A recurring claim in articles that warn against “environmental catastrophism” is that alerting people to the threats posed by climate change will only produce apathy and despair. To win broad support, they say, we need to stress positive messages.
Robert Jensen, a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center, argues the exact opposite. His recent book, We Are All Apocalyptic Now, opens with the provocative statement that “responsible intellectuals need to think apocalyptically.” He argues that unless we clearly understand and explain the threats confronting humanity in the 21st century, we will not be able to build a movement based on real hope, as opposed to fairy-tale dreams.
“Thinking apocalyptically can help us confront honestly the crises of our time and strategize constructively about possible responses. It’s simply about struggling to understand – to the best of our ability, without succumbing to magical thinking – the conditions within the human family and the state of the ecosphere, and not turning away from the difficult realities we face.”
Jensen’s radicalism is rooted in Christianity, but his argument deserves careful attention from all green-lefts and left-greens. He has kindly granted me permission to post the article below, which summarizes some of the key points made in his book. Thanks to Andrea Levy for drawing it to my attention.
 
Get Apocalyptic: Why radical is the new normal
Feeling anxious about life in a broken economy on a strained planet? Turn despair into action.
by Robert Jensen
Feeling anxious about life in a broken-down society on a stressed-out planet? That’s hardly surprising: Life as we know it is almost over. While the dominant culture encourages dysfunctional denial — pop a pill, go shopping, find your bliss — there’s a more sensible approach: Accept the anxiety, embrace the deeper anguish — and then get apocalyptic.
We are staring down multiple cascading ecological crises, struggling with political and economic institutions that are unable even to acknowledge, let alone cope with, the threats to the human family and the larger living world. We are intensifying an assault on the ecosystems in which we live, undermining the ability of that living world to sustain a large-scale human presence into the future. When all the world darkens, looking on the bright side is not a virtue but a sign of irrationality.
In these circumstances, anxiety is rational and anguish is healthy, signs not of weakness but of courage. A deep grief over what we are losing — and have already lost, perhaps never to be recovered — is appropriate. Instead of repressing these emotions we can confront them, not as isolated individuals but collectively, not only for our own mental health but to increase the effectiveness of our organizing for the social justice and ecological sustainability still within our grasp. Once we’ve sorted through those reactions, we can get apocalyptic and get down to our real work.
Perhaps that sounds odd, since we are routinely advised to overcome our fears and not give in to despair. Endorsing apocalypticism seems even stranger, given associations with “end-timer” religious reactionaries and “doomer” secular survivalists. People with critical sensibilities, those concerned about justice and sustainability, think of ourselves as realistic and less likely to fall for either theological or science-fiction fantasies.
Many associate “apocalypse” with the rapture-ranting that grows out of some interpretations of the Christian Book of Revelation (aka, the Apocalypse of John), but it’s helpful to remember that the word’s original meaning is not “end of the world.” “Revelation” from Latin and “apocalypse” from Greek both mean a lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something hidden, a coming to clarity. Speaking apocalyptically, in this sense, can deepen our understanding of the crises and help us see through the many illusions that powerful people and institutions create.
But there is an ending we have to confront. Once we’ve honestly faced the crises, then we can deal with what is ending — not all the world, but the systems that currently structure our lives. Life as we know it is, indeed, coming to an end.
Let’s start with the illusions: Some stories we have told ourselves — claims by white people, men, or U.S. citizens that domination is natural and appropriate — are relatively easy to debunk (though many cling to them). Other delusional assertions — such as the claim that capitalism is compatible with basic moral principles, meaningful democracy, and ecological sustainability — require more effort to take apart (perhaps because there seems to be no alternative).
But toughest to dislodge may be the central illusion of the industrial world’s extractive economy: that we can maintain indefinitely a large-scale human presence on the earth at something like current First-World levels of consumption. The task for those with critical sensibilities is not just to resist oppressive social norms and illegitimate authority, but to speak a simple truth that almost no one wants to acknowledge: The high-energy/high-technology life of affluent societies is a dead end. We can’t predict with precision how resource competition and ecological degradation will play out in the coming decades, but it is ecocidal to treat the planet as nothing more than a mine from which we extract and a landfill into which we dump.
We cannot know for sure what time the party will end, but the party’s over.
Does that seem histrionic? Excessively alarmist? Look at any crucial measure of the health of the ecosphere in which we live — groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, chemical contamination, increased toxicity in our own bodies, the number and size of “dead zones” in the oceans, accelerating extinction of species, and reduction of biodiversity — and ask a simple question: Where are we heading?
Remember also that we live in an oil-based world that is rapidly depleting the cheap and easily accessible oil, which means we face a major reconfiguration of the infrastructure that undergirds daily life. Meanwhile, the desperation to avoid that reconfiguration has brought us to the era of “extreme energy,” using ever more dangerous and destructive technologies (hydrofracturing, deep-water drilling, mountaintop coal removal, tar sands extraction).
Oh, did I forget to mention the undeniable trajectory of global warming/climate change/climate disruption?
Scientists these days are talking about tipping points and planetary boundaries, about how human activity is pushing Earth beyond its limits. Recently 22 top scientists warned that humans likely are forcing a planetary-scale critical transition “with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience,” which means that “the biological resources we take for granted at present may be subject to rapid and unpredictable transformations within a few human generations.”
That conclusion is the product of science and common sense, not supernatural beliefs or conspiracy theories. The political/social implications are clear: There are no solutions to our problems if we insist on maintaining the high-energy/high-technology existence lived in much of the industrialized world (and desired by many currently excluded from it). Many tough-minded folk who are willing to challenge other oppressive systems hold on tightly to this lifestyle. The critic Fredric Jameson has written, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” but that’s only part of the problem — for some, it may be easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of air conditioning.
We do live in end-times, of a sort. Not the end of the world — the planet will carry on with or without us — but the end of the human systems that structure our politics, economics, and social life. “Apocalypse” need not involve heavenly rescue fantasies or tough-guy survival talk; to get apocalyptic means seeing clearly and recommitting to core values.
First, we must affirm the value of our work for justice and sustainability, even though there is no guarantee we can change the disastrous course of contemporary society. We take on projects that we know may fail because it’s the right thing to do, and by doing so we create new possibilities for ourselves and the world. Just as we all know that someday we will die and yet still get out of bed every day, an honest account of planetary reality need not paralyze us.
Then let’s abandon worn-out clichés such as, “The American people will do the right thing if they know the truth,” or “Past social movements prove the impossible can happen.”
There is no evidence that awareness of injustice will automatically lead U.S. citizens, or anyone else, to correct it. When people believe injustice is necessary to maintain their material comfort, some accept those conditions without complaint.
Social movements around race, gender, and sexuality have been successful in changing oppressive laws and practices, and to a lesser degree in shifting deeply held beliefs. But the movements we most often celebrate, such as the post-World War II civil rights struggle, operated in a culture that assumed continuing economic expansion. We now live in a time of permanent contraction — there will be less, not more, of everything. Pressuring a dominant group to surrender some privileges when there is an expectation of endless bounty is a very different project than when there is intensified competition for resources. That doesn’t mean nothing can be done to advance justice and sustainability, only that we should not be glib about the inevitability of it.
Here’s another cliché to jettison: Necessity is the mother of invention. During the industrial era, humans exploiting new supplies of concentrated energy have generated unprecedented technological innovation in a brief time. But there is no guarantee that there are technological fixes to all our problems; we live in a system that has physical limits, and the evidence suggests we are close to those limits. Technological fundamentalism — the quasi-religious belief that the use of advanced technology is always appropriate, and that any problems caused by the unintended consequences can be remedied by more technology — is as empty a promise as other fundamentalisms.
If all this seems like more than one can bear, it’s because it is. We are facing new, more expansive challenges. Never in human history have potential catastrophes been so global; never have social and ecological crises of this scale threatened at the same time; never have we had so much information about the threats we must come to terms with.
It’s easy to cover up our inability to face this by projecting it onto others. When someone tells me “I agree with your assessment, but people can’t handle it,” I assume what that person really means is, “I can’t handle it.” But handling it is, in the end, the only sensible choice.
Mainstream politicians will continue to protect existing systems of power, corporate executives will continue to maximize profit without concern, and the majority of people will continue to avoid these questions. It’s the job of people with critical sensibilities — those who consistently speak out for justice and sustainability, even when it’s difficult — not to back away just because the world has grown more ominous.
Adopting this apocalyptic framework doesn’t mean separating from mainstream society or giving up ongoing projects that seek a more just world within existing systems. I am a professor at a university that does not share my values or analysis, yet I continue to teach. In my community, I am part of a group that helps people create worker-cooperatives that will operate within a capitalist system that I believe to be a dead end. I belong to a congregation that struggles to radicalize Christianity while remaining part of a cautious, often cowardly, denomination.
I am apocalyptic, but I’m not interested in empty rhetoric drawn from past revolutionary moments. Yes, we need a revolution — many revolutions — but a strategy is not yet clear. So, as we work patiently on reformist projects, we can continue to offer a radical analysis and experiment with new ways of working together. While engaged in education and community organizing with modest immediate goals, we can contribute to the strengthening of networks and institutions that can be the base for the more radical change we need. In these spaces today we can articulate, and live, the values of solidarity and equity that are always essential.
To adopt an apocalyptic worldview is not to abandon hope but to affirm life. As James Baldwin put it decades ago, we must remember “that life is the only touchstone and that life is dangerous, and that without the joyful acceptance of this danger, there can never be any safety for anyone, ever, anywhere.” By avoiding the stark reality of our moment in history we don’t make ourselves safe, we undermine the potential of struggles for justice and sustainability.
As Baldwin put it so poignantly in that same 1962 essay, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
It’s time to get apocalyptic, or get out of the way.
New data from the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) shows that wind energy installations outperformed both coal and gas last year in the European Union. In fact, Europe closed down and retired more coal and gas capacity than they commissioned in 2014.
 
Across the 28 EU member states, the wind industry built a total of 11,791 MW to the European grid. In comparison, coal and gas added only 3,305 MW and 2,338 MW respectively of new capacity. The wind energy capacity increased by 3.8 percent in 2014 and cumulative installations is now standing at 128.8 GW in the EU.
Wind power now cover 10 percent of the EU’s electricity consumption, up from 8% the year before. All in all, renewable power plants (and not just wind energy) accounted for 79.1% of new installations during 2014; 21.3GW of a total 26.9GW.
Thomas Becker, chief executive officer of the European Wind Energy Association, said: "These numbers very much show Europe's continued commitment to renewable and wind energy. But this is no time for complacency. The uncertainty over the regulatory framework for the energy sector is a threat to the continued drive toward sustainable and homegrown energy that will guarantee Europe's energy security and competitiveness for the long-term."
A Davos report, released earlier in January, warned that badly located renewable power plants are hampering the production from these new installations – and costing Europe as much as $100 billion. A solution to these sub-optimal deployments of renewable energy resources could be a more unified European energy market.
“It's time for Europe's political leaders to create a truly European Energy Union and send a clear signal of their support for the shift to a secure and sustainable energy system,” Becker said. “Political will on their part is an essential piece of the puzzle.”
These new EWEA-statistics also shows something worrying. This renewable energy transformation is not happening equally across Europe. Almost 60 percent all-new installations were in just two countries: Germany and the United Kingdom. These two country’s installed 5,279MW and 1,736MW respectively of new wind energy in 2014.
"What we've seen in 2014 is a concentration of the industry in key countries," Becker said, adding "while markets in eastern and southern Europe continue to struggle in the face of erratic and harsh changes in the policy arena. We expect this concentration to continue into 2015."
New wind power installations also saw a dramatic decline in countries such as Spain, Italy and Denmark who all installed much less wind than in previous years. Denmark might be nearing “peak wind” as it saw a drop in installations by over 90 percent.
You can read the full EWEA report here.
The first UN negotiating session preparing for a climate deal this fall just wrapped up in Geneva. The draft is the next step in a long process of negotiation and bargaining on the way to a treaty to finally replace the expired Kyoto Accords.

The negotiations were given a boost last fall by A U.S.-China deal on limiting carbon pollution. This set the stage for more serious negotiations involving all parties, with many issues still outstanding.

For the first time, the treaty is expected to include targets for both developed and developing countries. Historically, the developed countries have emitted the most carbon pollution, and so have contributed the most to the build-up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This cumulative build-up is the cause of the global warming the world is already experiencing. However, currently, several developing countries are emitting the most carbon pollution, led by China and India.

The Kyoto Accords included only the developed countries, and they expired in 2012. For several years before that expiration, and ever since, efforts to create a binding climate treaty have floundered.

The U.S.-China deal raised hopes of finding new ways to include all countries in the process, and marked a major step in China's negotiating posture, and also marked a major step in the US posture, calling for major steps by both countries to limit carbon pollution.

This UN process also takes place against rising demonstrations calling for climate action, most importantly the People's Climate March in NYC in September, 400,000 strong. Solidarity actions that weekend around the world added another 200,000 to the count. Many other kinds of ongoing organizing are taking place, building a multi-faceted movement.

Last weekend, 350.org and many other groups staged Global Divestment Days, calling on universities, pension funds, and public funds to be divested from fossil fuel companies. Norway became the first country to pledge divestment from its wealth fund, dumping billions in investments in fossil fuel companies, though it still has billions more to go.

Republicans and some Democrats in Congress have pushed through a bill trying to force Obama to okay the Keystone pipeline project, a bill he had promised to veto. Other battles are being waged over EPA rules for new and existing power plants.

In addition to the growing climate action movement, these negotiations take place against the backdrop of increasingly dire predictions about the results of climate change. 2014 was the hottest year on record. NASA scientists predict that large parts of the U.S. will experience multi-decades-long massive droughts later this century.

The UN negotiations are scheduled to wrap up at a major conference in Paris in November and December of 2015. While a major international treaty would be an important step forward in the fight against catastrophic climate change, the treaty will certainly not be enough by itself. Enough carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have accumulated in the atmosphere to guarantee increasing impacts, on top of the ones already seen: increased forest fires, rising sea levels, more extreme weather events, extreme flooding and droughts, changes in weather patterns impacting agriculture, wildlife, and disease zones, glacial and ice sheet melting, and increased species extinction, to mention some.
The fires from Monday's derailment of a train carrying crude oil in Fayette County, West Virginia, continued to burn Tuesday morning, and emergency shelters for hundreds of people who had to evacuate after the derailment remain open.

"A CSX train, hauling 107 tank car loads of Bakken Shale crude oil from North Dakota to a transportation terminal in Yorktown, Virginia, derailed in Adena Village near Mount Carbon and Deepwater West Virginia about 1:30 p.m. Monday," according to the Charleston Gazette and Staff writer Ken Ward Jr.

At least one house was set ablaze and numerous tank cars either burned or exploded. West Virginia Rivers Executive Director Angela Rosser reported:

"Witnesses saw a gigantic fireball raise to the snow-filled heavens. This is the second terrible trauma in as many years to his the Kanawha River valley. Last January a chemical spill from coal industry connected Freedom Industries storage tanks endangered the water of 300,000 people for weeks. It's time to ask you town or county or state -- what is on the rail cars travelling through our community??"

Bakken crude has shown to be a volatile form of crude requiring highly flammable chemicals in its transport from North Dakota and other shale gas and oil fields. According to Lynn Cook in the Wall Street Journal, this risk is well known to oil and transport companies.

"Data released by a lobbying group for oil refiners confirmed that crude from the Bakken shale in North Dakota is very volatile and contains high levels of combustible gases..."

Now, who is surprised at this reaction from that group?

"The crude," which has been linked to no less than four fiery rail accidents in a year, "is no more dangerous to ship than oil from other shale regions and is being correctly loaded and transported under existing federal rules. New rules aren't warranted," the group, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, said Wednesday.

Federal Railroad Administration workers were only able to get within 50 yards of the derailed cars late Tuesday morning, according to the agency. Some of the rail cars were still on fire, and local emergency responders were still in charge of the scene.

Flames also burned power lines in the area, knocking out electricity to about 900 customers in the midst of frigid sub-freezing temperatures. According Appalachian Power spokeswoman Jeri Matheney, reported in the Gazette, "electricity has not yet been restored because repair crews are having trouble accessing the extent of the damage. About 2,400 people were evacuated or displaced by the train derailment, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency."

Investigators the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are also already at the scene, and more staff are on the way.

Because of the unknown quantities of spill from the exploded or burnt cars, or tank cars in the river, Officials in Montgomery, downriver from the accident, were told to shut down their water intake as a precaution. Reduced water intakes from the Kanawha river have forces water conservation restrictions. One person was treated for smoke inhalation, officials said, but, miraculously, no other injuries have been reported.

Kelley Gillenwater, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said that the fires were keeping DEP officials from being able to fully examine the site of the derailment to determine what sort of containment and cleanup is going to be needed.

Full details of water sampling being done by the state were not immediately available, but Gillenwater said that so far the results had come back "non-detect."

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency in Fayette and Kanawha counties after the derailment. Tomblin scheduled a news conference with federal and state officials at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Montgomery Fire Department.

In April 2014, a train carrying crude oil on the same North Dakota-Virginia route derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia. In July 2013, a 74-car train carrying Bakken Shale crude oil derailed in Quebec, Canada, setting off fires and explosions that killed 47 people.

On Saturday, at least seven rail cars carrying crude oil caught fire in Northern Ontario after a train traveling from Alberta to eastern Canada derailed, according to media reports.

What's riding through your town ready to send you to hell?
Plans to build the world’s biggest offshore wind farm has just been approved by the UK’s energy secretary. The massive offshore wind farm, named the Dogger Bank Creyke Beck project, will be located around 130 km off the coast of the East Riding of Yorkshire.

It will actually comprise of two offshore wind farms (Creyke Beck A and B.) with an installed capacity of up to 1.2GW each. But once built, it will act as a single wind farm and have up to 400 turbines generating a maximum of 2.4GWh per year – enough electricity to power almost two million homes. This means that this wind farm alone would fulfil 2.5 percent of the UK’s total electricity needs.

The offshore wind project is also expected to boost the local economy. The government estimates that the wind farm will directly create up to 900 green jobs in Yorkshire and Humberside.

“Making the most of Britain’s home grown energy is creating jobs and businesses in the UK, getting the best deal for consumers and reducing our reliance on foreign imports,” Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said. “Wind power is vital to this plan, with £14.5 billion invested since 2010 into an industry which supports 35,400 jobs.”

RenewableUK, the wind industry association, says the project could create up to 4750 direct and indirect jobs and generate more than £1.5 billion for the UK economy.

It’s estimated that the two offshore wind farms will cost somewhere between £6 billion to £8 billion.

But the project could face construction problems and delays as it would be the furthest offshore farm that have ever been attempted. RenewableUK’s Director of Offshore Renewables Nick Medic said: “It will surely be considered as one of the most significant infrastructure projects ever undertaken by the wind industry. A colossal wind energy power station right in the middle of the North Sea, comprising hundreds of offshore wind turbines over 80 miles off shore.”

“It is a project that pushes the offshore engineering envelope - demonstrating how far this technology has evolved in the ten short years since the first major offshore wind farm was installed in North Hoyle just 5 miles from shore.”



A date for when construction starts has not yet been set, but is likely to be years away. The Forewind consortium, which the project is being developed by, has yet to make a final investment decision. The consortium includes the Scottish and Southern Energy, Germany’s RWE, and Norway’s Statoil and Statkraft.
The non-profit marine conservation organization, Sea Shepherd has received 8.3 million Euros from the Dutch Postcode Lottery at the annual Goed Geld Gala (Good Money Gala) in Amsterdam. Sea Shepherd was awarded by the Dutch postcode lottery for their “dream project” submission to stop illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean. The controversial organization, which has received criticism for their direct-action methods, now plans to use the donation, the biggest in the organization’s history, to build a new dream ship.

“We are now able to proceed with the purchase of our dream ship and lift our conservation efforts to protect the Southern Ocean from illegal exploitation to the next level. We are extremely grateful to the Dutch Postcode Lottery and the people of the Netherlands for this very generous support,” said Alex Cornelissen, CEO of Sea Shepherd Global.

Sea Shepherd has been confronting illegal whalers and illegal fishermen in the waters surrounding the Antarctic continent since 2002. Their actions has received a lot of media attention – in 2008 they got a documentary-style reality television series on the Animal Planet cable channel – but their current fleet is aging and their vessels are lacking speed. The organization therefore hopes that the new dream ship will enable them to be more effective in the fight against poaching on the high seas.

“Sea Shepherd will now be able to have a custom-designed ship built, capable of achieving speeds that far exceed any of the vessels in our current fleet. After researching possible ship builders for the last two years, negotiations with Dutch ship builder Damen has resulted in a blueprint of our ideal ship”, said Cornelissen.


Artists' impression, depicting the potential look of Sea Shepherd's 'dream' ship.

Sea Shepherd received 8.3 million Euros from the postcode lotteries in the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom for this project. The Dutch Postcode Lottery contributed 7.5 million Euros. Further to the Dream Project, Sea Shepherd once again received a check for 900,000 Euros from the Postcode Lottery, bringing the total donation that Sea Shepherd has received from the Lottery since 2007 to the incredible amount of 15.5 million Euros.
The sound system was playing Bella Ciao. Flags of parties from across the left and the continent wiggled as their bearers danced and sang along. Ouzo flowed and fireworks flared. We could have been outside a G8 summit in the early noughties.

Only the explosives weren’t directed at police lines, but in the air. The crowd chanting at the politician wasn’t protesting. It was cheering. An international movement which has become very good at licking its wounds was pretty quick to learn to celebrate. In fact, with perhaps 10% of the people at the rally in front of the Athens academy coming from outside Greece, this was very much a party for the European left – in the beer, loud music, and dancing sense of the word.

But also, of course, in the political sense. So I should be clear. When I say that Syriza’s victory is in a sense the first Green government in Europe, it’s obviously not just Greens. Because Syriza is effectively a merger between most of the left wing parties in Greece, most left parties in Europe can reasonably see it as their sister. It has already been seen for a couple of years now as the archetypal party of the European left.

A Green Government?

Having said that, there is a remarkable extent to which Syriza is in practice a Green government. First, the Greek Green Party is a part of the Syriza coalition – they got one MP elected, who was promptly promoted to deputy environment minister. Secondly, as Kostas Lukeris, a member of the Greek Green Party’s ruling council put it to me over souvlaki on Syntagma square on the day of the vote “they adopted all of our platform”. Look through the policy commitments of Tsipras’ government and the manifestoes of the Green parties in the UK, and you’ll find little to separate them.

Some of these similarities are unsurprising, and could be found within the platform of most contemporary parties of the left – rejecting austerity, opposition to privatisation. Both have campaigned for a crack down on tax dodging. Both are generally against corporate domination of politics and the corruption that comes with it.

Some of the similarities are on issues which haven’t always united those on the left but which tend to today. Twenty years ago, there were active socialist traditions which saw feminism, anti-racism, LGBTIQ rights and environmentalism as “bourgeois deviationalism” – as distractions from class struggle. Many within these traditions were in practice homophobes, sexists and smokestack industrialists who saw environmentalism as standing in the way of their five year plans. Look to George Galloway’s comments on Julian Assange, and it’s clear that these sorts of people are still around. But they are not Syriza – whose colours are green and purple as well as red, indicating that they are proud feminists and environmentalists as well as socialists.


Photo: Alexis Tsipras, newly-elected Prime Minister of Greece and party leader of Syriza.

I could go even further: they support decriminalisation of drugs, cutting military expenditure and the introduction of direct democracy in some areas. They have already scrapped two of the tiers of school exams. These are not policies universally supported across the left. But they are to be found in Green manifestoes across Europe.

Then there are a few issues on which the original Syriza coalition needed to be pushed. When the Greek Greens discussed merging into the broader party, they first published a list of twenty one demands – policies Syriza would have to adopt in order to get this support – the things they didn’t already agree on. The list includes independence from fossil fuels within 20 years, addressing desertification by supporting forests, protection of fisheries; participatory processes in public services, equal treatment of the islands in what they see as an over-centralised state. Syriza accepted every one of the policies.

None of this was easy for Greens – who ended up shedding their more liberal wing to the Potami list (“the hipster party”, as my Green friend called it) and a couple of egos to another left alignment before they joined the Syriza list. But ultimately, it’s looking like the party can celebrate a significant victory in part as a product of its pains.

The Left Has Changed

None of this feels at all surprising, for two reasons. Firstly, the left across Europe, probably across the world, has changed significantly in the past twenty years. It’s no longer acceptable to ignore the interlocking struggles against different forms of oppression. Since 9/11 and the Iraq war, it’s been impossible to avoid accepting anti-imperialist arguments. Since the financial crash, you can’t really be progressive and ignore macro-economics and the struggle against neoliberalism. As the climate has changed, few reject the basics premises of environmentalism any more. In other words, where the reference points for the left were once where various groupings stood on particular bits of the history of the Soviet Union, a new generation has emerged where the relevant questions are very different. The cracks of the past have started to heal in the heat of history.

In these contexts, it’s not surprising that we’ve seen a bit of a realignment, with much of the socialist left moving into a space once occupied more uniquely by (some in) the Greens, and some of Europe’s Greens (including those in the UK) getting better at articulating explicitly anti-neoliberal economic arguments. In a sense, Syriza is a product of those forces.

Secondly, it’s worth understanding Syriza’s own specific history. The party is a coalition, but its biggest section, the one from which Alexis Tsipras came, was called Synaspismós tīs Aristerás tōn Kinīmátōn kai tīs Oikologías. Or, in English “Coalition of Left, of Movements, and Ecology”. Its roots were in Eurocommunism – the Gramscian corner of communism which was critical of the Soviet Union. In England, its sister organisation “Democratic Left” went through various permiatations and ended up as the campaign group “Unlock Democracy”. Democratic Left Scotland still exists, and provides a useful non-partisan forum to discuss politics under the slogans “there’s more to politics than parties” and “radical, feminist, green”. Their colours are, like Syriza, still red, green and purple. Its membership includes the Scottish Green Party co-convener, Maggie Chapman and many other prominent people in the party (and, less significantly, me).

Eurocommunists were in many ways like the old New Left – accepting of broader struggles ‘beyond the class struggle’. Likewise, they tended to have a more discursive rather than dogmatic approach to social change, keen to bring together coalitions and to constantly step back and reappraise what they ought to be doing, rather than following any one handbook. On a night out with a senior figure in Syriza’s youth wing, they jokingly emphasised this point when being indecisive about which pub to go to.

An International Movement

If all of this sounds a little like Green Parties, that’s, essentially, because it is. Look at the lineage of Greens across Europe, and you’ll repeatedly find it criss-crossing with a mixture of the New Left and Euro-communists. The Dutch GreenLeft Party, for example, was formed from a merger between its Euro-communists and others, and prominent English Green member Bea Campbell was once one of Britain’s best known Euro-communist activist.

Let me put it another way: each country has its own history, context and traditions. But many of the people who have ended up in the Green Party in the UK come very much from the same political tradition as those who are now running Greece: a mixture of the anti-capitalist but anti-Soviet left of the 70s and 80s, the anti-globalisation then anti-Iraq War movement of the 90s and noughties and the anti-austerity movement of the twenty teens. This heritage isn’t unique to Greens by any means, it’s a history on which much of the European left can draw. But Greens have as much right to lay claim to it as does anyone else.

Driving to a polling station in Athens’ working class docks area with the national campaign co-ordinator of the Greek Green Party, he told me that he had been surprised how keen Syriza had been to include Greens in their coalition – they had never had an MP, and didn’t bring with them a huge swaith of votes. But then, he said, he realised the cause of their enthusiasm. They needed European partners. Adding the European Greens to their list of sister parties brings a big block of support across the continent.

And perhaps most importantly, there are lessons to be learnt. As they dance to the music of time, most of the left in Greece has found itself aligned – at least for now. While the instruments across Europe may be different, the drums are thumping the same beats. In the UK, by far the biggest of Syriza’s sister parties is the Greens. And, with Plaid Cymru backing a Green vote in England, perhaps some of the spirit of collaboration could, like all the best tunes, be infectious?
Last week left a bittersweet taste in the mouths of environmentalists. On Jan. 25 the Obama administration proposed new protections for large portions of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which, if approved, would be a huge win. Two days later, however, the administration released its new five-year offshore drilling plan, which opened up more of the Atlantic coast and the Arctic Ocean to dirty fossil fuel development - and potential disaster.

The new protections for the refuge, at least, would mark a historical achievement. According to the U.S. Department of Interior, which is recommending the protections, the measures could become one of the largest conservation efforts "since Congress passed the visionary Wilderness Act over 50 years ago." The Department's recommendation is that millions more acres of the refuge, including the Coastal Plain, be declared "wilderness." What that means is it will enjoy the highest level of protection possible for public lands. Mining, drilling, road development, and the construction of permanent structures - all of these things will be prohibited, effectively preserving the area and its ecosystem.

The issue, however, is that only Congress has the power to make a "wilderness" designation, and given the fact that the Senate just approved the Keystone XL pipeline on Jan. 29, sending it to President Obama's desk for a likely veto, the likelihood of their cooperation on this matter is doubtful.

The President, however, challenged Congress to move on the issue. "I'm going to be calling on Congress to take it a step further," he said from Air Force One during a trip to India. "Designating ANWR as a 'wilderness' so that we can make sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations."

"Designating vast areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness reflects the significance this landscape holds for America and its wildlife," said Interior secretary Sally Jewell. "Just like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, the ANWR is one of our nation's crown jewels, and we have an obligation to preserve this spectacular place for generations to come."

Republicans seized the chance to attack the development, with Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, saying he and others will "defeat their lawless attempt to designate ANWR as a wilderness, as well as their ultimate goal of making Alaska one big national park." He claimed it was an example of Obama "thumbing his nose at the citizens and [putting] Alaska and America's energy security in serious jeopardy."

But the pro-corporate need not have worried; on Jan. 27, the Obama administration catered to them with the release of its proposed 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The draft plan includes 14 potential lease sales, 10 of which are in the Gulf of Mexico, which is still nursing wounds left by the remnants of the infamous 2010 BP Oil Spill. Three areas off the coast of Alaska (the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and the Cook Inlet) would also be sold for oil exploration, after Shell's numerous efforts to infiltrate the area in the face of impassioned opposition from environmental groups. The final area to be sold would include parts of the Atlantic including coastal parts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

This plan is "risky wherever we do it," said Bob Deans, spokesperson for the National Resources Defense Council. "Oil travels a long way. It doesn't respect boundaries."

In a press release issued by the council, executive director Peter Lehner added, "This takes us in exactly the wrong direction. It will expose the Eastern Seaboard, much of the Atlantic, and most of the Arctic to the hazards of offshore drilling. It ignores the lessons of the disastrous BP blowout, the growing dangers of climate change, and the promise of a clean energy future." This plan "would put our beaches, wetlands, and all they support at grave and needless risk, imperil coastal communities and economies, and anchor our future to the diry fossil fuels of the past."

So the glimmer of hope offered by the proposal for ANWR protections was rather tempered, most activists feel, by the dark news that came two days afterward. For many, this surely feels like a classic case of 'two steps forward and three steps back.'

Noting that the plan puts the Alaskan areas in particular at serious risk, Tim Donaghy, a senior research specialist with Greenpeace USA, concluded, "Alaska native communities depend on the ocean for their livelihood, not to mention the whales, walruses, seals, birds, and fish that make up one of the few remaining pristine ecosystems on the planet. Crude oil is something that simply can't be put back in the bottle once it has been spilled. The only way to win is not to drill."
Shell has announced that they intend to revive their oil drilling plans in the Arctic waters of off Alaska. But environmentalists, whom have campaigned against these plans for years, warn that Shell is taking a massive risk that could potentially end in disaster for the pristine Arctic environment and its wildlife.

The giant's chief executive, Ben van Beurden, acknowledged to the BBC that these fossil fuel development plans for the Arctic may “divide society”, but that they are needed to meet increased global demands for oil and gas. It’s estimated that around 24 billion barrels of oil can be extracted from Alaska – potentially being the biggest oil reserve in the world.

Shell’s plans are not new. For the past decade, the energy giant has spent around $6 billion on unsuccessful attempts to extract oil in the fragile region. Shell has also announced a $15 billion cut in global spending, and recent profit figures has disappointed investors. It’s clearly not going that well for Shell. And with plummeting global oil prices many are questioning whether these Arctic plans are economically beneficial.

“Despite announcing cuts, Shell hasn't taken the opportunity to cut its most high-cost high-risk project,” said Greenpeace's Charlie Kronick. “Shell is taking a massive risk doggedly chasing oil in the Arctic, not just with shareholder value, but with the pristine Arctic environment. A spill there will be environmentally and financially catastrophic,” Kronick said. “It's time for investors to recognise that it's impossible for Shell to justify its continued pursuit of offshore Arctic oil.”

In spite of concerns about the risks of devastating oil spills in the Arctic’s sensitive ecosystems and the impact on our climate from exploiting new sources of fossil fuels, Shell claim that they can drill for oil safely and responsibly. “We will only do this if we feel that we can do it responsibly,” Ben van Beurden said. “I think that we are as well prepared as any company can be to mitigate the risks.”

Promises aside, to drill in the Arctic is a very risky business and Shell’s latest attempt in the Arctic ended in fiasco in late 2012 when their oil rig drove up on land. And their track record when it comes to oil spills are not comforting. For example, the company recently had to pay $84 million in clean-up costs after a major oil spill in Nigeria.

Before Shell can set their plans in motion they first need approval from the US government to start drilling in Arctic waters. Greenpeace is now pushing for US President Barack Obama to block Shell’s oil drilling plans and to protect the Arctic.
Members of the UK Parliament group, the Environmental Audit Committee, have in a report released last Monday called for a moratorium on the controversial shale gas extraction technology; fracking.

This comes in the same week that Lancashire City Council in the North of England, was meant to have decided upon whether to grant fracking company Cuadrilla permission for two shale gas wells. On Wednesday the council said that they would need to defer the decision for eight weeks in response to legal advice.

Half of the Environmental Audit Committee’s 16 members called for a moratorium on fracking in the report, which had been ordered following an inquiry on the environmental risk of the activity. The Committee consists of seven Conservative MPs, six Labour MPs, two Liberal Democrat MPs and one Green MP.

In related news, on Monday, a cross party group of ten MPs also proposed a fracking moratorium motion in Parliament. One of the MPs, Labour’s Yasmin Qureshi, said: "The public have serious concerns about fracking that need to be listened to. In Lancashire where the council is set to decide on whether to allow fracking imminently, two thirds of the public are opposed. The Government should follow the example of New York and bring in a moratorium so that the risks of fracking can be properly assessed."

That motion failed overwhelmingly when a majority of MP’s voted against it, including a large group of Labour MPs. However Labour did manage to insert amendments into the Government’s Infrastructure Bill that would tighten fracking regulation, which were subsequently accepted.

Last week, Labour said that if they win May’s general election they will impose stricter regulations on the fracking industry, including banning fracking activities near water aquifers.

Supporters of the growing anti fracking movement will say that the case for banning fracking is getting stronger, highlighting decisions like the one by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo decision to ban fracking in the New York state in the US. Environmental group Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Donna Hume stated: ‘’The call for a UK moratorium by senior cross party MPs is a further blow to an industry still reeling from the recent ban on fracking in New York State due to health risks. The truth is people do not want a high-impact fossil fuel industry that would leave a legacy of pollution and disruption and would lock the world into further climate change.’’

But the UK government remains adamant that a fracking revolution should take place in this country, having unveiled a series of tax breaks for the fracking industry and saying it would be foolish not to relish the golden opportunity that a shale gas revolution would bring.

Meanwhile Cuadrilla have asked for today’s Lancashire City Council decision to be deferred. Cuadrilla was responding to the news that planning officials were encouraging the council to deny the permit for the two wells and made amendments to their application. It was due to these amendments that the Council was asked to defer for eight weeks for legal reasons, angering anti fracking campaigners.

The Council said they regretted the decision but said they were left with no choice due to the legal advice being presented to them.

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