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Liberation for Our People and Our Planet

Notes on the Road
to 21st Century Socialism

Issue 2, March 2020

Ecological Justice and the Struggle for 21st Century Socialism

I. Introduction

The urgency of the climate crisis, combined with the inextricable links between racial monopoly capitalism and ecological degradation, make it imperative to integrate into LeftRoots’ vision of 21st century socialism a strong and clear commitment to ecological justice. This article aims to deepen the climate considerations touched on in “We Believe That We Can Win.”1 It is not intended to be a comprehensive outline of a left strategic orientation to the climate crisis. Instead, we point to several areas that are underdeveloped or ignored in We Believe That We Can Win, and that must be more thoroughly explored. We hope that, in the process, this article deepens LeftRoots’ internal engagement on and understanding of the ecological and climate justice crisis. We also hope it contributes to the strategic development of the ecological and climate justice left in the U.S.

We make three key strategic arguments related to the orientation articulated in We Believe That We Can Win:

  1. Ecological justice must be understood as inextricable and necessary aspect of 21st century socialism and interwoven into many aspects of our vision. We believe LeftRoots should engage in conversation to identify the best ways to effectively integrate it into our vision.
  2. We need a climate justice united front, with political leadership from frontline Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Asian and rural white working class communities. This united front should be in direct connection to the historic bloc proposed in We Believe That We Can Win to advance 21st century socialism.
  3. Actions taken to address the climate crisis in the next 10 years have very serious survival implications, globally and for generations to come. Consequently, the left urgently needs to deepen and develop our strategies to resolve the contradictions between the urgent timeframe in which we must address the climate and ecological crises, and the longer timeframe necessary to build the forces needed to achieve our full vision for 21st century socialism.

We start by briefly examining the material impacts and realities of the current ecological crisis. We trace the deeply linked nature of racial monopoly capitalism and the current ecological crisis, and then articulate a vision for ecological justice that draws upon grassroots organizers and environmental justice movements across the globe. We then provide a sketch of the current climate conjuncture and identify possible “driving forces” of a potential climate justice united front. We conclude by outlining the key reasons why ecological justice is critical to the overall effort to build 21st century socialism.

We are keenly aware of many gaps in this article. Many of the issues we identify, the historical trends we mention, and the assertions we make need deeper analysis and research. We know that the lineage of eco-socialists, movement activists, and thinkers working at the intersections of ecological justice, capitalism, and socialism is vast; we regret that we could not more thoroughly engage in conversations with, nor research on, these many leaders, their work, and their thinking. Notwithstanding, we hope this humble offering sparks conversation and debate that will help refine our collective analysis of the strategic interventions the climate justice left should advance in this critical period.

II. The ecological crisis and climate change: basic facts and framing

This article focuses on climate change, yet we have a broader understanding of the ecological crisis. When we use the term “ecological crisis,” we refer to an evolving, intersecting set of human-driven environmental problems that 1) threaten the delicate balance of both local and global ecosystems, 2) cause irreversible damage to ecosystems and pose the possibility of ecosystem collapse, and 3) generate a wide range of challenges for human populations.

Climate change is a central component of the ecological crisis, but the crisis also includes massive loss of biodiversity and extinction of species; industrial pollution of our air, water, and soil; compounding impacts on the health of people and other forms of life; deforestation; and humans’ massive over-use of resources, among others. This broader ecological devastation has been driven by the cycles of extraction, production, and disposal that characterize capitalism.2 Our vision for ecological justice encompasses and responds to this wide range of ecologically destructive activities, even as we attend to the urgency of the climate crisis specifically.

Throughout the article, we use the term “climate justice left” to refer to the organizations and people who are working specifically on climate change from a left perspective.

Material impacts of climate change

Since the industrial revolution, human impacts on Earth’s climate and ecological systems have become devastating and, in several cases, irreversible. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report indicates that we remain on a path toward 3°C of warming by 2100,3 which would have catastrophic impacts on living systems –– particularly human coastal dwellers, the global poor, and Indigenous communities.

Climate change is already upon us. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels are up 37 percent and global temperatures are up 1°C,3 while sea levels have risen almost seven inches over the last 100 years.4 We are already seeing the effects, from historic droughts and wildfires to more frequent and devastating storms and floods.

We face several climate “tipping points” in the coming decade, as economies continue growing faster than our ability to reduce associated emissions. In 2015, 170 countries agreed to try and limit warming by 2100 to 2˚C, but the 2018 IPCC report showed that the extent of global disruption will be substantially less at 1.5˚C of warming, as compared to 2˚C.5 Either of these “best case” scenarios will still mean devastation for low-lying nations, irreparable damage to water and food systems in many places, and unconscionable loss of human life. The IPCC report laid out a clear, aggressive twelve-year timeline in order to limit warming to 1.5ºC: we must reduce emissions by 45 percent by 2030.6 This will require extraordinary transitions in transportation, agriculture, land use, building infrastructure, and industrial and energy systems. If we do not, the greenhouse gas emissions already in the atmosphere will make it extremely difficult to limit warming to even 2˚C. More specifically, if emissions do not “peak” in 2020 and show a clear downward trajectory thereafter, it will be extremely difficult to achieve the level of reductions needed by 2030.7 Meanwhile, in 2017 global emissions reached a record high,8 and in 2018 emissions rose 3 percent in the U.S.9

In contrast to the IPCC’s call to limit global warming to 1.5ºC or 2ºC, demands and target metrics advanced by climate justice movements are even more ambitious. For example, the People’s Demands for Climate Justice10 call for developed countries to make a commitment for a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, and an immediate moratorium on new fossil fuel exploration and extraction, among other demands.

As the climate crisis deepens, it will further exacerbate existing material and political inequalities, as communities that are already marginalized, exploited, and who have the fewest resources also get the least support for dealing with severe climate impacts. Ripple effects across the U.S. and globally will impact agricultural harvests, housing, health, infrastructure, property, and much more.

All of these crises and disasters present new and more frequent opportunities for the ruling class, neoliberals, and the right to consolidate their power and increase their profits, at least in the short term. As social movement leftists in the nation most culpable for climate change (further explored below), we have a responsibility to attempt, by any strategic means necessary, to immediately decarbonize our society and advance a just transition towards regenerative economies.

Ecological debt

“A true ‘ecological debt’ exists, particularly between the global north and south … In different ways, developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future.”

—Pope Francis, 2015 Encyclical on Climate

Responsibility for the greenhouse gas emissions that are leading drivers of climate change is not uniform. Rather, the “ecological debt” borne by the U.S. places a special responsibility on U.S. social movement leftists to address the climate crisis.

For decades, the U.S. was the world’s largest carbon emitter and, though now second to China in annual emissions,11 we still carry the greatest historical responsibility for the causes of climate change. Combined, the U.S., China, and the European Union presently contribute over 50 percent of total global emissions, and the top 10 emitting nations account for nearly three-quarters of global emissions.12 The U.S.’s emissions, in particular, are driven by extremely high rates of consumption of both natural resources and goods.

Meanwhile, despite having some of the lowest per capita emissions, people across the Global South will be most directly impacted by climate change in the quickest timeframe. Many of these nations still struggle to achieve basic living standards that much of the Global North has long enjoyed thanks to industries and activities that emit extremely high levels of greenhouse gases. This ecological debt places a great deal of the impetus for curbing these emissions on us here in the U.S.

The ecological debt – both in the U.S. and globally – has been driven by the ruling class. 100 companies have been the source of more than 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.13 Around 50 percent of global emissions can be attributed to the richest 10 percent of people around the world, who have average carbon footprints 11 times as high as the poorest half of the population.14 In the U.S., the top 10 percent of polluters are responsible for 25 percent of total emissions, and the carbon footprint of the top 2 percent of wealthiest Americans is more than four times than those of people in the bottom 10 percent income bracket.15

III: Historical roots and structural elements of the ecological crisis

Developing a left strategic orientation to the ecological crisis requires a historical, materialist understanding of the causes of ecological destruction and the human activities driving the climate crisis. We begin by looking at the ecology of capitalist political economy.

Ecological destruction and the formation of racial monopoly capitalism

The roots of the contemporary ecological crisis are deeply embedded in the history and development of racial monopoly capitalism.16 The arrival, conquest, and settlement of Europeans in North America, as well as the genocide and subjugation of Indigenous Peoples fundamental to that process, relied in part on an ideology and practice of subjugating and exploiting the natural world itself.

Patriarchal European Christianity brought to North America a social construction of “nature” and the earth as wild, separate from humans, and in need of domination.17 This was and remains in direct contrast to Indigenous Peoples’ diverse cosmovisions and ways of life, in which nature is understood as an entity with whom to live in balance and the basis for spiritual practices.18 The Euro-Christian social construction of nature was a key element of the ideological matrix that justified the dehumanization of native peoples and, shortly thereafter, the enslavement of Africans.19

As Europeans colonized North America and established racial capitalism, they viewed “natural resources” as endless potential commodities to be used, together with exploited human labor, to generate profit.20 This logic led to extreme violence in many forms. Workers, considered disposable in the quest for profit, had few protections from the dangers of extractive industries. The endless hunt for more natural resources fueled (and still fuels) war, imperialist expansion, and colonization, resulting in devastating ecological and human consequences beyond the extraction itself. One key form of violence often used to enable resource expropriation was, and continues to be, the use of military or paramilitary forces to assassinate environmental defenders. This violence continues today, as with the 2016 high profile murder of Indigenous, feminist land defender Berta Cáceres.

Viewing the “natural world” as a territory to conquer reinforced, and was reinforced by, the particular forms of gender-based oppression that emerged alongside capitalism.21 Like “nature,” European and white men have often looked at women and their bodies as territories to be conquered, particularly in communities of color and the Global South. The combination of unequal gender relations and exploitation of natural resources can cause specific, often unacknowledged harms to women, and can be accompanied by overt gender-based violence to further resource exploitation.22 For example, among Indigenous Adivasi people in India, deforestation has disproportionately impacted women. For generations, Adivasi people have relied on the forests for subsistence, which are also linked to spiritual practices and social structures. As the people responsible for feeding their families, women were particularly impacted by a new, state-sponsored effort to fell the trees. In response, Adivasi women have led a courageous and militant effort to stop the tree felling and, as a result, they face disproportionate violence and repression. 23

“Women are suffering either by being refugees or by being affected by the situation that forces people to migrate to other countries. The system that forces people to migrate is the same system that is exploiting women’s bodies, women’s labor…. They keep forcing us into wars in the name of borders, and in the name of controlling natural resources.”

—Graça Samo, World March of Women International Secretariat in Mozambique

Alienation from land and ecology

Racial monopoly capitalism has alienated workers from the land and from traditional, land-based ways of life as severely as it has alienated workers from their own labor. Peoples’ location within highly globalized, consumer-driven racial monopoly capitalism obscures both how basic necessities, such as food and housing, are produced from natural resources, and also obscures the ecological impacts of modern lifestyles.

The resulting generalized alienation from the earth’s natural systems impacts a vast majority of people in the U.S. today, although this dynamic plays out differently for
specific peoples, classes, and communities. The alienation has been particularly acute for people of color here in the U.S. and for peoples of the Global South, whose
continued displacement has been a driving factor in the production and reproduction of racial monopoly capitalism and colonialism. Land expropriation, imperialism, and war—each with its own destructive and compounding ecological impacts—have driven these peoples from their lands and countries of origin.

For Indigenous Peoples, alienation from ancestral lands and traditional ecological knowledge has occurred as a result of genocide, forced relocation, and the general mechanisms of settler colonial conquest. For African-Americans, kidnapping and enslavement severed peoples’ connections to homelands; subsequently, the combination of structural racism (particularly in the form of historical restrictions on land ownership), and economic marginalization have continued to foreclose access to land for much of the Black community.24 Imperialism and global capitalism have severed the ties that immigrants from the Global South had to land in their countries of origin and pushed them to relocate to the U.S.

Dispossession from land is also common among white workers in the U.S., particularly in timber and coal country, but it has a different character. Many white people were alienated from their land in Europe through early capitalist mechanisms like enclosures and relocated to the U.S. Under white settler colonialism in North America, white people had access to land expropriated from Indigenous Peoples and from Mexico. With this important context, the experience of white working-class communities is illustrative of how racial monopoly capitalism combined resource extraction and exploitation of labor to produce profit and dispossession, leading to vast ecological destruction and long-term impacts on communities across Appalachia, the Pacific Northwest, and many other white working-class communities.

These common threads of dispossession, exploitation of land and of people, and alienation produce the seeds for a multi-racial historic bloc, discussed later in the article.

A critical contradiction: Productive forces and ecological limits

Marxist theory and socialist practice have had a complicated relationship to ecology. Despite some debate about the extent to which Marx himself understood the contradiction between capitalism and ecology,25 most Marxists have focused on liberating the working class from capitalist exploitation—and liberating capitalism’s productive forces in the process. But this allows for the same extractivism and “growth at all costs” principles in socialism that have put capitalist development in contradiction with the earth’s natural limits.

This proved true for many 20th century socialist experiments, especially in the Soviet bloc, often with destructive long-term environmental outcomes comparable to its capitalist analogs. In the Global South, socialist and social democratic experiments confronted with abysmal living conditions after decades or centuries of colonial underdevelopment have too often relied on extractivism to generate the wealth needed to improve those conditions and foster “development.” While the constraints of global capitalism have offered these experiments only a very limited set of choices, social movements in some of these countries (e.g., Brazil, Ecuador, and Bolivia) often offer justified criticism of their governments’ misguided
“developmentalist” policies.26

This contradiction has led eco-socialists such as Saral Sarkar to pose the critical question: how can revolution be re-conceived not as unleashing the productive forces of the working class, but as “pulling the emergency brake on the locomotive of industrial growth and development”?27 How to develop our productive forces with ecological balance, while still meeting the material needs of all people, is a key question for leftists.

Roots of a 21st century socialism grounded in ecological justice

Today’s climate justice left, and our vision for ecological justice in 21st century socialism, is directly linked to the strong resistance and innovative thinking of the environmental justice (EJ) movement in the U.S., social movements from across the Global South, and Indigenous Peoples’ struggles. In contrast to the mainstream Euro-American environmental movement, these movements have explicitly linked protection and stewardship of the Earth to structural economic and racial injustice, as well as to anti-colonialist politics and demands for Indigenous sovereignty.

Today’s U.S. climate justice movement is rooted in the EJ movement, which has many overlaps with, but is distinct from, the climate justice left. The EJ movement emerged in the 1980s in response to the severe impacts of environmental racism, particularly the disproportionate pollution in low-income communities and communities of color. Led by Black, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander, and Indigenous communities, the EJ movement has articulated the connections between race, class, and pollution, and has redefined “the environment” to include where people live, work, play, and pray. Many of the early EJ organizers came directly out of the racial, economic justice, and national liberation movements of the 1970s, including the American Indian Movement, Asian working class movements, Xicano movements in the Southwest, and Black Liberation struggles across the South. Many of these organizers are still active in the EJ and climate justice movements, providing unique political leadership.

At the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991, EJ activists came together and developed the Environmental Justice Principles, a counter-hegemonic platform that explicitly indicts several core principles of extractive capitalism.28 Among other things, it calls for “economic alternatives which would contribute to the development of environmentally safe livelihoods” and the “political, economic and cultural liberation that [we have] been denied for over 500 years of colonization and oppression, resulting in the poisoning of our communities and land and the genocide of our peoples…” This holistic understanding of the environment and root causes of environmental injustice was in direct contrast to the mainstream environmental movement, which is discussed in more detail in Section V.

A core EJ principle is that frontline communities (those most impacted by pollution) can and must speak for themselves. Since its’ beginning, the EJ movement has challenged racism within mainstream environmentalism. Critical EJ interventions have reshaped the terrain of both environmental and racial justice struggles, such as the explicit inclusion of worker rights and safety in the Environmental Justice Principles. This intervention was borne from the grassroots efforts of groups such as the United Farm Workers and others who addressed toxic exposures in the workplace, which were previously unacknowledged by the environmental movement. Today, the many different EJ organizations continue work on a broad range of issues, such as fighting toxics and for clean water. Unfortunately, these important struggles are beyond the scope of this article.

Many other indigenous, social and environmental movements both in the U.S. and internationally have been key in the development of an anti-capitalist politics of ecological justice. In the Global South, these include the Rubber Tappers’ movement in Brazil,29 Indigenous Adivasi forest peoples’ movements in India, resistance to oil and gas extraction in Nigeria, and many more. Global South leaders such as Vandana Shiva, Berta Cáceres, and Pablo Solón have made important contributions to the developing climate justice left politic, as have indigenous and land-based movements such as the Indigenous Environmental Network and La Via Campesina.

These organizers, thinkers and movements integrate a diverse range of traditions and tendencies in their work. Some, though not all, draw on principles of Marxism and socialism. Others have contributed frameworks around the rights of nature/Mother Earth, anti-colonialism/self-determination, ecofeminism, Indigenous lifeways and cosmology, anti-capitalism, radical ecology, and a rejection of a “growth at all costs” approach. Eco-socialism, a strand of socialism that combines socialist theory with ecology, has also contributed to a deeper theoretical understanding of the contradictions between ecology and capitalism. These are just some of the groups and tendencies we have drawn from to develop our vision for a 21st century socialism grounded in ecological justice.

IV: Our vision for ecological justice

Principles for 21st century socialist ecological justice

We believe one necessary addition to We Believe That We Can Win is the articulation of a vision for what ecological justice looks like in a 21st century socialist alternative. We have identified eight principles we believe could guide this vision, drawn from the following international and U.S.-based frameworks: Buen Vivir; Cochabamba Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth;3 Environmental Justice; Just Transition; Food Sovereignty and Agroecology; and Ecofeminism. We agree with much of the content in these frameworks, and have tried to synthesize common themes among them. We strongly encourage readers to familiarize themselves with the original documents referenced above, links to which can be found in the supplemental resources provided in Appendix A.

  1. We must recognize that the relationship and harmony between human beings and nature is fundamental. We must recognize Mother Earth as a living system with whom we have an indivisible, interdependent, complementary and, for some, a spiritual relationship. We must affirm this understanding and relationship by upholding environmental justice: the right to be free from environmental destruction. (Buen Vivir; Cochabamba Agreement; Environmental Justice)
  2. Life—rather than money, economic growth, or profit—must be at the center of any 21st century socialist alternative to capitalism. We must pursue a fair and sustainable shift from an extractive economy to economies that uphold life, based on local conditions and determined by communities considering local needs. Human productive activity must achieve and support ecological balance. The land cannot be owned; it must be honored and protected. (Buen Vivir; Ecofeminism; Just Transition)
  3. All exploitative, dominating, colonial relations must be transformed into reciprocal, respectful, mutual ones. White supremacy, colonialism, and patriarchy are all root causes of environmental injustices and ecological devastation; racial and gender justice and the liberation of all peoples are key to environmental justice. Polluting industries must be held accountable for repairing harms so that communities and Mother Earth can heal. The transition to a new economy must provide for workers in extractive industries, as well as for the broader communities impacted by the climate crisis. (Ecofeminism; Environmental Justice; Just Transition)
  4. Ecological justice must support and reinforce the self-determination of all peoples. Peoples must have the autonomy and control to determine their reciprocal relationships to each other and the land. For example, people’s lands/territories must be protected from extraction, just as women’s bodies must be protected from violence. (Ecofeminism; Food Sovereignty; Just Transition)
  5. Solutions must be led by those most impacted by environmental and climate damages. Frontline communities must speak for themselves, and women’s unique involvement in ecological defense must be recognized. (Ecofeminism; Environmental Justice)
  6. Indigenous rights must be recovered, protected, and respected. 21st century socialism must recognize Indigenous rights to water and land, uphold treaties and the right to unceded territories; safeguard free, prior, and informed consent; and respect Indigenous sovereignty globally. (Buen Vivir; Cochabamba Agreement; Environmental Justice)
  7. To challenge injustice and power hierarchies, we must build collective power based in grassroots communities. Individual well-being must be balanced with collective well-being, and challenges to injustice must not rely solely on the assertion of individual interests. (Buen Vivir; Cochabamba Agreement)
  8. The reconstruction of energy and economic systems must include reparations, healing, and restoration from the devastating legacies of environmental racism. We must rehabilitate contaminated water, air, and land, especially in Indigenous communities, Black communities, communities impacted by extractive industries, and peoples throughout the Global South, to which the Global North owes a tremendous ecological debt. (Environmental Justice, Just Transition)

Integrating ecological justice into LeftRoots’ vision for 21st century socialism

We Believe That We Can Win currently identifies ecological stewardship as part of the economic base of 21st century socialism.30 While we agree with this articulation, it is our position that ecological justice extends beyond the economic base, as reflected by the broad principles we have articulated above. Ecological justice must not only undergird any new political economy we build; ecological justice must also be an ever-evolving outcome of our new system; in its most advanced form, is also a framework for how we relate to nature and each other.

Rather than propose one particular strategy for accomplishing integration, we propose that LeftRoots engage in conversations at all levels of the organization to integrate ecological justice into our vision for 21st century socialism. Additional processes to consider may include adopting a set of overarching principles for ecological justice, or incorporating ecological justice into the “socialist triangle” articulated in We Believe That We Can Win. A few of the key shifts – by no means exhaustive – that we could foresee coming out of such a process include:

  • Recognizing the fundamental and irreplaceable contribution ecological balance makes to human development. Alienation from Mother Earth is part of capitalism. Respect for Mother Earth increases, and is an intrinsic and necessary part of, human development.
  • Ensuring that “social ownership of the means of production,”31 and production itself, protects and affirms ecological boundaries (e.g., non-extractive industry, regenerative projects, and ecological restoration).
  • Reimagining “collectively determined needs”32 to include stewardship for ecological abundance and the sustainability of natural resources.

In addition to their place in a vision for 21st century socialism, ecological justice must also be part of our analysis, strategy, and practice. This requires a swift and urgent “climate cadrefication” of leftists. We must increase eco-literacy so the climate crisis’ uniquely grave and urgent timeline can be integrated into strategic and tactical considerations. This cadrefication will enable us to reimagine the material infrastructure needed to underpin 21st century socialism, and to adapt to the changes underway in our physical, social, and political geographies (e.g., more people displaced as more places are no longer habitable). It will also allow us to further elaborate on the three revisions proposed above. Likewise, “climate cadrefication” will ensure that we, as leftists, move toward an ecologically balanced way of life that ceases to rely on the current extractive, consumer-driven model.

V: Assessment of the current climate conjuncture

Living democracy grows like a tree: from the ground up.

—Vandana Shiva

Achieving our vision for ecological justice within 21st century socialism is a long-term project, but the climate crisis requires immediate interventions. This tension requires us to carefully analyze the current conjuncture to develop strategies for making dramatic advances in the immediate term while building power for deeper systemic shifts in the medium and long term.

The strength of extractive industries

Products related to extraction are woven into nearly every aspect of our lives, from the food we eat, to the transport and energy we use. We use the term “extractive sector” to refer to corporations that directly extract fossil fuels, such as oil and gas companies, as well as those that are reliant on fossil-fuel products, such as industrial agriculture (which can also be considered extractive in other ways). This vast web of ecologically destructive industries, and the ruling class that controls them, maintain a strong grip on our political, economic, and social systems. They have created and maintain a broad hegemonic understanding that we “need” fossil fuels, that the alternatives are unrealistic, and/or that our overall growth- and consumption-oriented economic model is indefinitely sustainable.

The extractive sector has an extremely high level of access to and infiltration of the political system, concentrated on the right but including many centrists and liberals as well. These industries and their front groups are active at every political level, killing or weakening climate initiatives and policy at local, state, national, and international levels. For example, in the 2018 midterm elections, oil corporations successfully spent $31.5 million to kill a carbon fee proposal in Washington state and $41 million in Colorado to kill a new proposed oil and gas regulation.33 They exercise strong control over and access to the means of communication, including direct ownership of and influence over major television, print, and talk radio outlets. Extractive companies – and the ruling class who controls them – are supported by a network of conservative think tanks and funders who actively promote climate change denial, and explicitly work to undermine climate science.

The extractive sector is also tremendously adept at co-opting popular demands. For example, when oil companies install renewable energy to power the pumping of fossil fuels to demonstrate their “green” production, or develop renewable energy while maintaining oil drilling operations, they are offering superficial concessions to popular forces that maintain their basic extractive and destructive economic model—and their economic and political power within it.

These interests are a fundamental part of the neoliberal project of racial monopoly capitalism and have gained significant political leverage with the rise of the far right and Trumpism. Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda aims to reduce reliance on oil and gas imports and make the U.S. a larger player in the global oil and gas markets. This has led to a program of rapidly increased oil and gas production in the U.S., greenlighting increased oil and gas infrastructure, and dramatic environmental rollbacks.34 Today, for the first time in history, the U.S. is the largest producer of natural gas in the world and neck-and-neck with Russia and Saudi Arabia for top oil production.35

Trump’s domestic agenda has been accompanied by an effort to undermine global climate progress. This has been bolstered internationally by the global rise of the far right, most recently with the election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, who is already revoking protections on the Amazon rainforest and attacking Indigenous sovereignty, agrarian reform, workers, Quilombola communities, peasants, women, and LGBTQ people.36

However, even the powerful web of extractive industries is facing the contradiction of their production: the burning of fossil fuels is driving an ecological crisis that jeopardizes the very people, infrastructure, and systems needed to deliver and consume fossil fuel products and thus create a profit. For example, rising sea levels and increased storms threaten the physical infrastructure of oil extraction.

The political bankruptcy of the “mainstream” climate movement

While the climate justice left recognizes that capitalism is the fundamental driver of climate change, the broader U.S. climate movement is dominated by “mainstream”
forces that do not recognize this root cause. The mainstream climate movement has historically been predominately white and “middle class,” and has both refused to address and directly perpetuated structural racial and economic injustice. While different mainstream actors have particular interests, they share a belief that the
climate crisis can be averted while maintaining global neoliberal capitalism.

The mainstream climate movement has promoted policies that narrowly focus on counting and trying to reduce carbon dioxide parts per million on a global scale and addressing the impacts of climate change. Not only has this approach been generally ineffective—global emissions reached a record high in 2017,37 and in 2018 emissions rose 3 percent in the U.S.38—it has also failed to address the disproportionate burden of impacts in frontline communities. Focusing on the aggregate amount of carbon dioxide at the state, national, or international level overlooks already existing or increasing levels of concentrated pollution in communities of color, and does not repair this harm or prevent further localized damage.

The mainstream approach to the climate crisis, which lacks a systemic critique of capitalism, has been developed and promoted by mainstream, mostly white, and often middle-class environmental groups. They are bolstered by a network of liberal decision makers, academics, and scientists, and supported by a relatively large philanthropic sector. This has yielded a mainstream movement that has overwhelmingly failed to include or develop any “root cause” analysis or racial- and economic-justice lens. (Note that important changes are occurring right now within the mainstream movement sector, touched on below.)

Without a systemic analysis, a limited focus on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does not advance transformative change. This dynamic was on clear display at the 2018’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, which named corporations like Salesforce and Google as key partners in the fight against climate change. If these companies can just clean up their supply chains, the logic goes, we can solve climate change and maintain the current model of economic development. In a similar vein, the mainstream movement has long promoted individualized responses to climate change, focusing on changing consumer behavior without fundamentally challenging existing power structures.

Many mainstream policy prescriptions have become recognized by the climate justice left as “false solutions” or “false promises” —activities that create a façade of climate action but do not challenge industry’s economic and political power or profits, cause harm to frontline communities and ecosystem, and are generally ineffective at significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Some have been developed directly in coordination with the fossil fuel industry, led by the largest multinational oil corporations39 who have long recognized the growing reality of climate change.40 Many of these proposals rely on the market to drive reductions. They put a price on carbon dioxide pollution, making it more expensive to pollute, thus theoretically prompting businesses to pollute less.41 Such proposals are a marked departure from the direct regulation that has been the cornerstone of U.S. environmental policy since the 1970s. Regulation, which has strictly prohibited certain levels of pollution, has led to the cleanup of both our air and our waterways (and is now under attack by the Trump administration).

Other false promises promoted by the mainstream climate movement have a host of negative ecological impacts that make them unsustainable, as well as failing to challenge the fundamental power of the extractive sector. For example, hydroelectric dams are often touted as “clean” energy because they are not reliant on oil and gas, but dams destroy ecosystems and many have cut off Indigenous Peoples’ access to their ancestral territories, which are critical for both cultural and subsistence practices. Incinerators, nuclear energy plants, carbon capture and storage, and agro-fuels are among the many types of harmful energy projects that mainstream and industry forces promote as ‘solutions’.

Another type of false solution on the rise is geo-engineering: intentional, large-scale technological manipulation of the Earth’s systems in an effort to counteract some of the symptoms of climate change, control weather conditions, or reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. While ideas like “stratospheric aerosol injection”(building high-altitude planes to reflect sunlight back into space and thus cool the planet) might sound like science fiction, they are rapidly gaining traction.42
Proponents of geo-engineering range from liberals genuinely trying to reduce carbon dioxide, to pseudo-scientists promoted by industry. Geo-engineering often serves an intentional deflection from more effective actions, such as directly reducing emissions. The side effects and unintended consequences of such massive technological disruption of natural and managed ecosystems could have devastating impacts for generations to come, and it fails to address the root causes of climate change.

In summary, mainstream climate policy has not led to significant decreases in carbon emissions globally, nor has it galvanized widespread popular support. It has failed to speak to the interests of working-class people, either in content or in messaging, and it does not address the underlying economic, political, or social drivers of climate change.

Strengths and limitations of the climate justice left

“Let us wake up, Humanity! We are out of time. We must shake our consciousness free of the rapacious capitalism, racism, and patriarchy that will only ensure our own self-destruction…Our Mother Earth, militarized, fenced in, poisoned, a place where basic rights are systematically violated—demands that we take action. Let us build societies that allow us to live in a dignified way, and in a way that protects life. Let us come together and remain hopeful as we defend and care for the blood of this earth and of its spirits.”

—Berta Cáceres

Left forces within the climate movement have important strengths. For decades, we have been doing incredible on-the-ground work to intervene in mainstream climate politics, win inspiring campaigns across the country, and build out a grassroots-led vision for climate justice. For instance, the Just Transition framework provides emerging ideological clarity about the principles of a coherent left orientation to climate change, one that links it to a broader racial and economic justice agenda.43

The climate justice left also has strong democratic practices, building on the legacy of the EJ and Indigenous rights movements, which contain strong sets of principles around developing leader-full movements; prioritizing the voices of those who are most directly impacted to speak for themselves; and democratic organizing as embodied through engagement of the Jemez Principles.44

But the climate justice left has very little political power and operates at a very small scale. We have yet to grapple with the question of how to build real political power in a country as large as the U.S. We lack a clear assessment of what forces we need, whom we can pull left, or how we can build a united front powerful enough to make significant climate justice advances.

Most significantly, we face a stark incongruence between the short timeframe for addressing the climate crisis and the longer timeframe to assemble the forces necessary for large-scale revolutionary change. Achieving our full vision for ecological justice will take decades (or longer), but the latest scientific projections give us just 12 years to halve all global greenhouse gas emissions and prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. We lack a clear understanding of what strategies will help accomplish the two distinct goals of building our power for long-term change and addressing the immediacy of the climate crisis. Without a strategic framework, we have no basis to assess the type of short-term tactical alliances we might need. We do not have alignment around whether or not compromises on mitigation measures will be necessary to address the most immediate impacts of the climate crisis, or what, if any, non-reformist reforms would advance our cause. Our responsibilities as internationalists within the U.S. present other challenges. A just solution to the global climate crisis requires not only an environmental transformation of our economy, but also a substantial reduction in resource consumption by the U.S. How do we build a united front around a platform that combines radical environmental transformation of our economy, radical redistribution of wealth and economic power, and an overall contraction of our existing, growth-centered national economy? How do we ensure this contraction
does not harm those in the U.S. already struggling to make ends meet?

Finally, the broader social movement left must integrate an analysis of ecological crisis into its strategy. Climate change will reshape the day-to-day lives of millions of people across the country and create ongoing and dynamic shifts in the political and economic terrain. How will this impact progressive efforts in the short-term, and what are the implications for developing a long-term strategy to build 21st century socialism?

The current climate conjuncture: Important breaks and schisms

Amidst ever-worsening scientific projections, there is also increasing recognition that the solutions to climate change must include broad, systemic shifts in society. Given these changing conditions, combined with our assessment of the mainstream and left climate forces and the state of extractive industries, we can identify some important breaks developing in the climate conjuncture. The climate justice left should continually assess these schisms and develop strategies to amplify them.

  • Global-level liberal, and even neoliberal, forces dislike Trump’s extreme agenda. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord and fanatical promotion of fossil fuels at the international level, particularly within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has provoked a backlash among a wide range of neoliberal forces at the international level. This creates potential openings to build tactical international alliances and advance left solutions.
  • Trump’s international agenda of economic nationalism creates a potential contradiction with domestic oil and gas producers. A trade war with China, the U.S.’s largest market for oil and gas exports, directly undermines the profits of the oil and gas producers in the U.S. who are among Trump’s allies. This could lead to disarray on the right and opportunity for the left.
  • There is increased media and scientific consensus on the failure of the mainstream climate movement’s approach, creating openings to amplify left solutions. Similarly, philanthropists are recognizing that mainstream solutions have not achieved the progress needed, which presents new opportunities to organize resource holders to support the climate justice left.
  • The ruling class is increasingly concerned about climate change. Cultural influencers like Leonardo Di Caprio and venture capitalists like Tom Steyer, while they may perhaps be invested in maintaining racial monopoly capitalism, are increasingly taking action on climate change and against Trump.
  • Mainstream environmental organizations are increasingly realizing their own limitations, while environmental and climate justice movements have been building alignment and growing in influence and impact. Mainstream groups are seeing that they must be more responsive to communities of color, that their lack of diversity alienates them from the growing majority of the U.S. population, and that their dominant approach to climate change is flawed. These breaks are an opportunity to advance ideological shifts within these mainstream organizations, as well as harness more power and funding for the left.
  • There are active debates in the labor movement about climate change. For decades, conservative and centrist unions have blocked significant commitment from the labor movement as a whole to advance transformative solutions, and have at times taken action in direct opposition to climate justice demands. But progressive labor forces have been advancing a left politic on climate change for decades, and now more unions are starting to consider bolder action. For example, the National Nurses United on climate change; the AFL-CIO issued a statement on climate change,45 even as they have taken contrary positions on key issues such as Dakota Access pipeline; and there were strong labor contingents within the 2018 climate mobilizations. While these efforts may be limited in scope and contain many contradictions, they nevertheless point to openings too deepen connections with the labor movement.
  • The increased frequency of climate-related catastrophic events (super storms, wildfires, droughts, etc.) is impacting millions of people across the country and materially changing their day-to-day lives. Storm-devastated communities, from Puerto Rico to New York to Florida to Houston, and fire-ravaged areas in the West are still struggling many months after such disasters. From the depths of these tragedies, our forces can advance a left narrative around systemic drivers of climate change and transformative solutions. However, these crises also create opportunities for neoliberal and liberal forces to create “solutions” that maintain their dominance.

Grounds for hope

The crisis is acute and the conjuncture presents daunting challenges, but extraordinary struggles for ecological justice in this period are constantly renewing our inspiration and imagination and giving us continued grounds for hope. Foremost, powerful campaigns and movements have united and galvanized a broad range of forces to win truly progressive climate change victories, including the fights against the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. The No DAPL fight, for example, effectively articulated the links between ecological protection and Indigenous rights, and this message reached millions of people.

Likewise, the continued creativity and tenacity of grassroots organizing efforts across the country demonstrate that we can develop genuinely transformative solutions, even if we cannot yet bring them to scale. Community-based organizations working to meet people’s needs in places hit by climate disasters have been developing a framework for “Just Recovery” after such events. Kentuckians for the Commonwealth demonstrates the breadth of issues climate justice leftists are taking on in an effort to demonstrate radically transformative solutions, including cleaning up the air, water, and land in coal-mining communities, fighting for a transition to green and renewable energy that creates good, local jobs, supporting participatory democracy and defending voting rights, and integrating racial justice and anti-oppression work throughout their efforts.

The 2018 elections ushered in a new wave of diverse decision-makers running on bold, progressive platforms and pushing more comprehensive ways to address climate change. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed “Green New Deal” is the most prominent example. While it has created a new opportunity for the climate justice left to engage in national-level policy debate, it also contains contradictions and challenges.

The renewable energy sector is growing, with more and more states making renewable energy commitments.46 While large-scale renewable energy can have both ecological and political pitfalls, increased solar and wind energy undermines the profits of the fossil fuel sector and benefits the climate. Increased state-level commitments create opportunities to push for and win smaller-scale, decentralized, and community-controlled renewable energy projects at the local level.

Finally, it is worth recalling that even the most recent modeling from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that it remains possible to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions enough to limit the rise in temperature to 1.5ºC.

VI: Driving forces of the climate justice left

“I believe people in the U.S. and the world are starting to wake up. They are seeing our current economic system isn’t working. Humanity is starting to look at the need for new economic paradigms. The form of capitalism, as we know it, is coming to an end. Again, the dangers of capitalism are based upon the depletion of natural resources and its unfulfilling appetite for unlimited growth and constantly taking from Mother Earth without giving back. I think that we are starting to realize as humanity, as people of the world, along with Indigenous people, that we cannot continue to live like this.”

—Tom Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network

In order to utilize the markedly shifting conjuncture to advance our vision for ecological justice and stem the climate crisis, it will require a massive social movement at all levels of society. We need a united front that unites broad segments of society to move systemic interventions around climate and ecological justice. Based on our structural and conjunctural analyses, we believe that the political leadership for this united front must come from Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander, and rural white working-class frontline communities. These will not be the only interests in the united front. The mainstream environmental movement will be a critical element of the united front. Among others, youth, labor and faith-based institutions – many of which are already active on climate – could all potentially be brought into the united front, as conditions and their own strategies dictate. However, in our assessment, the driving forces we’ve identified have the best capacity to build and provide leadership to the broad united front needed to advance genuine systemic change in the face of the existential threat of the climate crisis.

Below, we provide more analysis on why we have identified frontline groups as driving forces of the climate justice united front. We include a particular focus on Indigenous, Black, and women’s leadership, and outline why an internationalist perspective is critical.

Frontlines of crisis, forefront of change

Frontline Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander, and rural white working-class grassroots movements are playing a critical role in pressuring governments for meaningful action, developing long-term and sustainable alternatives and solutions on the ground, and helping vulnerable communities withstand and adapt to the impacts the climate crisis is already having. Our movements are born from surviving broken levees and oil spills in the Gulf Coast, the explosions of oil refineries and devastating wildfires in California, fracking’s destruction of land, air, and water across the Dakotas, and the devastating health
conditions for workers and communities across the coal fields of the Appalachian mountains. Frontline communities today are already living with food shortages, health crises, contamination, and displacement. Driven by the clarity of what is already at stake in our communities right now, grassroots climate justice movements have been the most courageous and uncompromising in rejecting half-measures and demanding real, enforceable and immediate action.

But this is not enough. While we understand the critical role of these grassroots, frontline movements, we also know that we have too little strategic clarity and political power to meet the urgency of the crisis. The moment requires us to take up the concept that Zapatismo advanced: caminar preguntando (to walk while asking
questions). It calls for immediate action, testing our ideas and strategy in practice while making grounded, material assessments and developing thousands of new cadres.

Indigenous Peoples’ movements

Indigenous Peoples’ movements offer visionary political and spiritual grounding, along with bold, militant, and strategic organizing that has led to some of the biggest climate victories in the last period. From the more than 280 nations and tribes that mobilized support with the water defenders of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation against the Dakota Access Pipeline, to the movements in defense of the Tar Sands and the Wet’suwet’en territory in the north, to the growing movements to protect the Bayou in the Gulf South and the Arctic Refuge in Alaska, Indigenous peoples across North America continue to put their bodies on the line as they lead some of the most effective and galvanizing struggles to stop extraction and confront polluters at the source.

The leadership that Indigenous Peoples are offering in the global climate movement presents new opportunities to deepen relationships between and among left social movements and Indigenous movements. In North America, Indigenous movements have not always identified with the left or other social movements, and other racial and social justice movements in the U.S. have many times failed to deeply understand and take up Indigenous struggles as central to their own liberation. Some historical moments offer us important lessons, such as the relationships among the American Indian Movement, the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords, the Red Guard, and many of the other national liberation movements of the 1970s. Globally, we can and must learn from the interwoven relationships among Indigenous, Afro-descendant, peasant, youth, labor, grassroots feminist,
and Marxist movements in places as varied as the Philippines, South Africa,
Haiti, Puerto Rico, India, Senegal, and the Americas.

The leadership of Indigenous movements around questions of environmental and climate justice is shaping and sharpening left theory and consciousness. Two examples include the Cochabamba Accords that developed out of the 2010 Global Conference on Climate Change, and the Rights of Mother Earth in Bolivia, which represent a powerful alignment of popular movements from more than 140 nations with a deep grounding in anti-capitalist values and Indigenous world views. This type of alignment and recognition of Indigenous world views points to the potential for land and climate justice struggles to bring social movement leftists into direct on-the-ground practice and joint movement building with Indigenous movements. Particularly because We Believe That We Can Win identifies Indigenous Peoples as a driving force in the historic bloc necessary to achieve 21st century socialism, the shared experiences of climate justice practice and movement-building will be crucial to building relationships that are foundational to a successful historic bloc.

Black liberation is central to climate justice

Black leadership plays a critical role in the struggle for climate justice. Racial monopoly capitalism’s model of resource extraction and exploitation was fundamentally shaped through the brutal theft, violence, and exploitation of generations of Black people—and, specifically, the enslavement of African peoples and the institution of chattel slavery.

The intersection of racism and ecological destruction continues to shape the lived reality for Black communities today: as a result of systematic disinvestment, marginalization, and racism, Black communities live in some of the most polluted areas, suffer related, disproportionate health consequences, and are often hit first and worst by the impacts of climate change. Ecological destruction and white supremacy have enabled each other for generations; to dismantle either, we must tackle both.

Hurricane Katrina exposed how the deep legacies and living reality of anti-Black racism collides with climate change. In the fall of 2005, the world watched as the U.S. government abandoned hundreds of thousands of Black people in the face of a dire humanitarian crisis. When the levees broke and more than 85 percent of New Orleans was completely under water, tens of thousands of families were herded into the New Orleans Superdome.

Survivors described the stadium as more of a concentration camp than an emergency shelter, without adequate toilets, potable water, or food. Almost 7,000 women and men in New Orleans jails were abandoned, locked in their cells for days without food while flood waters continued to rise. Three days after Katrina struck, armed National Guard troops blocked the road connecting the city of Gretna to New Orleans. Troops fired shots overhead to keep thousands of evacuees from crossing the bridge and escaping the flooding and chaos. Officially, more than 1,800 people died in the hurricane, subsequent floods, and lack of humanitarian support. Even now, after more than a decade of reconstruction, many Black residents who survived the storm remain displaced due to either storm damage or reconstruction-fueled gentrification.

The connections between white supremacy and the climate crisis have spurred important climate organizing in Black communities. The Movement for Black Lives platform explicitly addresses references to climate change in several sections, clearly articulating how Black communities have been impacted by environmental racism, and how liberation for Black people must include reparations for these harms.47 Cooperation Jackson, a Black-led project in Jackson, Mississippi, is creating a network of cooperatives both to further Black self-determination and to help develop the economic basis for a just transition away from the extractive economy. These cooperatives include efforts to re-establish collective Black connections to land, like a farming cooperative and a land trust.48 These are just two of the many powerful examples of Black-led organizing explicitly creating links between climate justice and racial justice.49 Yet we still need more Black-led organizations to engage in climate justice work. Supporting Black leadership in climate justice efforts is critical to building an effective movement for 21st century socialism.

Women on the frontlines

As in many (or even most) popular movements around the world, women make up the overwhelming majority of leaders and activists in the climate justice movement, both in the U.S. and globally. Their leadership will be essential in any united front.

It is not surprising that women are prominent in this particular movement. A complex set of conditions, rooted in both traditional pre-colonial cultural practices and the development of capitalist heteropatriarchy, has often made women the caretakers not only of families or communities, but of the earth as well. Women movement leaders have also been subjected to life-threatening gender-based violence in struggles to defend water and the land. Examples include the epidemic of thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women across North America, and sexual violence within the male-dominated camps surrounding mines and extractive industry sites. We must defend our movement leaders, especially women, and directly confront gender-based violence that is tied to the extractive economy.

Grassroots feminist and ecological justice frameworks share many of the same principles, such as an emphasis on interconnectedness, mutual support, and transforming hierarchical relationships.50 These overlaps in conceptual frameworks point to important opportunities to build stronger practical links between intersectional feminist movements and movements for ecological justice. By creating these connections and lifting up both these tendencies, we can push back on the driving force of patriarchal racial monopoly capitalism in mutually reinforcing ways and build a stronger, cross-sectoral movement for 21st century socialism.

While much of ecofeminist literature has focused on a binary discussion of women, we must further investigate and expose how patriarchy and ecological destruction have combined to impact gender non-conforming and queer people in particular. Unfortunately, we were unable to explore this in the development of this article.

Bringing an internationalist perspective

As social movement leftists inside the United States, we must recognize the role of the U.S. in driving global racial monopoly capitalism, which continues to devastate the livelihoods and natural resources of peoples across the Global South. The global frontlines of the survival struggle are found across the African continent, the small island states, the Caribbean, Bangladesh, and forest-dependent communities across the Amazon, among others. It is a brutal irony that these communities contribute the least to the climate crisis, but suffer the most.

It is not just the crisis that has a global dimension, but the emerging solutions, as well. Social movements in the Global South are advancing bold visions for climate justice, and we must learn from and alongside these movements. We must develop solutions that provide reparations for the U.S.’s role in the ecological crisis; we must create strategies that do not displace extractive industries from one country or community to another; and we must hold multinational corporations and their ruling class accountable for the destruction in all countries. The climate justice left must build mutual solidarity with movements in the Global South to win the future that we all want, and that Mother Earth demands.

Relationship between the climate justice united front and the historic bloc

The relationship between the proposed climate justice united front and the historic bloc identified in We Believe That We Can Win should be further explored by LeftRoots. While there is some overlap in the identification of Latinx, Black, and Indigenous communities as driving forces of both, the driving forces of the climate justice united front encompass a broader set of frontline communities including Asian, Asian Pacific Islander, and rural, white working class people, as well as a clear internationalist perspective and a focus on women’s leadership.

Given the magnitude of the ecological crisis facing humanity, it will be imperative that the overall socialist historic bloc has a deep understanding of ways to integrate ecological justice into political economy and governance. This suggests that the climate justice united front must make important contributions to the historic bloc, but how these contributions are fed into and directly impact the configuration of the historic bloc is a question LeftRoots needs to explore.

VII: Conclusion

The analysis in this article draws on the work of the many leaders, organizers, thinkers and everyday people across the decades who have built and continue to build the movements for environmental, climate, and ecological justice. As we expand the climate justice left and deepen the engagement of broader social movement forces, we must all continue to learn from the existing leadership in the movement.

We urge LeftRoots, and all 21st century socialists, to integrate ecological justice into our visions for 21st century socialism. Just as we fight for an economic system that supports human development, we must fight for a system that respects Mother Earth. In doing so, we recognize that humans are but one part of a broader ecosystem, and we strengthen our capacities, increase our long-term likelihood of survival, and undermine the many oppressive ideologies central to racial monopoly capitalism. We cannot overthrow patriarchal racial capitalism without a fundamentally different orientation to “nature.”

The deeply intertwined nature of resource extraction and racial monopoly capitalism means that legitimate solutions to the climate crisis and other ecological problems must challenge the foundations of the current political economy. Even the mainstream climate movement is increasingly recognizing that capitalism’s endless growth model is a primary driver of climate change. With every climate-related disaster, more people are questioning the logic of capitalist extraction and consumption, and linking this destructive logic to the severe ecological destruction we are facing.

The scale of the crisis, which will impact millions (or likely, billions) of people, presents opportunities to unite a large number of social forces in a broad, counter-hegemonic united front that can advance the kind of transformative, and ultimately anti-capitalist, program we need. To build such a united front, we must develop more coherent strategies. This will require further, careful assessments of all terrains of struggle, and we must determine where we can engage in ways that tip the balance of power. Likewise, we must continue to deepen efforts to build power at all levels and in all areas of society. All of this requires leadership from “driving forces” whose interests and strategic location align most closely with the larger project. We believe those forces are the most advanced elements of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander, and rural white working-class frontline communities.

The united front will need to contend with a devastatingly short timeline that demands radical results on climate change faster than we are likely to be able to assemble the forces necessary to fully overthrow capital and realize our vision for an ecologically just socialism of the 21st century. This has profound implications for strategy, tactics, and program. We must develop solutions that speak to the needs of working-class people across the country as we build their power to effect large-scale change—all while advancing a broader shift away from our current consumption- and extraction-based economy. This is no easy task.

Finally, all social movement leftists need to integrate climate and ecological justice into their own vision, analyses, and strategy, right alongside gender justice, economic justice, and racial justice. The social movement left needs to show up for climate justice struggles. We must educate ourselves and our base about the climate crisis, its roots, and what a vision based on ecological justice looks like.

This “climate cadrefication” is urgent. In the coming years, all of our communities will face climate-related catastrophes. First and foremost, we must help our people survive during these difficult times. Just as groups on the ground organized to help people after Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Maria, Harvey, and Irma, or supported fire-displaced people in California, we must all be prepared to build and strengthen networks of mutual care and support to ensure that no people are left behind. We must also use these crises as popular teaching moments, advancing a counter-hegemonic narrative and set of demands.

A climate justice united front has the potential to advance a truly transformative set of demands that not only addresses the crisis of climate change, but also advances our overall struggle to build 21st century socialism. Our challenge, and our opportunity, is to build—from the heartbreak of climate devastation—the strength, strategy, and vision to advance both ecological justice and socialism for the 21st century.

APPENDIX A: Supplementary Materials on Ecological Justice

The People’s Agreement of Cochabamba was created through a democratic consensus process of
approximately 30,000 people from social movements
around the world in 2010 in Cochabamba, Bolivia. It
articulates an anti-capitalist ecological justice vision
that recognizes the rights of Mother Earth and restores ecological balance. https://pwccc.wordpress.

  1. Buen Vivir/ Vivir Bien (Living Well), also known as Suma qamaña and sumaq kawsay in Andean culture, and Lekil kuxlejal in Mayan culture, has its roots in indigenous worldviews. Buen Vivir is based on the belief that true wellbeing (“the good life or living well”) is only possible as part of a community.
  2. Ecofeminism is a framework that draws connections between the violence of natural resource extraction and gender-based violence. One of the first published articulations is the book Ecofeminism, by Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies.
  3. The Principles of Environmental Justice, drafted and adopted by delegates to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit held on October 24-27, 1991, in Washington DC. These principles cover a variety of interconnected issues, from the interconnectedness of all living beings; to the need to stop production of all toxins and hold polluters accountable to clean up the waste they have generated; to the need to stop militarism; to the importance of countering the consumer culture, and more.
  4. The concept of just transition has emerged from various lineages, among them many visionary movement thinkers and actors, both internationally and in the U.S. More recently, this thinking has been further developed by Movement Generation, in concert with several other groups, into a framework for how to move from an extractive economy to one that is sustainable and just. See Movement Generations’ “From Banks and Tanks to Cooperation and Caring: A Strategic Framework for a Just Transition.”
  5. Food Sovereignty is the right for all people to decide what they eat and to ensure that food in their community is ecologically, socially, economically, and culturally appropriate.
  6. The Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing were created a meeting hosted by Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice in 1996. They articulate a vision and set of practices for organizing
  1. See We Believe That We Can Win, pp 30, pp 40, pp 45, and pp 181.
  2. United Nations Environment Programme, Emissions Gap Report 2018, United Nations 2018.
  3. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Global Warming of 1.5: Summary for Policymakers, IPCC, 2018.
  4. NASA, 2018
  5. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Global Warming of 1.5: Summary for Policymakers, IPCC, 2018.
  6. Ibid.
  7. United Nations Environment Programme, Emissions Gap Report 2018, United Nations 2018.
  8. Energy and Climate Staff. Preliminary US Emissions Estimates for 2018. Rhodium Group, Accessed on February 7th, 2019.
  9. United Nations Environment Programme, Emissions Gap Report 2018, United Nations 2018.
  10. The People’s Demands for Climate Justice. The People’s Demands for Climate Justice, Accessed January 18, 2019.
  11. Bump, Philip. “A New, Grim Milestone in the Growth of Carbon Dioxide Emissions across the World.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 5 Dec. 2018,
  12. Friedrich, Johannes, et al. “This Interactive Chart Explains World’s Top 10 Emitters, and How They’ve Changed.” 2018 Will See High Meat Consumption in the U.S., but the American Diet Is Shifting | World Resources Institute, World Resources Institute, 11 Apr. 2017,
  13. Riley, Tess. “Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, study says.” The Guardian, 10 July 2017,
  14. Oxfam, Extreme Carbon Inequality, Oxfam, . Accessed
    February 7, 2019.
  15. Ummel, Kevin. Who Pollutes? A Household-Level Database of America’s Greenhouse Gas Footprint, Center for Global Development, 2014.
  16. We use the term “racial monopoly capitalism” as articulated in We Believe that We Can Win. See We Believe…, pp 20.
  17. Patel, Raj and Jason Moore, A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature and the Future of the Planet. University of California Press, 2017.
  18. Many Indigenous authors have articulated the unique cosmovision of Indigenous Peoples and the conflict with Euro-Christian conceptions of resources. See for example: Deloria, Vine. 1999. For This Land: Writings on Religion in America; Trask, Haunani-Kay. From A Native Daughter: Colonialism
    and Soveriegnty In Hawai’i.
  19. Many authors have articulated the links between the conquest of the native peoples and the subordination of the earth itself. One example is indigenous scholar-activist John Mohawk (1945-2006). See
  20. Patel, Raj and Jason Moore. See also Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Beacon Press, 2014.
  21. See, for example, Ecofeminism by Vandana
    Shiva and Maria Mies and Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation by Silvia Federici.
  22. Shiva, Vandana and Maria Mies, Ecofeminism. Zed Books, 2014.
  23. Sulakshana Nandi & Samir Garg. “Indigenous women’s struggles to oppose state-sponsored deforestation in Chhattisgarh, India.” Gender & Development, 25:3, 387-403, 2017.
  24. Goldmon, Camille, “Refusing to be Dispossessed: African American Land Retention in the US South from Reconstruction to World War II” (2017), pp. 62-63. Theses and Dissertations. 1947.
  25. Sarkar, Saral, ”From Socialism to Eco-socialism – Turning Points On a Personal Journey Through The Marxist Theory of Socialism.” Radical Ecological Democracy, 2018. Accessed February 7, 2019.
  26. See for example, Farthing, Linda and
    Thea N. Riofrancos, “The State of the Left in Latin America: Ecuador and Bolivia After the Pink Tide,” NACLA, 2017. Accessed February 7, 2019.
  27. See Sarkar, 2018.
  28. “Principles of Environmental Justice,” First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, 1991. Accessed January 21, 2019.
  29. “Rubber tappers against cattle ranchers and the murder of Chico Mendes, Brasil,” Environmental Justice Atlas Accessed February 7, 2019.
  30. We Believe that We Can Win, pp 21
  31. We Believe that We Can Win, pp 24
  32. Ibid., pp 24–27.
  33. Roberts, David. “Fossil Fuel money crushed clean energy ballot initatives across the country” Vox, 11 November 2018. Accessed February 7, 2019.
  34. Lipton, Eric et al. “This is our reality now,” New York Times, 27 December 2019.
    politics/donald-trump-environmental-regulation.html. Accessed February 7, 2019.
  35. Gross, Samantha. “Geopolitical Implications of the U.S. oil and gas in the global market.” Brookings Institute, 22 May 2018. Accessed February 7, 2019.
  36. Philips, Dom. “Jair Bolsonaro launches assault on Amazon rainforest protections.” The Guardian, 2 January 2019. Accessed February 7, 2019.
  37. Energy and Climate Staff. Preliminary US Emissions Estimates for 2018. Rhodium Group,
  38. United Nations Environment Programme, Emissions Gap Report 2018, United Nations 2018.
  39. Aronoff, Kate. “Shell Oil Executive Boasts That His Company Influenced The Paris Agreement,” The Intercept, 7 December Accessed February 7, 2019.
  40. See for example Shell Energy Scenarios To 2025, published in 2008.
  41. Gilbertson, Tamra. Carbon Pricing: A Critical Perspective for Community Resistance. Indigenous Environmental Network and Climate Justice Alliance, 2017.
  42. Wake Smith and Gernot Wagner 2018 Environ. Res. Lett. 13 124001. See also:
  43. The concept of just transition has emerged from various lineages, among them many visionary movement thinkers and actors, both internationally and in the U.S. More recently, this thinking has been further developed by Movement Generation, in concert with several other groups, into a framework for how to move from an extractive economy to one that is sustainable and just. See Movement Generations’ “From Banks and Tanks to Cooperation and Caring: A Strategic Framework for a Just Transition.”
  44. “Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing,” Meeting hosted by Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, Dec Accessed February 7, 2019.
  45. “Resolution 55: Climate Change, Energy, and Union Jobs.” American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, 24 October 2017. Accessed February 7, 2019.
  46. Popvitch, Nadja. “How Does Your State Make Electricity?” New York Times, 24 December 2018. Accessed February 7, 2019.
  47. Foster, Kesi and Montague Simmons. “Reparations,” A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice. Movement for Black Lives. Accessed February 7, 2019.
  48. For more information, see
  49. Mersha, Sara. “Black lives and climate justice: courage and power in defending communities and Mother Earth.” Taylor & Francis Online, 1 Nov 2017.
  50. For an articulation of principles included in grassroots feminisms, see Poblet, Maria. “Until everyone of us is free: reclaiming feminism at the grassroots.” Organizing Upgrade, 3 October 2013. Accessed February 7, 2019.
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