Article Place & Self

Community-based renewables challenge the crises of capitalism - even ISIS

Renewables not only have the potential to tackle climate change, they provide progressive alternatives to multiple global crises.

Our atmosphere is reaching a tipping point. We now experience record breaking storms, new colours on temperature maps, more intense and frequent floods, and more unseasonal weather. Burning fossil fuels has increased greenhouse gases to a level where our planet will heat up with life threatening consequences. Scientific consensus asserts that we must avoid reaching over 450 parts per million (ppm) Co2 concentration. We are already over 396 ppm – 42% more than the start of industrialisation – and the current concentration of greenhouse gases still opens up the chance of runaway climate disasters. Fortunately humanity has the ingenuity, technology and means to live within the finite limits of the climate. The barriers are politicians, whose policies are justified by the corporate media: for instance, billionaires sponsoring climate denial.

Renewables offer the alternative, alternatives that would also stop further fossil fuel extraction sacrifice zones. We could end the ’most destructive project in history’, Alberta’s tar sands and other dangerous projects such as deep water drilling, fracking, coal bed methane and Arctic oil exploration. We could end the ongoing degradation caused by conventional fossil fuels. Green energy also means we could prevent any further radioactive no-go zones, like in Fukushima and Chernobyl.

Alongside offering the chance for long-term survival, renewables offer even more.

Power to the people

Community-run renewables feature prominently within models of a low carbon break-through. Denmark is leading in this direction, driven by its cooperative based wind farms. Their government supported energy cooperatives since the 1980s to shift away from nuclear power. The communal aspect means broad support, with 96% of Danes in favour of wind power.

Scotland, like their Nordic brethren, are taking leading measures against climate change. Like many other Highland and island communities, Lewis is commencing Scotland’s biggest community wind farm scheme, which will create green electricity and return money back into the local population. On a broader level, Scotland has produced more electricity from green than dirty energy sources – showing how renewables are feasible today.

Locally controlled power production could end the monopoly of big energy corporations. In Britain, millions of people are in fuel poverty, many having to choose whether to ‘heat or eat’; whilst the big-6 energy firms make billion’s in profit. If power was devolved to local organisations fuel poverty could be reduced, as collectively people would not rip themselves off.

Community ran schemes are better than renewable mega-projects, such as large hydro-electric power (HEP). These can turn into monopolies that enable corruption, as happened in China; and can cause environmental destruction, which is threatened with a planned project in the Amazon.

Fossil fuel projects are often the worst mega projects for local impact. In Alberta, the indigenous peoples’ lives, livelihoods and lands have been decimated by the ongoing tar sands project. The oil rich country of Saudi Arabia, and many areas of the Middle East, has high levels of extreme poverty and severe human rights abuses. The problem is shown again in the coal-rich states of northern India, where locals have some of the lowest levels of access to electricity. A community based renewable transformation would stop these local problems, which are happening across the globe.

Nurturing economies

Community-ran renewable energy offers an alternative to steer away from the structural economic crises of capitalism. Since the 1980s liberalisation of finance, the global economy is more reliant on banking, house price inflation and speculation, shown as 7 out of the 10 largest global corporations are banks or financial institutions. The economy is disconnected with economically and socially productive activities. On top of this, the ‘real’ aspects of the economy are often destructive in their impact, including big oil and the military industrial complex.

Another issue in the economy is the depression of real wages and the precarious nature of work. Tackling climate change offers job opportunities, such as retro-fitting houses with insulation and smart grids, which share power between communities. On a UK-wide level, climate campaigners and unions have combined to produce a UK-wide plan to create 1 million climate jobs. Claims that we need dirty energy for jobs are debunked by reality. Canada’s renewables create more jobs than tar sands, even with less investment. Research by Ernest and Young tells a similar story across the EU. Wind power creating nearly twice as many jobs as gas powered energy production for the same investment.

The Common Weal, a vision of a progressive Scotland based on community renewables, shows how the transformation could re-employ the expertise and derelict industrial sites from destructive industries. For instance, factories building weapons could make green technology, likewise the physicist designing financial derivatives could turn their hand to developing smart grids.

The breadth of the fossil fuel divestment movement reflects how many public and private institutions invest in oil - everything from town halls, councils, universities to pensions – in effect the oil industry is sponsored by society. On top of this, it enjoys massive tax breaks and subsidies, worth billions each year that far out-strip renewable support.

As a progressive alternative to the current system, community-ran renewables offer a progressive place for society to invest its time and money into.

Cleaner democracy

A rebalanced economy could help to rekindle democracy. Democracy’s failure is shown by the way it works in the interests of the 1%, as shown by austerity and the rapid expansion of inequality. Interests are vested through processes such as the ‘revolving door’ between business and politics and corporate lobbying.

Westminster’s push for fracking bolsters the case that British democracy is broken. This dirty process is being driven by Lord Browne, former BP CEO, first in government as an unelected cuts tsar. He is also chairman of Cuadrilla, who wants to push fracking across the UK, a project that relies on new government support and subsidies. Not only has he been instrumental for the public spending cuts that enable that support, he is also in charge of hiring the people who will supposedly regulate his industry.

On a more general level, political decisions are often criticised for revolving around the election cycle, and being too short term. Planning an economy to fit within the limits of the environment would address this issue.

Crucially, community renewables’ rise would reduce corporate earnings, and with this their political power. All this could herald a new era of democracy.

Green geopolitics

Oil currently shapes international relations and conflict. As a ‘national interest’, Western ‘democracies’ are motivated to support authoritarian regimes and wage war to secure the oil supply.

The Middle East and Persian Gulf are one focal point, with massive oil reserves. Since World War II the US (and UK) governments have viewed the “Middle East as a stupendous source of strategic power and one of the greatest material prizes in world history,” writes eminent academic Noam Chomsky.

Britain’s oil fixation has led it to sell weapons to allies such as Saudi Arabia, Israel and other Arab states, despite their human rights violations. Alongside its senior partner the US, it has waged illegal war, as they did against Iraq, even though the country supported the dictatorship before. Britain has also been behind military coups, deposing Iran’s government in 1953 then Oman 20 years later.

If Britain relied on renewable energy, not oil, it could re-imagine its approach in the Middle East and the rest of the world.

A self-regenerative system

Nature is regenerative, oil based capitalism is not. Moving into a system based on community based renewables would create positive feedback loops. Not least, our economy could flourish better without the constant ecological degradation. A reduced military industrial complex would also lessen the need for oil; the US military is the world’s largest consumer.

A renewable energy future would both depend on and catalyse a political shift in thinking. The current system is based on neoliberal ideals of competition, on a world seen as a limitless resource to plunder by the most powerful. In our world now money means power. A renewable system would rely on a conscious shift, for people to recognise we live on a planet with finite boundaries. By a shift that emphasises cooperation, we could move into a world were profits were not omnipotent.

With so much potential for community-led renewables, this leads to the question of how it can impact on ISIS.

Systemic change would threaten ISIS

Full-scale change could undermine ISIS, as it is a product of the current system. ISIS emerged out of the instability and destruction created by the US/UK- led invasion of Iraq. A CNN report show the Iraq War was planned by ‘Big Oil, including Exxon, Chevron, BP and Shell’ who lobbied for George W. Bush in his campaign for US President, 2000. Sectarian forces fighting in post-invasion Iraq joined with rebel forces from Syria’s civil war to form ISIS, which the UK and its allies gave arms, military advice and financial support.

ISIS have found strategic support from Turkey, a NATO member. Turkey has been complicit in helping ISIS by enabling supplies to cross its borders, allowing ISIS to attack Kurdish Kobane from inside Turkish territory and facilitating ISIS sell black-market oil. Oil is an essential part of ISIS threat and power, estimates suggest that it is earning between $1-2 million a day, financing its brutal territorial expansion. If the world became less reliant on oil, it could undercut ISIS’s revenues.

Britain’s government views Turkey as a key strategic ally and it is ’priority market’ for Britain’s weapon’s industry. So rather than sanctioning the country’s connection to ISIS, in recent meetings David Cameron seemed more concern about helping Turkey to join the EU.

ISIS has drawn thousands of fighters from across the world. Its power to recruit can be viewed as a response against Western imperialism in the Middle East. This sentiment has been inflamed by the US/UK led ‘War on Terror’ and Iraq War, which has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. The War on Terror has also meant unofficial proxy war by drones and systemic human rights abuses and torture, as demonstrated in Guantanamo Bay.

The West’s crimes against humanity make it an ‘ISIS recruiter in chief’. Equally, the UK creates anger by selling arms and supporting countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel. It is telling that the corporate media ignores Saudi Arabia’s beheadings, whilst also often downplaying Britain’s role in supporting Israeli war crimes. If Britain ended its dependency on oil it could draw a line on these policies.

Beyond the religious radicalisation enflamed by imperialism, another reason people join ISIS is desperation. A New York Times piece explains how poverty in Turkey pushes many people into the ISIS ranks. By reducing the oil industry in the region, this would enable productive economies to take its place and limit the power of authoritarian regimes, as they would need tax revenue to replace the oil revenue.

David Cameron has called for bombing of ISIS, which is a sure fire method to kill civilians and encourage further recruits. The counter-productive nature of bombing terrorists is widely documented. Another tactic pushed by Western governments and the media is to talk up ISIS as the biggest threat, which is a way to promote their power and legitimise further military intervention.

Dependency on oil limits Britain and the West’s strategic foreign policy options, or more to the point in effect big oil and the military industrial complex hold great sway over those decisions. It is not in their interests to create a calm safe Middle East; it is in their interest to control the oil supply, create instability and sell weapons.

Community-ran renewables offer a way to reduce corporate influence over foreign policy. No longer would we need to join alliances to fight wars for oil. We could stop arming our enemies’ enemies and having to fight them later within the decade. Britain could stop supporting human rights abusive regimes.

If we started a renewables revolution today, it would be naïve to think the horrors of ISIS would end tomorrow. But it is reasonable to imagine it could be the start of a different epoch in Western relations with the Middle East, one that could challenge ISIS rather than reinforcing them through oil-fuelled militarism.

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