On the Five Retorts to Rebecca Solnit

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From a reader:

After reading over the important Five Retorts to Rebecca Solnit, “Self-Delusion and Political Flim-Flam As the Planet Heats Up...Rebecca Solnit Puts on a Happy Face About Capitalism and Climate Change” by Raymond Lotta, I wanted to comment briefly on two aspects:

First, I want to comment a little more on the question of electric cars, which is gone into in “Retort Four” of the Solnit polemic, “Some ‘dirty little secrets’ about ‘clean energy’ under profit-maximizing capitalism-imperialism that Solnit ignores.” As the article emphasizes, electric cars are widely touted as a big part of the solution to the climate crisis. (Biden’s climate plan puts electric vehicles at the center of its “solution.”)

As part of a radical and liberatory restructuring of today's global capitalist-imperialist economy and system—after it is overthrown through revolution—electrically powered vehicles (EVs) could play a potentially positive role in a new transport system. But under the conditions of this system, which rests on the exploitation of three billion laborers and the plunder of the planet, electric cars are NOT a solution. The production of the materials—especially lithium and cobalt, used in the lithium-ion batteries that make these cars possible—is incredibly damaging to the environment. And cobalt in particular comes from horrific child labor (along with viciously exploited adult labor).

The environmental and human devastation caused by extracting lithium and cobalt in this profit-based system of capitalism-imperialism is only a piece of an even bigger problem.

Second, even IF all cars were completely electrically powered, and even IF all of the electricity in those cars were sustainably generated (both of which are VERY far from the case right now, as Lotta’s article sharply points out), having tens of millions of people driving around in their own “individual” electric cars would NOT contribute to ending the environmental crisis. It would in fact reinforce the irrational and wasteful structure of economic and social life rooted in the workings of this capitalist-imperialist system that has brought us to this tipping point of environmental emergency.


The whole way of life in the U.S., the “standard of living,” the way people live and eat, the way they work and move through the world, has developed on the basis of, and is dependent on, a massive global network of exploitation and environmentally catastrophic resource extraction. The sheer disproportion is striking: “With less than 5 percent of world population, the U.S. uses one-third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, 23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, ... per person use of energy, metals, minerals, forest products, fish, grains, meat, and even fresh water dwarfs that of people living in the developing world.”1,2

Hundreds of millions of workers are brutally deployed in imperialism’s “supply chains” producing the clothes, food, computers, other electronic products, and everything involved in this standard of living, including cars. Further, the whole structure of America’s internal transportation system, specifically its dependence on individuals and families owning, driving, and investing great emotional value in powerful and dangerous and environmentally damaging cars, can’t exist without this global network of imperialist exploitation. The whole system has to go, through revolution; and the whole way people live, including the system of transportation, has to be radically transformed. These are my thoughts, hope it contributes!3


1. Use It and Lose It: The Outsize Effect of U.S. Consumption on the Environment, Scientific American, September 14, 2012. [back]

2. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (a U.S. government agency), people in Tanzania consumed 3.42 million BTU of energy per person in 2018 and people in the U.S. in 2018 consumed 309.56 million BTU per person (about 90 times more in the U.S.). The point is not to “go back” to some pre-industrial stage of livelihood, but to measure fully against what humanity needs, and recalibrate accordingly, under a radically different mode of production—and consumption. [back]

3. A socialist society in which these changes are encompassed is envisioned in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America and in Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development. [back]

The Destruction of the Planet by Capitalism-Imperialism, by Bob Avakian

An excerpt from Why We Need An Actual Revolution and How We Can Really Make Revolution, a speech by Bob Avakian



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