Sunday, 20 August 2017

There is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch, For Humans. -- Response to Some Comments on My Essay in Insurge-Intelligence

On 28th July, I posted an essay of mine entitled The Global Crisis and Role of So-called Renewable Energies in Solving It on this blog-site (see below). It had been published a few days earlier in the online magazine Insurge-Intelligence as a contribution to a symposium on renewable energies (
    Several readers responded to it with comments, both positive and negative. Prof. Mark Diesendorf, another contributor to the symposium, who had expressed views totally opposite to those of mine (, also responded with two half dissenting and half agreeing comments.
    I thought it was necessary to respond to his comments with a short article that clarifies some important issues not dealt with in my original contribution, which was limited by space. I now publish it here. See below.

I knew that my contribution to the symposium would be controversial. And indeed many readers have commented. I thank those who have expressed agreement with my views, and ignore the suspicion that I am being paid by some people for writing what I have written. I shall here limit my response to some critical comments/views of Mark Diesendorf that he made/expressed in his response to my essay. I think they deserve to be paid attention to.

Numbers, Facts and Statistics

Mark wants to know the names of the experts who doubt that the EROEI of solar energy (PV-tech.) is positive (or, I should say, positive enough to run, in future, an industrial economy). In fact, in my essay I have given reference to Ugo Bardi's article on the subject. Some references can be found there and in the discussion following it. See also Prof. Charles Hall's contribution to the discussion in
    I am not a researcher on the subject, but I try to keep myself informed as an interested political activist. Mark writes: "The claim was only true several decades ago, before solar PV modules were mass-produced." My information is just the opposite. In a much quoted scientific paper published in 1991 in a serious scientific journal called International Journal of Solar Energy(Vol. 10, 1991), Wolfgang Palz and Henri Zibetta wrote 26 years ago that, in European climates, the average energy payback time (EPT) for photovoltaic modules were as low as 1.2 to 2.1 years. That means their EROEI was very high. (EPT and EROEI are both measuring units for the same thing, namely net energy, expressed in two different ways. They are roughly inversely proportional). In the following years of the 1990s however, in the works of other researchers, the EPT figures for Photovoltaic modules rose, to 7 years, 9 years and 10 years – in spite of presumable continuous improvements in the technology.
    I could not (and still cannot) judge the scientific quality of these research works. The point I want to make here is only that, in the 1990s, it appeared and it still appears to me that a lot of arbitrary
calculating methods and perhaps also bias of the researchers were responsible for this chaotic results. So when Mark writes that, nowadays, the EPT of PV solar modules is typically 1 – 3 years, I cannot accept it as correct, simply because Mark says it. So I tried to apply my own non-researcher faculty of logical thinking, the result of which I have presented in my essay. In the 1990s, to my knowledge, no researcher was taking the energy invested in back-up power stations into account.
    Mark gracefully agrees with my assertion based only on logic that the EI figure of all and any industrial product (hence also of PV modules, wind turbines, bicycles, toothpaste etc. etc. etc.) is bound to continuously increase because of continuously increasing remoteness of new mines and wells and continuously increasing difficulty in extracting non-renewable raw materials and raw energy-materials (coal, oil, gas, uranium) from them. But then he makes his argument incomprehensible by saying, "This is indeed a strong limitation on the continued production of fossil fuels, but is
irrelevant to renewable energy resources: sunshine, wind, etc." Haven't I distinguished in my essay between the sources of energy sunshine and wind from the equipments (PV modules, wind turbines etc.) for producing electricity from sunshine and wind? For the EI of the latter, i.e. the equipments, the difficulties mentioned above are indeed very relevant. Their EI is continuously increasing and hence (it is simple arithmetic), ceteris paribus, the EROEI of solar and wind electricity systems must be continuously diminishing. This generally happens also to fossil and nuclear energy systems and their EROEI.
    In statistics, there are many things that cannot be measured satisfactorily and are therefore open to bias of the researcher or the client. Opinion researchers e.g. can never know whether the respondents to their questions are telling the truth. But also actually measurable things like GDP, unemployment rate, total work force, inflation rate, cost of living, poverty rate etc. can be distorted because of varying definitions and/or wrong counting methods such as having too small a sample or the sample being unrepresentative. This fact gave rise to the bon mot "I do not believe any statistics other than those I have myself falsified."

Hopes for the Future

Mark writes: "… energy technologies are made increasingly by using renewable energy." I have heard of a solar panel factory in Freiburg, Germany, (not a big one, maybe an experimental one), that derives all its energy from the solar panels installed on the roof terrace of the factory. Supposing the information is true, it does not prove Mark's point. The four questions put by foodstuff (I only quoted him) are not answered with this example (please read the four questions once more!). Mark himself gives two examples – "A mining company in remote Australia is currently building a solar farm to substitute for most of its prolific diesel consumption, and the Tesla gigafactory for manufacturing batteries will be completely powered by RE." In the first example, the machines in the factory are using electricity from solar panels; my informant did not say that they are being built by means of electricity derived from solar panels. In the second example (given by Mark himself) solar electricity will only substitute diesel consumption. The huge machines used by the company for mining activities will not be built with the help of solar electricity. In the third example, the batteries will be built by using solar electricity. Tesla is not claiming that the gigafactory itself or the machines for manufacturing batteries will be built by using solar electricity. And if one enquires a little further, one may find that in the second and third case, the solar panels, subsidized by the state, have been manufactured in China using dirty coal-electricity. Reg. the case of the factory in Freiburg, I know that all the 6 major German solar panel manufacturers have gone bankrupt.
   Basing himself on the examples he has given, Mark thinks that "…
although the current generation of RE technologies is being made mainly by using fossil energy, the next generation will utilize RE to a greater degree and so on until RE systems are made entirely by using RE." At another place he writes, "The energy for mining the raw materials and building the RE hardware can in future be renewable and this transition has already begun." I am not convinced that the end result of this transition will be the much touted 100% RE for the whole industrial economy. Because Mark does not say with what kind of energy the mining machinery/hardware, the huge trucks, the caterpillars etc. will be built. On the whole, his hopes appear to me as pure faith in miracles happening in future, wishful, not rational thinking. Wishful thinking is an obstacle to making rational/realistic political decisions.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics (Entropy Law) and Some Favorite Illusions of RE Enthusiasts

Mark writes: "… there is no contradiction between the Second Law of Thermodynamics and a global 100% renewable energy (RE) system, so long as the Sun continues to shine." I am not sure I have understood in which sense exactly he has written this. But it sounds like saying there is no contradiction between faith in a good and almighty God and the fact that there is evil in this world, no contradiction between the Genesis story of the Bible and the Evolution theory of Darwin. Polemic apart, Mark seems to forget again and again the distinction I made between sources of energy and equipments of energy. Logically and plausibly, we may argue that humanity will exist on the earth so long as the Sun continues to shine. But we cannot say that the industrial society can continue to exist without the fossil fuels and nonrenewable materials.
    I am not an engineer, not one of those who are expected to know the Entropy Law. Yet I was compelled to learn the essence of this law. During a private discussion on future energy and resources shortage, an economist said (in the general sense): I do not understand why availability of oil and minerals should be a problem; science says nothing gets lost in this universe. That was obviously the First Law of Thermodynamics or the law of conservation of matter and energy. So let us
recycle everything, all problems solved. A friend of Johnny Rutherford, an RE enthusiast, once said, soon the whole industrial economy would run without having to extract a single molecule more. To lay public it may seem plausible. For, after all, the Sun sends us15 000 times more energy than all the commercial energy we need, for free. I am a bit surprised that Mark has not suggested this "solution" for all non-renewable resources. But why can't we recycle everything? Because there is a contradiction between 100% recycling and the Entropy Law.
    I have learnt that in the process of being used in any production process, all energy and materials get
dissipated, more or less. Some part of it gets lost, that is, becomes unrecoverable. From the state of being available, part of the materials used in production goes over to the state of being unavailable. In pure theory, of course, the whole quantity could be recovered and brought back to their original available state, but only if we are prepared to spend enough energy and materials for this work. In many cases, this process is, in energy and material terms, too costly to be economically viable at all. Again, it may be feasible but not viable. This explains why in real industry not everything is even attempted to be recycled.
Energy recycling is practically impossible. A quantity of coal, gas, or petroleum, once burnt, cannot be recycled, although the hydrogen and carbon atoms are not lost, although they still exist somewhere in the atmosphere or the earth. They are however so strongly dissipated that recycling them is only possible in a laboratory by using immensely more energy than what can be recovered. Lack of knowledge or understanding of the Second Law of Thermodynamics may lead some people to cherish the illusion that, as commenter Mark Goldes writes, "24/7 cheap green energy is being born. Engines designed to run on atmospheric (ambient) heat instead of fuel. Ambient heat is a huge untapped reservoir of solar energy available everywhere around the clock." There would be "no combustion" in such engines.
    Another commenter, John Weber, who agrees with me, referred to the many high temperature processes required in an industrial economy, especially in metallurgy and glass industries. Now rays of the Sun reach us in a high entropy (i.e. highly dissipated) state. This is why we have to spend a lot of energy and materials to first collect and convert them into electricity before we can use them. If we want to use them in metallurgical furnaces, we have to concentrate them further to a very much higher temperature (strongly low entropy state). And at every stage of collection and concentration, in every process of conversion (e.g. to liquid hydrogen), and in the process of every piece of work done, some energy is inevitably lost, i.e. dissipated without being used. That solar modules have a lifespan of 25 years, does not help much in overcoming these problems.

These are essential points of our controversy. I hope Insurge-Intelligence readers would read also this contribution of mine with interest.

Friday, 28 July 2017

The Global Crisis and Role of So-Called Renewable Energies in Solving It

Aspects and Causes of the Crisis

The climate crisis is only one aspect of the global crisis. Yet, generally speaking, Western governments, media, politicians, NGOs, and publicists have been trying to make us believe that it is the only dangerous and the only global crisis. It appears that for them all other crises in the world are only partial or regional problems of secondary importance. But this is a patently reductionist and superficial view of the present global crisis. Consequently, also the policies that are being pursued for solving the climate crisis are wrong.
    The aforementioned agents of worldwide climate politics plus the UN pressurized nearly all states of the world to sign up to the Paris accord (2015). But no similar global effort is being made to address, let alone solve, the global ecology crisis, the various, seemingly unending civil wars and uprisings in the world, the terrorist attacks of various kinds, increase in crime rates almost everywhere, the unemployment-and-poverty problem in all poor and "developing" countries, and the massive refugee-migrant crises in many parts of the world – in short, the globally growing failed and failing states crisis. To my mind, this is the right description of the critical state of the world today. The climate crisis is only one part of it, and as a crisis, it is of recent origin. It is, of course, also a major, but not a basic (i.e. deeper), cause of the global crisis.
    To justify why I do not consider the climate crisis to be a basic cause of the global crisis, I would like to refer to the present situation in Mexico and Venezuela. They are very advanced candidates for the title "failed state". In Mexico, in short, the main cause of this situation is widespread drug-related crimes, in Venezuela it is the totally wrong economic policy of successive governments of a petro-socialist state. Or take for instance the two cases of South Sudan and Central African Republic. People there are not suffering from any climate-change-related drought or flooding.

Dubious Politics of Climate Politicians

Let us first examine the understanding that climate change is at present the greatest danger to mankind and that, therefore, it should be addressed as the most important task of governments.
    Most government leaders and party politicians admit that climate change is a big danger, but they are not prepared to make an all-out effort to avert or mitigate it. Their topmost policy-priority is continuous economic growth. For stabilizing global warming below two degrees Celsius in the near future, they think it would suffice if the world economy could gradually be made to run on an energy mix of various sources, including some so-called renewables, and that, according to IPCC chief economist Edenhofer,* would not cost the world more than 0.06 percent growth.
    But radical climate NGOs and activist groups maintain that the economies of highly industrialized countries such as Germany could run 100% on the basis of "renewable energies". And they say that a rapid replacement of fossil-carbon and nuclear energy industries through renewable energy industries would create many new jobs, thus becoming the main pillar of green growth. They have more or less concrete ideas for the transition, even very detailed action plans for a quick transition to 100% "renewables".
    I can here take just one example, only Bill McKibben's action plan entitled A World at War
.1 In it he calls for a "war" effort – although "war" is here only a metaphor – as huge as the American military and industrial mobilization for World War II. In naming his enemy, however, McKibben makes the initial big error in analysis. He thinks it is climate change. He imagines this enemy is committing a huge aggression against us. Once he calls it an "enemy as powerful and inexorable as the laws of physics."
    Isn't it absurd? Any person with some common sense knows that climate change is only the result of global warming. But even global warming cannot be the "enemy". We know today that it is man-made. For a moment McKibben also recognized his error. He himself mentions in a half-sentence "our insatiable desires as consumers," but he does not spell it out as the ultimate cause of the malady. 
    Anyway, he demanded of the then US government (and its future successors) that it should initiate and organize a huge industrial mobilization to get "a hell of a lot of factories" built in order to turn out "thousands of acres of solar panels, wind turbines the length of football fields, and millions and millions of electric cars and buses." David Roberts2  made it vivid:

"Well, have a look at Solar City’s gigafactory, … . It will be the biggest solar manufacturing facility … covering 27 acres, capable of cranking out 10,000 solar panels a day – a gigawatt’s worth in a year. At the height of its transition to WWS [wind, water, solar], the US would have to build around 30 gigafactories a year devoted to solar panels, and another 15 a year for wind turbines. That’s 45 of the biggest factories ever built, every year. That is [even for an American] a mind-boggling pace of building, … ."

Imagine now the huge amount of shit this gigantic effort would simultaneously produce: the environmental pollution, resource depletion, and waste that has to be dumped somewhere.
    We may allow McKibben his war metaphor in the name of poetic license. But if a general makes a wrong analysis of the war situation or, said in the jargon of applied medical science, if the diagnosis is wrong, the strategy or the prescribed medicine may do more harm than good. McKibben's prescription, the huge dose of the wrong medicine – i.e. a huge mobilization for the "Third World War" that climate change, he imagines, is waging against us – is actually uncalled-for. There can be a much lighter and more effective medicine to cure the severe illness based on his more correct diagnosis, namely his half-sentence "
our insatiable desires as consumers".
    Any adherent of the old left (old socialism) of any kind would speak of the capitalists' insatiable desire for profit and capital accumulation as the main cause of our troubles. She would call upon us to wage class struggle. But McKibben and climate activists like him are not old-leftists. They are not willing to fight against capitalism, but only against climate change. And this he wants to do, like all past and present old-leftists, by technological means. Blinded by technological optimism, such people believe that a 100% transition to "renewable" energies is possible. They say we need more technology, not less; they assert we could overcome all crises and problems of mankind by means of technology. I already heard in 1984 that the intermittency-and-storage problem of renewable energies can be easily solved, namely by means of batteries and liquid hydrogen.

Critique of technological solutions

Such activists are suffering from some illusions. They appear not to know the most inexorable of all the laws of physics, namely the
Second Law of Thermodynamics (AKA the Entropy Law that also applies to matter). In reality, so-called renewable energies are neither renewable nor clean. One makes this mistake due to a logical error that must be rectified. We have to differentiate between sources of energy and equipments needed to convert them into electricity and heat. Sunshine, wind, and flowing water are sources that will still be there after Homo sapiens has disappeared from the surface of the earth and will still supply useful energies to the next hominid species– e.g. as driver of sailing boats and as supplier of warmth. So they indeed are renewable and also clean. But the equipments needed to generate electricity from these sources are made of materials that are nonrenewable. And the energy used to produce these material things comes till today for the most part from fossil-carbon and nuclear fuels, both of which are nonrenewable and dirty. So how can solar, wind and hydro-electricity be called renewable and clean? And how can electric cars be preferable to combustion engine cars if the batteries made of nonrenewable materials store nonrenewable and unclean electricity?
    Moreover, these so-called renewable energies are not
viable, although they are feasible. Suppose tomorrow, accepting the demand of the movements, all states decide to leave all the still unextracted fossil-carbon and nuclear fuels in the ground. How will then the said equipments be manufactured/built?
    And the equipments that have already been manufactured/built and are supplying electricity have a lifespan of 20-30 years. When they are no longer working and must be replaced, the second generation thereof cannot be manufactured/built, because then, we shall not have any fossil or nuclear energy to be used. Either the fossil-carbon and nuclear fission materials are exhausted or our governments have decided to leave them in the ground. To make the point clear, let me quote an impatient discussant, who, using the pseudonym "foodstuff", put the following questions to protagonists of the so-called renewable energies:3

"I still want to know if the following can be done:

1. Mine the raw materials using equipment powered by solar panels.
2. Transport and convert metal ores, e.g. bauxite-aluminum, using equipment run by solar panels and in a factory built using the energy from solar panels.
3. Make the finished panels in a factory run by solar panels, including building and maintaining the factory.
4. Transport, install and maintain the solar panels using equipment running on solar panels.
All this is presently being done [mainly] with the energy from fossil fuels. How will it be done when they are gone?"


Protagonists of 100% "renewable energies" say: we must use a large part of the generated renewable energies for producing the equipment needed for producing the second generation of equipment for producing renewable energies. And so it will go on and on.
    Here comes the crucial question of
EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested or energy balance). Assuming that the first generation equipments do produce some net energy, i.e. EROEI is positive, how large is the amount of this net energy? Let us Remember, hundreds of millions of households and enterprises producing consumer goods will first consume electricity from this source. Will there be anything left for investing in production of all the equipments, i.e. producing and reproducing everything necessary for running an industrial economy?
    There is no certainty in this question. Many experts who tried to measure it expressed doubt that the EROEI of solar energy technology is positive. Why is the matter so uncertain?
gross ER (energy return) part of the question is easy to answer, and correctly, if you have a good meter attached to the solar panel. But how do you measure the EI (energy invested) part of the question? What the experts do is actually guesstimating. Here bias starts playing a role. So I answer the question in a different, and I think more convincing, way:
    Since almost all raw materials and energy that are till today used to produce the required equipments are nonrenewable, the old mines and wells of the same gradually get exhausted. Miners must then go to ever remoter and ever more difficult places to extract them out of new mines/wells. That means, energy invested (EI) in fuels and minerals
progressively increases. That means EI – not only for energy equipments but also for any industrial product – continuously increases. Remember, we are not talking of prices and money costs which depend on many variable factors, but of EI, of energy cost of a product. For example, money cost of production of solar panels would fall further, and hence also their price, if production is transferred from China to, say, Bangladesh, where wages are lower than in China.
    In case of minerals such as copper and Nickel we are digging deeper and deeper and going to ever hotter and icy-colder deserts and polar regions. The copper mine of Chuquicamata in Chile's Atacama desert is in the meantime so deep that the big heavy trucks that bring the ore to the surface can only be seen like toys down below. For oil, we are since long boring in deep seabed. Recently, geologists have found a mountain containing huge quantities of extremely rare cadmium telluride, the material that can greatly increase the efficiency of solar cells. But it stands at a depth of 1000 meters down in the Atlantic Ocean. If that is the objective situation, no small innovation improving the ER side can, I think, in the long run offset the
secular trend of rising energy costs (EI). For such small innovations cannot overcome the two cosmological constants involved here, namely (1) the intensity of solar radiation reaching the surface of the earth at any particular place – which is very low, so that organisms can survive – and (2) the fact that the sun does not shine in the night.4

Perspective on a Future Sustainable Society

I hope now it has become clear to my readers that "renewable energies" cannot play any role in solving the multifaceted global crisis of today and that, on the contrary, investing in these technologies is a waste of time, effort, energy and, most important of all, scarce resources. If scientists and engineers were honest, they should say that the only really renewable and clean sources of energy, apart from our own physical energy, are wood and other biomass products for fire, wind for sailing boats and wind mills, and flowing water in rivers and streams for water mills – the last two only for generating kinetic energy. And, if we are prepared to exploit other living beings, then also the muscle power of domestic animals.
    Humanity has lived for thousands of years with only such energies. In a not so distant future, we have to be satisfied with that. But that would be impossible with 9+ billions of us. Let me quote here an impossibility theorem that I formulated some time ago:

It is impossible to fulfill the continuously growing "needs", demands, wishes, aspirations and ambitions of a continuously growing world population while our resource base is continuously dwindling and the ability of nature to absorb man-made pollution is continuously diminishing. It is a lunatic idea that in a finite world infinite growth is possible.

    Our top-priority political tasks today and for a transition period of uncertain duration would therefore be (a) to start a massive campaign for a population control program with the long-term goal of bringing down the world population of homo sapiens to, say, two billions; (b) a campaign for reducing consumption simultaneously with a campaign against the growth ideology; (c) propagating alternative conceptions of peaceful human societies (my own preference is an eco-socialist society); (d) a campaign to let wild forests and the number of wild animals expand.
    These are very broadly defined tasks. Details need to be worked out, which however can only be done if many people show interest.

Notes and References

* Edenhofer, Ottmar & Michael Jacob (2017) Klimapolitik. Ziele, Konflikte, Lösungen. Munich: C. H. Beck, P. 52.

McKibben, Bill (2016): A World at War

2. Roberts, David (2016): Climate Justice Policy and the Metaphor of War

3. "foodstuff", comment as part of the discussion on Ugo Bardi's article. See:

Bardi, Ugo (2016)"But what's the REAL energy return of photovoltaic energy?" in Cassandra's Legacy (online).

4. This presentation on the EROEI of solar energy technologies is based on

Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas (1978): "Technology Assessment. The Case of the Direct Use of Solar Energy";

I discussed all these matters more thoroughly in my book Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? (1999). London: Zed Books.

For my other, shorter, writings on similar issues, see my blog-site:

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Climate Change -- the Worst-Case Scenarios. Can Something Be Done?


Dear friends,

just a few days ago, I read a very interesting essay by an American journalist, who interviewed several top-level climate scientists – among them some who had actually discovered global warming, climate change and related facts in the 1980s and thereafter. In his essay, David Wallace-Wells, the author, summarizes what he heard from these scientists and what he had read on the subject. In it he depicts the worst-case scenarios that would emerge if the worst fears of the climate scientists come true.
    The essay has gone viral, has been read by over 2 Million people and commented on by over 400 people including myself. I think all political activists, especially those leaders in politics and the media who make or influence policy, should read it.
    I admire the author for writing this important text. But I also find it deficient in its concluding part, in which he only repeats the technological optimism of the scientists.
    Below I give you the links to the article and the text of my comment.

With best wishes

Saral Sarkar


My comment:

It is a very good piece of work. My sincere thanks to Wallace-Wells for imparting to us, activists and non-scientists, all the relevant knowledge we need. Yet, the conclusion is disappointing. Here he does not express his own thoughts, but only reproduces the optimism of the scientists he interviewed, which he seemingly shares.
    After we have learnt all that, the question remains: what can and should be done? Here, I think, the author makes several mistakes:
    (1) He mixes up discovery and invention, science and engineering. The scientists and the author have presented here much information about discoveries. They discovered the hole in the ozone layer. But some engineering and political decision-making were necessary to patch it up, e.g., by replacing one gas, CFC, with another, so that consumers did not have to forgo a single refrigerator. The Apollo Program was a huge feat of engineering that enabled man to land on the moon – at the cost of enormous amounts of energy and materials plus enormous amounts of carbon emission and other pollutions. All engineering feats, all increases in production increase GHG emission and pollution.
He writes about "our debt to nature". Wonderful! But how do you pay this kind of a debt back and become debt-free? Do you then, as usual in usual kinds of debt, undertake new engineering projects and increase production and income? In real life, in certain situations, the debtor simply cannot increase his production/income. Then he reduces his consumption in order to pay off the debt. Our (carbon) debt to nature is not a usual kind of debt. It can only be paid off by reducing carbon emission, i.e. by reducing production. Through its Apollo Program, humanity did not reduce its carbon debt to nature. On the contrary.
    In the text I did not find any mention of renewable energy technologies, but spraying sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere and carbon capturing were mentioned. Application of all these technologies would entail producing more CO2 with uncertain results. To place our hope in such technologies is "another form of delusion
    (3) Instead of relying on engineering, we should rely more on social or socio-political engineering. We should bring our ingenuity to bear on this area.
    Wallace-wells says reduced global output would lead to reduced per capita GDP. But per capita GDP is a function of both GDP and population size. If we ourselves collectively start a dual project of deliberately reducing global output and, simultaneously, reducing global population size, then the pain would be bearable. I believe such a social-engineering project would have more and quicker effect than the hard engineering ones the scientists are dreaming of. Reducing consumption in the rich countries and raising more taxes there to be channeled to reforestation and population control projects in the poor countries would not only be just but also help immediately.

Friday, 9 June 2017

What is Eco-Socialism, Who is an Eco-Socialist

A few days ago I read a longish interview that Prof. John Bellamy Foster.1 had given to a leftist journal called Left Voice (LV). Prof. Foster is a renowned American Marxist scholar and a leading eco-socialist theoretician. Among many other things, he expressed in the interview his high regard for Naomi Klein, who had, 2–3 years ago, published a best-seller entitled This Changes Everything –Capitalism vs. the Climate. That would not have been any problem for anybody. But Prof. Foster also said: "She is aligned with eco-socialism". What the phrase "aligned with" actually meant was not clear. So Richard Smith, another renowned American eco-socialist, took it as meaning Klein is an eco-socialist. According to Smith, who has read Klein's 576 page book, she is not an eco-socialist. He criticized Prof. Foster for thinking so, probably meaning thereby also that Foster was thus diluting the content of eco-socialism.2  Thereafter several comments appeared in the website of the forum the Simpler Way.3 I too published there my first quick response to the debate. Below I am posting a revised and expanded version of my response.

It is not really important to know whether or not Klein is an eco-socialist. There are probably a few hundred leading, prominent and intellectual activists in the movement to prevent the worsening of climate change (call it whatever you will) or any other popular environmental movement. It is not possible to know what all they have written or said or done. Many people join such one-point movements because they support the movement's particular limited cause – demand something or prevent something. That is good. Also we eco-socialists should join them if we think they deserve our support. But parallel to such popular one-point movements, it is necessary to build up a really eco-socialist movement. Only in such a movement, if and when it emerges, will it be useful, even necessary, to know who is a true eco-socialist. For that, however, it is necessary first to have clarity about the essential points and convictions of eco-socialism.
    In the early 1970s, when I read the book Limits to Growth, I had exactly such a thought as Klein expressed in the phrase "this changes everything". I was in those days a supporter/friend of political activists, whose parties and groups were roughly called CPI (Marxists-Leninist).Their basic theory ("ism") was called, broadly speaking, Marxism-Leninism-Mao-Tse-Tung-Thought. The common point between them and me was only that they and I were all socialists.
    After reading Limits to Growth, I exclaimed: My God, if that is all true, then it changes everything.4 But was it all true? What I read there was, for me at least, convincing. After all, nobody could deny that non-renewable resources are limited and would sooner or later be exhausted, that even renewable resources such as fresh water and fertile land are available in limited supply.5 And we could see that even in a poor, rock-bottom low-wage country like ours not everything could be recycled. Every city had to have a waste disposal site.6 A few years later, I read in a serious German journal that even Soviet communist scientists had said that the conclusions of the report to the Club of Rome were irrefutable. I thought: well, then it is impossible to build up a socialist society in India. I/we had in those days no other conception of a socialist society than the one we had received from Marx, Lenin, Mao and their disciples: (put briefly) in regard to production, prosperity through development of the productive forces; in regard to distribution, from each according to his ability, to each according to his need; in regard to exercise of power, governance through the associated producers etc. It was simply a conception of
cornucopian socialism.
    That was the beginning. I started distancing myself from Marxism, Leninism and Maoism, although I and the Marxist-Leninist-Maoists I knew remained friends at the personal level. More thinking and more reading led me to eco-socialism. All that took place in the 1970s, before any knowledge of climate change existed. Now think of this: Klein, a 45 year old highly educated Western journalist, suddenly had her awakening in the second decade of the 21st century, when she learnt something about climate change, and she concluded that capitalism is the enemy of our planet's climate. And she wrote a 576 page book on the subject. And there is so much tam-tam about it.
    Let us now come to the essential points of eco-socialism. I think, they are the convictions that: (1) there are limits to growth – not only to economic but also to population growth7; (2) we have already overshot these limits to a dangerous level; (3) there are no technological solutions to the global resource and pollution problems;8 (4) therefore the world economy must now be subjected to a process of deliberate contraction and gradually brought to a sustainable steady state; (5) this contraction must proceed in a planned way, otherwise human societies would collapse one after the other; (6) both the burdens and benefits of economic contraction must be distributed equitably; otherwise citizens would not accept the planned contraction; (7) the goal must be to reach a sustainable and egalitarian steady-state economy and society at a much lower level than today's.
    Taken together, these essential points/convictions may be called
eco-socialism. Let those who have read Klein's book now say whether she may be considered to be aligned with eco-socialism. I have more important things to do.
    However, before concluding this text, I would like to point out
a few flaws in this debate between Bellamy Foster and Smith.
    (1) Smith maintains, both in the title of his critical comment and further down, that "Klein is … not an
eco-socialist". But Bellamy Foster has reduced the question to
"Is Klein a socialist?" That is not good for creating clarity. For if the two terms did not mean different things, there would not have been any need to coin the new term eco-socialism in the first place.
    The determinant element in the concept eco-socialism is the prefix eco. And that means the rejection of
industrialism. To be a good socialist one only needs to rejects capitalism. But to be an eco-socialist one must also reject industrialism as a future perspective for mankind, and agree to a program of de-industrialization (often clumsily called de-growth) – of at least the overdeveloped countries to start with. I do not see this difference taken up in the debate. (It won't do, however, if you agree merely to transfer the excessively polluting and resource-and-labor-intensive industries to China, India and other relatively under-developed countries, and then import the products of the same industries for consumption at home.)
    (2) Bellamy Foster writes that Klein
defended "Hugo Chávez’s 21st century socialism in Venezuela." This information is irrelevant for the debate. No sensible person could ever think that "Hugo Chávez’s 21st century socialism." was socialism. I always called it petro-socialism, which totally depended on the country's oil bonanza. Chavez only distributed the revenues from it more equitably. As a result of this good deed, Venezuelans forgot how to produce food on their own land. Chavez was a good man, that's all.
    (3) Also irrelevant, not important, is the information that "she [Klein] is openly anti-capitalist." One can rail at capitalism and yet not be a socialist. Example: Pope Francis of Rome. Moreover, even if one is a socialist, one is not necessarily aligned with eco-socialism.

Notes and References

1. See

2. For Smith's critique and Foster's response, see

3. See them in!forum/thesimplerway

4. Some years later, after reading Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolution, I started using the term "
paradigm shift" in the sense that it changed my whole line of thinking.

5. Later I came to regard also
nature's ability to absorb human-made pollution as a resource. And that too is limited.

6. In those days, in the environmental movement, there was much glib talk about garbage being actually "resources stored at a wrong place". Even a thinker like the late André Gorz wrote that we could recycle almost everything. Much later did I learn – thanks to Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen – why that was impossible, and why, if theoretically possible, it was not economically viable. It was because the
entropy law also applied to matter (materials).

Population growth has for a long time been a taboo topic for almost all leftists, progressive-liberals, and Marxists. That is actually the worst of all the theory-legacies of Marx, Engels and Lenin. I think those who do not understand the importance of the population issue have not understood the essence of ecology. But 134 years after Marx's death, things are changing. Today, many eco-socialists understand that they cannot call for de-growth and let exponential population growth go on.

8. All ideas of
technological solutions such as raising resource efficiency, de-coupling of economic growth from resource consumption, renewable energies (solar, wind etc.) are bunkum. Technological solutions can be helpful for solving one problem of one particular firm or region, but not for solving global ecological and resource problems. Because if you in this way solve one problem at one place, that would generate a new problem at another place.

NB. All these points have been thoroughly discussed in my book Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? – A critical Analysis of Humanity's Fundamental Choices. 1999, Zed Books, London.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Giving Rights to Trees. But Forgetting the Forests

Some four weeks ago, I posted my text on the "Rights of Rivers" (see below!), with which I had responded to a discussion that was going on in a google discussion group called Radical Ecological Democratic List. That was the beginning of another discussion in the said group: on the right to life of individual chimpanzees. A participant had informed us earlier that in the USA, a lawyer-philosopher had won court cases which he had lodged on behalf of two chimpanzees. The court ruled that the two chimps deserved a peaceful retired life after serving humans for many years.
    I responded with the following text:

Once more
reg. Rights and duties of rivers, trees, chimps, elephants and ad inifinitum.
Giving rights to trees. But forgetting the forests that are destroyed

This is again a very abstract discussion. Of course, also interesting as a piece of news on the idiosyncrasies and fads of a few particular lawyer-philosophers. Maybe this way they can do good to a particular chimp or two, whom they have come to love after coming to personally know them, by chance (Incidentally, they surely themselves feel well. Who does not, if she can do something good?). But what should radical ecological activists, nature lovers and animal lovers in general say? Those who are neither a lawyer nor have ever come to love a particular chimp?
Prof. Singer at least philosophized on liberating the animals, all animals, wanted to win human rights for all big apes, because they are so much like us.
    I remember a film entitled Free Willy. The activist boy, who fought for freeing Willy, had come to love this particular killer whale. But killer whales are not as intelligent as chimps. So what? I love this killer whale. Good film, touched the viewers' heart. But what about thousands of whales that are still being killed by whalers of Norway and Japan? At least some Americans and Europeans are trying to save them. But the chimps and gorillas of Africa who are not fortunate enough to be loved by some particular white humans? Hundreds of them are being killed for their meat (called bush meat) by humans of Africa. This is a very difficult issue. Even Arne Naess, the famous original philosopher (not an activist) of Deep Ecology could not but notice the problem. He wrote:

"When we attempt to live out our relationship with other living beings, difficult questions naturally arise. … Our apprehension of the actual conditions under which we live our own lives … make it crystal clear that we have to injure and kill, in other words, actively hinder the self-unfolding of other living beings." (emphasis added).

We can of course tell Africans of the Sahel zone, they should, because they could, become vegetarians. But can we say that to the Inuits of Greenland?
   How many of us are committed to saving the remaining living space of the remaining chimps and gorillas of the African jungle, that of the remaining Orangutans of the rain forests of Borneo, that of the majestic lions and great elephants of the African Savanna, and that of the Indian elephants of the Terrai region? Theoretically, all of us. But, in reality, these animals are rapidly losing their living space to humans because, firstly, the latter's total number is growing exponentially, because, secondly, in these poor underdeveloped regions of the world, growing numbers of farmers need more and more land, thirdly, because growing numbers of cattle breeders need more and more grazing land. And, last but not least, because also capitalist agri-corporations must expand or perish. Soon there will be "no room for wild animals" any more.
    How long will we keep our eyes shut and "pretend that we just do not see" the real, deeper causes of the killings of lions and elephants and rhinos and gorillas and chimps? Those very few of leftists who still call themselves communists or Marxists do talk about capitalism being the real culprit. But they see red if anybody mentions population growth being one of the deeper causes. But also most ecology activists do not raise the population issue. Why? Because, I guess, they are humanists. Humanists after all cannot see humanty as the culprit. Moreover, they are protagonists of human rights, and reproductive rights and democratic rights, and what have you, of everybody and all peoples and cultures of the world. So they suggest all kinds of technological fixes and/or small projects for all ecological problems, but never utter the P word. But radical ecologists? When will we say openly and loudly that the growing number of us humans is another "culprit"? They after all know very well the connection between the total number of humans and the total number of the other species, that they are inversely proportional. Paul Ehrlich, a famous American biologist, wrote addressing people like us, leftists and/or radical ecologists: "Whatever [be] your cause, it is a lost cause, unless we control population [growth]".
    Compared to the overall situation today, are not the cases of individual chimps,
Tommy, Kiko, Hercules, and Leo, much ado about insignificant things? These animals are after all not being brutally eliminated! Are not these cases distracting us from the great tasks of today?

Friday, 28 April 2017

Rights of Rivers? -- Are They Realizable?

Some two weeks ago I read an interesting article in which it was reported that on March 20 a High Court judge of a province of India called Uttarakhand has issued a ruling that the rivers Ganga and Jamuna, considered holy by the Hindus, and their tributaries have rights as a ‘juristic/legal person/living entity’. Five days before this, the New Zealand Parliament had passed into law the Te Awa Tupua Bill, which gives the Whanganui river and ecosystem legal personality, guaranteeing its ‘health and well-being’.
    The purpose of the authors of the said article – Ashish Kothari and Shrishtee Bajpai – was not just to report about these cases. They analysed the implications of the ruling on the Ganga and Jamuna and speculated on the possibility and difficulties of implementing the ruling in the real world.
    I read the article with great interest, because, in the mid 1990s, I had read a few eco-philosophical texts of the deep ecology school. The article triggered in my head further thoughts, which I wrote down and posted as a short comment.
    Later, the article gave rise to a long chain of letters in a google discussion group, in which the contributors further speculated on the possibility or otherwise of making the ruling of the Uttarakhand High Court judge operational.
    A few days ago, I had been admitted in this google group as a member. So I got all the letters. I read them and found them too abstract. Then I too made a contribution to the discussion.
    Below, I first give the link to the article of Kothari and Bajpai. Then you will find my comment on the article posted in the same journal. Thereafter I append my contribution to the discussion in the google-group.
    I request my readers to first read the article of Kothari and Bajpai, and thereafter my two texts.

Saral' Comments on the Article

Many thanks to Kothari and Bajpai for this highly informative article. It not only informs but also points out the contradictions involved in this particular piece of court ruling. However, the judges and our authors have opened a Pandora's Box, that cannot be closed without killing many "holy cows". That is to say, they have revealed several more fundamental contradictions that sincere ecological activists know about since long. Let me mention here just the two most fundamental ones: (1) that between economic development per se and protection of the rest of nature, and (2) that between modern humans as a whole and the rest of nature.
    For citizens of India it should be of interest to know that already before 1947, Gandhiji and Nehruji had a very serious dispute on the question of development, which Gandhiji totally rejected and which Nehruji wholeheartedly promoted. They kept their related correspondence under lock and key for fear that, if published, it would split the independence movement
    As regards the other contradiction, it relates to the number of humans living in any habitat or the whole world (taken as one habitat) and their conception of basic needs and good living. Neither the 1.3 billion humans in India nor the 7.5 billion humans in the world can live, let alone live well, without degrading every part of nature. You simply cannot eat the cake and have it too.
    Not Gandhiji, nor the vegetarians of India, but Arne Naess and his followers who initiated the Deep Ecology movement in the West formulated the first of the eight principles of the Deep Ecology Platform as follows:

"The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman Life on Earth have value in themselves (synonymous: intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes."

    Can we resolve these contradictions through a compromise? That may be possible, but surely not just through a ruling of a court. May I request Kothari and Bajpai to contribute another, a longish, article on these questions?


Saral's Contribution to the google group Discussion, dt. 27.04.2017

I have been reading this discussion from the very beginning, i.e. beginning with the article of Ashish and Ms. Bajpai, on which I commented in* In the meantime so many things have been said by so many participants that I do not remember who said what. That is however unimportant, because my following comments are very general.

(1) The terms right and duty are necessarily anthropocentric. Neither inanimate beings, such as rivers and mountains and nature reserves nor animals other than humans have such concepts in their head, let alone have the ability to articulate them. So, logically, it is only humans who can give rights to other humans and pronounce duties of humans to fellow humans and inanimate entities.

(2) The whole discussion is too abstract, so abstract that it is of little use either for government action or for activities of political groups. A right or a duty does not at all become more real or useful if a judge of a court declares it in a ruling.
    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was pronounced in 1948 by humans (UNO) for humans. But, as we know, till today, even such concrete human rights mostly remain on paper, unrealized. Why? Because, as of today, in any big society, say all inhabitants of a village in India, the humans are divided in various interest groups (call it class, caste, religious group, gender or whatever). A particular human right is not in the interest of all members of a society.
    Among humans, an aggrieved person or a group of persons can fight for her/his right. But what can a river do, or a mountain, or a tract of land (nature reserve)? Humans, who are supposed to fight for the rights of a river etc. are themselves divided on the basis of their own material interests.

(3) This is so because water, fertility of land, minerals in or below a mountain are resources needed by humans.
    I remember, as early as in the 1950s (or the 1960s), India and East Pakistan (since 1971 called Bangladesh) fought on the question of right to use the waters of the Ganga. India wanted to build a barrage on the river at Farracka to divert water to the port of Kolkata which was rapidly silting. East Pakistan was worried about the navigability of the river on which the port of Khulna lay.
    In the meantime, the population of both countries have tripled or quadrupled and their needs have skyrocketed and even now growing exponentially.

    In conclusion, I would say if we political activists want to do something about the undeniably abstract rights of such inanimate entities, we should rather pay more attention to the practical questions of material interests of humans, interest conflicts among them, resource and consumption needs of humans, and especially the growing human population.
    Sometime back I formulated an impossibility theorem. It is as follows:

It is impossible to fulfill the continuously growing demands, wishes, aspirations and ambitions of a continuously growing world population while our resource base is continuously dwindling and the ability of nature to absorb man-made pollution is continuously diminishing. It is a lunatic idea that in a finite world infinite growth is possible.


Further Comments of Saral

I think I should here add another important point that occurred to me later:

Both in the article of Kothari and Bajpai and my two comments/contributions we have discussed how difficult it is to make the ruling on the Ganga and Jamuna operational. But in my subsequent readings, till now, I have found no such discussion on the matter in connection with the Whanganui River, as if the New Zealanders and Maoris involved cannot imagine any difficulty that may arise after passing of the said law. I think this difference can be explained if we consider the following facts:
    New Zealand's population density is 17 per km2 , India's 368 per km2. These figures are for the whole area of New Zealand and India respectively. If we could have the figure for the Ganga-Jamuna basin, we would surely see that the figure far surpasses that of India as a whole. I could check the figure for Uttar Pradesh, which is a part of the Ganga-Jamuna basin. It is
829 per km2.
     Kothari and Bajpai have described, in a few sentences, the demands that economic development is making on the Ganga. On the just 290 km long Whanganui River we can read the following sentences: "It is essentially left in its natural state, since it does not flow through any big population or industrial centre. On the contrary, it flows through two national parks and is New Zealand's centre of river Kayak sport" (the German Wikipedia). I hope everything is clear now.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Nafeez Ahmed's Book: Failing States, Collapsing Systems, Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence


Dear friends,

I know you as a politically interested person. You may even be a political activist. If you know me and my writings (, then you know that I have been writing since long about limits to growth, peak oil, unviability of renewable energies, the general ecological crisis, crisis of capitalism, the danger of collapsing states etc.
    Recently, Johny Rutherford, a young friend from Australia, informed me about a publication which has pleased me very much. It is a small book, just 94 pages, by Nafeez Ahmed entitled

Failing States, Collapsing Systems, Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence.

In it the author has collated all the relevant biophysical data – global as well as from various problem countries – that explain why countries like Somalia or Yemen have failed and why he thinks that even such a rich country like Saudi Arabia is in danger of becoming a failed state. Ahmed thinks that even China, the second biggest economy of the world today, and India, a self-styled emerging economic superpower, may suffer the same fate.
    After reading a review-summary of the book made by
Alice Friedman (see below), I find Ahmed's reasoning very convincing.
    The book is very dear, but the review-summary is available free of cost in the internet. I
appeal to all politically interested and active people to read at least the latter and forward it to all political decision makers and opinion leaders of their country (add also your appeal to them) plus to all those who are worried about the fate of their native country and humanity at large. I am going to do the same.

With best wishes

Saral Sarkar


Alice Friedmann: