Wednesday 10 February 2016

SONA: Will Zuma Become a Climate Emergency President?

Published in the Conversation:

Author: Dr. Vishwas Satgar

If Zuma cast himself as a climate emergency president and statesman, 
this is what he would say

February 10, 2016 5.20pm SAST
Can  Zuma’s SONA Make Him a Climate Emergency President?

Post the Cold War  and in the age of high finance, the performance of narrow representative democratic politics has spawned three types of Presidential politics: (i) populist presidents from Berlusconi, Bush to Zuma. Policy is made on the hoof, is erratic, and there is no moral and intellectual leadership except to allow markets to rule (ii) the technocratic ruler guided by the numbers, markets  and keen to ensure policy-making is about certainty and the right signals. This is about being a manager of deep globalization. Clinton, Merckel and Mbeki epitomize this. (iii) then there is the statesman who is visionary, trying to ensure a home grown master narrative and a strategic class project, carrying a cross section of social forces and inventing innovative engagements to shape a globalized political economy.  Evo Morales and Mandela stand out in this regard.

Jacob Zuma’s speech can be statesmen like if he embraces and articulates the following three priorities. First, he calls for a new mode of governance to tackle the ecological crises facing the world, Africa and South Africa. In this regard he actively champions climate emergency governance as the starkest expression of this crisis, to ensure systemic adaptation and mitigation. He will not be the first in the world because threatened island states have already thrown up such leadership but he will certainly  be the first in Africa. This means the drought narrative is shifted away from  being part of a cycle or ‘national disaster’ but rather is cast as part of the new normal of climate shocks that requires a new paradigm of state practice, governance and citizenship. The drought with its destruction of agriculture, water challenges, heat waves and pressures on state capacity is a window into the future. He stakes out climate emergency governance  as a response to this worsening systemic crisis of capitalist civilization and the need for a deep just transition to sustain life. Central to this is reaffirming a non-racial approach to these challenges to unify  and ensure the survival of all South African’s.

Second, he affirms a policy shift to climate emergency governance. This means moving policy in the direction of a new metric of  sustaining life and a low carbon society. In this regard, he actively calls for transitional policies, that deepens mass initiative, such as climate jobs, a universal basic income grant (set at a high level to enable choice), integrated public transport, food sovereignty pathways, solidarity economies, participatory budgeting at municipal level, zero waste, socially owned renewables (including feedback tariffs as part of embedded generation , the lifting on the ceiling of renewables in the national energy mix and calls for the establishment for a socially owned renewables parastatal), rights of nature legislation, scaling up cooperative banking in every locale, a new sustainable water management framework, a suite of new progressive carbon taxes and the retrofitting of households, government buildings and private corporations with locally manufactured renewable energy technology.

At the same time, he announces an end to fracking and all nuclear deals. He sets a deadline to stop producing coal and  calls on unions to work with government to ensure workers utilize the climate jobs policy and universal basic income grant to leave behind dirty industries. A new  democratic planning Ministry and mechanism is introduced which works with local governments and which is central in streamlining government. It absorbs  trade and industry,  minerals, energy, environment, water, public transport, local government, agriculture and local development and the finance Ministries. He commits to dismantling provinces (governments, parliaments and the National Council of Provinces) through a constitutional amendment and which will be replaced with 3 inter-provincial administrations, calls for cuts on the spend on the department of foreign affairs, calls for a new policy on politicians salaries and perks so they are not so excessive and calls on the public services commission to improve working conditions for health professionals, teachers, municipal workers and government administrators as part of a new framework of professionalizing the public sector.

Finally, he announces a revamp of foreign policy which entails re-priorisiting Africa, instead of the BRICS. Africa is recognized as the continent that has and will be hardest heat by global warming. Yet it does not have the necessary finance, technology and institutional capacity to deal with this. Commitments made by Western countries to Africa, coming out of COP21, are dismal. Africa is meant to be a zone of climate chaos. Zuma challenges this calling  for an emphasis on developing a just transition and climate emergency plan for Africa, through the AU, and realigning all foreign engagements with this imperative.

All of this will not happen because Jacob Zuma is not a statesmen, the ANC-led Alliance is married to a fossil fuel and extractivist accumulation path and fixated  on a growth centred version  of  deep globalization. This  has not worked and is the opposite of remaking society to fit into ecological constraints to survive.. Finally it will take more climate shocks including more extreme weather events, food crises, water shortages, heat waves, floods and other catastrophes  to wake up the worlds ruling elites and citizenry to understand we have entered unchartered territory in human history. We are now officially at  a 1 degree Celsius increase in planetary temperatures since the industrial revolution and are rapidly heading towards a two degree increase in this century: we need to think, act and govern differently if we are to survive and ensure future generations have hope.

Author: Dr. Vishwas Satgar, Senior Lecturer International relations, WITS. He is the editor of Capitalism’s Crises: Class Struggles in South Africa and the World, Wits Press, (2015).


Tuesday 9 February 2016

Democracy in Brazil 2

Brazilian Democracy in Distress:
Unpacking Dilma Rousseff’s Impeachment

Alfredo Saad Filho

Brazil's Chamber of Deputies has opened impeachment procedures against President Dilma Rousseff, of the Workers’ Party (PT). This political manoeuvre is led by an unholy coalition including the Speaker of the Chamber, Eduardo Cunha, a right-wing evangelical from the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB), who is being prosecuted in Brazil and in Switzerland for his money-dealing sins; Vice-President Michel Temer (PMDB), who is busily negotiating posts in his non-existent administration; and competing factions of the arch-neoliberal Social-Democratic Party (PSDB), that are held together by former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. They provide political cover for grubby businessmen, ravenous financiers, neoliberal journalists, bankrupt intellectuals, opportunistic politicians, new-wave fascists, thieves and upper-middle class desperados wishing to depose the President in the wake of her re-election.
Dilma supporters protests
The deepest political crisis since the restoration of democracy, in 1985, is closely intertwined with the most severe economic contraction in a generation. The Brazilian economy is spiralling down, partly because of the global turmoil in the middle-income countries, and partly because of an ‘investment strike’ targeting the President's downfall.
The scale of Rousseff's implosion is truly staggering. When PT founder Luís Inácio Lula da Silva stepped down from the presidency, in 2010, his approval ratings were close to 90 per cent. Rousseff's own approvals hovered around 70 per cent until early 2013. Her ratings have now fallen to single digits. Bolder rats, like former Minister Eliseu Padilha (PMDB), have already jumped ship. His more timid confrères are weighing their options as the water rises.

Turbo-Charged Descent

The country's descent has been turbo-charged by relentlessly negative media campaigns: Brazil's main newspapers and TV chains have not presented headlines favourable to the government since 2012. This barrage of criticism has been supplemented, in the last two years, by a succession of corruption scandals touching national leaders, except President Rousseff, former President Lula (despite relentless attempts to implicate him in any kind of malfeasance), and Vice-President Temer. This unhinged campaign has been led by overtly partisan judges and a runaway Federal Police, seeking to lock up (first) and prosecute (later – maybe) every instance of bribery and illegal finance touching the PT, however indirectly.
In the meantime, scandals involving the opposition remain uninvestigated. The PSDB privatized the telecoms monopoly in the 1990s at a cost of billions of dollars for the public purse: case forgotten. The government of São Paulo overpaid Alstom and Siemens hundreds of millions of euros for new train carriages, part of which were ‘refunded’ to the PSDB and their friends. Case parked somewhere. The PSDB presidential candidate and former governor of Minas Gerais got the state to build an airport on his uncle's land so he could visit his own neighbouring property when he was not enjoying a life of debauchery in Rio de Janeiro (no worries: his unelected sister ran the state in the meantime). You could not make it up. The Speaker of the Senate provided favours to large construction companies in exchange for cash for himself and regular payments to his illegitimate daughter, so he could keep her away from the voters and (perhaps more seriously) from his wife. Who cares. What matters is to impeach Dilma Rousseff by any means necessary.
Corruption in Brazil is always nauseatingly entertaining, but it cannot be eliminated one scandal at a time. Corruption belongs to the machinery of the state; it links politics with business life and it buttresses the country's inequality generating social structures. It is, then, unsurprising that, in the 1990s, when the PT chose to win elections instead of being honourably defeated, it had to find ways to fund its campaigns, behave ‘responsibly’ and distribute favours.

Lula’s Rise...

This strategy worked. Lula was elected President in 2002, starting a succession of administrations that, almost invariably, followed the path of least resistance: there has been no serious attempt to reform the Constitution, the state or the political system, challenge the ideological hegemony of neoliberalism, reform the media or transform the country's economic structure. The PT also maintained the neoliberal macroeconomic policy framework imposed by the preceding PSDB administration. The PT's unwieldy political alliances led to ‘reformism lite’, which eventually alienated the party's base and provoked the opposition into escalating attacks.
Those vulnerabilities were responsible for the grotesque Mensalão scandal that exploded in 2005. The government was accused, without evidence, of paying a monthly stipend to Deputies and Senators in order to secure their support. The media pressed those claims relentlessly, with destructive implications for the PT. Lula lost his residual support among the upper middle class, while the internal bourgeoisie gained an uncontested hegemony in the government coalition. The industrial working class remained supportive but passive, while the informal workers flocked to Lula because of his working class image and the distributive programmes introduced in his administration: Bolsa Família, university admissions quotas, the formalization of the labour market, mass connections to the electricity grid and rising minimum wages.
The resources made available by the global commodity boom consolidated Lula's coalition, and the government shifted marginally to the left. It introduced an economic policy inflection including bolder industrial and fiscal policies, higher public sector investment and stronger distributive programmes. The ensuing dynamics supported Brazil's stunning recovery after the global crisis. The country was anointed as one of the BRICS, and Lula became a global statesman. Yet, the political divide deepened. The opposition crystallised around a hard-core neoliberal alliance led by finance and the international bourgeoisie, populated by the upper middle class, and cemented ideologically by a choleric media.

... and Dilma’s Fall

Dilma Rousseff's first administration (2011-14) tilted economic policy further away from neoliberalism, aiming to shift the country's engine of growth toward domestic investment and consumption. It introduced mild capital controls, reduced interest rates, created new public investment programmes, and engineered protection measures against competing imports. The administration intervened in an array of sectors to reduce costs and expand infrastructure, strong-armed the private operators into reducing electricity prices, held back the price of petrol, and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) financed an expanding portfolio of loans.
This strategy failed. The never-ending global crisis tightened Brazil's fiscal and balance of payments constraints; quantitative easing in the advanced economies destabilized developing country currencies, and global uncertainty and strident critiques of ‘interventionism’ limited private investment. Inflation and the fiscal deficit rose, and GDP growth and tax receipts sagged. Brazil's prospects deteriorated further as China's economy cooled and commodity prices fell. Even the weather turned against the government, with a severe drought enveloping the southeast.
The internationalized bourgeoisie used these difficulties to justify an all-out attack against Dilma, demanding the restoration of neoliberal orthodoxy. Under siege, Dilma's economic team leaned back toward neoliberalism, but this policy shift only increased the confidence of the opposition, that redoubled its effort to win the 2014 elections. In the meantime, the judiciary tightened the screws around the PT, and successive corruption scandals came to light.
In June 2013, vast demonstrations erupted around the country. They encompassed a mélange of themes centred on ‘competent government’ and ‘corruption’, which exposed the tensions due to the economic slowdown, the government's isolation and its failure to improve public services in line with incomes and expectations.
Dilma was re-elected through a last-minute mass mobilization triggered by left perceptions that the opposition candidate, Aécio Neves, would impose harsh neoliberal policies and reverse the social and economic achievements of the PT. However, immediately upon her re-election Dilma faced escalating political and economic crises. Her desperate response was to invite the banker Joaquim Levy to the Ministry of Finance, and charge him with implementing a ‘credible’ (code for orthodox) adjustment programme that alienated the PT's social base. Then another scandal captured the headlines.
The Federal Police's Lava Jato operation unveiled a large corruption network centred on the large state oil company Petrobras and including cartels, colossal robbery and illegal funding for several parties. Blanket media coverage focusing on the PT destroyed the government's remaining credibility, and catalysed the emergence of a powerful right-wing opposition demanding Dilma's impeachment regardless of legal niceties. Examination of the opposition's grievances fills a laundry basket of unfocused dissatisfactions articulated by expletives. There is no plausible legal argument supporting the President's impeachment. The process is entirely political and degrading for Brazilian democracy – yet, it is likely to succeed in one way or another.

What Now?

The dégringolade (in the sense of disintegration as well as necrosis) of the government suggests five lessons.
First, under favourable circumstances, Lula's and Dilma's policies both disarmed the political right and disconnected the left from the working class. However, once the economic tide turned, the ensuing confluence of dissatisfactions overwhelmed the PT, and there was no one left to support its administration.
Second, while the PT governments reduced the income gap between the upper middle class and the working class they also increased the ideological distance between them, as the former drifted to the extreme right while the latter became increasingly inert.
Third, despite its volcanic energy, the new right is devoid of mass support outside the country's élite (the dominant feeling is that ‘they are all thieves’). There is not, then, a crisis of bourgeois rule or even the state. But there is a crisis of government that cannot be addressed constructively in the absence of economic growth. However, growth is unlikely to return while the PT remains in power.
Fourth, the extinction of Kirchnerismo in Argentina, the disintegration of Chavismo in Venezuela, and the harrowing end of the PT experiment in Brazil suggest that transformative projects in Latin America are bound to face escalating resistance from the right. It follows that the pursuit of ever-broader alliances is not necessarily stabilizing, because they are prone to internal collapse. Instead, the social, political and institutional sources of power must be targeted as soon as possible through ambitious shifts in the economic base, international integration, employment patterns, public service provision, structures of political representation and the media. These were never contemplated by the PT, and those limitations are now destroying the Party and its leaders.
Fifth, the Brazilian left remains disorganized and bereft of aspirations and leadership. Brazil is entering a long period of instability. The emergence of a new form of political hegemony may take several years, and it is unlikely to favour the left. In the meantime, we can expect constant entertainment reading about surreal scandals and unexpected human foibles: anyone following Brazilian political economy will never be bored. Unfortunately, the stakes are too high for comic entertainment. The ongoing impeachment process is not about corruption, which is merely a serviceable excuse. It is, rather, about a right-wing coalition wrecking an inspiring left-wing experiment in one of the most important countries in the Global South. •
Alfredo Saad Filho is Professor of Political Economy at the SOAS Department of Development Studies. His research interests include the political economy of neoliberalism, industrial policy, alternative macroeconomic policies, and the labour theory of value and its applications.
This post draws upon a similar piece posted on Development Studies at SOAS and on a contribution to the Socialist Register 2016, co-authored with Armando Boito: “Brazil: The Failure of the PT and the Rise of the ‘New Right’.”

Democracy in Brazil


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By Alfredo Saad Filho
Brazil is the world’s sixth largest economy, a prominent member of the G-20 and the BRICS group of large emerging countries, and the host of the 2014 Football World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. The country has also attracted attention since the Presidential election of PT (Workers’ Party) candidates Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, in 2002 and 2006, and Dilma Rousseff, in 2010 and 2014. Their administrations have played a leading role in the Latin American ‘Pink Tide’; Brazil has also achieved considerable gains in employment and distribution, and was one of the few nations where social spending rose in the current ‘Age of Neoliberalism’.
Yet, Brazil finds itself enmeshed in the worst economic contraction in a generation, coupled with a political deadlock fuelled by a parade of corruption scandals. A particularly grotesque one has engulfed the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, who is struggling for his political life while, simultaneously, leading impeachment procedures against President Rousseff. Even if her administration survives, Rousseff is unlikely to regain the ability to pass legislation through a bitterly hostile Congress, further impairing the country’s economic prospects.
This is calamitous for Brazil, and potentially lethal for the PT. At the end of his second administration, Lula enjoyed approval rates bordering on 90 per cent, and Dilma Rousseff’s approvals hovered around 70 per cent until 2013. The collapse has been relentless: her popularity is now stuck in single digits. There is profound cross-class discontent, a mass-based political right has emerged for the first time since the 1960s, and the mainstream media has been promoting a vicious campaign against the PT and anything approaching even social democracy. If they succeed, there may be a long-term shift to the right in the largest country in Latin America. 
Lula’s search for political hegemony
The forces driving today’s economic and political crises can be traced back to the incompatibility between two transitions taking place in last 30 years: the political transitionfrom military rule to democracy, that was sealed by the progressive Constitution of 1988, and the economic transition from import-substitution industrialisation to neoliberalism, that was consolidated by the macroeconomic policy ‘tripod’ imposed in 1999, including inflation targeting and Central Bank independence, liberalisation of capital flows, and permanently contractionary fiscal and monetary policies.
The Constitution is socially inclusive; it has democratised and decentralised power and mandated the creation of a Swedish-style welfare state, including extensive social rights and income guarantees. In contrast, neoliberalism promotes the interests of internationalised capital in general and finance in particular, concentrates economic and political power and imposes an exclusionary democracy cloaked as ‘macroeconomic stability’. The friction between incompatible principles of social organisation – democracy or neoliberalism – helps to explain both the election of Lula, and the destruction of his successor.
Correspondingly, for 25 years Brazilian political life has been structured by the conflict between the social-democratic PT and the hardline neoliberal Social Democratic Party, PSDB. In Poulantzian fashion, these parties are closely aligned with two fractions of capital. Domestic capital is based primarily on construction, shipbuilding, the capital goods industry, agribusiness and national banks. They have supported the PT in exchange for subsidised state finance and institutional protection supporting their complex relationship of competition and co-operation with global capital. Internationalised capital includes foreign firms and their associates across finance, insurance, globally-integrated manufacturing and the mainstream media which, although overwhelmingly owned by domestic capital, is committed to neoliberalism and rejects the notion of a ‘national’ development strategy. This group is represented by the PSDB.
The PT administrations promoted the interests of domestic capital and the workers with considerable success during the period of prosperity afforded by the commodity boom pulled by the USA and, subsequently, by China. For example, these administrations supported the expansion of the oil chain through the state-owned Petrobras, the country’s largest firm; the shipbuilding industry recovered from the disaster imposed in the 1990s by the PSDB administration of F.H. Cardoso that reduced it to 5,000 workers. Under Lula, profits ballooned and employment in the shipyards rose to 105,000. The PT administrations reduced real interest rates from a peak of 22 per cent, under Cardoso, to 3 per cent, under Dilma, and dramatically expanded subsidised finance through the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), that became the largest development bank in the world.
These governments also benefitted the organised workers and the poor, both indirectly through the expansion of the economy, and directly through the government’s wage, employment and transfer policies. The minimum wage rose by 72 per cent in real terms between 2005 and 2012, and social provision increased through pensions, benefits and the flagship Bolsa Família cash transfer programme. Economic prosperity and a supportive administration also facilitated social struggles. There were around 300 strikes in 2003, and less than 20 per cent of collective actions led to real wage gains; in 2013 there were 2,000 strikes, and 95 per cent of agreements increased real wages.
Yet social and economic achievements did not create a stable political hegemony. For example, the PT and its close allies never controlled more than one-third of seats in Congress. Instead, they always depended on broad alliances with unreliable parties and opportunistic groups in order to pass legislation. In the meantime, the mainstream media remained ravenously hostile to Lula and Dilma, often orchestrating the parliamentary opposition. The Judiciary is also firmly aligned with the political right. Finally, corruption remains an essential link between politics and business life. Thievery and underhand transfers supplement the machinery of the state, democratic processes and the institutional modalities of representation of the elite. It is only natural that, in the 1990s, the PT decided that in order to win elections instead of being honourably defeated, it needed to begin distributing favours to its business supporters, and reward unprincipled politicians in exchange for their support. There is no other way to govern the country. These crooked circumstances were incompatible with political coherence, and the PT was always tripping on the verge of calamity.
The favourable winds of the global commodity boom supported Lula’s programme of income distribution, but his economic ambitions were constrained by the neoliberal policy tripod. Fiscal and monetary austerity, large capital movements and incoherent industrial policies overvalued the currency and promoted economic precarisation. Brazil created millions of jobs in the 2000s, but they were mostly precarious and poorly paid posts in urban services. Infrastructure funding was always lagging, creating a yawning gap between rising consumption levels within the household and the provision of public goods and services, especially transport, water, sanitation, security, schooling and health. Mass frustration crept in. In the meantime, the upper middle classes felt increasingly alienated from the government, because of their exclusion from power and the feeling that ‘their’ taxes were funding feckless hordes and arrogant arrivistes, who insisted on their right of admission to shopping centres, airports and private clinics.
Brazil recovered rapidly from the global crisis through bold monetary and fiscal policies. However, the scope for success was limited because growth was driven by commodity exports, for which demand was bound to decline, backed up by fickle capital inflows. Since the economy is permanently hampered by the neoliberal policy tripod, if the external engine splutters domestic growth will falter, regardless of fiscal tweaks or bombastic attacks on corruption. If, in addition, the government is isolated politically, demoralised, and beset by an investment strike, the economy must fall off a cliff. Let us see how it happened.
The cracks are showing: Dilma’s fall, and the emboldening of the Right                              
Dilma Rousseff was never a politician, nor was she a member of the PT until recently. She was a manager and a fixer, and was offered the Ministry of Energy in 2003. There, she oversaw the massive expansion of the country’s oil industry. She subsequently became President Lula’s Chief of Staff. Dilma succeeded in both posts and Lula, at the height of his powers, anointed her PT candidate to his succession.
Once elected, Dilma tilted economic policy further away from neoliberalism. She introduced more expansionary fiscal policies, lowered interest rates, imposed marginal capital controls, funded additional state investment, expanded transfers and intervened in multiple sectors. The outcome was ruinous. The government expected the global crisis to peter out but, instead, it deepened. Quantitative easing in the advanced economies wreaked havoc with the Brazilian real; the media intensified its attacks, and domestic capital refused to invest since it could neither control the government nor claim easy profits. The current account deficit ballooned, and the economy tanked. The government lost the ability to conciliate conflicting interests. The urban poor rebelled in 2013, but their protests were hijacked by the right-wing media and a bitterly hostile upper middle class.
Dilma campaigned for re-election with a left-wing message, warning against the neoliberal adjustment planned by her PSDB rival. However, once victorious, Dilma appointed as Finance Minister a banker connected to the PSDB, and gave him free rein to restore the government’s ‘credibility’ through a sharp fiscal and monetary contraction. The left cried foul, and Rousseff’s working class supporters felt betrayed. The retraction of demand during a protracted global crisis triggered the collapse of investment. Output nose-dived and unemployment mounted. The economy contracted 3.5 per cent in 2015, and 2016 can be just as bad. The gains from the 2000s are being wiped out as we speak. International capital is waiting for Dilma’s fall; domestic capital is cowering, and the formal sector workers are dumbfounded by their losses. The informal workers suffer heavily, through the evaporation of opportunities for income, employment, education and social advancement.
The media, the (PSDB-controlled) Federal Police and the Judiciary tightened the screws in 2014, and successive corruption scandals have come to light. The Federal Police’s ongoing Lava Jato operation has unveiled a large corruption network centred on Petrobras and including cartels, fraud and illegal funding for several parties. Blanket media coverage focusing on the PT alone badly dented the government’s credibility. Several politicians and party cadres were jailed, followed by some of the country’s most prominent businessmen, but only those supporting the government. A two-pronged campaign was launched to restore the right to power regardless of the elections. On the one hand, the media suggested that the PT was uniquely corrupt and corrupting, and that the businesses aligned with it had violated the law and perverted democracy. On the other hand, the police and the judicial system have sought to throttle the party. The message was clear: anyone funding the PT illegally will be imprisoned; their companies will be destroyed and the shareholders will pay dearly. Having survived for years through the favours of the rich at the expense of the militancy of the poor, the PT was in a bind. It had no explanation to offer, no programme to advance, and no strategy to climb out of the hole.
The attack against Rousseff and the PT forged a right-wing mass opposition demanding the ‘end of corruption’ and ‘Dilma’s impeachment’, even though there is no legal justification for it. Examination of the opposition’s grievances leads to a laundry list of unfocused and conflicting dissatisfactions articulated by expletives rather than logic: the demand for the President’s impeachment has no legal substance. The process is an attempted political coup d’état: the PSDB and the media refuse to accept the outcome of the 2014 elections and they have decided to depose the President and restore the hegemony of globalised neoliberalism regardless of Constitutional niceties.
At this point in time, it is impossible to predict whether or not Dilma will be impeached or forced to resign. Underpinning this uncertainty is the impasse between social forces defending an inclusive Constitution and those imposing an excluding neoliberal system of accumulation. These disputes emerge through a dysfunctional political system, a distorted economy and a regressive social structure: a democracy without legitimate sources of party funds, a hollowed out manufacturing base supported by large-scale agribusiness, an economy without prospects of generating quality jobs for its workers or capacity to distribute income in a fiscally sustainable manner, and élites clinging to their privileges and resenting any attempt to build an inclusive citizenship. A political hegemony resolving these impasses will not be built easily or rapidly. The agony is not over. The end is not even close.
Alfredo Saad Filho is Professor of Political Economy at the Department of Development Studies, SOAS University of London. His research interests include the political economy of neoliberalism, industrial policy, alternative macroeconomic policies, and the labour theory of value and its applications.

Tuesday 2 February 2016

The Climate Crisis, Drought and the Food Sovereignty Pathway

The year 2015 was the hottest year on record, since records have been kept. Extreme weather has also been experienced in different parts of the world. The Arctic ice sheet is melting rapidly releasing methane (the deadliest greenhouse gas), parts of the Antarctic are also going through a similar process, ocean acidification due to carbon concentrations are undermining our oceans capacity to serve as carbon sinks, deforestation of rain forests are also impacting on another precious carbon sink , while oil is being over-supplied into the global market.

The increase in planetary temperatures since the industrial revolution stands at close to 1 degree Celsius. Our planet is heating up and five UN-International Panel on Climate Change scientific reports confirm this. It is now beyond a doubt that human induced climate change is a causal factor. Both scientists and policy makers are also referring to the onset of the age of the Anthropocene, in which the human impact on the planet and the web of life is on a geological scale. We are shaping planetary conditions that sustain life. However, the idea of the Anthropocene is problematic for 3 reasons: (i) it does not appreciate that 500 years of capitalism, beginning with mercantile capitalism, has been engaged in conquering nature and ultimately eco-cidal destruction. It is not just a 150 years of industrial capitalism; (ii) it is not all humans that are responsible for the destruction of the Anthropocene. Capital is the real geological force shaping and determining the conditions that sustain life. Capital  and its logic of endless accumulation is not just exploiting humans and nature, more broadly, but killing all  life forms (iii) there is a failure to recognize collective agency, class and popular struggle as the way to end capital’s destruction of all life. Instead the Anthropocene has a tendency to venerate the age of humans, almost as though history  is driven by an evolutionary process. We have arrived as an apex species.

 James Hansen, the leading climate scientist in the world and working for NASA, raised the dangers of human induced climate change in 1988. Today, Hansen is convinced that all extreme weather cannot be separated from the causal impact of climate change. The UN process initiated in the early 1990s through Conference of the Parties has failed to provide genuine, systemic solutions to the climate crisis for over 20 years. While the  UN Conference of the Parties (COP21) held in Paris, in December 2016,  has committed the world’s governments to a renewable energy transition this is not binding, ambitious and lacking in will. When all pledges made by countries is measured the world’s governments come very short. We will achieve a 3-4 degree increase in planetary temperatures with present commitments. Moreover, these commitments can easily be reversed. Also the industrial countries have been let of the hook and they have extremely minimal commitments to contribute finance to poor and vulnerable countries, like African countries and island states. Also the horizons of systemic change are limited. There is no commitment to stop oil production and more market solutions are coming to the fore. This is eco-cidal.

The UN process has failed the worlds people. Leadership has to come from below to bring down carbon emissions and champion a deep just transition to sustain life. The time for quick fixes, techno schemes and business as usual solutions are over.  Corporate induced climate change can be stopped by collective human action. This will mean  we  build Red-Green Alliances to keep all the remaining oil in the ground, make a rapid transition to renewable energy systems and restructure production, consumption, trade, transport systems and how we live in communities, towns and cities. Central to this is developing a food sovereignty pathway within the food system to ensure we limit the impact of food production on the climate and we are able to adapt to extreme shifts in planetary and weather conditions.

Peoples action in communities, towns and cities is going to determine the human response to climate change and whether we can survive. In South Africa the drought, partially the result of El Nino (the heating of the oceans mainly in the Pacific but having global impacts on weather patterns), the climate shift and poor water management, is a window into South Africa’s future. In October of 2015 South Africa experienced some of the highest recorded temperatures in the world at over 48 degrees. And then in December the heat wave created unbearable conditions for many people, with many people also dying from heat exposure, while some parts of the country experienced extreme rainfall. South Africa is a site of climate change. The impacts of the drought include: the failure of staple crops like GMO maize, the death of livestock, water stress for small scale and subsistence food production. Food prices are expected to increase by an additional 40-60% in coming months. Hunger has increased in this context.

The South African Food Sovereignty Campaign will be championing a food sovereignty pathway in the food system in order to ensure we are able to provide a peoples response to the climate crisis. This will include the following actions:

·      Providing a telephone hotline (011 4471013) and platform for small scale farmers and subsistence households to  speak out on the drought: share their experiences, challenges and solutions for the drought;
·      Training small scale farmers, communities and movements in more sustainable farming and water management through agro-ecology;
·      Developing the capacities of households, movements and communities to save indigenous seed varieties that are more easily adaptable to changing climate conditions;
·      Developing a Food Sovereignty law, from below and then presenting this at a Peoples Parliament to all parties and civil society organisations.
·      Raising awareness of the drought, climate change, hunger and food sovereignty through campaigning for #foodpricesmustfall , social media platforms and the second annual Food Sovereignty Festival on World Food Day in 2016.

We can survive climate change if we act now. It is time for system change from below! Forward to Food Sovereignty!

Author: Vishwas Satgar is a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign, Chairperson of the COPAC Board and a WITS academic.