An Ecosocialist Horizon for Venezuela? Commentary & Debate

“We humbly propose to the people of Venezuela the outline of a plan by which Venezuela could lead a wind/solar power transition in Latin America using a small fraction of her liquid petroleum reserves, while still gaining revenue from oil exports as well as contributing to the same energy transition globally. Implementing this approach would be a critical component of Venezuela’s self-identified path of ecosocialist development…”

– David Schwartzman & Quincy Saul, 2015

Full text at Schwartzman & Saul, An Ecosocialist Horizon for Venezuela, CNS 2015 Capitalism Nature Socialism, 2015 [http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10455752.2015.1069867]

This paper has generated an ongoing debate with ecosocialist friends and comrades around the world, which we have reproduced below. Stay tuned (and participate) in this debate at Tratarde.org and at Transecos.wordpress.com.

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Algunos comentarios de Pedro Prieto [Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution, 2013]

En un primer vistazo rápido, se me ocurren los siguientes comentarios:

1. En primer lugar, me parece bien, como idea general, hacer una modesta sugerencia para utilizar la renta petrolera venezolana en cualquier intento que no sea perpetuar el trágico encadenamiento del pueblo de Venezuela al petróleo, esa desgracia de la que hablaba Galeano de los productores exportadores de su America Latina.. Esto siempre es mejor que utilizarla, por ejemplo, en seguir subvencionando una sociedad ultraconsumista de bienes innecesarios.

2. También procede advertir sobre el estado de urgente necesidad de adentrarse activamente en el cambio de paradigma para intentar evitar un holocausto o un cambio climático sin precedentes. Efectivamente, queda muy poco tiempo, si es que queda alguno.

3. Los detalles sobre la evolución previsible de estos graves peligros, así como el relato político de los últimos cambios habidos en Venezuela con Chavez, están generalmente bien relatados.

4. Respecto de la energía que la Humanidad necesita, según los autores, no tengo grandes diferencias ni objeciones, pero 3-3,5 kW por persona están ligeramente por encima del promedio mundial de unos 2,6 kw que ya parecen sobrepasar la capacidad de carga planetaria en un 50%. No obstante, creo que si se pudiesen alcanzar 3,5 kW por persona, bien podría darse una vida bastante digna para todos, independientemente del grado de sostenibilidad y de las dudas, ya mayores, que me surgen respecto de cómo y con qué tipo de energías primarias obtener dicha cuota, porque el mundo, como sabemos, es fundamentalmente no eléctrico.

5. Ya pongo algo más en duda, que pese a sus dignos intentos, Venezuela haya propuesto, más allá de abstractos párrafos de buenas intenciones que contienen bastantes constituciones,  y menos aún conseguido, hacer del ecosocialismo su política oficial. Y menos aún con Maduro que con Chavez. Existen graves contradicciones entre los posiblemente sinceros deseos del gobierno venezolano de atender las necesidades de los indígenas nacionales y ese huero sacar pecho que hincha constantemente el propio gobierno bolivariano (el actual, pero también el anterior) sobre las reservas de petróleo extrapesado del Orinoco, bailando muy al unísono con la música que le ha colocado la AIE de que son el país con mayores reservas del mundo. Me temo que la razonable propuesta de Schwartzman y Saul “oil for no one”, como el caso de Yasuní, no tiene predicamento real alguno en el gobierno chavista, que baraja concesiones en la zona con una diligencia pasmosa. Me temo que las esperanzas que Schwartzman y Saul ponen en lo que se oyó en el IV Congreso de Diversidad Biológica exceden con mucho a la realidad social y a las intenciones gubernamentales venezolanas. Por si fuera poco, son los propios Schwartzman y Saul quienes más adelante también levantan la bandera de las famosas reservas probadas de 298.000 millones de barriles uqe la AIE ha puesto de cebo y que implican las explotaciones de crudo extrapesado de la Franja del Orinoco. Lo hacen cuando intentan asegurar que hay materia prima para producir el cambio de paradigma….¡partiendo del BAU mismo!

6. La propuesta de Gran Misión para una transición solar también la veo bastante fuera de la realidad actual. Creo que para aspirar a esa posibilidad (hablo sólo de poder aspirar) de dotarse de sistemas energéticos autónomos, urge mucho más y mucho antes alcanzar la soberanía alimentaria, que es otra forma de transición solar. Esta batalla está lejos de ser ganada. La fe en que una mezcla de energía eólica, termosolar y fotovoltaica (que además se sugiere en módulos de película delgada, que se han caído del pedestal de la eficiencia hace ya unos 4 años y no compiten ni de lejos con módulos de silicio policristalino y monocristalino convencionales) me parece sinceramente poco documentada e ignora que todas estas tecnologías, si se pretende sean de carácter totalmente autónomo y nacional, exigen una compleja red de industrias y de un complejo tejido auxiliar que no se ve por ningún sitio en Venezuela y debería preceder a este intento de desarrollo, aunque lo acompañase. No creo, por otra parte, que la hidroeléctrica, aunque se haya hecho en el pasado de forma gigantesca, haya que desecharla en este proceso inicial, puesto que los valles ya están anegados y el daño ambiental hecho, pero siguen teniendo menor impacto ecológico, aún así, que otras tecnologías. Además, cuando propone para el desarrollo de las renovables, indefinidos (no define ni los sistemas de almacenamiento ni el coste de los mismos) sistemas de almacenamiento masivo, el más conocido y viable de ellos es precisamente el bombeo inverso

No debe tampoco hacerse esta propuesta de forma ligera, considerando que estas tecnologías resolverán todos los problemas energéticos, puesto que Venezuela (y el mundo) se mueve principalmente con energías no eléctricas y las propuestas lo único que generan es electricidad, en un país en el que las infraestructuras incluso más urgentes y necesarias que la red eléctrica (paso posible en ciertos estadios y no generalmente previo a ellos) están todavía en mantillas en muchas regiones.

7. Los deseos de Schwartzman y Saul de conseguir un programa para secuestrar carbono de la atmósfera para llevarlo a 350 ppm de los 400 ppm actuales, no dejan de ser un wishful thinking muy alejado de la realidad.

8. Finalmente, sus modelos de simulaciones por ordenador parecen en exceso teóricos y sus apriorísticas Tasas de Retorno Energético (TRE o EROEI) de los sistemas que propone, desde luego a mi juicio, están absolutamente fuera de la realidad y no consideran los factores externos de los costes energéticos que denominamos “Energy Input Extended Boundaries”. Con este error de bulto y de principio, cualquier conclusión resulta necesariamente fallida, como por ejemplo, la capacidad de estos sistemas de autorregenerarse o de reemplazar en tiempo y forma a las energías fósiles actuales.

Con estos datos tan alejados de la realidad, no es raro que Schwartzman y Saul pasen por alto e ignoren que tanto la energía eólica, como la termosolar o la fotovoltaica implican también enormes procesos de extractivismo y muy complejas redes activas de sociedades BAU para poder llevarse a cabo y que concluyan que son energías “limpias” y permanentes. Por ejemplo, el factor de carga supuesto para la eólica del 40% es absolutamente irreal.

No especifican cómo llevarían a cabo con esas energías aspectos como el transporte, la aviación, las flotas pesquera o mercante, la agricultura mecanizada (más prioritaria para el cambio, si se quiere pasar a una agricultura más local que exija menos transporte, pero que no evitará todavía enormes flujos de alimentos hacia las grandes macrourbes, que no pueden desaparecer de la noche a la mañana, ni siquiera en el plazo señalado del programa) o incluso las propias fuerzas militares con las que hacer frente a las obvias amenazas externas que ya sufre el país y para las que el gobierno bolivariano sigue dedicando partidas importantes de sistemas de defensa importados de China o Rusia, que no tienen alternativas socioecológicas, que no sean respuestas diferentes. Salvo que se piense en industrias auxiliares complejas para la fabricación de todos los elementos de aerogeneradores, centrales termosolares o fotovoltaicas, del tipo de las misiones jesuíticas, sin defensa alguna contra posibles injerencias externas y que sea lo que Dios quiera si llegan y rompen todos los instrumentos.

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Más la traducción de Quincy Saul al inglés de las observaciones de Pedro Prieto, y la respuesta de David Schwartzman (en negrita).

 

Commentary from Pedro Prieto… (translation by QMS)

From a first quick look, the following comments occur to me.
1.   In first place, it seems good to me as a genral idea, to make a modest proposal to utilize the oil rent of Venezuela in any way which doesn’t perpetuate the tragic entrapment of the venezuelan people to oil, this disgrace which Galeano spoke of, of the producers/exporters of his Latin America. This is always better than using it, for example, to continue subsidizing an ultraconsumerist society with unecessary goods.

2.   It also comes to warn about the urgent state of necesity to actively get involved in the change of paradigm necessary to avoid a holocaust or a climate change without precedent. Now there is very little time left, if there is any.

3.   The details about the predictable evolutions of these grave dangers, such as the political narrative of the recent changes in Venezuela with Chavez, are generally well told.

4.   In respect to the energy which humanity needs, according to the authors, I don’t have any great differences or objections, but 3-3.5 kW per person is a bit above the world average of 2.6 kW which already seem to overdraw the planetary carrying capacity by 50%. Nonetheless, I believe that yes 3.5kw per person could be achieved, could give dignified life for many, independently of their sustainability and of the doubts, already great, which occur to me in respect to how and with what kind of primary energies this quota will be obtained, because the world, as we know, is not fundamentally electrified.

The world average of 2.6 kW per person overdraws the planetary carrying capacity because 85% of the primary energy consumption is derived from fossil fuels (with nuclear 5%, hydropower (mainly big dams) AT 6% and renewables at 2% (which the IEA includes biofuels, horrows!)). A robust transition to high efficiency wind/solar will greatly increase the carrying capacity, likewise a transition to agroecologies.

5.   I put something else in doubt, which is that, depite its dignified attempts, Venezuela has proposed, beyond its abstract paragraphs of good intentions which many constitutions contain but less have followed through, to make ecosocialism its official politics. Less even with Maduro than with Chavez. There are grave contradictions between the possibly sincere desires of the VZ government to attend to the necessitites of the indigenous nationals, while [I fail to translate the idiomatic phrase here] constantly, the same bolivarian government (the current one but the previous one too) tries to take advantage of the heavy petroleum reserves of the Orinoco, dancing very much in union with the musica from the AIE, that it is the country with the greatest reserves in the world. I fear that the reasonable proposal of Schwartzman and Saul, “oil for no one”, like the Yasuni case, doesn’t have any real basis in the Chavista government, which shuffles concessions in that zone with astonishing diligence. I fear that the hopes which Schwartzman and Saul put in what they heard in the IV Congress of Biological Diversity exceed greatly the social reality and the intentions of the VZ government. It is Schwartzman and Saul themselves who earlier also raise the banner of the famous proven reserves of 298.000 thousand barrels that the AIE has named, and which implies the exploitation of the heavy crude in the Faja del Orinoco. They do it when they want to assure that there is raw material to produce a change of paradigm… coming from the same BAU!

Our support for “Oil for no one” only refers to the heavy oil in the Orinoco basin, not to utilizing the conventional oil reserves in the context of what we outline. Yes, the 298 billion barrels proven reserves is mainly heavy crude, and if the extra heavy crude (tar sands) of Orinoco is included the reserves range up to 1000 billion barrels (e.g.,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_reserves_in_Venezuela). Venezuela is already extracting heavy oil, even supplementing the refined product with imported light oil. The proven reserves of light to medium oil in Venezuela are estimated to be 39 billion barrels (Venezuela Energy in Figures 2012, IESA), although the further expansion of this reserve has apparently been neglected in recent years (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/reuters/article-2809337/Venezuelas-crude-imports-PDVSA-picks-pragmatism-politics.html).  We can estimate reaching the same goal of providing 3.5 kilowatt/person to a 400 million Mercosur population using just this light to medium reserve, applying the solar calculator (see the paper under discussion). For an assumed EROEI ratio of wind/solar power equal to 25, this goal can be achieved in 15 years or less using 0.15 billion barrels of this oil per year (0.1 of the renewable is reinvested every year to create more of itself).  Even this light to medium conventional oil will not be exhausted will last for more than 30 years for a 1 billion barrel/year production rate.

6.   I see the proposal for a Gran Mision for a solar transition pretty far out of current reality. I belive that to aspire to this possibility (I’m only talking about being able to aspire) of autonomous energy systems, I urge that much more and much before, we must achieve food sovereignty, which is another form of solar transition. This battle is far from being won. The faith with which they mix wind, thermosolar and photovoltaic (which they moreover suggest in modules of thin film, have fallen from the pedestal of efficiency 4 years ago, and no longer compete by far with modules of polycrystaline silicon and conventional monocrystaline) it seems to me sincerely undocumented and ignores all the other technologies, which if they try to be of a completely national and autonomous character, call for a complete network of industries and a complex web of support which can’t be found anywhere in Venezuela, and which should precede this intent of development, even though/as it accompanies it. I don’t believe, on the other hand, that hydroelectric power, even though in the past it has been done on a gigantic scale, must be thrown out in this initial process, since the valleys have already been negated and the environmental damage made, but they continue to have less ecological impact than other technologies. Moreover, when we talk about the development of renewables, indefinite (neither the systems of storage or the cost of these are defined) systems of massive energy storage, the most well known and viable of these is precisely the inverse pump. (bombeo inverso). The proposal also should not be made lightly, considering that these technologies will resolve all the energy problems, since in Venezuela (and the world), things move principally with non electric energy, and the only thing the proposals generate is electricity, in a country in which infrastructures more urgent and necessary than the electrical network (a possible step in certain states, but not generally before them), are still in baby blankets in many regions.

The solar transition we propose for the Mercosur countries would involve Brazil which already has a wind turbine industry. Venezuela would provide the conventional oil as an energy source to make an expansion of wind and solar possible. Further, the creation of a more cooperative global regime, demilitarization, would greatly increase the speed of a global transition, to which Venezuela and other oil-exporting countries could contribute. The storage issue has been greatly exaggerated; see discussion, our papers posted on our www.solarUtopia.org website.

7.   The desires of Schwartzman and Saul for a program of sequestering carbon from the atmosphere down to 350ppm from the current 400ppm, remain wishful thinking, very far from reality.

It is not being implemented now for sure, but there are technologies already in development to make this possible, both in agroecologies and direct transfer of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the crust by chemical reaction (I am a geochemist familiar with the ongoing R&D). Further, this kind of sequestration will be absolutely imperative to prevent catastrophic climate change, bringing the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere below 350 ppm. The alternative is to accept the inevitable onset of climate hell for most of humanity. And only the creation of a global wind/solar power infrastructure with close to double the present primary energy consumption of 18 trillion watts will have the capacity to make this possible while simultaneously eliminating energy poverty now impacting most of humanity.

8.   Finally, their models of ordering simulations seem excessively theoretical and their aprioristic Rates of Energy Return in the systems they propose, by far in my judgement, are absolutely outside of reality and don’t consider the external factors of the energetic costs which we denominate “Energy Input Extended Boundaries”.

I strongly disagree with this assessment. First the anti-wind/solar lobby has promoted very biased estimates of EROEI ratios by counting waste heat from fossil fuels as energy returned and greatly exaggerating the required inputs for wind/solar. In other words the “EXTENDED BOUNDARiES” approach is inconsistent, favoring fossil fuel over wind/solar.  I am attaching a valuable critique along these lines. In any case the consensus EROEI for wind/solar/CSP composite is already at 20-30, with R&D very likely to make these ratios even larger in the coming decade. For more details go to our papers on www.solarUtopia.org and to the Mark Jacobson lab studies. Even using present wind/solar technologies a complete transition is possible in a few decades. Of course demilitarization is likely required, freeing up vast resources for this transition, likewise the huge savings from eliminating air pollution which now kills 7 million people/year, 1.6 million per year in China alone.

With this error in the package and the principle, any conclusion will necessarily be mistaken, for example, the capacity of these systems to auto-regenerate, or replace in time and form current fossil fuel energy. With these numbers so far out of reality, it isn’t strange that Schwartzman and Saul pass over and ignore the fact that wind power, as thermosolar and photovoltaics, also imply enormous processes of extractivism, very complex networks of activities of BAU societies, to carry out, and to conclude that these energies are “clean” and permanent. For example, the factor of charge supposed for wind energy of 40% is absolutely unreal.

I don’t know what you mean by factor of charge of 40% for wind energy. As our paper points out, the transition to wind/solar will actually decrease extractivism, mining because the capacity to recycle will be greatly enhanced (using fossil fuels to recycle is counterproductive because of carbon emissions etc.). And we can’t imagine this transition occurring under BAU conditions, i.e., radical changes in political economy must be coupled to make possible this energy transition.

They don’t specify how these energies aspects like transport, aviation, merchant or fishing ships, mechanized agriculture (more of a priority for change, if we want to leave a local agriculture which requires less trasnport, but which doesn’t avoid enormous flows of foods toward the big cities, which can’t disappear from night to morning, not even in the time indicated by the program) or even the military forces which facing the obvious external threats that it suffers and for which the bolivarian government continues dedicated important systems of defense imported from China or Russia, which don’t have socio-ecological alternatives, that are not different answers. Except if we are thinking about complex auxiliary industries for the fabrication of auto-regenerating elements, thermosolar or photovoltaic centers, like Jesuit missions, without any defense against possible external heresies, and which will be what God wants if someone arrives and breaks all the instruments.

The solarization of transport is also very feasible with solar-produced electricity and carbon-neutral hydrocarbon fuels produced from carbon dioxide and water using solar power, again see solarUtopia.org and Jacobson’s papers.

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A lo que Pedro Prieto respondió:

I share the well known comments on utopia made by Galeano or the quotes of the Che: we have to demand the impossible to be realistic.
Having said that, I will summmarize here my position: please, first, in a very first place, I would strongly focus first in self sufficiency in the food production, supply and distribution chain in the countries for all the citizens. And of course think in producing that, as much as it is possible locally and with draft force, and the sooner the better, with a national crash program, rather than with fossil fueled machinery, even Venezuela is today depicted as the first country in the world in “proven reserves” of oil, by both the International Energy Agncy and, more regrettably, by the oown Bolivarian propaganda. Venezuela is post peak and very likely will not extract -or EROI reasons- and ahould not extract -for environmental issues- most of the extra heavy oil theoretically accounted in the Orinoco Strip  (see the excelent post place in The Oil Crash by Antonio Turiel at http://crashoil.blogspot.com.es/2015/08/venezuela-hacia-la-bancarrota.html)
If we have to demand something impossible to be realistic, this is my view of the very first priority. After all, it is really a truly solar communist horizon.
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Y David Schwartzman a su vez:
Here is my take on “Peak Oil”: Global conventional oil reserves are more than sufficient, using less than 30% of proven reserves to implement a complete wind/solar transition if this commences robustly very soon, in an ecosocialist transition. If this path is blocked then a peak of oil production will occur in the context of climate catastrophe.
Pedro says “rather than with fossil fueled machinery”. Here we have argued in our paper to the contrary, rather that Venezuela has the potential to use its conventional oil reserves to lead a wind/solar transition for the Mercosur countries while still earning revenue from oil exports (hopefully the price of oil will go up in the new future!). Keep the heavy oil in the ground and use the minimum conventional oil necessary for a solar transition.
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Y finalmente Quincy Saul:
Mi camarada David ha respondido al nivel tecnico… Yo solo queria anadir al nivel politico, que nuestra propuesta se nutre de la mentalidad Bolivariana. La idea de la solarizacion de Mercosur, y una nueva Gran Mision para convertir el matriz energetica del continente — es bastante “fuera de realidad” como la unidad de Nuestramerica, como la Gran Colombia, como la Plan Patria, como el ecosocialismo mismo. Nosotros lo vislumbramos en el horizonte, y sirve, como dijo Eduardo Galeano sobre la utopia, para andar. El proceso de construir aqui y ahora lo que solo se vislumbre en el horizonte lejana, es dificil y bastante lleno de paradojas y contradicciones. Pero es asi el proceso revolucionario mismo — tiene que rechazar a una realidad reaccionaria, y prefigurar una nueva realidad. Nuestro propuesta es parte de este proceso — no es decir que es perfecta, que no necesita la criticia importante que nos regalaste — pero trata de realizar un sueno Bolivariano, que es ciertamente fuera de realidad, pero que tiene ligas y raices cientificas, politicas, economicas, y sociales, en una otra realidad que viene, que puede venir, si nosotros los revolucionarios son capaces de reconocer “lo fuera de realidad” como proyecto politico. Para citar al Che, “seamos realistas y pedir lo imposible,” y a Sun Ra ” todo lo posible ya se ha tratado y ha fracasado. Lo que necesitamos es lo imposible.” Claro que esta solo se realice junto a la practica concreta politica y cientifica, y para esto los comentarios de Pedro y las respuestas de David nos ayuda mucho en separar lo visionario de la delusion. Pero para “la salvacion del planeta y el especia humana” (5to objetivo de la plan patria) es precisamente necesaria subrayar  la disposicion Bolivariana, prefigurativa, que atreve creer en suenos, como Nuestramerica y el ecosocialismo, los cuales nunca podran aflorecer sin un cambio de la realidad energetica del mundo!
(in english)
My comrade David has responded at the technical level… I would just like to add at the political level, that our proposal is nurtured in the Bolivarian mentality. The idea of the solarization of Mercosur, of a new Gran Mision to convert the energy matrix of the continent, is as much “outside of reality” as the unity of Nuestramerica, as the Gran Colombia, as the Plan Patria, as ecosocialism iself. We glimpse it on the horizon, and it serves, as Eduardo Galeano said about utopia, to walk towards. The process of constructing here and now what one only glimpses on a distant horizon, is difficult and plenty full of paradoxes and contradictions. But the revolutionary process itself is like this — it must reject a reactionary reality, and prefigure a new reality. Our proposal is part of this process — not to say that it is perfect, or that it doesn’t need the important criticism you have gifted to us — but it tries to realize a Bolivarian dream, which is certainly outside of reality, but which has political, economic, scientific and social links and roots in another reality which is coming, which may come, if we the revolutionaries are capable of recognizing what is “outside of reality” as a political project. To quote Che, “let’s be realistic and demand the impossible,” or Sun Ra, “everything possible has been tried already and failed. What we need now is the impossible.” Of course this can only be done alongside a concrete political and scientific practice, and for this the commentaries of Pedro and the responses of David can help us to separate the visionary from the delusional. But for “the salvation of the planet and the human species” (5th objective of the Plan Patria) it is precisely necessary to emphasize the prefigurative Bolivarian disposition, which dares to believe in dreams, like Nuestramerica and ecosocialism, dreams which will never blossom without a change in the energetic reality of the world!

– See more at: http://tratarde.org/un-horizonte-de-comunismo-solar-articulo-de-david-schwartzman-y-quincy-saul-pensando-en-venezuela/#sthash.2LoD2YEx.dpuf