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Found 10 results

  1. Megan Bonetti | Australia: Brisbane Recently I had a conversation with a close friend on climate change. The discussion captivated me with the multilayered tensions of the global north and capitalist ideologies that doggedly influence the very present concern of global warming and relating social policy. Amongst a general catch-up I queried my friend’s thoughts on climate change issues. His stark and unexpected response, “we evolve, we move on.” …Excuse me? I admired the honesty. His was a real-world response of neo-liberal thought. It was brutal and it was heartless. At least he had the guts to say what many are thinking (Cook, 2014). The social worker in me petitioned him with the human impacts: African farmers encumbered by draught (Dube et al., 2013; Kurukulasuriya et al., 2006; Mayer, 2013), Pacific Islanders inundated by sea water (IPCC, 2014; PIANGO, 2014, Duvat, 2013), people leaving their homelands due to ever-increasing health and environmental dangers (National Geographic, 2015; UNHCR, 2011). Again, he fires back with “survival of the fittest” rhetoric. Unfortunately the climate movement has failed to gain the widespread appeal needed to pass significant climate policy and practical reform (Bullard & Müller, 2012). Industrial giants continue to produce and pollute and people like my friend; devalue the real catastrophe that is climate change (Amnesty International, 2014, 2015; Cook, 2015). While global aid organisations declare humanitarian catastrophe as a result of manmade pollution, industrial conservatives spin myths of global evolution and adaption (IPCC, 2014; Cook, 2014; UNFCCC, 2015). Local, national and global repetition of climate change catastrophe does not seem to be creating a civilizational wake up call. Moreover messages delivered in the language of fires, floods, droughts and extinction must not be blatant enough to be convincing (Klein, 2014; McKinnon, 2014). So if individuals, like my friend, and carbon emitters like, AGL energy aren’t listening, what can we do (CER, 2015, Garnaut, 2011)? Upon hearing my friend’s response to climate change I felt the need to blame him and many like him for their self-righteous ideologies that have significantly impacted the global poor (Böhm, 2012). However, history shows that the human race is really good at pointing blame. Years earlier I too was reluctant to participate in the climate conversation. The debate seemed wonky with excessive jargon. Yet I was unwittingly converted from the influences of a conservative upbringing to that of a less traditional “tree-hugger.” So, how did this happen? There was no halogen light-bulb moment nor was I convinced by the volatile debate and environmental doom. For me, it was the slow unpacking of climate change in a tangible context. This was influenced through a community of people who impacted my values on sustainable living and more importantly did not guilt trip me if I put glad-wrap in the recycling bin. Studies have shown that many individuals and communities feel disempowered or ignorant when discussing climate change, so in response there is silence (Szarka, 2013). Researchers suggest that protecting the rights of those disadvantaged by climate change will only occur when a non-judgemental culture of education and awareness is fostered in the discussion (Sasser, 2014; Smith, 2011). Only when climate change becomes an accessible conversation rather than a heated debate will key stakeholder’s sit-up and listen (Head et al., 2014; Luers, 2013). A movement for positive change in the environment will spread only when people, like my friend, can drop their defences and feel empowered to enter the conversation (Abney-Korn et al., 2013). REFERENCES Abney-Korn, K., Cassiman, S., & Fleetham, D. (2013). While we were sleeping: From dystopia to global awakening. Perspectives on Global Development and Technology, 12(1-2), 80-97. doi:10.1163/15691497-12341244 Amnesty International. (2014). Five Countries Vulnerable to Climate Change. Retrieved from http://www.amnesty.org.au/features/comments/35603/ Amnesty International. (2015). Nigeria: Hundreds of Oil Spills continue to Blight Niger Delta. Retrieved from https://www.amnesty.org/en/articles/news/2015/03/hundreds-of-oil-spills-continue-to-blight-niger-delta/ Australian Government. (2015). Clean Energy Regulator: National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting. Retrieved from http://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/National-Greenhouse-and-Energy-Reporting/Pages/default.aspx Böhm, S., Misoczky, M. C., & Moog, S. (2012). Greening capitalism?: A marxist critique of carbon markets. Organization Studies, 33(11), 1617-1638. doi:10.1177/0170840612463326 Bullard, N., & Müller, T. (2012). Beyond the green economy: System change, not climate change. Development, 55(1), 54-62. doi:10.1057/dev.2011.100 Cook, J. (2015). Explaining Climate Change Science & Rebutting Global Misinformation. Retrieved from http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-change-little-ice-age-medieval-warm-period.htm Dube, S., Scholes, R. J., Nelson, G. C., Mason-D'Croz, D., & Palazzo, A. (2013). South African food security and climate change: Agriculture futures. Economics, 7(35), 0_1. Duvat, V. (2013). Coastal protection structures in Tarawa Atoll, Republic of Kiribati. Sustainability Science, 8(3), 363-369. Retrieved, April 29, from http://link.springer.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/article/10.1007%2Fs11625-013-0205-9 Garnaut, R. (2011). Garnaut Climate Change Review – update 2011: Australia in the Global Response to Climate Change. Retrieved from http://www.garnautreview.org.au/update-2011/update-papers/up6-carbon-pricing-and-reducing-australias-emissions.pdf Head, L., Adams, M., McGregor, H. V., & Toole, S. (2014). Climate change and Australia. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 5(2), 175-197. doi:10.1002/wcc.255 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2014). Summary for Policy makers- Climate Change 2014: Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Retrieved, March 1, from http://ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/images/uploads/IPCC_WG2AR5_SPM_Approved.pdf Klein, N. (2014). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate Change. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. Kurukulasuriya, P., Mendelsohn, R., Hassan, R., Benhin, J., Deressa, T., Diop, M., Dinar, A. (2006). Will african agriculture survive climate change? The World Bank Economic Review, 20(3), 367-388. doi:10.1093/wber/lhl004 Luers, A. (2013). Rethinking US climate advocacy. Climatic Change, 120(1), 13-19. doi:10.1007/s10584-013-0797-1 Mayer, A. (2013). Climate change already challenging agriculture. Bioscience, 63(10), 781-787. doi:10.1525/bio.2013.63.10.2 McKinnon, C. (2014). Climate change: Against despair. Ethics & the Environment, 19(1), 31-48. doi:10.2979/ethicsenviro.19.1.31 National Geographic. (2015). Education: Climate Refugee. Retrieved from http://education.nationalgeographic.com.au/education/encyclopedia/climate-refugee/?ar_a=1 Pacific Islander Association of Non-governmental Organisations. (2014). The Pacific Score on the Millennium Development Goals. Retrieved, April 29, from http://www.piango.org/Publications/publications.html Sasser, J. S. (2014). The wave of the future? youth advocacy at the nexus of population and climate change. The Geographical Journal, 180(2), 102-110. doi:10.1111/geoj.12023 Seabright, M. (2010). The role of the affect heuristic in moral reactions to climate change. Journal of Global Ethics, 6(1), 5-15. doi:10.1080/17449621003701410 Smith, B. (2011). Doom, gloom and empty tombs: Climate change and fear. Studies in Christian Ethics, 24(1), 77-91. doi:10.1177/0953946810389120 Szarka, J. (2013). From climate advocacy to public engagement: An exploration of the roles of environmental non-governmental organisations. Climate, 1(1), 12-27. doi:10.3390/cli1010012
  2. 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.
  3. CLIMATE CHANGE DIALOGUES: DENIALISTS AND THE DISADVANTAGED Megan Bonetti | Australia: Brisbane Recently I had a conversation with a close friend on climate change. The discussion captivated me with the multilayered tensions of the global north and capitalist ideologies that doggedly influence the very present concern of global warming and relating social policy. Amongst a general catch-up I queried my friend’s thoughts on climate change issues. His stark and unexpected response, “we evolve, we move on.” …Excuse me? I admired the honesty. His was a real-world response of neo-liberal thought. It was brutal and it was heartless. At least he had the guts to say what many are thinking (Cook, 2014). The social worker in me petitioned him with the human impacts: African farmers encumbered by draught (Dube et al., 2013; Kurukulasuriya et al., 2006; Mayer, 2013), Pacific Islanders inundated by sea water (IPCC, 2014; PIANGO, 2014, Duvat, 2013), people leaving their homelands due to ever-increasing health and environmental dangers (National Geographic, 2015; UNHCR, 2011). Again, he fires back with “survival of the fittest” rhetoric. Unfortunately the climate movement has failed to gain the widespread appeal needed to pass significant climate policy and practical reform (Bullard & Müller, 2012). Industrial giants continue to produce and pollute and people like my friend; devalue the real catastrophe that is climate change (Amnesty International, 2014, 2015; Cook, 2015). While global aid organisations declare humanitarian catastrophe as a result of manmade pollution, industrial conservatives spin myths of global evolution and adaption (IPCC, 2014; Cook, 2014; UNFCCC, 2015). Local, national and global repetition of climate change catastrophe does not seem to be creating a civilizational wake up call. Moreover messages delivered in the language of fires, floods, droughts and extinction must not be blatant enough to be convincing (Klein, 2014; McKinnon, 2014). So if individuals, like my friend, and carbon emitters like, AGL energy aren’t listening, what can we do (CER, 2015, Garnaut, 2011)? Upon hearing my friend’s response to climate change I felt the need to blame him and many like him for their self-righteous ideologies that have significantly impacted the global poor (Böhm, 2012). However, history shows that the human race is really good at pointing blame. Years earlier I too was reluctant to participate in the climate conversation. The debate seemed wonky with excessive jargon. Yet I was unwittingly converted from the influences of a conservative upbringing to that of a less traditional “tree-hugger.” So, how did this happen? There was no halogen light-bulb moment nor was I convinced by the volatile debate and environmental doom. For me, it was the slow unpacking of climate change in a tangible context. This was influenced through a community of people who impacted my values on sustainable living and more importantly did not guilt trip me if I put glad-wrap in the recycling bin. Studies have shown that many individuals and communities feel disempowered or ignorant when discussing climate change, so in response there is silence (Szarka, 2013). Researchers suggest that protecting the rights of those disadvantaged by climate change will only occur when a non-judgemental culture of education and awareness is fostered in the discussion (Sasser, 2014; Smith, 2011). Only when climate change becomes an accessible conversation rather than a heated debate will key stakeholder’s sit-up and listen (Head et al., 2014; Luers, 2013). A movement for positive change in the environment will spread only when people, like my friend, can drop their defences and feel empowered to enter the conversation (Abney-Korn et al., 2013). REFERENCES Abney-Korn, K., Cassiman, S., & Fleetham, D. (2013). While we were sleeping: From dystopia to global awakening. Perspectives on Global Development and Technology, 12(1-2), 80-97. doi:10.1163/15691497-12341244 Böhm, S., Misoczky, M. C., & Moog, S. (2012). Greening capitalism?: A marxist critique of carbon markets. Organization Studies, 33(11), 1617-1638. doi:10.1177/0170840612463326 Bullard, N., & Müller, T. (2012). Beyond the green economy: System change, not climate change. Development, 55(1), 54-62. doi:10.1057/dev.2011.100 Dube, S., Scholes, R. J., Nelson, G. C., Mason-D'Croz, D., & Palazzo, A. (2013). South african food security and climate change: Agriculture futures. Economics, 7(35), 0_1. Duvat, V. (2013). Coastal protection structures in Tarawa Atoll, Republic of Kiribati. Sustainability Science, 8(3), 363-369. Retrieved, April 29, from http://link.springer.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/article/10.1007%2Fs11625-013-0205-9 Head, L., Adams, M., McGregor, H. V., & Toole, S. (2014). Climate change and Australia. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 5(2), 175-197. doi:10.1002/wcc.255 National Geographic. (2015). Education: Climate Refugee. Retrieved from http://education.nationalgeographic.com.au/education/encyclopedia/climate-refugee/?ar_a=1 Australian Government. (2015). Clean Energy Regulator: National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting. Retrieved from http://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/National-Greenhouse-and-Energy-Reporting/Pages/default.aspx Klein, N. (2014). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate Change. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. Garnaut, R. (2011). Garnaut Climate Change Review – update 2011: Australia in the Global Response to Climate Change. Retrieved from http://www.garnautreview.org.au/update-2011/update-papers/up6-carbon-pricing-and-reducing-australias-emissions.pdf Cook, J. (2015). Explaining Climate Change Science & Rebutting Global Misinformation. Retrieved from http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-change-little-ice-age-medieval-warm-period.htm Amnesty International. (2015). Nigeria: Hundreds of Oil Spills continue to Blight Niger Delta. Retrieved from https://www.amnesty.org/en/articles/news/2015/03/hundreds-of-oil-spills-continue-to-blight-niger-delta/ Amnesty International. (2014). Five Countries Vulnerable to Climate Change. Retrieved from http://www.amnesty.org.au/features/comments/35603/ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2014). Summary for Policy makers- Climate Change 2014: Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Retrieved, March 1, from http://ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/images/uploads/IPCC_WG2AR5_SPM_Approved.pdf Kurukulasuriya, P., Mendelsohn, R., Hassan, R., Benhin, J., Deressa, T., Diop, M., Dinar, A. (2006). Will african agriculture survive climate change? The World Bank Economic Review, 20(3), 367-388. doi:10.1093/wber/lhl004 Luers, A. (2013). Rethinking US climate advocacy. Climatic Change, 120(1), 13-19. doi:10.1007/s10584-013-0797-1 Mayer, A. (2013). Climate change already challenging agriculture. Bioscience, 63(10), 781-787. doi:10.1525/bio.2013.63.10.2 McKinnon, C. (2014). Climate change: Against despair. Ethics & the Environment, 19(1), 31-48. doi:10.2979/ethicsenviro.19.1.31 Pacific Islander Association of Non-governmental Organisations. (2014). The Pacific Score on the Millennium Development Goals. Retrieved, April 29, from http://www.piango.org/Publications/publications.html Sasser, J. S. (2014). The wave of the future? youth advocacy at the nexus of population and climate change. The Geographical Journal, 180(2), 102-110. doi:10.1111/geoj.12023 Seabright, M. (2010). The role of the affect heuristic in moral reactions to climate change. Journal of Global Ethics, 6(1), 5-15. doi:10.1080/17449621003701410 Smith, B. (2011). Doom, gloom and empty tombs: Climate change and fear. Studies in Christian Ethics, 24(1), 77-91. doi:10.1177/0953946810389120 Szarka, J. (2013). From climate advocacy to public engagement: An exploration of the roles of environmental non-governmental organisations. Climate, 1(1), 12-27. doi:10.3390/cli1010012
  4. Despite endless conferences, treaties and solemn promises, greenhouse gas emissions have risen 61% since 1990, and the rate of increase is accelerating. As Naomi Klein tells us in her new book, This Changes Everything, we are now experiencing an “early twenty-first century emissions explosion.” The reason for this ominous failure, she shows, is that the present capitalist profit system itself is incompatible with climate and environmental stability. Our only hope is the rise of mass movements with the combined goals of saving the environment and achieving social justice. This Changes Everything is a rich resource of fact and argument: it’s a book that every climate justice activist should read, use and share. ‘The Right is right’ Klein begins with a 2011 conference of prominent and well-financed U.S. climate deniers, whose main objection, she discovered, was not to the science of global warming but to the radical implications of actions to rein it in. Such measures require “heavy-duty interventions: sweeping bans on polluting activities, deep subsidies for green alternatives…. Everything, in short, that these think tanks … have been busily attacking for decades.” For many conservatives, she adds, quoting Australian scholar Robert Manne, climate science is “an affront to their deepest and most cherished basic faith: the capacity and indeed the right of ‘mankind’ to subdue the Earth and all its fruits and to establish a ‘mastery’ over nature.” These hard-core rightist ideologues, Klein concludes, understand the significance of climate change better than most of those in the political center, “who are still insisting that the response can be gradual and painless.” The free market trumps climate Mainstream political leaders like Barack Obama and (grudgingly) Stephen Harper, acknowledge the climate crisis and tell us they are responding to it. For 35 years they have claimed to be working to reduce carbon emissions. Klein leads off her extended analysis of their record – and that of their allies among pro-establishment environmental NGOs – by describing the devastating impact of the trade treaties that now bind the governments of all major states. “Green energy programs – the strong ones that are needed to lower global emissions fast – [are] increasingly being challenged under international trade agreements,” Klein says. Major powers are launching lawsuits against each other’s wind and solar energy programs citing the provisions in these plans encouraging local sourcing of green energy equipment. The U.S. has launched such suits against India, challenging its ambitious solar energy program, and against China, over wind power. And yet, with brazen hypocrisy, Washington denounces China and India at the United Nations for not doing enough to cut emissions, claiming this as an excuse for U.S. inaction. The people of Ontario fell victim to such an attack, Klein notes. The province’s climate action plan, the Green Energy Act, created 31,000 jobs in the local solar and wind power industry between 2009 and 2014, but when it was challenged by the European Union and Japan as a violation of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, “the province wasted little time in nixing the local content rules.” The renewable energy programs in question represent the governments’ attempts, inadequate to be sure, to carry out promises made during world climate negotiations. Yet they are being snuffed out by these same governments on the basis of trade treaties. “The trade and climate negotiations closely paralleled one another, each winning landmark agreements within a couple of years.” World Trade Organization negotiations concluded in 1994; the Kyoto protocol on reducing carbon emissions was adopted three years later. The treaties are two solitudes — each seemed to “actively pretend that the other did not exist.” Yet it was clear from the start which treaty would prevail in case of conflict. The Kyoto protocol “effectively functioned on the honour system,” while the WTO agreement was “enforced by a dispute settlement system with real teeth,” often enforcing harsh penalties. Thus asymmetry was built in from the start: trade deals were the foundation of the new “globalized” world order, while climate agreements have been little more than public relations exercises. Globalization’s dirty underside The trade system has other less obvious but more damaging climate impacts. Food production, for example, accounts for between 19% and 29% of world carbon emissions but the treaties have “helped to entrench and expand the energy-intensive, higher-emissions model of industrial agriculture around the world.” Similarly, the massive shift of manufacturing to low-wage less-developed countries, with inefficient energy industries, has led to an increase in emissions. Swedish researcher Andreas Malm points to “a causal link between the quest for cheap and disciplined labor power and rising CO2 emissions.” Significantly, climate agreements measure emissions in the country where products are manufactured, not where they are consumed. Thus about half of China’s carbon emissions are export-related. By outsourcing, rich countries have in effect exported their emissions. Betrayed by Big Green Unfortunately some major environmental groups supported the new trade deals. When the NAFTA treaty was debated in the early 1990s, a strong coalition of unions and environmental groups rallied to lead a massive opposition to the deal, and “for a time it even looked as if they would win.” At that point, proponents of the deal tacked on two “toothless” side agreements, one for labor and one for environmentalists. “The labor movement knew better than to fall for this ploy,” Klein says, but leaders of many large environmental organizations capitulated. Some groups held firm, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Sierra Club, but U.S. President Bill Clinton was still able to claim that “groups representing 80% of national [environmental] group membership have endorsed NAFTA.” Klein devotes many pages to a much-needed exposé of Big Green, the conservative environmental groups. Over time, she demonstrates, many NGOs and foundations fell under the domination of the extractive corporations whose power they were set up to contest, and now contribute to greenwashing oil-industry operations. The Nature Conservancy, for example, partners with BP and JP Morgan in fracking development, and has even drilled its own gas well in the middle of one of its Texas nature preserves. Toward solidarity-based trade “It is not too late for a new kind of climate movement to take up the fight against so-called free trade,” Klein says, calling for transfer of resources and green technology to developing countries and measures to support, not penalize renewable energy. She could also have pointed to the success of mass hemisphere-wide opposition in quashing the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), one of the most dangerous of these schemes, a movement in which she played a prominent role. Although she doesn’t mention it, that campaign contributed to the formation of what might be called the anti-FTAA, a trade and cultural alliance based on solidarity – the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which includes Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Klein criticizes the dependence of majority-indigenous Bolivia on exports generated by extractive industries. However, as Klein herself says elsewhere of many indigenous peoples’ deals with extractive industries, they face “a paucity of good choices”; at present extraction may be essential to maintenance of sovereignty. Westerners who want poverty-stricken natives to swear off extraction for the world’s sake must ask, she says, “What are we going to do for them?” Despite their poverty, some ALBA nations have registered significant climate achievements, such as Nicaragua’s program to produce 70% of its electricity by renewable energy. Indeed, ALBA’s very existence is step forward along the path Klein outlines. Stranded assets The sense of unreality surrounding world climate negotiations is reinforced by Klein’s observations on oil and gas corporations’ balance sheets. To maintain stable share prices, Klein notes, these companies must demonstrate that they have sufficient untapped reserves to replace current wells when their production declines. “It is this structural imperative that is pushing the industry into the most extreme forms of dirty energy,” she says. Currently, the total amount of carbon in oil, gas, and coal reserves is valued at about $27 trillion – more than half again as much as the annual GDP of the United States. How much of that can be burned without launching the world into uncontrollable global warming? The best available estimates cited by Klein indicate that 80% of fossil fuel reserves – worth roughly $20 trillion – must be left in the ground if the currently accepted goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius is to be achieved. Alternative sources of energy are available – that’s not the problem. The “loss” of these fossil fuel resources will make life better, not worse – that’s not the problem either. The problem, Klein says, is that “we need to keep large, extremely profitable pools of carbon in the ground – resources that the fossil fuel companies are fully intending to extract.” The $20 trillion in unusable fossil fuel reserves is written into corporate balance sheets as “assets” and sustains their share value. Oil company executives defend not the public but their shareholders’ wealth – which means defending their ‘right’ to extract without limit. To this end, corporations mobilize their immense wealth and social influence to block any move to reduce the burning of their product – fossil fuels. Under their influence, when governments act at all, it is to encourage use of renewable energy rather than to restrain the rise of carbon emissions. The oil industry and its many corporate allies have maintained a blockade against measures to rein in rising emissions for 25 years and are in no mood to change course. A troubling imperative Averting climate disaster, Klein tells us, “will mean forcing some of the most profitable companies on the planet to forfeit trillions of dollars of future earnings by leaving the vast majority of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground. It will also require coming up with trillions more to pay for zero-carbon, disaster-ready societal transformations.” And these radical measures must be taken “democratically and without a bloodbath.” This means we must oppose unfettered capitalism –the profit-based economic and social system that wages war on our climate. This requirement poses a question that Klein finds troubling. When has there ever been a transformation that intruded on capitalist property to such an extent – moreover, a change “demanded from below, by regular people, when leaders have wholly abdicated their responsibilities”? In the West, she says, the transformative social movements have been for human rights – for blacks, women, gays, she says. “But the legal and cultural battles were always more successful than the economic ones.” As a precedent, she points to the movement in the nineteenth century to abolish slavery, particularly as it developed in the United States. The weight of slave capital in the U.S. economy then was comparable to the weight of stranded fossil fuel investment today. For many decades the slave-owners maintained full control over the U.S. state. But ultimately a mass movement broke that control and abolished slave property forever. And this was done democratically, although only at the cost of a protracted civil war. Klein’s analogy has merit. However, it is also worth considering the precedent of socialist revolutions, even if they did not occur “in the West.” One such revolution took place only 90 miles from the U.S., in Cuba. In the 1990s, Cuba carried out the world’s most successful reduction of fossil fuel dependency. Despite a damaging U.S. blockade, the Cuban revolution continues to display creative vigor, most recently in the country’s role as world leader in on-the-ground response to the Ebola virus epidemic. The experience of twentieth century socialist revolutions, while troubled, is surely relevant to what we must now accomplish in the face of a systemic crisis of capitalism triggered by climate change. It is hard to see how the fossil fuel stranglehold can be broken without popular ownership and control over dominant industries. This case is made in three books on ecology and socialism that I’ve listed below. Mass social movements Klein’s book has a single overriding strength: a comprehensive analysis – much broader than can be indicated here – that demonstrates that a movement to overcome the climate challenge must confront the prevailing economic and political system, and for that it must be massive, broad, and militant. A substantial and inspiring part of her book is devoted to first-hand accounts of what she calls “Blockadia” – grassroots movements on every continent that are directly challenging the fossil fuel industry’s destructive projects. A movement on the climate issue alone cannot win, she says. Climate activism must link up with “the unfinished business of the most powerful liberation movements of the past two centuries, from civil rights to feminism to Indigenous sovereignty.” “Climate change can be the force – the grand push – that will bring together all of these still living movements.” Calls for such a fusion are increasingly frequent. The liberation movements Klein mentions – and labor, too – were in evidence at the great People’s Climate March of 400,000 in New York on September 21 and in the surrounding conferences, as well as in parallel actions in Canada and around the globe. Naomi Klein’s book is an inspiring contribution to this movement, which is increasingly becoming identified with the goals of climate justice and system change. “Only mass social movements can save us now,” Klein concludes. “If that happens, well, it changes everything.” This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein (Alfred A Knopf, 2014), reviewed by John Riddell.
  5. Too many supposedly radical books are written by academics for academics, apparently competing to see who can produce the most incomprehensible prose. My list of ‘books to be reviewed’ contains literally dozens of overstuffed and overpriced volumes that only a handful of specialists will ever read, books with little or no relevance to the non-university world. So it’s a true delight to receive a book written by an activist for activists, a practical contribution to building real struggles for a better world. Confronting Injustice is a powerful call for collective action against the social causes of poverty and climate change. It’s a compact and well-written book that deserves to be widely read. Umair Muhammad is a student at York University, but he lives and is politically active among low-income and immigrant workers, as a member of Jane Finch Action Against Poverty. He is also active in the campaign to block Enbridge’s plan to pump tar sands crude through Toronto in the Line 9 pipeline. His book addresses young people like himself, men and women in their teens and twenties. He argues that environmental destruction and poverty, the two biggest crises facing humanity today, have common roots in an economic system that allows corporations and the wealthy to vastly over-exploit the world’s resources, while billions live lives of hunger and desperation. “There can be no such thing as a democratic, socially just, and environmentally sustainable capitalism. … it unavoidably produces a world full of injustice and inequality in order to secure a global division of labour suitable to profit-making; and it unavoidably produces the kind of ecological destruction which makes its own longevity, and that of human civilization, impossible.” In contrast to some radical writers who promote “anti-capitalism” as an end in itself, Muhammad argues firmly for socialism, which, following Michael Lebowitz, he defines as a “solidarian society” motivated by human needs, not profit. “Socialism would entail an end to the existence of a distinct area of life regarded as the economic sphere. The democratic management of economic life would mean that the economy would become subordinate to the wider relationships that make up society. Non-economic motives would direct economic activity, as they have throughout most of human history. Building a solidarian society based on social ownership and democratic management of production and distribution will mean the achievement of ‘the real purpose of socialism,’ as Albert Einstein saw it: ‘to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development.’” Two of the book’s four chapters address “Inequality and Activism” and “Climate Change and Activism.” Each concisely outlines the problems, the role of capitalism in creating and perpetuating them, and the inadequacies of the most commonly promoted solutions – charity and NGOism for poverty, market solutions for climate change. These chapters deserve careful study, if only as examples of how to explain these subjects in a clear and popular style. The book’s most important chapter (and the longest) is the first, “The Age of Individualism.” Here, and in the Introduction, Muhammad argues that a major barrier to the development of effective movements against poverty and environmental destruction is capitalism’s successful implantation of pro-capitalist ideology in the minds of the people who should be its strongest opponents. Contrary to claims frequently made by journalists, young people today are not indifferent to social problems. Indeed, “activist ideals and vocabulary have securely made their way into everyday life.” But those ideals are distorted by “the cultural values that have arisen out of capitalism,” and as a result “are used to reinforce the social realities they were originally devised to change.” “Living within a social system dominated by the market, it is no coincidence that so many of us have adopted an individualist outlook. The routine of market exchange between individuals who are driven by self-interest has conditioned us to see human society as a collection of disconnected and primarily self-interested individuals.” This could have been a dry and abstract discussion, but it reads like a friendly discussion among activists. For example, Muhammad stresses the dangers of a focus on individual lifestyle change, while recognizing that such an approach often rests on honorable motives. “On its own, there are many good things to be said about cutting back on what we consume and living in a way that is not grounded in petty materialistic values. Living a clutter-free life is a wonderful thing, but it is not in itself the same thing as working to create social change. … “There is a qualitative difference between, on the one hand, embracing the individualism that defines lifestyle-centric activism and, on the other, coming to recognize the social dimensions of the problems we face. The former is not a bridge to the latter, but a distraction away from it. It is a step in the wrong direction. If anything, the first step to take in engaging with social activism should be to openly reject individualist approaches.” Muhammad wisely refrains from offering detailed guidelines on how to build a movement for revolutionary change. He writes: “The exact sequence of events, and the events themselves, through which the needed change comes about will no doubt differ from place to place. The conditions which exist in any given country will require a strategy specific to them. The pace, too, will vary from location to location.” What he provides in his final chapter is a general approach to social change, based on sources as varied as Martin Luther King, George Orwell, Michael Lebowitz, Bertrand Russell, Mahatma Gandhi and David Graeber. This is obviously not your father’s radical orthodoxy: Muhammad’s views are influenced by various schools of radical thought, and it’s not clear to me that the result is consistent or coherent. Be that as it may, what he provides is an opening statement in an important discussion that activists must have. It’s especially important that it be read and debated by the new generation that, like its predecessors, is searching for its own path to radical conclusions. Socialists my age – we of the ‘60s and ‘70s – often complain that we don’t seem able to reach younger people, that liberalism in its reformist and anarchist forms has captured and held their attention, while socialism is rejected out of hand. Part of the reason may be that we don’t know how to talk to people for whom the Cold War and Vietnam are ancient history. Those people are this book’s most important audience. Umair Muhammad raised the seed money to publish Confronting Injustice through Indiegogo, and is selling it for just $15, with a sizeable portion of that going to Jane Finch Action Against Poverty. For those with limited finances, it can be downloaded free from the website ConfrontingInjustice.com. But if the price isn’t a barrier, my advice is: buy several! Keep one and read it carefully, and use the others to initiate conversations. The bread you cast upon the waters will return many times over.
  6. The faces of capitalism

    From the album Random images

    "Wild Capitalism" "Socially responsible Capitalism" "Sustainable Capitalism" "Capitalism with a human face"
  7. It’s wrong to think that we can campaign to stop climate change in the same way we might campaign to end a war. All the evidence says we are well past that stage now. That is, even if by some impossible, magical course of events all carbon pollution on Earth was stopped tomorrow, we’d still be in really, really deep trouble. So many greenhouse gases have been pumped into the Earth’s atmosphere that we have rushed far past the safe upper limit — the famous 350 parts per million of CO2, the number that climate action group 350.org took for its name. Today’s level of 400ppm has been enough to trigger the“death spiral” in Arctic sea ice. More than three-quarters of the ice cap’s volume has melted away in the past 30 years. Along with wrecking the Arctic region’s fragile ecosystem, scientists predict the loss of the ice cap will trigger other events that throw global warming into overdrive. The two biggest of these are the melting of the huge Greenland ice sheet and the release of immense stores of methane gas frozen inside ice-like crystals on the seafloor. There is alarming evidence that both disastrous events may already be underway. Dangerous warming already here Last year, Greenland’s ice cap was found to be melting at a rate that smashed previous records. Studies cited in the UN’s IPCC report on climate science said Greenland’s ice melt was six times bigger in the decade to 2011 compared to the decade before. The scientist-authored blog Arctic News also reported that recorded methane emissions from the Arctic are “going through the roof”. Two weeks ago, researchers announced that 17 million tonnes of methane were venting into the atmosphere from the ocean floor off the coast of East Siberia each year — double the amount previously estimated. Methane gas causes up to 100 times more warming than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Even without the methane pulse, the Earth will keep warming. Researchers from Princeton University released a study on November 24 that said “the carbon dioxide already in Earth’s atmosphere could continue to warm our planet for hundreds of years” even if emissions suddenly stopped. On top of this, world-leading marine scientists warned in October that a climate change-induced ocean mass extinction event may be underway. This is largely due to the warming of the oceans, combined with the acidification caused by carbon dioxide dissolving into the water. The ocean has not been this acidic at any time in the past 300 million years. All these impacts are underway now, when the Earth has warmed by just 0.8C since industrialisation. Unless emissions fall rapidly, the warming pathway is for a 4C rise — maybe as soon as 2060. That is, business-as-usual puts us on track for global warming five times worse that it is already. Fossil fuel binge Despite all these findings, the world’s big polluting firms (and the banks that finance them) are engaging in a fossil fuel binge. Last year alone, companies spent $674 billion to find and develop new oil, gas and coal deposits. The International Energy Agency predicts global investment in extracting and processing new fossil fuel reserves will add up to a staggering $22.87 trillion between 2012 and 2035. And because conventional fossil fuel sources are running out, an increasing part of this investment will be in even more polluting unconventional sources: gas and oil fracking, tar sands oil, shale oil, extra heavy crude oil, deepwater offshore oil and energy deposits from the newly accessible Arctic seabed. US energy analyst Michael Klare put it bluntly in a recent Tomdispatch.com article: “Most of us believe (or want to believe) that the second carbon era, the Age of Oil, will soon be superseded by the Age of Renewables … There is only one fly in the ointment: it is not, in fact, the path we are presently headed down. “The energy industry is not investing in any significant way in renewables. Instead, it is pouring its historic profits into new fossil-fuel projects … The result is indisputable: humanity is not entering a period that will be dominated by renewables. Instead, it is pioneering the third great carbon era, the Age of Unconventional Oil and Gas.” In a recent paper, US climate scientist James Hansen summed up the fearful outcome if the big corporate polluters get their way: “It is not an exaggeration to suggest, based on best available scientific evidence, that burning all fossil fuels could result in the planet being not only ice-free but human-free.” Three types of denial We are already living in a world of dangerous, irreversible climate change. We need to cut emissions sharply to stop things getting even worse, but we also need to prepare to adapt to the changes that are coming. Radical social change — economic and political systems based on equal access, human solidarity and sustainable production — will be the most important adaptation measure of all. If we are going to survive in a warmer world, then we must also do so without illusions. The threat of climate change would be a lot less daunting if the mainstream discourse about it were not so dominated by reckless denial, shamefaced excuses and sinister silences. From the standpoint of humanity having a safe future on this planet, this race to wreck and poison the Earth for profit is insane, even suicidal. Yet for the powerful companies that stand to profit, and from the standpoint of the capitalist system as a whole, it’s an entirely predictable response. The methodical destruction of the life-giving properties of our planet is the visible product of “the invisible hand.” The World People’s Conference on Climate Change, held in Bolivia in 2010, drew together more than 20,000 climate campaigners — mostly from the global South. The conference adopted a “People’s Agreement” that concluded capitalism’s “model of limitless and destructive development,” its “regime of production and consumption [that] seeks profit without limits,” is ultimately to blame for the climate crisis. The People’s Agreement also noted that “the corporations and governments of the so-called developed countries, in complicity with a segment of the scientific community, have led us to discuss climate change as a problem limited to the rise in temperature without questioning the cause, which is the capitalist system.” As we strive to build mass movements to respond to the climate emergency, we will have to confront the corporate polluter-backed denial of the climate science. But we will also have to confront those who accept the science but deny the economic and social roots of the crisis. US Marxist John Bellamy Foster says there are at least three kinds of ecological denial. The first kind is the outright, absolute denial of any problem, the “automatic response of corporations generally” when their profits are under threat. It’s the denial made infamous by tobacco companies. It’s the denial of those who blindly insist climate change is not happening, or that humans have no role in it. The second kind of denial is “a retreat from the first.” It admits the problem, but refuses to admit that the present social system is a fundamental issue. This kind of denial gives rise to environmental solutions that confuse the symptoms with the cause. Typically, those who isolate population size, consumption habits or technological change as the most important climate issues are stuck at this second stage of ecological denial. Foster says the third kind of denial is “a last ditch-defense” and “the most dangerous [denial] of all.” It’s the denial that admits our environmental problems are a failure of capitalism as it exists, but insists we must try to make capitalism green and sustainable. “The argument here varies,” says Foster, “but usually begins with the old trope that capitalism is the most efficient economic system possible … and that the answer to ecological problems is to make it more efficient still by internalising costs on the environment previously externalized by the system.” It’s the denial that says we can deal with climate change while keeping the social relations of domination, inequality and exploitation that got us into it. It’s the denial that says the best way to protect nature is to turn more of it into marketable commodities. It’s the denial that says capitalism is the potential saviour, when it is the present destroyer. Ecological revolution Rejecting these three types of denial leads to embracing a strategy of far-reaching ecological revolution. In the words of the People’s Agreement: “It is imperative that we forge a new system that restores harmony with nature and among human beings. And in order for there to be balance with nature, there must first be equity among human beings.” This is not the same as just waiting for the revolution to come. The campaigns to keep fossil fuels in the ground and build new, sustainable infrastructure are crucial. The point is that if the climate action movement allows its goals to be shaped by what is permissible in a capitalist economy then it has already failed. If it refuses to compromise on the things that need to be done then it will ultimately have to confront, and remake, the whole system. This is an immensely difficult and arduous course. We cannot deny the peril we face. But neither should we deny the revolutionary changes needed for humankind to survive and thrive in the future. To respond to the climate emergency, our politics must be as radical as our reality.
  8. Hundreds of socialists, environmentalists and climate activists attended the first Ecosocialist Conference in New York City last month. One of the featured speakers at the conference was Jill Stein, the nominee of the Green Party during the 2012 national election in the US, who held a talk about how capitalism is killing the planet. Besides linking the economic and climate crisis, Stein also discussed the politics of fear, Barack Obama's environmental failure and the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline. You can watch her 30 minute long talk in this video. If you want to learn more about the conference, John Riddell covered it in more detail here on Green Blog.
  9. "A resounding success!" John Riddell, Louis Proyect, and Ben Silverman report on a major step forward for anti-capitalist organizing in the environmental movement. I was unable to attend the Ecosocialist Conference in New York City on April 20, and it is clear from all reports that I missed an important and inspiring event. The meeting was organized by the Ecosocialist Contingent, the alliance that participated as a united anti-capitalist voice in the demonstration against the Keystone XL Pipeline in Washington on February 17. Initiated by members of Solidarity and the International Socialist Organization, the Ecosocialist Contingent quickly expanded to include the broadest range of left organizations and individuals yet seen in the U.S. environmental movement. Below are reports by three participants in the conference. John Riddell wrote his report specifically for Climate & Capitalism. His report can be found below [editor's note]. John is best-known as the leading historian of the Communist International, but he is also active in the fight against Enbridge's tar sands pipeline in Toronto, and a founder of Toronto Bolivia Solidarity. Louis Proyect, a long time socialist activist in the New York City area, moderates the popular online discussion forum Marxmail. His report is published on his blog, The Unrepentant Marxist. Ben Silverman is a New Jersey based socialist and environmental activist, and a member of the International Socialist Organization. His report is published on his blog, The Red Plebeian. For readers in the Toronto area, John Riddell and Abbie Bakan will report on the conference at a public meeting on Saturday May 4 at 7pm, at the Beit Zatoun coffee house, 612 Markham St. Details here. New York Conference charts path toward 'system change not climate change' By John Riddell The Ecosocialist Conference, a broad and enthusiastic all-day meeting in New York April 20, took a big step toward creating an anti-capitalist wing of the environmental movement. The conference was arranged in just six weeks by organizers of the Ecosocialist Contingent in the mass demonstration against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in Washington February 17. It was supported by 29 groups who subscribed to the Ecosocialist Contingent statement for "system change, not climate change." The 240 attendees "• more than double the number organizers originally expected "• included members of several socialist currents and many unaffiliated socialists, but the real strength of the conference lay in participation by a great number of young climate-change and ecological activists. Most participants were from the New York region, but a few came from as far away as Maine, Oregon, Texas, and Vancouver, B.C. Break with Democratic Party The range of opinion was wide. Many participants, including spokespersons for the Green Party, did not term themselves anti-capitalists, but agreed on the need for "˜system change' and a break from the corporate-dominated Democratic Party. Among them was the first featured speaker, Jill Stein, the Greens' presidential candidate in 2012. "This is an incredible outpouring of support of those not going forward with Obama but forward with the 99% for system change and fundamental justice," she said. "Capitalism is trying to kill the planet, but the people are rising up." Her remarks reflected the view of many participants that organizers of the February 17 mass demonstration had weakened the protest's impact by presenting it as an expression of support for Obama, echoing his "forward" and "clean energy" slogans, for example. As several speakers noted, the Democratic administration now seems very likely to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The February 17 action thus showed both the power of environmental protest and the futility of relying on the Democrats. As Jill Stein said, "the demonstration told Obama, "˜we've got your back,' and then he stabbed us in the back." The road to system change The conference brought together a wide range of viewpoints in a fruitful exchange. For example, the panel on "Carbon taxes and market approaches" heard Teamster and Green Party activist Howie Hawkins' reasoned defense of carbon taxes as an immediate measure to alleviate climate change that enjoys "solid support." The second presenter in this session, Dan Piper of Socialist Action, counterposed the need for working people to "seize command of the productive apparatus." There is no way to end environmental destruction through reforms, he argued. For example, cities based on cars or on public transit are mutually exclusive alternatives. But how can we link immediate concerns like Keystone XL to the need for system change? Chris Williams, author of Ecology and Socialism, addressed this point in the closing session by calling for the building of a movement through which "we change our relationship to each other and the planet. We need to shift the pendulum of power - and, ultimately, get rid of it." The climate change movement showed its potential by delaying Keystone XL, Williams said, "and when it is approved, we should demonstrate again." Electoral action Widely different approaches were also evident in discussions of participation in elections. "We are in uncharted waters," said Joel Kovel of EcoSocialist Horizons. "There are no market solutions, and no electoral solutions either"¦. Ecosocialism is a spiritual question; our organizing aims to direct spiritual forces to the Earth and nature," he said. Gloria Mattera of the Green Party agreed that "the market system has failed," but stressed the need for "electoral expression in order to engage the broader population," calling for "a broad electoral alliance to challenge the power of the corporations." Environmental justice Speaking in the opening plenary, Richard Smith stressed the need for wholesale economic transformation to save the planet. "Drastic retrenchment is required. Three-quarters of goods produced are not needed at all." The argument for this view is strong, but as stated it doesn't seem to recognize the need to overcome global inequality, in particular the increasingly desperate needs of billions of people who lack even the most basic requirements of life. Other presentations focused more explicitly on the impact of environmental crimes on victims of oppression. David Galarza, a Puerto Rican ecological activist, portrayed encouraging gains by environmental struggles in his country; Firewolf Bizahaloni-Wong of the Native Resistance Project discussed Idle No More and the fight for indigenous rights. A well-attended panel addressed the broader issue of "Race, Gender, and Environmental Justice." The first victims of climate change are the peoples of poor countries, and "we have a lot to learn from environmental movements in the Global South," said Heather Kangas, a Baltimore-based members of the International Socialist Organization. Moreover, "the environment is not just the natural world but also where we work, live and play - it is urban and suburban as well as rural," she said, advocating that the ecosocialist movement link up with Environmental Justice groups found among peoples of colour. Amity Page, a journalist with the Amsterdam News, described the systematic racism of the U.S. emergency management agency (FEMA) and other authorities after the Hurricane Sandy disaster. People of colour were regarded simply as "looters," she said. FEMA and police did not enter subsidized public housing to help those in need and kept other assistance workers from going in, saying it was too dangerous. "A disaster heightens the inequalities that are already there," she said. Abbie Bakan, head of gender studies at Queen's University, Ontario, took up a case study: the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians. They have undergone an "indigenous experience, enduring environmental racism," in which slogans like "make the desert bloom" promote the notion that "the good earth comes only from the colonial project." Some comments from the audience in that session: "There has been an environmental justice movement all along among indigenous peoples, people of colour, and in the Global South, but you have to have anti-imperialist eyes to see it." "Every climate change activist must also be an antiwar activist." "We will learn much more about racism and how it is manifested through our activity in the environmental movement." Next steps The event's program was well-run and varied, with 43 speakers and facilitators. Aside from the panels discussed here, there were sessions on agriculture/food, fossil fuel divestment, Hurricane Sandy, labour, and Green Left history. No discussion was scheduled on ecosocialist activities going forward, but it was generally felt that the conference created a strong foundation for future activities. Alongside Chris Williams' call for another Keystone XL protest, there was talk of holding another ecosocialist conference down the road. The Ecosocialist Contingent will hold a teleconference May 6 to discuss next steps. For information, write ecosocialistconference [at] gmail.com.
  10. What is equality and development? And what kind of influence has the environment on both of these relations? For me, environmentalism has always been about caring about the well-state and equality of everyone and everything. Al Gore said, during the annual World Economic Forum Meeting in 2008, that you can't solve climate change or poverty in the developing world "without dealing with the other": "Earlier this year, Bono and I spoke about the intersection between the extreme poverty in the developing world - especially in Africa - and the climate crisis. It is impossible to solve one of these issues without dealing with the other (Gore, 2008)". So if we are to solve the equality in the world, our uneven development and environmental problems we just can't work on one of them. They are all connected and thus we have to deal with all of them at once. The future is in the past Could we really call today's capitalist system based on a never-ending and unsustainable consumption as development? Why does one count the consumption of our nature as an income, as something free to use whenever and how we feel for it? The current global development is uneven, lacks equality and comes with a heavy environmental price. And as we today face a climate and ecological crisis beyond our wildest dreams we can see that the crisis and our problems have roots not just in our modern industrial and fossil burning society, but also in ancient Rome and in our colonial history. You know how the old saying goes: "it was better before". But was it? Just as John Bellamy Foster writes in The Vulnerable Planet "many of our fundamental ecological problems date back to preindustrial times." The early civilizations were largely made up of agriculture economies and so they were vulnerable to ecological collapse from the degradation of soil. The Sumerian, Indus valley, Greek, Phoenician, Mayan and Roman societies all failed, as historical and archaeological evidence shows, in part to ecological factors (Foster, 1999: 36-37). The Romans made huge impacts on their surrounding environment, which can still be seen today. Examples are deforestation, depletion of natural resources, loss of wildlife and pollution from cities and industries. Abandoned olive presses from the Roman Empire can be found in North Africa - where once trees and olives flourished there is now just deserts. The Roman smelting industries polluted the surrounding environments and poisoned its workers with lead, mercury and arsenic. Studies of the Greenland ice cap even show dramatic increases of lead in the atmosphere during the Roman era. Donald Hughes notes in Rethinking Environmental History, that the awful health and environmental conditions must have "favoured" the plague and helped it spread across the Mediterranean (Hughes, 2007: 27, 33, 35-37). The collapse of the old civilizations can be seen as examples of what is happening today. You can think of the current world as a bigger and more advanced version of the Roman or Mayan empires. The environmental problems we face today is a mixture of old and new problems such as toxic and radioactive waste into waterways, deforestation in light of increased palm oil farming, dead seabed's due to increased discharge of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, species extinction on a much larger scale etc. Instead of just destroying local areas of the planet we are now in the business of global destruction. The early civilizations lacked proper understanding of economic and environmental policies, but we have that knowledge. And as our future is decided on our actions in the past we must not follow in the same direction as older and failed civilizations have. I wouldn't blame technology for our ecological problems. And I don't believe that if we reject our modern world we can reach ecological harmony. The root to our problem lies in our social systems, and so we need to basically reformulate and reorganize our society in order for a more sustainable and ecological friendly world to emerge (Foster, 1999: 35-36). The rise of the North Economies and development are in the end "constrained by ecological conditions". As deforestation, "agriculture intensification" and other environmental problems contributed to the fall of the Roman and Greek civilizations even the people in ancient Rome made this connection (Hughes, 2007: 4, 12). But something that earlier was confined to more local areas of the world have due to globalization become global problems. As Clive Ponting shows, the uneven development and global problems we face today comes from our colonial history and the rise of Europe, which "drastically affected a whole range of ecosystems" and "reshaped the relationships between different regions" (Ponting, 1991: 194). The rise and expansion of Europe created, what we today call the Third World or Global South, and literally forced the world into a single system and world economy dominated by the "North". European powers such as Portugal, Spain and Great Britain created colonies and plantations around the world so that they could grow crops for their "luxury market" and for industrial needs during the 15th and the 18th century. These were crops, such as sugar cane and tobacco, which for some reason could not be grown in Europe. This was either because the climate was not suitable or they missed cheap labour, mainly in form of slaves, convicts or indentured servants (Ponting, 1991: 194-195, 198 also Foster 1999). The territories under colonial ruling, in the Canary Islands, Cuba, Peru, Australia, Brazil, Hawaii etc, were exploited and used just to benefit the home economy. The crops were only a selected few and were mainly grown on huge plantations owned and managed by Europeans which took up the best lands and displaced local farmers to smaller and less fertile grounds. The Europeans in control was only a tiny fraction of the total population and wanted others to do the manual work as they regarded the job done on the plantations as "degrading". These "others" were usually slaves from places like Africa (Ponting, 1991: 196). When slavery later was abolished in the 19th century the colonial powers used cheap indentured labour from countries such as India and China (Ponting, 1991: 196, 199). Different laws and taxes were also introduced by the Europeans, such as the agrarian land law introduced in Indonesia by the Dutch in 1870, which gave them complete control of all unused land (Ponting, 1991: 201), and the British hut and poll taxes in East Africa (Ponting, 1991: 203). These different taxes and laws resulted in that the local farmers had to work and grow the colonials "cash crops" to earn money. Or it created a similar "peculiar mixed system that was neither a true plantation nor a smallholding" where the farmers growing the crop "were neither slaves, as on islands such as Jamaica, nor landless labours as in Puerto Rico" but still forced to grow an particular crop for the Europeans (Ponting, 1991: 201). Also, import duties were introduced to pay for the costs for goods to Africans, but goods intended for the European farmers in Africa where exempted. By 1930 the African economy had been transformed and integrated into the international economy controlled by the white Europeans and increasingly the Americans (Ponting, 1991: 204). The legacy of imperialism Even after the countries previously under colonial rule achieved political independence and sovereignty not much changed. They were, and still are, under the influence of the Western world, their former colonial rulers. The plantations are still there and a majority of them still produced one single crop or resource. But now they were managed by large multinational corporations and companies such as the Firestone Rubber Company, who owned a 127,000 acres large plantation in Liberia, and the United Fruit Company (Ponting, 1991: 206, 212). It did not matter if the companies were disposed of the land and plantations they previously had owned or by being nationalised. The multinational corporations still dominated the processing and manufacturing of the raw commodities. And due to the overwhelming financial and economic powers the western countries had gained the trade was still in their favour. For example, the companies leave out many of the countries from the more profitable parts by not building any smelters or processing plants. Instead they export the raw commodities to their own home market where the final product can be worth many times more when it's been refined. Another example is that the "North" around mid-1950 put a tax on already processed timber which meant that the Third World countries must export wood that hasn't been processed and then import back value-added boards and papers (Ponting, 1991: 214, 216, 218). In the beginning of the twentieth century Europe and the US had managed to transform former self-sufficient countries in the Third World to countries where the development took the form of providing raw resources and growing a selected few crops, or in some cases just a single crop, for other countries. In one word: monoculture. This in turn brought with it environmental damages to the soil, deforestation and a loss of biodiversity as the crop growing was produced over huge areas. Every year the production of export crops from the Third World grew by three-and-a-half percent while the actual food production for the home market grew much slower than the actual rise in population. This meant that the countries had to import a majority of the food needed. Cuba, Fiji and Tahiti are good examples of this. By 1950 the growing of sugar crops took up 60% of all farmland and consisted of up to 75% of the countries export in Cuba. Because of this Cuba had to import over half of its food. In Fiji during the early 1980's the sugar was over 80% of all exports while it only employed 20% of the population. And in Tahiti during the 1950's 75% of the farmland was used to grow crops that were only meant for export (Ponting, 1991: 212-214). James O'Connor argues that the "uncontrolled expansion of monoculture" in Third World countries is the result of uneven development. Brazil and sugar production in the 16th and 17th century, as an example, pushed the country into "deep poverty", which it has never really recovered from. An example of the devastating effects on the environment uneven development "under the aegis of colonialism and of mindless economic expansion", as O'Connor puts it, has brought forth was the vast deforestation around the world during the 19th and 20th century (O'Connor, 1989: 4-5). It is worth noting that Japan was never colonized by the "North" and thus the country was able to be ranked among the other advanced capitalistic states by 1890 (Foster, 1999: 89, 91). So the former colonial powers have created a world and economic system where the countries in the Third World are bound and intertwined to supply the "North" with crops and other raw commodities (Tabb, 2007: 33). Twenty percent of the total food grown in the world goes from the Third World to the developed and industrialised countries while only 12% goes in the opposite direction. The "South" still exports more food than it imports, even during major periods of hunger and starvation. For example in the famine of 1876-1877 in India wheat was still being exported to the Great Britain (Ponting, 1991: 214). Ponting says that the "North" became developed and received their high material and living standard on the expense of the poor people in the Third World via economic and environmental exploitation with poverty and human suffering as a result (Ponting, 1991: 222-223). O'Connor says that the worst environmental and human disasters "as a rule occur in the Third World" and that the victims "are typically the rural poor", but also the "oppressed minorities and poor in the First World", i.e. the West (O'Connor, 1989: 2).And when it comes to climate change it is, unfortunately, the ones that are the least responsible for the climate crisis, primarily the poor people in the Third World, who are the most vulnerable and will be affected the worst from the devastating effects a changing climate will bring (McMichael, 2008: 15). After the former colonial rulers had left during the end of the 18th and early 19th century and the countries gained independence they did not just face economical or environmental problems but also more deadly ones such as genocides and wars over resources. The norm for many new countries and their leaders after they had gained independence was complete control of the army and the power to intimidate and bully its own people. An example of this is Rwanda. There the Belgians had ruled the country by giving the native minority of Tutsi chief's superior status and control over the Hutus, a large native group in the country. After the Belgians left the country in 1962 Tutsi dictators were left to rule, which in turn led to the killing of hundreds of thousands of people in the Rwandan genocide in 1994 (Tabb, 2007: 33). William K. Tabb argues that these dictators and other ruthless leaders are fuelled by easily extracted resources and that this resource extraction still in today's world continues to "spur extremes of violence and war". A study by Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Warner in 1997 shows that the higher a country depends on the export of their natural resources slows down the countries growth and that it "significantly and substantially increases the risk of conflict" and civil wars (quoted in Tabb, 2007: 33). The struggle over oil And here is where the oil comes in. In today's world traditional wars where you normally fight for a specific land area are very rare. Instead civil wars over resources have become the standard. Countries rich on oil such as Nigeria, Gabon, Sudan, Congo and Chad have a long history of military dictatorship and coups which have resulted in starvation, diseases and the death of millions of people and the destruction of the local environment. In Angola, for example, millions of people have died in the civil war that was started because of the "wholesale looting" of the countries oil reserve and natural recourses (Tabb, 2007: 34-35). The huge sums of money generated from the valuable resources was sent to banks overseas and almost never found its way to the people of Angola. Today imperialism has taken the form of global organisations such as the World Bank, IMF and the WTO. And as Tabb points out that in these troubled areas where you can find precious resources you will find foreign corporations and the World Bank ready to work with the local leaders for their share of the cut. Global Witness reports that even though Congo Brazzaville is the fourth largest oil producer in Africa it has a debt of over $6.4 billion. This huge debt is a consequence of the "influence peddling and bribery" of the former French state company Elf Aquitaine (cited in Tabb, 2007: 34-35, 40). In the past countries and their governments would be directly involved in these troubled areas. But today they have to some extent been replaced by global organisations and corporations. When it comes to the Iraq war and occupation many corporations and organisations besides the US army is involved. One example is Blackwater Worldwide, a private military company which has played a substantial role as a contractor for the US government in Iraq. As peak oil (also called Hubbert's peak) comes closer and world oil demands and prices soar - the demand grew by 1.5% in 2002, 1.9% in 2003 and 3.7% in 2004 (Tabb, 2007: 39) - the former "Anglo-American petroleum dominance" in the world is loosing ground to state-controlled producers such as Kuwait Petroleum, Abu Dhabi National Oil, Saudi Aramco and Sonatrach, but also from Western oil producers such as StatoilHydro. These state-controlled companies holds "at least half of the world's proven" reserves and a quarter of current oil production. Instead of investing into alternative and renewable energy sources to combat the high energy costs and becoming energy independent USA and Great Britain have panicked and is using "force to reassert dominance" via "state terror and coercion" in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unfortunately these occupations and resource wars have failed and instead of creating stable governments it has resulted in more terrorism, the alienation of the rest of the world and an increasing cost of oil (Tabb, 2007: 38-40). But it is not just in the Middle East there is an energy struggle going on. Latin America currently supplies more oil to the US than the Middle East does (Davis, 2004: 2). And Third World countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia, both oil rich nations, have in recent years tried to stand up against the North's energy and political influence. Venezuela and its democratically elected leader Hugo Chavez has increased the nations stake in major energy projects from 40% to 60% in the countries oil company Petroleos de Venezuela. Norway's share in StatoilHydro is for example about 62% (Wikipedia.org). And instead of going the same path as Congo Brazzaville, Hugo Chavez has used the money generated from his country's oil to raise his people's living standard. The President of Bolivia, Evo Morales have nationalised the countries energy industry, similar to what is happening in Venezuela. For this Evo Morales have gained support back home with an approval rating of 80%. This can be compared to George Bush's own 33% approval rating back home in USA. For this, both Morales and Chavez have been criticized by the "North" for their "weak commitment to democracy" (Tabb, 2007: 39-40). In Columbia leftwing ELN guerrillas are threatening the oilfields and pipelines operated by the US-based company Occidental Petroleum. That is why Special Forces, the CIA and private security contractors from the US is currently involved in an "an ongoing reign of terror" called "Operation Red Moon" in the Arauca province. T. Christian Miller, reporting in the Los Angeles Times, says that the consequence has been that "mass arrests of politicians and union leaders have become common. Refugees fleeing combat have streamed into local cities. And killings have soared as right-wing paramilitaries have targeted leftwing critics" (quoted in Davis, 2004: 2). And in the Straits of Malacca, a narrow passage of East Asia's oil supply, the Malaysian foreign minister have complained that USA is "exaggerating the threat of terrorist piracy" to justify deploying military forces there (Davis, 2004: 2). Climate change Because our development and "global market infrastructure" is based almost solely on the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, the earth is warming up and our climate is changing. And as we stand in front of the biggest environmental crisis ever, namely man-made climate change, our efforts on slowing down the devastating effects can scuttle because of our worlds uneven development. James Lovelock, known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis, has said that he believes that climate change is now irreversible. He predicts that the major part of the humans, more than six billion people, will get wiped out of the face of the earth due to wars, starvation, epidemics and chaos during the rest of the century due to the effects of a changing climate. Lovelock estimates that by year 2100 there will only be around 500 millions people left who struggles to survive on the few remaining liveable places on earth: Scandinavia, Canada and Iceland (Goodell, 2007). Lovelock writes that: "Gaia, the living Earth, is old and not as strong as she was two billion years ago. She struggles to keep the Earth cool enough for her myriad forms of life against the ineluctable increase of the sun's heat. But to add to her difficulties, one of those forms of life, humans, disputatious tribal animals with dreams of conquest even of other planets, has tried to rule the Earth for their own benefit alone. With breathtaking insolence they have taken the stores of carbon that Gaia buried to keep oxygen at its proper level and burnt them. In so doing they have usurped Gaia's authority and thwarted her obligation to keep the planet fit for life; they thought only of their own comfort and convenience. (quoted in Lovelock, 2006: 146)" Gore says that our "overdependence" on fossil fuels and our weak policies on climate change show what can happen "when reason is replaced by the influence of wealth and power" (Gore, 2007: 191). Since the "market" has become one with development, McMichael argues, we have responded to this climate crisis by framing "solutions to climate change in market terms". This, McMichael warns, results in "commodification of the ecological commons through green market solutions such as carbon trading, emission offsets, and biofuels, to sustain, rather than question, current trajectories of accumulation and consumption". McMichael says that because the world is already now warming up much faster than what the IPCC's "conservative" numbers estimated and that the world's resources are finite and "deeply unequal", the idea of the green growth is an "oxymoron". McMichael argues that the fog of "promises of market prosperity" has covered the effects and impacts of development on our climate, "let alone be recognized for the catastrophe that it already is", warning that it "will remain so long as market solutions prevail". The world is slowly realising this. The 2007/2008 Human Development Report says that "climate change is the defining human development issue of our generation". And the eight Conference of Parties (COP8) of the UNFCCC in Dehli declared that "climate change is a serious risk to poverty reduction and threatens to undo decades of development efforts" (McMichael, 2008: 1-2). When it comes to responsibility for the current climate crisis the world is just as uneven and unequal. The "North", i.e. the West, is responsible for about 80% of the worlds CO2 increase. An average person living in Great Britain will in only 11 days emit as much CO2 as an average person in Bangladesh will during a whole year. And just a single power plant in West Yorkshire in Great Britain will produce more CO2 every year than all the 139 million people combined living in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique (McMichael, 2008: 2). But still, in light of these unequal differences USA demands that they won't lower their emissions before the Third World countries does. And this is exactly why the current climate talks aren't getting anywhere. The old colonial past and today's imperialism in the shape of the World Bank, IMF and the WTO (Tabb, 2007: 40) has created a rift between the "North" and the "South" and their relationships today. Or as George Monbiot puts it: "Rich countries once used gunboats to seize food. Now they use trade deals" (The Guardian, Tuesday August 26 2008). This rift takes the form in expression of criticisms such as the comment from the Argentinean President Kirchner who said that "the North should meet its "˜environmental debts' just as it demands the "South" meet its "˜financial debts'". Or Brazil's President Lula who said in February 2007 that "the wealthy countries are very smart, approving protocols, holding big speeches on the need to avoid deforestation, but they already deforested everything" (Philip McMichael, 2008: 3-4). You can say that the "de-localization" of crop growing to countries in the Third World with low wages and a weak environmental system was done to conserve the environment in Europe (McMichael, 2005: 284). An example of how the "North" has been able to get away easily from their climate and ecological responsibilities is Kyoto's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a part of something that Philip McMichael calls "market environmentalism". CDM encourages Western countries to meet their very own reduction targets, not by reducing their CO2 emitting sources back home, but by investing in cheap solutions in the "South" (McMichael, 2008: 6, 16). The European Union agreed on a new climate deal during the end days of the 2008 United Nations Climate Change Conference in PoznaÅ„, which was held during December 1-12. The EU promised that they will cut their emissions with 20% by 2020. But the actual emission cuts could end up being as little as 4% by 2020 (Black, BBC News, 2008). That is because of special exemptions for dirty industries in Europe as well as allowing cheap emission cuts overseas to be counted to the EU total (WWF, 2008). These emission cuts done overseas will make it easier for us in the "North" to reduce "˜our' emissions but harder for the developing countries in the "South" to reduce theirs. Monbiot calls this "carbon colonialism, in which Europe picks the low-hanging fruit in developing countries, leaving them with much tougher choices later on" (The Guardian, Friday 12 December 2008). Roberts and Parks argue (quoted in McMichael, 2008: 3) that "when powerful states disregard weaker states' position in the international division of labor in areas where they possess structural power, they run a high risk of weaker states "˜reciprocating' in policy areas where they possess more bargaining leverage. The issue of global climate change - which itself is characterized by tremendous inequality in vulnerability, responsibility, and mitigation - can therefore not be viewed, analyzed, or responded to in isolation from the larger crisis of global inequality." Robert and Parks also list three points from where this "rift" and "mistrust" comes from: 1) Wasteful Western consumption, 2) A state's ability for environmental reforms is a function of the state's position in the international scene of labour, and 3) The West's approach to more sustainable and environmental issues will hinder the "South" from their economic development. John Rapley argues that we in the West must "probably have to bear the expense of environmental adjustment", because if we don't the countries in the Third World will continue to take advantage of cheap and CO2 polluting technologies. If we don't manage to get away from this rift between "North" and "South", developed and underdeveloped, we will never be able to agree on any lasting climate policies that will be powerful enough to combat climate change and its devastating effects (McMichael, 2008: 3-5). What development and for whom? In the beginning I asked if we really could call our current capitalistic system for development. But, what should be developed and for whom? McMichael lists two different forms of development: food security through the global market, and its alternative: food sovereignty. The privatization of food security through the global market was constructed in 1986-1994 during the Uruguay Round, a forerunner to the WTO's agreement on Agriculture in 1995. This agreement means that nations no longer have the right to independent and sustainable food within its borders. Instead of letting the producers and consumers manage and decide over the food system it puts corporations and the demands of the global market in control of it. McMichael calls this the corporate food regime, and says that the only benefactors of this "political construct" are about 15% the world's population. Food sovereignty is an alternative way to reach food security. The concept of this idea was put forward by Via Campesina, an international movement of mainly farmers, during the World Food Summit in 1996. Simply put: food sovereignty lets people and nations decide and define their own food and agriculture production. Food sovereignty does not rule out trade, instead it creates a more sustainable and self reliant trade between nations (McMichael, 2004: 277-278 and McMichael, 2005: 269-270, 281, 290-291). Capitalism destroys and divides As we know, capitalism is all about profit. The higher the profit is, the higher the growth rate will in theory be, which in turn leads to a higher rate of depletion of various recourses which ultimately leads to a higher rate of pollution (O'Connor, 1989: 11). At the end of capitalism there is environmental destruction. An example on what kind of effects capitalism can have is the current financial crisis in the auto industry. The auto giants, such as GM, Ford and Chrysler, have for years in their race for short-sighted economic gains resisted and done everything in their powers to stop stronger compulsory MPG and CO2 emission standards. They have even denied climate change and their promises that they could cut their greenhouse gases voluntarily have all failed. As a result the average car sold in the US today is less efficient than the Model T Ford from 1908 (The Guardian, Tuesday 7 October 2008). Why? Because as Henry Ford II once explained: "minicars make miniprofits". And like John Z. DeLorean, former GM executive, have said: "When we should have been planning switches to smaller, more fuel-efficient, lighter cars in the late 1960s in response to a growing demand in the marketplace, GM management refused because "˜we make more money on big cars' "(quoted in Foster, 1999: 124). And with help from the US government, Standard Oil and Firestone Tire these auto companies deliberately dismantled earlier mass transportation system in the US during the 1930s to the 1950s. During most of the twentieth century the US government decreased funding for public transportation while they wastefully poured money into highways in an effort to increase the corporate profits that comes with private motoring. While this was happening the auto companies bought up electric streetcar lines and converted them to busses. This is today known as "the Great American streetcar scandal", "General Motors streetcar conspiracy" or "the National City Lines conspiracy" (Wikipedia.org). Between 1936 and 1955 the number of electric streetcar lines had dropped from around 40000 to 5000 in the US as a result. GM also used it's nearly monopolistic control over the bus and locomotive market to make sure that public transportation kept loosing ground to private motoring. And so with devastating effects for the environment, but also in a technology sense, USA today have to rely on private motoring for 90% of all ground transportation of goods and people, which is more than any other country in the world. One can't defend these actions by claiming they did not know about the effects. Bradford Snell, a U.S. government attorney, once stated in a famous report to a US Senate committee that: "motor vehicle travel is possibly the most inefficient method of transportation devised by modern man" (Foster, 1999: 114-116, 124). John Bellamy Foster argues that capitalism has had "overwhelmingly negative results" for our planet (Foster, 1999: 32). For example, the commercial trade, i.e. capitalism, in fur has led to the destruction of entire ecosystem and an enormous and never before seen slaughter of wildlife. Some of the animals worst affected by the fur-trade during the 16th and 17th century was beavers, martens, seals, bears, raccoons etc. Between 1797 and 1803 on the island of Mas Afuera in the Juan Fernandez Islands, off the coast off Chile, over 3 million seals were killed for their fur. In the early 19th century six million southern fur seals were clubbed to death resulting in the nearly extinction of fur seals in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean (Foster, 1999: 42-43). Capitalism doesn't just result in environmental destruction and resource depletion but it also divides people. A fine example of this is the memorandum from Lawrence Summers. On December 12, 1991, Lawrence Summers, the chief economist for the World Bank, wrote an internal memo that was leaked to the British publication the Economist on February 8, 1992. In it he says that the World Bank should be "encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Less Developed Countries]", and that "the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable". He also writes that "the demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity" (quoted in Foster, 2002: 60-61). In fewer words: Summers says that people in the Third World are worth less than people in the North, and thus they could be exploited more by the capitalistic world system. But it's not just in the Third World that capitalism takes the form as environmental racism. In Los Angeles over 70% of African Americans and 50% of Latinos live in areas with the highest amount of air pollution. This can be compared to the 34% of white people living in the same areas (Foster, 1999: 138). Karl Marx came up with the term "metabolic rift" to explain the rift capitalism have created between social systems and natural systems. This rift, he claimed, led to ecological crisis and the exploitation of the environment. As people moved into cities they lost the contact with nature, and thus they became less likely to consider what the best for the environment was, and how their actions and decisions affected it (McMichael, 2008: 11 and Foster, 1999: 63-64). Marx also noted that as the income for the workers in the cities increased companies (capitalists) searched for cheaper workers outside of the city (Moore, 2000: 136-137). Today when half of the world's people live in cities this is happening on a much larger and more global scale. More people than ever have lost the direct contact with nature (Satterthwaite, in the Guardian 2007). And instead of companies and corporations looking for cheaper workers in the countryside they now look outside the nation's borders, mainly in Third World countries. When it comes to climate change McMichael says that the "only sound solution" is by basically reformulating the generally accepted perspective of development. But he warns that resistance, for what science says needs to be done to tackle the climate crisis, will come from "corporate interests", "politicians with short-time horizons" but also from strong talks "of neo-liberalism that represents market solutions as commonsense" (McMichael, 2008: 14). He concludes that the "de-carbonization of the material economy will require substantial de-commodification to establish sustainable development, which in turn means the development subject would no longer be the high-mass consumer, but a politically-mobilized social and ecological steward". And that this time the goal for the "North" is not just to supply and "secure" its home markets with valuable raw materials and other commodities. Now it's also about supplying the Third World with "environmental repair or caretaker services" to be able to lessen the damages and problems that the system itself has created (McMichael, 2008: 16-17). Immanuel Wallerstein says that he is "relentlessly pessimistic" on how sustainable development could be possible under capitalism (Hornborg, 2007: 22-23). He also says that we are "in the middle of a transition" away from capitalism to something else. But what that is and if it will be better or worse he do not know. "The outcome will be decided by the political activity of everyone now and in the next twenty-five to fifty years", he writes (Wallerstein, 2007: 384-385). Hopefully. Another world is possible. Further reading Ponting, Clive (1991). "Creating the Third World," in A Green History of the World. New York: St. Martin's Press, 194-223. O'Connor, James (1989). "Uneven and Combined Development and Ecological Crisis: A Theoretical Introduction," Race & Class Hornborg, Alf (2007). "Introduction: Environmental History as Political Ecology," in Hornborg, et al., Rethinking Environmental History McMichael, Philip (forthcoming 2009). "Contemporary Contradictions of the Global Development Project: Geopolitics, Global Ecology and the "˜Development Climate," Third World Quarterly. McMichael, Philip (2005). "Global Development and the Corporate Food Regime," Research in Rural Sociology and Development Tabb, William K. (2007). "Resource Wars," Monthly Review 58(8) Wallerstein, Immanuel (2007), "The Ecology and the Economy: What Is Rational?" Foster, Bellamy, John (1999). "The Vulnerable Planet" Foster, Bellamy, John (2002) "Ecology Against Capitalism" Gore, Al (2007), "The Assault on Reason" Lovelock, James (2006), "The Revenge of Gaia" Al Gore, "A set back" (August 13, 2008) George Monbiot, The Guardian, (Tuesday August 26 2008) George Monbiot, The Guardian, (Friday 12 December 2008) George Monbiot, The Guardian, (Tuesday 7 October 2008) David Satterthwaite, The Guardian, (Wednesday January 17 2007) StatoilHydro, Wikipedia "The Great American streetcar scandal", Wikipedia Richard Black, BBC News, Earth Watch, (12 December 2008) WWF, (12 December 2008) Jeff Goodell, RollingStone (1 November 2007)