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Capitalism the ‘real culprit behind climate change’

‘The best thing about Copenhagen is its failure. What I most dread about Copenhagen is that the public relations apparatus will manage to patch together propoganda or some sort of token agreement,” says Joel Kovel, a proponent of eco-socialism.

For Kovel and others, including top climatologist James Hansen, who referred to Copenhagen as a ‘disaster track”, the negotiations – which stalled primarily over emission reduction targets and financing for developing countries — are a forgone conclusion.

‘There really is no answer to this process because [countries] are not interested in saving the planet. They want to make money and they want to keep their power. So Copenhagen has got to fail because it’s inevitable but also because it will reveal to the world the need to get to the next stage.” That next stage, according to Kovel, is a world without capitalism.

A one-time professor of psychiatry, Kovel, broke with psychoanalysis in the mid-80s to become involved in radical politics. ‘Psychoanalysis was too much tuned to helping people reconcile themselves to a world that is obstructive and unjust, it tended to paper over a lot of problems,” he says. ‘I couldn’t reconcile my radical Marxist politics with my psychoanalyst practice.”

Kovel was involved in green politics in the US for years – at one point he ran for senate as a member of the Green Party of the US – but he believes such parties have failed to make an impact and become stagnant. He says there’s a sense that green parties are a function of the privileged classes — people who don’t have to worry about a roof over their head, or having access to water and electricity.

‘It has too much of a petit bourgeoisie quality — They’re missing the big problem, which is capitalism. Capitalism is what configures the state and forms of thought. Marx and Engels put it very directly; they said in every epoch the ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas. Well, what’s the ruling class? Is it the meat-eaters? No. The ruling class is capitalist. Look what happened to South Africa. You swear off the apartheid gangsters and you have the capitalists coming in. You have Trevor Manuel. That’s the ruling class.”

Although eco-socialism is not on the radar as part of the official negotiations at Copenhagen, social justice groups have been agitating from outside the negotiations. In the past week, Danish police have repeatedly clashed with members of the Climate Justice Action group, which has eco-socialist leanings. The group has seen this as an attempt to silence criticisms of the Copenhagen process.

Kovel believes movements such as the Climate Justice Action group provide entry-points into an eco-social worldview. ‘If you look closely at what they’re saying, you’ll see that in fact this what eco-socialism is saying. They’re speaking very actively about how the corporates, the banks or the ruling classes are ruining the world. Generally speaking they don’t go to the point of saying ‘We need a society beyond capitalism,” but will say that another world is possible.,” he says.

Though socialism fizzled spectacularly by the 1980s, red shoots are starting to appear across the globe. In southern Mexico, the socialist Zapatista movement has been waging an ideological battle against the government, calling for bottom-up participatory governance and local control of resources.

And, as Kovel points out, in South Africa the Durban-based shackdwellers movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, has organized to prevent the industrial development of land promised to them and fought for access to water, electricity, sanitation, healthcare, education and other services.

So what’s an eco-socialist to do in the face of the rampant consumption that is threatening the Earth? Kovel believes the first steps towards eco-socialism are delegitimizing the existing system, building alternatives to that system, and waging an ideological struggle.

‘It’s an amazing thing with revolutions. They start building very slowly from below and then it can spread very rapidly. People start looking to each other for ideas, and ideas spread.”

Kovel is in South Africa on a speaking tour. He is the author of The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? and Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine.

Visit our special report on Copenhagen, featuring blogs, videos and more.

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Faranaaz Parker
Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live.

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