonize and indenture every bit as much as it externally colonizes and indentures, war socialism would really seek to lift all (first world) boats.
So we have the war socialist platform:

“Once a new form of government is in place, the following nine strategies would provide a start towards mitigating the net energy shortfall:

1)       Increase our fraction of global net energy (divert energy from competitors) directly by military action.

2)       Increase our fraction of global net energy economically by increasing asset values (e.g., pumping-up the stock market and real estate prices).

3)       Reduce energy demand by eliminating unnecessary economic activity.

4)       Reduce energy demand by reducing human population levels (e.g., closing our borders, deporting as many as possible and discouraging births).

5)       Plant “Victory Gardens” throughout the country.

6)       Heavy funding for basic energy research.

7)       Pollution control rollback, streamline permitting (no EIS, etc.) for alternate energy. No more permits for fossil fuel power plants. No more funding for roads. No more building permits except in special cases.

8)       Full-on conservation, local energy production to minimize grid vulnerabilities, and a crash alternate energy production program. (Conservation will help under a government that limits economic activity).

9)       Free mass transit.”

This program would be “enlightened” for the predator society as a whole, however wicked from the point of view of the global South. It can never happen, since there is no such thing as “America” to be socialistic in such a way.

Rather, we shall have the continuation of planks (1) and (2), the core of the program. Meanwhile the austerity of (3) and (4) shall be increasingly imposed on the masses while the elite continues to party. None of the others has any attraction for the corporatist elite, therefore they shall not be enacted.

Rather, we can rewrite them as:

(5) Further concentration of industrial agriculture and CAFOs. Outlaw (i.e. render impossible through regulatory and economic barriers) small farms and even individual gardens. Various laws to this effect (for example here, here, and here) are already working their way through Congress.

(6) Funding for energy research, yes, but in order to prop up continued high consumption. Especially whatever will maximize fossil fuel extraction, without reference to economic cost-effectiveness.

(7) Remove all regulation for fossil fuel. For alternative energy as the elite deems desirable. Same for infrastructure work.

(8) and (9) will continue to be the subject of policy assault as they are today.

Resource fascism is a horrible prospect. But there seems to be little will to fight it. The great majority are still committed to the consumer growth economy and are desperate to believe any lie which can prop up their faith. This is what the oligarchs are counting on.

Can this be prevented? I don’t know, but I imagine it would require coordination among activists of all sorts to first put together the one big picture which brings it all together, to clearly see how all battlefields are part of one war. This would help us decide once and for all which are the extinct principles now become lies, which are the true principles now springing up, offering to replace them, what strategy and tactics stem from these, and how to live from there.

April 2, 2009

Tar Sands

Filed under: Globalization, Peak Oil, Tower of Babel — Tags: , , , , , — Russ @ 2:26 am


A year ago, just as the provincial government of Alberta embarked upon a $25 million advertising campaign to “rebrand” the Alberta tar sands project as eco-friendly, reality dealt their propaganda a major setback when it was reported that a flock of 500 ducks had innocently went to their deaths when they landed upon one of the dead seas euphemistically called “tailings ponds”. There was nothing unusual about waterfowl deaths: workers have attested to a steady attrition of ducks, geese, and wading birds. Only the size of the incident turned it into a PR disaster. Now a year later we learn that this flock was in fact much larger than originally reported, as large as 1600 birds.
As horrific as the environmental ravages of the tar sands, the social and economic assaults have been just as bad. The tar sands are a prime example of the drive to compensate for the effects of Peak Oil, that the best and easiest resource has been depleted, by using corporatism, class war, and externalization of costs to render the worst/hardest not as bad or as difficult for a power elite.
The Canadian government, in a bizarre display of 3rd worldism, has dedicated the country to becoming an American oil colony. Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a characteristic statement announced Canada as an “emerging energy superpower” with “growing oil deliverability”. What this has really meant is to dump  any concept of the public good, and true capitalism as well, in favor of extractionist rent-seeking.
The corporatist master plan for this was laid out in the 1990s “Declaration of Opportunity”, which in classic fashion promised prosperity and self-sufficiency but has delivered only instability, fear, and servitude. The Declaration called for massive subsidies, including extreme deregulation and privatizations, to artificially construct this industry. A gold rush would then heat up the whole economy.
What this has meant in practice is the classic colonial petrostate pattern. Canada’s economy and environment are being mined for the export of raw materials, while the gold rush has driven up prices in general. The result has been to further the hollowing out of Canada’s legitimate manufacturing economy, which has faced a sort of stagflation, all for the benefit of tar sands feudalism, a small corporate and political elite merely accumulating wealth they have redistributed to themselves.
This has extended to the liquidation of democracy. Under Canada’s current political system (a “two-party” pseudo-democracy much like that of America), where both parties are hard-core tar sands boosters, there is no political space for dissent from the tar sands regime, no way to vote against it.  Secrecy and censorship, the exclusion of public input, as well as the open flouting of the will of the voters (a 2007 Pembina poll found that 71% of Albertans want a moratorium on new projects) have been rampant.
NAFTA tightens the stranglehold. Under existing globalist regulations Canada is required to export a set amount of oil to America. (The result has been that Canada must now import oil from the Middle East among other places for its domestic use. This state of affairs is a refutation of the lie that globalization increases capitalist “efficiency” or rationality. Just like with any other capitalist-government nexus, all globalization does is help existing elites concentrate wealth and rig all systems in the interests of themselves.) This is now being extended in the proposed Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), whose goal is complete North American energy integration, consolidation of power, placing the energy industry largely outside the law and into the realm of unaccountable bureaucracy, with Canada and Mexico treated as American mines. This is the essence of corporatist autocracy-seeking. It’s an end run around democracy, environmental and labor regulations, in Canada’s case even energy and national security planning, against any kind of public interest. The SPP seeks security and prosperity only for this corporatist cabal, which fully comprises the titular “partnership”.
Peak Oilers should recognize how socioeconomically and ideologically the tar sands and aggrofuels represent attempts to consolidate what’s often called the Fortress world or some similar term. The SPP would be a major step toward this.
We can say Canada basically exports not just bitumen and syncrude, but water, natural gas, uranium, boreal forest and muskeg, ecosystems, wildlife, clean air to breathe and water to drink, fertile farmland, intact communities, the social and economic security and prosperity of an entire country, all to enrich a handful of glorified gold-panners and fill American SUV tanks.
The basic tar sands math: 1. Take all the things just listed, 2. destroy them, 3. all to produce syncrude (and uranium for nuke expansion* necessitated by the diversion of natural gas from power generation to tar sands processing), 4. in order that Americans can fill their gas tanks, 5. which perpetuates America’s oil addiction and energy insecurity and renders Canada’s insecurity even worse (when Canada could easily achieve energy autarchy if it had a rational, responsible plan), 6. all of this, from the inaugural forest and peatland destruction to burning gasoline at the end stage, pumping ever more carbon into the atmosphere.
This kind of aggression vs. the earth and society will only get more intense for as long as an elite insists on organizing civilization around these frivolous, destructive cars.
[* One of the truly bizarre aspects of the tar sands Tower of Babel is how, as the processing depletes natural gas and spews carbon, nuclear expansion is supposed to magically solve these problems, even as it exacerbates all the others and creates new one. As Canadian journalist and tar sands commentator Andrew Nikiforuk wrote, “Canada may well become the first nation to use nuclear energy not to retire fossil fuels but to accelerate their exploitation.”]