Interview with author and activist Tina Landis
Tina Landis is the author of a new book entitled “Climate Solutions Beyond Capitalism.” In this interview, she discusses the causes of climate change, the limits of market-based solutions and a socialist alternative to end environmental destruction.
The interview was conducted by Nick Silveri-Hiller on March 13th, 2021.
Thank you for joining us. Tina, I really appreciate you having the time and I really, really loved the book and I really think it's a fascinating examination of the limits of capitalism in solving the climate crisis.
So a little bit of background about yourself: you're an organizer in the environmental and social justice movements. You work in air quality regulation and climate protection and you hold a certificate and sustainable management from the University of California Berkeley, you're also a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and you write for Liberation News. So can you talk about how you got started in this work, how did you get involved in the movement for environmental justice?
I was always concerned about the environment from a very young age, and growing up I grew up outside Lititz, Pennsylvania. And very close to Three Mile Island so I always had a concern about the environment and always had a distrust of our government that they were actually looking out for our best interests. So that sort of sparked, at a very young age, interest in the environment and then that continued through high school. I helped organize a recycling program at my high school which was very early on, recycling didn't really exist in the area at the time. And then when I moved to California I got involved in the anti war movement. Just after September 11th and met some of the members who later formed the Party for Socialism and Liberation. That really opened my eyes to that capitalism itself was the problem, because all of the injustices we were fighting; against war, racism, inequality, bigotry, all these things stem from the system itself, as well as environmental degradation and climate change. So that really opened my eyes to really the only path forward, which is socialism, to really alleviate all these ills of capitalism, and to really heal. Heal the environment.
It's awesome that you're local to Lancaster and so as you know you know one of the largest industries in Lancaster County is the agriculture industry and you have a whole chapter in your book talking about the agricultural industry. Can you talk about how this industry and how it contributes to climate change?
Agriculture is definitely a main contributor to climate change. Climate change involves the most destruction of ecosystems, particularly industrial agriculture and monoculture agriculture, which really came out of the so called “Green Revolution” in the U.S. after World War II that really pushed their reliance on chemicals and synthetic fertilizers and poor farmers away from these natural processes and growing our food in alignment with the planet. And then from there you now move into genetically modified organisms which really hurts biodiversity, kills the soil, microbiome, uses huge amounts of water. And really, there is a growing movement in the US and around the world to shift to regenerative agriculture because farmers are seeing no matter how many pesticides and chemicals and GMOs you use the soil is just being depleted more and more rapidly and using up more and more groundwater and it's really not a sustainable system and then they're sick of being indebted to these companies who are forcing them to buy into the system of chemical use. And regenerative culture really does the opposite of industrial agriculture, industrial agriculture, also another problem with it, is it every time you till the soil, you're releasing carbon into the atmosphere, which is heating it helping to heat up the planet.
Regenerative agriculture does the opposite, it uses the plants to store that carbon in the ground and keeps the microbiome in the soil healthy, so that increases the water table, keeps that carbon in the ground because you don't till, you use crop cover to always have the soil covered so it's not depleted, it's not washed away. Industrial agriculture is also to blame, for a large part, to all these dead zones in the oceans because of all the runoff from these fields that then causes this chain reaction that happens and kills off all the sea life. So really the way forward is regenerative agriculture. It can really draw down huge amounts of the carbon that's in our atmosphere that we've already emitted because that's a big problem as well. So not only do we have to shift renewables, but we need to address all the carbon in the atmosphere already, and pull that out of the atmosphere and that can happen in a short amount of time, and just decades actually, through restoration of lands through grassland restoration and reforestation and regenerative agriculture.
And also another element of agriculture that's a problem is the way that industrial feedlots work to raise livestock. Actually 70% of the land in the US is used to grow feed for those feedlots. It's not used to grow food for humans. The feedlots, not only are they environmentally horrible, but they're inhumane, of course, as well and that's the cause of the major methane emissions that come from cattle, because they're fed this. You see that they're not meant to be eating this, they're meant to be grazers in grassland areas. As well as the way the waste is collected in these pools and just emits all this methane and the atmosphere is just horrible and unsustainable. So also returning to, you know, the Midwest used to be all grasslands, we need to return those lands to grasslands, with native grasses and return the grazing herds, we also need to reduce our meat consumption as well greatly in the US. But by restoring those grasslands that would capture tons of carbon as well. So there's a lot that can be done with agriculture to really help climate change.
And by the way, there's a great resource you have there in Pennsylvania, the Rodale Institute. It's been around since 1947, I believe, and they do a lot of research into organic regenerative agriculture. They're really on the cutting edge of it. It's a really, really great resource you have locally.
It's great to know the local resources that we can utilize to get a really deeper understanding of what the effects of this industry are. And also here in Lancaster, a few years ago there was a pretty big struggle against the creation of a pipeline, actually going through a lot of that agricultural area.
You talked about in your book, and it was a pretty nationally recognized struggle against the Keystone XL pipeline that really brought forward the struggle for indigenous peoples’ sovereignty and self determination. Can you talk about the importance of supporting the struggle for indigenous peoples’ sovereignty and self determination, and why environmentalists should support the struggle?
So, first of all, globally, indigenous people control about 5% of the land and have 80% of the biodiversity of the world on those lands, because an innate part of the culture is protecting the land and the water. And they pass on the ecological knowledge from generation to generation, of how to live in alignment with nature in their areas and that's lost in Western culture. It has just the complete opposite viewpoint, of dominating nature and exploiting it as much as possible. And, yes, absolutely. I mean their treaty rights need to be honored, indigenous self-determination for their lands is so important. And for us all to support their struggles that are happening on their lands because oftentimes the industries of oil, gas fracking, the pipelines are cutting through these rural areas which are oftentimes on tribal lands, like the Dakota Access Pipeline and Line 3 which is being fought right now and in Minnesota. Line 3, which is a pipeline that they're abandoning in Minnesota, and then they're proposing a new pipeline that's going to go through there as well. They’re on the front lines of the big oil and the extractive industries that are still happening. And they're not slowing down, despite what our government is saying about wanting to shift to renewables and address climate change, the extractive industry is still moving forward. The tar sands and bringing this dirty crude throughout the US to be imported, or to be exported. So yeah, we really need to stand with those frontline communities, indigenous or otherwise who are on the forefront of these sites.
In your book you say that “the time for incremental market based solutions is over. What are some of these market based solutions and why are they not sufficient?
Yeah, so things like carbon taxes and cap and trade are really a distraction. And they're really have they've done nothing to reduce emissions to any significant level and it's really a way around, you know it's it's comes hand in hand with direct deregulation as well it's like, instead of just directly regulating and tightening the restrictions on industry, this is their way around it, they have this market based solution that's like, you know, you can basically trade these credits on the market, a higher polluter can buy the credits from a, you know, a less polluting industry and, but it all evens out in the end and really in the end there really aren't any major reductions that admissions it's really a. I mean I believe a big PR campaign as well just to make the population feel that something's being done by the government but it's really not and. And oftentimes, another aspect is you know you're told that you need to change your individual behavior and buy more green products and and driving electric vehicles and all these things that are individual lifestyle changes. But that's not the problem. The problem is our production system under capitalism that has no concern for long term sustainability or the exploitation of the planet. I mean it's based on endless growth, and you can't have endless growth on a planet with finite resources, it's not sustainable. And that's never talked about and you know the mainstream at all it's all you know individual shaming and and these incremental piecemeal solutions. So, so-called solutions that really aren't addressing the core problem.
Instead, you propose that socialism would be the alternative that can actually stop climate change. So, what is socialism? We hear about it sometimes on TV, it's much more popular than it's ever been in the United States, or at least in a very long time. So, can you define socialism and what do you mean by that?
Yeah, so socialism is a system based on putting the needs of society first, and the planet. So looking at what we need, how many houses we need, how many nurses we need, how many teachers, what jobs need, what job training needs to happen. Just looking at all the basic needs of society and then the government and the people put those resources into making it happen. And you can see really comprehensive changes happen very, very quickly under a system like that, as opposed to the free market capitalist system where a handful of billionaires are deciding what we need and what is produced. So under socialism it's a very thoughtful production model, everything's planned out, these are the resources that we need to make this happen, is the labor we need to make this happen to keep society healthy and educated and the planet also healthy.
What I think is super good about your book is that it's not just theoretically what socialism could do, but you actually give examples of what socialist countries and societies have been doing and are doing to combat climate change. Can you talk about some of those examples that you talked about in the book?
Yeah, Cuba has despite the blockade that's been strangling them for decades, put a lot into environmental conservation, and they have a 100 year plan for climate adaptation that they began in 2017, which really is looking at how to prepare the population for sea level rise and also restore mangroves and reef systems to help protect the coast from the rising seas and absorb those rising waters.
And also, China. China has done a lot, which you don't hear about in the mainstream media because there's constant demonization of China and pointing the finger at China for the problem of climate change, which it's really not the major contributor, historically, but they've done a lot to reduce emissions, particulate pollution emissions. Even though just in the last like five years they had a 35% reduction of particulate matter in Beijing, which is not talked about and they've done that because they control the economy. The Communist Party of China is in charge of the resources and can actually make these shifts happen very quickly because they can. They decided on no more new construction, reduction of cement plants, reduction of the coal fire plants and all that really turned it around in a short amount of time. China is also by far the largest investor in wind and wind and solar energy globally and domestically. They're the largest producer of electric vehicles, as well as electric buses and electric trucks which no one else's producing or very little compared to them. That's what we should be talking about here, the working class. You can have all the electric vehicles, we need electric public transit mass transit that goes everywhere that's all zero emission. No one's talking about that here, right. China's doing a lot. They also have the Belt and Road Initiative which is really helping developing countries build infrastructure and build a sustainable development that's addressing environmental issues as well. And they also have the Great Green Wall project which has its shortcomings, but it is stemming desertification from the Gobi Desert which was spreading this huge, thousands of miles of trees they've been planning since the 70s. Just a huge undertaking. And that is having some positive impact on climate change as well.
And then there's you know Bolivia, who passed the Law of Mother Earth in, I believe, 2010, that gives rights to the earth and makes it illegal to do things that are harming the environment.
And also, one other thing on Cuba, if you look at what happened in Texas and what's happened to every major weather related disaster in the US., the government doesn't help people prepare. It doesn't help very minimally with relief efforts for the wildfires that destroyed a huge part of Santa Rosa, California and in 2017 people are still living in tents, who lost their homes in that fire and this is in California, which is the fifth largest economy in the world if you were our own country. But in Cuba, there's a huge, very systematic preparedness for hurricanes which are increasingly getting worse and Cuba and the population is educated, every step of the way as a storm approaches. They know where to go. They all play a role in helping each other get to safety and then helping to rebuild afterwards and there's no one left behind. And like you're going to have in Texas with these polar vortexes in these extreme storms, which are a result of climate change, and people were left to freeze to death in their homes.
This is the richest country in the world. I mean, this is what the capitalist government will do, their responses to the unfolding climate crisis there doing nothing, nothing to help people prepare. Which is the opposite of socialism, where no one's left behind. Everyone's prepared, and you know everything’s going into making sure people are safe and healthy and educated to participate in the challenges.
What's your assessment of the Biden administration as it pertains to the environment?
Yeah, he signed all these executive orders on the environment and climate and, he hinted that there will be these big shifts. He rejoined the Paris Agreement, but we have to keep in mind that he has a 50 plus year long career of being a loyal servant of big business and Wall Street and to really address the climate and the environment you have to go against those entities. So you have to take everything he said with a grain of salt. They called the pause on oil drilling and fracking on federal lands, which federal lands are only a quarter of where these things happen. And he's only put a pause on them. So you've got to take that with a grain of salt. And also the Arctic Wildlife Refuge drilling, it's also a temporary halt on the drilling there. Until the US really looks at the true contributions of emissions of this country historically and the per capita emissions today are the highest in the world. The US has never taken responsibility for that.
We'll see what happens but I'm skeptical that the US will really stand up and take responsibility and do something to really reduce our emissions and it seems from the statements he has made so far, it's going to be more pointing the finger at other countries to do their part, rather than actually looking at our own our own emissions levels. Like I mentioned, there's no talk of expanding zero emission public transit. It's all about consumers, the consumer market. Let's get more electric vehicles out there. The renewable energy plan is a big part of his reliance on nuclear which is not sustainable. I mean, the issue of waste, the issue of catastrophic accidents and even the life cycle emissions, carbon emissions that it takes to build and run these plants, it's the third highest form when you look at the life cycle emissions. And there's no discussion of preparedness for people, there's no real shift. There needs to be a real shift in everything in this country, the production model, land use, agriculture, all these things and there's no talk of that in his plan.
There's also no talk about the war machine, there's no talking about the Pentagon as the largest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet and the biggest unregulated polluter on the planet and there's no discussion of that. I mean, he's already bombed Syria. There's not gonna be a shift in the military industrial complex, which is a big problem because also how do you solve the climate crisis in an imperialist world where you’re the empire and its allies are just dominating the rest of the planet and crushing anyone who takes an independent path. And not doing anything to help underdeveloped countries to undo the legacy of colonialism that's left countries behind. So, I don't see a big shift in the policies, as far as the environment goes and the way I see the Paris Agreement, it's also just like a token gesture. There's no binding commitments for emissions reductions so it's kind of meaningless, it's just a show, a show of good faith, basically, but not nothing real with real teeth to it.
So, how can folks get involved in a struggle for socialism in the US?
They can reach out to the Party for Socialism and Liberation. I mean, I'm not just saying that because I'm a member but I really feel that we're the most effective and the most politically grounded and clear on the issues and the solutions for all the ills of capitalism. They can go to pslweb.org/join and you can fill an application and we'll get back to you.
But we're in almost, I believe, every state now and every major city and small towns all across and we can mobilize. We can mobilize and turn on a dime when a crisis happens and I don't see other organizations being able to do that in this country, you know, because they're nonprofits and they have a top down leadership. We're very centralized and have a political program that binds us together and that when we joined we agreed on that program and we are united on what the problems are and how to get there. So yeah, encouraging people to look at our website and really read our program and if you agree, apply to join.
So how can folks keep up with your work, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and of course, most importantly, where can they find the book if they want to read it?
People can go to LiberationNews.org and you can find articles I've written on climate and environment as well as you can buy the book there. I am also a common commentator on two shows on Sputnik News Radio. Which are By Any Means Necessary and another show called Political Misfits have me on to talk about climate issues in the environment as well. And also, I just lead a four part class series on the climate crisis and solutions and that the recordings of those will be posted on LiberationSchool.org within the next week or so.
Awesome! Thank you for joining us and talking to us about this book and I encourage folks to read this book, look into your writings and study it to see what we can learn for building a mass movement against climate change and for real solutions.