Beyond Climate Capitalism

A review of Peter Gelderloos, The Solutions Are Already Here: Strategies for Ecological Revolution from Below (London: Pluto Press, 2022).

Waiting for a soccer game on TV, I saw a short video clip the other day. It featured the slogans “There is No Planet B”, “Tomorrow Is Too Late”, “Shape the Future”, and “It’s Not About the Power of Words, It’s About the Power of Action”. A call for an environmentalist rally? No, a BMW commercial for electric cars.

These days, pretty much everyone talks about saving the planet. Are we, humankind, doing it? No. Green capitalism, epitomized by the BMW commercial, certainly doesn’t. Some of the folks calling the bluff go down a questionable road of their own, embracing abstract notions of how to prevent ecological catastrophe (and the social catastrophe that will, inevitably, follow) without taking into account the multi-faceted movements of resistance against ecological destruction that already exist (one such example, the writings by Andreas Malm, have been discussed on this blog before).

Luckily, author-activist Peter Gelderloos, well-known for books such as How Nonviolence Protects the State (2007) and Anarchy Works (2010), offers a different approach. In his latest book, The Solutions Are Already Here: Strategies for Ecological Revolution from Below (a programmatic title if there ever was one), he not only considers said movements of resistance, he puts them at the center of his analysis. The examples he refers to reach from “small city forest gardens” in the US and the ZADs of France (“zones à defendre”, or “zones to defend”) to Dayak tribes in Indonesia Kalimantan and Guaraní communities in Brazil.

The Solutions Are Already Here follows a simple structure that works well. Gelderloos illustrates the problem, questions “climate capitalism”, “greenwashing”, and the “NGO elite”, and finally discusses the options for us to reach a better place.

The final part is, of course, the most urgent. There is plenty to appreciate in Gelderloos’s account. He stresses the importance of indigenous struggles and doesn’t shy away from notions that many Westerners, environmentalists included, consider “naive” or “romantic”, such as a subsistence economy. Gelderloos’s commitment to “revolutionary horizons” is refreshing at a time when way too many settle for compromises that seem “realistic” (which they aren’t, as you can’t compromise over total destruction), he identifies important characteristics of powerful movements (such as territoriality, anticolonialism, and autonomy), and poses the key questions for revolutionary action: “Who is already fighting? What seedlings do we have? What risks do we face? Who can we help?”

On page 146, Gelderloos writes: “Please do not mistake my glowing review [of said resistance movements] for optimism.” I took note of the sentence, because, frankly, that was the sense I got: as appealing as Gelderloos’s take is, it might be a little on the optimistic side.

Some of it might come down to personality. To me, the glass is always half-empty, and no matter how great the achievements of our movements are, I always feel we should have achieved more. I also think we have to ask ourselves why, if we are convinced that we are capable of doing great things, we don’t have a bigger impact on the direction the world is taking. Yes, state repression and treacherous NGOs play their part, but we need self-criticism as well. I’m also afraid that many people who lack “faith in the dominant institutions” are not pursuing liberatory politics today, rather the opposite. How do we react to this? How can we make self-reliance that respects everyone’s self-reliance more attractive?

With that said, I’m aware that my inclinations are not the most inspirational. I’m glad that others speak with more fervor and passion. Not least because it allows them to define anarchism as a “methodology for building a world in which a thousand worlds can fit”, or to propose a “method of producing futures”. Nice.

It is a bold move by Gelderloos to provide a very concrete sketch of what the region he lives in, the “Catalan countries”, could look like after the “end of capitalism”. Gelderloos’s vision is one of sovereignty and diversity rooted in a close connection to the natural world. The idea to sketch a positive future scenario is eerily reminiscent of how the AngryWorkers of London end their 2020 book Class Power on Zero-Hours. The difference is that the AngryWorkers don’t focus on the environment but on the socialist transformation of industrial infrastructure (factories, warehouses, logistics centers). I can’t help feeling that trying to unite (“synthesize”) these visions could lift them to yet another level. Too Marxist? Not sure. But I think it’d be well worth the exercise.

Gabriel Kuhn

(February 21, 2022)