Socialist energy / environment measures (was: arctic ice, etc.) (response to Mark)

loupaulsen at loupaulsen at
Mon Dec 2 14:57:16 MST 2002

Mark Jones wrote:

> This means, in
> the most extreme case (speaking purely hypothetically), that there may be
> times when people, even whole populations, might have to be sacrificed to
> save some other species from extinction. The issue becomes, how will we
> collectively make such decisions, bearing in mind that under socialism the
> collective will include presumably some of the people whose lives might need
> to be sacrificed. I'm putting the most extreme dilemma I can think of
> forward, as an example of the issues which any realistic socialism will have
> to find institutional, morally-codified ways of dealing with.

Okay, Mark, I think you are making your point that the situation is serious ..
yes, I know, you don't mean just ordinarily serious, you mean REALLY REALLY
REALLY REALLY serious.  However, I don't think it's a silly idea to do some
thinking about what we, the humans, could do to cope with the crisis, short of
mass suicide, sacrifice of populations, etc., and without coming up with
detailed utopian schemes.  In the interest of "building parties and viable
political coalitions in the here and now", I'd like to have something more
appealing to put on the leaflet.  I'm slightly afraid that you will say that
nothing about the truth can possibly be 'appealing' and that anything that is
not absolutely horrifying and "unthinkable" is impermissibly sugar-coating
reality, but on the other hand we want to arouse the working class to action,
not cause them to drink themselves to death.

I suppose one thing we will have to think very hard about is population
limitation, even reducing the birth rate far enough to produce net population
shrinkage, which Marxists have historically labeled as the "Malthusian
heresy".  But we need to have an open mind on the issue today.  Certainly we
cannot have the kind of population control which the ruling classes have
pushed in the past, where you limit the population of the impoverished masses
and you leave alone the population of the resource-gobbling oppressor

Concentrating just on the fossil-fuels aspect for a moment, I don't have
immediately at hand a balance sheet of what the coal and oil are being used
for at present; does anyone have a link to this?  Looking outside my window
here in Chicago, as the wet snow descends through the dark, several things
come to mind.  First, why am I here in Chicago anyway?  Maybe it's just a bad
idea to have population concentrations in latitudes where you have to waste a
lot of energy heating buildings.  Second, I see huge office buildings which
are only in use part of the day, in which most of the people are doing things
which they could do from their own home using a computer terminal, except for
the fact that bosses like to have all their subordinates in one place so they
can keep their eyes on them.  This is probably a bad idea as well.  Arranging
things so that people would be doing most of their work either at home or
within walking distance of their homes would save on heat, light, duplication
of buildings, and also on transportation.  That's point three: the
transportation issue, personal cars in particular.  Lots of work to be done
there, not just in 'car pooling' but in eliminating the need for travel
entirely.  And of course there is the bicycle.

Now we look at the residential areas.  On my block, we have numerous
individual homes and two- and three-unit dwellings, all sticking up into the
wintry air about thirty feet and all separated by little passageways and
areaways so as to increase the total surface area and allow the cold wind to
blow through, creating the best possible situation for transfer of thermal
energy from the individual furnaces to the outside air mass.  This is not an
energy-efficient community.  You could save a fair amount of oil and gas just
by roofing over all the areaways.  You could save a LOT more with communal
living units where you don't have one stove for every 1.5 adults.  And then of
course there's the question of whether we should all be living in Chicago
anyway.  (The facetious answer is that with global warming Chicago will become
much more temperate and we won't have to move, but Mark may not think this is

If we are going to live far from the equator, we can at least regulate the
work day or even the work calendar so as to reduce the amount of energy we
need to spend on heat and light in the winter months.

Air travel.  This is very problematic.  Probably two thirds of it is just
business people going to meetings in different cities because they prefer air
travel to conference calls.  All this can be cut out in the first week after
the revolution, probably.  As for personal air travel, it may be an
impermissible luxury.

Then there are the chemical and industrial uses of petroleum and coal:
manufacture of plastics, fertilizers, production of aluminum, paper, etc.  All
this 'stuff' which capitalist industry produces, all of which has an energy
component as well as a waste disposal component, and most of which serves
merely to circulate capital and facilitate the accumulation of surplus value.
Take the beer can for example.  Even assuming that beer consumption will not
decline under socialism, what is the purpose of all these individual aluminum
containers?  It's only to facilitate the exchange by individuals of money for
discrete units of beer.  Compare this with putting a reusable aluminum keg in
a location where people from any of 50 households can get at it.  Or consider
the CD or the Videotape.  These plastic items are just beer cans for data.
The data are being bought, sold, rented, and owned, and there are much more
efficient ways to do it than to incorporate them in pieces of individually
owned plastic.  Or consider the "disposable" diaper.  Communal laundries could
replace them (and could also recapture some useful fertilizer, which we will
need since we won't be making our fertilizer out of oil).

In short I suppose we have to look at pretty much everything we are doing,
every element of our lives, and ask ourselves how will we do them, or what
will substitute for them, on the day when we discover that we really can't
count on burning the plants or protozoa of ages past, and think about them
collectively and creatively.  Obviously only a socialist vision, whereby we
can actually reengineer our processes of life as a human collectivity, has any
prayer of coming up with any solutions.

Now if Mark comes along and charges that the above ideas STILL don't address
the reality, and that I am still trying to hold on to too much of my
privileged U.S. life, then I suppose that this may be true.  I will plead
guilty to the charge that I would like to hold on to many of my current
pleasures, ensuring of course that a similar standard of living is also
generally available to the population of the world, and am looking for ways
that the current insanely wasteful ways of having a pleasant life can be
substituted for, much, much more efficiently and rationally.  Maybe this is
utopian too.  I hope not.

Doing my best here,

Lou Paulsen
"temperate" zone

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