A response to “Do Bees Produce Value? A conversation between an ecological economist and a Marxist geographer”

For the original post, please visit “Do Bees Produce Value?

What a delight to read this dialogue! Erik Swyngedouw sums up by saying:

“It is not Marxist theory that has limits, it is the actual practice and workings of capitalism that have gigantic limits. And with respect to nature, it is precisely that it is not valued.”

Thus, Erik further illuminates what Matthew Huber brilliantly argued in the latest Capitalism Nature Socialism (“Value, Nature, and Labor: A Defense of Marx,” 28:1, 2017). It is important to note that Andreas Malm rests on the same concept of Value production in Fossil Capital (Verso, 2016).

However, I don’t agree with Erik’s put-down of renewable energy potential (the source being the fusion reactor 93 million miles away), rather than the still non-existent fusion power reactors supplying energy to society on the Earth’s surface (still decades away, if then). Erik says:

“For example, if we magically find a new, easy, and productive source of energy (say fusion energy), oil will become worthless and will stay in the soil forever. Climate crisis over.”

Precisely why the challenge of stranded assets of fossil fuels is now taken very seriously is because of the growth and increasing efficiency of wind/solar power (see Sara Knuth’s great paper in the Capitalism Nature Socialism entitled, “Green Devaluation: Disruption, Divestment, and Decommodification for a Green Economy,” 28:1, 2017). Erik goes on to say:

“Smart capitalists now desperately try to diminish their dependence on nature (solar energy, or wind do not require socio-physical reproduction). I doubt they will succeed – this search itself comes at an extraordinary social, economic and environmental cost.”

But compared to fossil fuels/nuclear power, the cost of creating this renewable energy infrastructure is far less!  Nevertheless, a strong environmental/ecological/health protection regime must be on the ecosocialist agenda now as wind/solar infrastructure grows as never before.

From this piece it is unclear what energy program Erik is proposing to avoid catastrophic climate change (C3).  Waiting decades for fusion (or a new generation of fission) reactors to become an alternative source of energy will greatly increase the likelihood of C3. Thus, time is of the essence to maximize the ever shrinking possibility of keeping warming below 1.5°C degrees.

Keeping most of the remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground is imperative, but using the minimum of the lowest greenhouse gas fossil fuel – that is, conventional oil – to create its replacement is vital as well.

So what replacement is Erik advocating? Even more energy than what is produced today is needed to do away with energy poverty for most of humanity, and to allow carbon sequestration from the atmosphere so as to clean up the biosphere and bring carbon dioxide below the safe level of 350 ppm. What will the source of this energy supply be if not wind/solar? Erik says:

“In fact, a different valuation that would recognize and value nature as a ‘commons’ would correspond to the end of capitalism, shifting the dominant organizing form from economic valuation to democratic political intermediation and collective decision. This is where the key battle resides.”

But of course, to value nature as a commons starts as a critical component of multi-dimensional class struggle within capitalism. The struggle to change the conditions for the reproduction of labor power is a critical part of the process to determine labor power’s value. It would entail creating an environmental/ecological/health regime for capital reproduction, while making real a recognition of the intrinsic value of nature.

Thus, the standard of living of the working class is contingent on class struggle and, of course, is impacted by the burning of fossil fuel, both as a result of climate change and air pollution linked to health status.  Therefore, fighting for climate justice is a path out of capital reproduction and into an ecosocialist revolution.

I take the realization of Erik’s “key ingredients” to “change the system to a more humane and ecologically sane order” as the foundation of a global civilization of solar communism in my chapter, “Beyond eco-catastrophism: the conditions for solar communism,” in the Socialist Register 2017: Rethinking Revolution.