Citizen Action Monitor

Stan Cox’s new book charts “A Path to a Livable Future”

Does humanity have the time and savvy to make the transition, asks Don Fitz, the book’s reviewer? —

No 2799 by fw, November 21, 2021 —

My Synopsis of Don Fitz’s Review

Humanity’s march to Armageddon risks being much briefer than previously thought. The climate crisis cannot be halted with a few empty promises, quick fixes, and a few trillion dollars. Cox outlines a multiplicity of problems and proposes “a path to a livable future.” A “Green New Deal”, featuring a transition from fossil fuel to alternative energy (AltE), will not save us, says Cox.

What Else Is There? Cox’s alternative to AltE is to “produce a lot less unnecessary stuff.” Cox joins the ranks of Tainter and Heinberg (among others) who understand that “complexity leads to breakdown” Green New Dealers believe we can concurrently grow the economy AND protect the environment.  Moreover, our agricultural industry contributes to soil depletion, which feeds climate change, which compromises ecosystems. Cox cites two more concerns triggered by the increased complexity of the agricultural industry. Question 1: How to reduce energy and resource consumption without wrecking the global ecology? Question 2: How to reduce production without increasing global resource inequities?

In his new book, The Path to a Livable Future, Cox explains how rationing would reduce resource inequities. Humanity must determine which products and services are essential. “The path to a livable future is clearly not going to be a capitalist one.” Cox advocates “citizens’ assemblies” as a starting point leading to a participatory economic system. Cuba’s system of health care rationing is proposed as a proven model of participatory planning. Additionally, humanity must fuse participatory planning with a world view of helping others in need. A fitting example of mutual aid is the United Farm Workers of the 1960s.

Going Forward Neither the Democrats nor Republicans is likely to take meaningful action on the climate crisis. More to the point, problems won’t be solved by relying on those who created them. What we need are new ways of thinking led by emerging mutual aid groups, says Cox in his new book. Reviewer, Don Fitz, raises two reasons why Cox’s proposed solutions will be a tough sell: 1) Is it possible to reduce production without harming the poor? And 2) The threat to humanity may be too profound and interconnected, perhaps beyond a timely solution. Nevertheless, tough decisions are ahead. Now is the time for a reality check.

IF ONLY!

Stan Cox began his career in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is now the Lead Scientist at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. He is the author of a new book The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can (City Lights, May 5).

Don Fitz has taught Environmental Psychology at Washington University and Fontbonne University in St. Louis.

The above synopsis reflects my choice of the key ideas excerpted from Don Fitz’s review of Stan Cox’s new book, A Path to a Livable Future.

Given the blundering, mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic by governments worldwide, which conceivably provoked the public’s unruly, aggressive, and violent reaction, I find little reason to be optimistic that humanity will find a timely and sustainable “Path to a Livable Future.” One reliable source put it this way: “As the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic comes to a close, it is clear that governments across Europe and the world have no policy to halt mass infections or deaths.”

Below is my abridged repost of Fitz’s review, featuring my editorial changes to correct typos and enhance readability. As well, I have added subheadings, text highlighting, some reformatting, and images.

Alternatively, read Fitz’s original review on the Socialist Website / The Bullet by clicking on the following linked title.

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A Path to a Livable Future? By Don Fitz, The Bullet, November 18, 2021

The march to Armageddon could be much briefer than previously thought.

As climate change leads humanity’s march to Armageddon, data surfacing during late 2021 suggests that the march could be much briefer than previously thought.

+ “Nature is starting to emit greenhouse gases in competition with cars, planes, trains, and factories,” asserts Robert Hunziker.

+ The Amazon has switched from soaking up CO2 to emitting it.

+ Likewise, the Arctic has flipped from being a carbon sink to becoming an emission source.

+ Permafrost is giving off the three main greenhouse gases (GHGs): CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide. So much Siberian permafrost is melting that buildings are collapsing as methane bombs explode, resulting in craters 100 feet (30 meters) deep.

The climate crisis cannot be halted with a few empty promises, quick fixes, and a few trillion dollars

Greta Thunberg famously ridiculed the “Blah, blah, blah” of politicians who publicly moan grave concern and then vote to do nothing. The scorn had barely leaped from her lips when news broke regarding the Uinta Basin Railway in Utah where “… the Biden administration is poised to approve a right-of-way through the Ashley National Forest that … would enable crude oil production in the basin to quadruple to 350,000 barrels a day.” Not much chance of capping oil with this administration.

In his new book, The Path to a Livable Future, Stan Cox dismisses the anti-science and racism of climate denialists such as Donald Trump, strips bare the insincerity of the early Joe Biden administration, and uncovers the lurking dangers of energy denial.

Going even beyond these, Cox demonstrates that climate change is not a “thing-unto-itself” that can be halted by a quick fix of a few trillion dollars, but rather, is a pernicious stain in an interwoven fabric of oppressive systems.

Cox outlines a multiplicity of problems and proposes “a path to a livable future”

This lays the groundwork for outlining a multiplicity of problems which must be addressed to confront climate change. These include reducing production via a participatory economy, establishing financial equality, and building mutual aid networks.

Conventional Wisdom

A “Green New Deal”, featuring a transition from fossil fuel to alternative energy, will not save us, says Cox.

He slams congressional proposals for a “Green New Deal,” noting that —

+ they fail to include any plans for restricting fossil fuel (FF) production

+ and merely pretend that increases in solar and wind will cause a reduction in its (FF) use.

+ Reduction is not written into the plans because FFs are essential for manufacturing alternative energy equipment.

+ The book portrays the most troubling aspect of AltE to be its promotion as a panacea — This (AltE) contributes to the preservation of social structures that are most in need of replacement:

If we attempt to construct a wind- and solar-powered society that replicates today’s high-energy living arrangements and transportation systems, the result will be the creation of ‘green sacrifice zones’ in nations that have large deposits of cobalt, lithium, and other metals that go into the mechanisms essential to renewable electricity systems (p. 120).

What Else Is There?

Cox’s alternative to AltE – “produce a lot less unnecessary stuff”

His [(Cox’s) alternative to a massive increase in AltE is simple and obvious: produce a lot less unnecessary stuff. Within this simple truism, issues of complexity rise to the fore.

Cox joins the ranks of Tainter and Heinberg (among others) who understand that “complexity leads to breakdown”

Cox continues the tradition of those who realize that increasing complexity leads to an increase in system breakdown.

+ More complex systems require more energy to construct, require more energy to function, and are more difficult to fix. Gadgets with 2000 parts are easier to break and harder to repair than are those with 20 parts.

+ Authors such as Joseph Tainter and Richard Heinberg have applied this idea to human systems, explaining that as societies evolve toward more complexity, they require more social energy to maintain interpersonal connections and are more prone to collapse.

Green New Dealers believe we can concurrently grow the economy AND protect the environment

Cox takes this concept to a higher level for the US in the 2020’s, especially regarding racial and social injustice, diseases like Covid, and climate change:

“… how can a just transition to a low emissions economy be systematically planned if, due to intolerable heat and humidity in the Sun Belt and Mississippi Valley, wildfires on the West Coast and in the South, constant pummeling by hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, and sea-level rise on all coasts, we become a nation of climate refugees, with the affluent snapping up the safe ground? … We can have ecological sustainability or capital accumulation, but not both” (pp. 127-128).

Moreover, our agriculture industry contributes to soil depletion, which feeds climate change, which compromises ecosystems

Entanglements are nowhere more perplexing than in food and agriculture. As Ronnie Cummins points out, Agriculture is the largest employer in the world with 570 million farmers and farm laborers,” and with annual spending on food estimated at $7.5-trillion, making it the largest global industry.

Cox’s research background means that his analysis of food, land, and agriculture is where his light shines most brightly. He points out that soil depletion interacts with all of these, which then feeds into climate change. Techno-fixes for climate change tend to require more land or other inputs. Simultaneous use of multiple techno-fixes requires enormous energy input which then compromises ecosystems.

Cox cites two more concerns triggered by the increased complexity of the agricultural industry

+ An example of the complexity is biogas from agriculture, which has been proposed as a source for energy. Cox acknowledges that such energy would not require additional land but points out that “the amount of gas that can be produced is limited by the quantities of food, crop, and animal wastes available (p. 114).

+ Solar energy is a vastly more popular form of energy, but Cox explains its link to agriculture: “Plans for ‘100% renewable’ energy would require solar installation on at least as many square miles of the Earth’s surface as are now occupied by all food production and human settlements combined…” (p. 68).

Two Key Questions & Who Decides?

Question 1: How to reduce energy and resource consumption without wrecking the global ecology?

How then could a sustainable society reduce energy sufficiently to avoid climate change while still providing for quality of life and without wrecking the global ecology?

Question 2: How to reduce production without increasing global resource inequities?

How will reducing production affect enormous disparities according to race, gender, impoverishment, and location?

Who decides what to reduce and how?

In his new book The Path to a Livable Future, Cox explains how rationing would reduce resource inequities

The author answers by returning to ideas from his previous book, Any Way You Slice It, and combining them with concepts of participatory economics. That book refuted the assertion that rationing would limit the ability of poor people to attain life’s necessities. In his current book, Cox explains that rationing would be a central part of reducing resource inequities:

“The phase-out [of FFs] must be accompanied by systems to ensure … much more equitable access to energy. Today, more affluent, predominantly white households have much higher than average consumption of energy in all forms, while millions of lower-income households cannot afford as much energy as they need” (p. 85).

Humanity must determine which products and services are essential

Since the largest source of GHGs is unnecessary production by the corporate class, plus their luxury waste via “conspicuous consumption,” the focus of rationing must be on producing vastly fewer wasteful products and more of those required for human existence. Cox concludes, “We need a more serious debate over how to determine which products and services are essential” (p. 102).

“The path to a livable future is clearly not going to be a capitalist one”

Affirming that “… the path to a livable future is clearly not going to be a capitalist one” (p. 87), he suggests that economic decisions cannot be left to “Blah, blah, blah” politicians.

Cox advocates “citizens’ assemblies” as a beginning point of a participatory economic system

Instead, they must be discussed far more broadly: “Those who are affected by the rules must be the ones who make the rules and also monitor” the use of resources (p. 88). Cox advocates citizens’ assemblies as the beginning point of deliberation that would feed into a multi-layered administration that would finalize and carry out polities.

Cuba’s system of health care rationing is proposed as a successful model of participatory planning

As an example of how such a participatory economic system could work, Cox details how Cuba responded to the Covid crisis by collecting information from patients and doctors at neighborhood medical offices and then sending that information to clinics, which summarized it and passed it to national health decision-makers. Far from producing health care less efficient than in a market economy, Cuba’s system of health care rationing via participatory input allowed it to have a more successful response to Covid than did the US.

As well, humanity must fuse participatory planning with a world view of helping others in need

While rationing systems and participatory economics are essential components of a new society, they are the mechanistic parts. Humanity will not be reborn without passionately adopting a deeper understanding of social relationships. For this, Cox looks to mutual aid, which fuses a world view with ongoing actions of helping others in need.

A fitting example of mutual aid is the United Farm Workers of the 1960s

It is fitting that one of the first examples Cox gives of mutual aid is the United Farm Workers of the 1960s, which provided farmworkers with basic provisions alongside mobilizing for labor rights. After all, labor unions throughout history have supported those on strike. The workplaces of the world are where humanity collectively produces those things required for our survival.

Going Forward

Neither the Democrats nor Republicans is likely to take meaningful action on the climate crisis

Though frequently chastising the Democratic Party (DP) for inaction, the author turns to them for solutions: “We must show them [DP] that they are mandated to represent the will of the people, not the Silicon Valley tycoons, the natural gas extractors…” (p. 140). Neither of the two big money parties is likely to take “meaningful action” regarding climate catastrophe. When the Trump cabal garners support from disparaging ethnic minorities and immigrants, the DP rallies its base with calls for “more stuff,” yielding it even less likely to advocate producing less of the unnecessary. Looking to the DP to restrict overproduction seems a bit like asking the KKK to resolve racism.

Problems won’t be solved by relying on those who created them

It has long been said, and in many ways, that problems cannot be solved by relying on individuals and institutions who created them.

What we need are new ways of thinking led by emerging mutual aid groups, as Cox prescribes in his new book

The novel crisis of climate change, nested within intertwined social problems, calls for new ways of thinking – ways which are manifested in new mutual aid groups, new trade unions, and new political institutions. Overall, The Path to a Livable Future may be the most serious and thought-provoking new book on climate change available. It challenges shortcomings of dominant paradigms and offers alternatives that do not shy away from dilemmas.

Two reasons why Cox’s proposed solutions will be a tough sell

[First] The proposed solution that is most likely to be scorned is the assertion that it is possible to reduce production without harming the world’s poor. It is worth noting that Cuba has attained a longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rate than the US while spending less than 10% per person per year. Indisputably, a drastic reduction in dollars spent on health care can accompany a higher quality of life.

[Second] When Cox goes through methods of cooling during hot summers and the energy needed for agricultural production, he carefully explains not only the complexity of each but how they fit into the nexus of systems affected by and affecting climate change. The threat to humanity’s existence from climate change is far too profound and connected to too many other intricate difficulties than to simplify it with slogans for quick fixes.

Tough decisions are ahead. Now is the time for a reality check.

It is well past the time to face hard decisions of how to reduce obscene levels of corporate production instead of fiddling with perpetual energy fantasies while the planet burns.

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Also by Stan Cox

Transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables will be like going on an energy crash diet: Stan Cox explains : If fossil fuels are rapidly cut in the transition to renewables, the pool of energy will shrink, and so will our economic growth. (Posted by fw, July 20, 2020)

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