[News] As Chávez said, ‘Let's not change the climate, let's change the system!’

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Sat Oct 30 12:29:02 EDT 2021


venezuelanalysis.com <https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/15367>


  As Chávez said, ‘Let's not change the climate, let's change the
  system!’: A Conversation with Max Ajl

By Cira Pascual Marquina – October29, 2021
------------------------------------------------------------------------

/This week and through November 12, the United Nations Climate Change 
Conference (COP26) takes place in Glasgow, Scotland. COP26 brings 
together heads of state and other prominent figures to talk about 
climate change. However, the conference won’t address the central 
environmental problem: capitalism. In this interview we talk to //Max 
Ajl/ <https://twitter.com/maxajl>/, author of /A People’s Green New Deal 
<https://t.co/6sbnpjN7DO?amp=1> /(Pluto Press, 2021), which examines the 
capitalist roots of the environmental crisis, and addresses its impact 
on countries of the Global South such as Venezuela./

*It’s important to bring up the Global South’s perspective on climate 
change in the context of COP26. In **/A People's Green New Deal /**you 
argue that so called “green economies” (and in general the proposals 
that we know as the Green New Deal-GND) often replicate the existing 
logic of domination, particularly when it comes to the Global South. 
Briefly, can you explain your hypothesis?*

Mao put this simply: “Everything reactionary is the same; if you do not 
hit it, it will not fall.” We can add: you have to take aim to hit.

The great majority of progressive proposals take aim neither at 
capitalism nor imperialism. In fact, they are often blind to them. If we 
want to change the world-system, we need to have a sense of what it is. 
In the most general sense, drawing on Samir Amin, we can say that it is 
a system of polarized accumulation, producing great mountains of wealth, 
on the one hand, and far larger seas of poverty, on the other. That is a 
feature and not a bug of the system: the wealth accumulated at the core 
of the system is stolen from the periphery. To change that type of 
world-system, you need first of all to strike at the current mechanisms 
of value transfer from periphery to core. Those include uneven exchange 
of values – or the core receiving goods embodying more labor than those 
embodied in its exports – and the core receiving goods which concentrate 
more of the world’s resources than those it exports. Another element is: 
ongoing primitive accumulation, including the collapse of peripheral 
sovereignty, as in Yemen and elsewhere, which is part of safeguarding 
the petrodollar.

The 2010 Cochabamba People’s Agreement 
<https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/cochabamba-people%E2%80%99s-agreement-stopping-climate-change> 
went further. It recalled the (unrealized) Bandung-era effort to achieve 
political and economic decolonization and liberation. But the Cochabamba 
Agreement added something new: we need to speak of ecological 
decolonization. In other words, the global ecology’s sinks for waste 
from CO2 emissions were not just used. They were enclosed by the wealthy 
states. Because that space cannot be restored in the short term, 
southern states/peoples are owed some kind of replacement: climate debt, 
to the tune of six percent of northern GNP per year.

These are structural features of the world system. Unless you identify 
them, target them, and strike at them, they won’t fall. They will 
continue. So, logically, the prevailing proposals for a GND, or for a 
“green economy,” will simply reproduce the polarized system if they do 
not take into account these logics, diagnoses, structures, and demands. 
They will tend to look away from the historical sources of wealth and 
not support reparations. The point is that we cannot subsist on a 
politics of GNDs based on slogans such as “just transition,” 
“sustainable development,” or even “a Green New Deal,” socialist or not, 
unless they specifically mention these demands and the mechanisms of 
uneven development.

This map shows that the countries of the Global South are the most 
affected by climate change. (University of Richmond) 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/files/images/%5Bsite-date-yyyy%5D/%5Bsite-date-mm%5D/climate_change_map.png>

This map shows that the countries of the Global South are the most 
affected by climate change. (University of Richmond)

*With that in mind, what kind of reorganization on a global scale is 
needed so that the people of the Global South don't end up paying the 
consequences of the climate crisis?*

There are five fundamental elements that are central to reconfiguring 
North-South relations (the specific internal texture of changes in the 
Global South’s production and its ecological self-defense strategies are 
different questions, clearly involving, as the Bolivian leadership has 
said, food sovereignty and sovereign industrialization among other 
measures).

One element is the demilitarization of the core states. In effect, 
southern social movements advanced this demand in the Cochabamba process 
when they pointed out that the US spends as much on its military as is 
demanded from the US in climate debt payments. They called for “a new 
model of civilization in the world without… war-mongering.” 
Demilitarization is also necessary to achieve a “just transition,” 
meaning, in concrete terms, stabilization if not improvement in life 
outcomes for people in the imperial core. Militarization amounts to a 
horrific use of social surplus and industrial capacity, geared at 
preserving world accumulation and guaranteeing imperialist value flows. 
It needs to go.

Second, there needs to be a real respect for sovereignty, and a 
political struggle to ensure that respect. People in the North need to 
actively resist their governments’ attempts to economically asphyxiate 
the South and to impose unilateral coercive sanctions 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/sanctions-kill>. That means the abolition 
of the so-called “terror lists,” which are primarily used to criminalize 
groups in the Arab-Iranian region carrying out any defense of national 
sovereignty or defense of anti-colonial projects.

The basics of international law need to be respected, including honoring 
the territorial sovereignty of states like Venezuela and Syria. The 
latter is occupied by US troops, without any protest from the western 
left. The former suffers from paramilitary infiltration from Colombia 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/tag/operation-gedeon>, a US client state – 
again without much objection from the western left. Needless to say, 
removing external destabilization does not mean that these countries 
will suddenly produce autonomist socialist societies. Rather, the 
removal of external aggression creates a better atmosphere for internal 
social struggle aimed at more democratic freedoms, internal social(ist) 
redistribution, and ecological justice.

Third, there needs to be payment of climate debt. Northern environmental 
movements have purposefully suppressed this demand, inasmuch as they 
took distance from the Evo Morales and Hugo Chávez governments, all the 
while hypocritically expressing concern about extractivism (which is an 
input into the commodities and industrial processes that are key to 
northern accumulation).

The Cochabamba People’s Agreement and the Bolivian government 
specifically demanded six percent of northern GNP, around $1.2 trillion 
from the US, and around $3.2 trillion from the OECD on the whole. This 
includes an adaptation debt, to help “Poor countries and people who live 
daily with rising costs, damages and lost opportunities for 
development,” and an emissions debt, since “developed countries’ 
historical and current excessive emissions are limiting atmospheric 
space available to developing countries.”

Fourth, there should be a vast and immediate reduction in fossil-energy 
use and emissions in the Global North, as a consequence of their current 
and worsening overuse of atmospheric sinks for CO2.

Fifth, there should be settler-decolonization, including support for the 
national liberation struggles of peoples still fighting against 
settler-colonial domination in places like Palestine and current-day 
Canada and the US.

*Some people argue for an anti-extractivist solution to the crisis. On 
paper, that might appear to be a great solution. However, people of 
course actually live in places like Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nigeria, and 
the conditions of dependency are such that freezing production would be 
suicidal for them. What policies should be pursued in the extractivist 
economies of the periphery? *

One should acknowledge that anti-extractivist campaigns often reflect 
real and desperate social issues that people face. For example, people 
in Bolivia and in Venezuela must deal with horrible ecological harms of 
resource extraction in their countries. Nevertheless, these 
anti-extractivist campaigns in the North are often no more than weapons 
against Third World development.

There is no possible industrialization in any part of the world without 
resource extraction, especially of minerals. Are people demanding that 
we live in grass-covered knolls like hobbits? That extraction will 
produce political, social, and ecological costs, where it occurs is 
undeniable. The question is how to balance those costs with the 
majority’s need to escape poverty. There is obviously no simple answer. 
One answer is to go back to the demands for changes in the terms of 
trade, (“international action in favor of fair and stable prices for 
[Third World] exports,” in Ismail-Sabri Abdallah’s phrase).

My point here is both rhetorical and real: all things being equal, if 
countries could produce half as much lithium or anything else and 
receive the same proceeds, then resolving difficult developmental 
dilemmas would be easier. Instead, extractivist theory leads to the 
“displacement of the debate over politics and policy from North to 
South,” in the words of Sam Moyo, Paris Yeros, and Praveen Jha. It 
sidesteps any question of northerners’ responsibility for political 
transformation (a cynic would say that is why this discourse is so 
popular!). So one issue is serious international activism around the 
terms of trade, with the understanding that changes benefitting the 
Third World, which are entirely possible, could immediately enhance 
developmental possibilities.

In the words of the Tunisian Observatory for Food Sovereignty and the 
Environment 
<https://osae-marsad.org/2019/05/02/building-food-sovereignty-in-tunisia/>, 
“Faced with this conflagration, the obligation to act falls upon all, 
even if responsibility does not.” Countries cannot simply wait. 
Venezuela, for example, needs to return to its policies of two decades 
ago and aggressively support peasant activists 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/interviews/14638>’ efforts for agrarian 
reform. Venezuela is a tremendously rich country in terms of 
agricultural potential and that potential needs to be realized. The 
country must be able to feed itself, and furthermore needs to retain 
more value locally through sovereign industrialization, including a 
sovereign renewable energy system that could jump-start such a process.

It would be good to have better terms of trade with the West and China, 
but it would be better to retain value through in situ 
industrialization. I have little to say about the technicalities of 
protecting Venezuelan farmers from cheaper imported food and an 
overvalued currency. However, the current crisis, including the 
kidnapping of Alex Saab <https://venezuelanalysis.com/tag/alex-saab>, is 
proof that the basis of a national economy, where possible, is food 
sovereignty with its capacity to keep inflation under control.

Chávez at COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, when he said “Let's not change 
the climate, let's change the system!” (Archive)

*At the COP15 in Copenhagen, **Hugo Chávez said* 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/5013>*: “Let's not change the 
climate, let's change the system!” More recently, Bolivian Vice 
President David Choquehuanca made a call for an anti-capitalist and 
anti-imperialist approach to climate change. Can you talk to us about 
these calls from the Global South?*

The North is calling for reforms and crisis-management, and for an 
essentially Keynesian green shift in the industrial composition of the 
world system. At best, it seeks a transition to socialism in some 
undefined future moment, or points to unreal solutions like space 
mining. By contrast, Chávez and Choquehuanca stepped onto the world 
political stage, in 2009 and 2021 respectively, and called for ending 
capitalism. Choquehuanca clearly denounced “limitless accumulation.” He 
spoke of the threats of “green capitalism” when brought to bear on 
technologies in the fields of biology, biotechnology, artificial 
intelligence, and space colonization. Likewise, Chávez spoke of “global 
imperial dictatorship,” and placed the responsibility for dealing with 
climate change primarily on the United States and its allies. They 
clearly named the global-scale problems their countries and the South 
confront and demanded a solution for them.

Can we deal with climate change in a way that achieves liberation and 
justice for all of the oppressed world – including oppressed, alienated, 
exploited, and colonized people in the core countries – without 
following these two leaders in identifying capitalism and imperialism as 
the systems destroying the planet? Is it any wonder that people find it 
more comfortable to discuss Venezuelan and Bolivian extractivism in the 
imperial core countries, rather than try to respond to the analysis they 
put forward and the politics which derive from it?
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