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Ecosocialists debate James Hansen’s climate change exit strategy

Sunday 25 March 2018, by Ian Angus, John Bellamy Foster

Should ecosocialists reject a program that includes carbon pricing? Ian Angus and John Bellamy Foster reply to Daniel Tanuro’s criticism of their approach “The right’s green awakening”.

Five years ago, in “James Hansen and the Climate-Change Exit Strategy,” John Bellamy Foster argued that proposals advanced by the noted climate scientist represented a “crucial first step,” in the fight to stop climate change, but that they were insufficient and “not by any means the last step.” [1]

Foster’s article was the subject of several discussions in Climate & Capitalism, with some writers arguing that we should give more support to the “fee and dividend” part of Hansen’s program, and others absolutely rejecting it.

In March of this year [2017], the Swiss socialist journal A l’encontre La Brèche published a two-part article by our good friend and C&C contributor Daniel Tanuro, titled “La taxe-dividende sur le CO2: menaces sur la droite, piège pour la gauche” (Tax-dividend on CO2: a threat from the right, a trap for the left), which strongly criticizes Foster and me for supporting Hansen’s approach. [2]

Although I disagreed with his arguments, I felt that his article was as an important contribution to the ongoing discussion of ecosocialist strategy, so I offered to publish a translation in Climate & Capitalism, but arrangements had already been made to publish it on the socialist website Jacobin. It was posted there under the title “The Right’s Green Awakening.” [3]

The editors of Jacobin graciously agreed to publish a reply by Foster and me. It is reposted below.

The steps to ecosocialism

Any ecosocialist movement must have a strategy for organizing in the here and now.

We were pleased to learn that Daniel Tanuro was writing an article on carbon pricing schemes. His book Green Capitalism: Why it Can’t Work makes important contributions to ecosocialist thought, and he has an impressive record of personal involvement in many radical environmental campaigns in Europe. We looked forward to the clear explanation and strong critique of market-based approaches to climate change that we know he could write.

Unfortunately, “The Right’s Green Awakening” does not live up to the generally high standard set by his book. Instead of addressing the carbon-pricing plans that have surfaced in capitalist politics, Tanuro focuses his critique on proposals developed by leading climate scientist James Hansen and on the critical support that we gave his proposal in Monthly Review and Climate & Capitalism. [4]

Tanuro equates our position — and Hansen’s rather different one — with a proposal advanced by some right-wing American politicians, arguing that we support “a populist variant . . . [of] neoliberal doctrine.” Naturally, we disagree.

We are not saying that our views are above criticism. Open debate is an essential part of building a global ecosocialist movement, and we welcome thoughtful responses to anything we have written. However, since Tanuro’s article seriously misrepresents both Hansen’s plan and our approach to it, we need to correct his misunderstandings before a proper discussion can begin.

Hansen’s Proposals

What we have called James Hansen’s “Climate