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Capital Blight - Wolves and Foxes

By x344543 and x374946 - September 15, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

"Tell me, friend, when did Saruman the Wise abandon reason for madness?"

Naomi Klein, author of the books, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine and recent keynote speaker at the founding conference of the newly minted Canadian mega-union UNIFOR has touched off an explosion of controversy for her statements in an interview with Jason Mark of Earth Island Journal by stating:

"I think there is a very deep denialism in the environmental movement among the Big Green groups. And to be very honest with you, I think it’s been more damaging than the right-wing denialism in terms of how much ground we’ve lost. Because it has steered us in directions that have yielded very poor results."

This quote--essentially an echo of Malcolm X's "Fox and Wolf" analogy of white liberals and conservatives--was paraphrased, somewhat carelessly and out of context and used as the headline which read: "Naomi Klein: Green Groups May Be More Damaging Than Climate Change Deniers".

This is not really a new revelation. One need only research the details of David Brower's battles with more conservative elements within the Sierra Club in the 1960s (which ultimately led to the latter's endorsing the construction of Diablo Canyon Nuke by PG&E as opposed to a more unpopular site at Bodega Bay over the objections of then executive director Brower who opposed nuclear power altogether) which was one of the major events which ultimately led to the formation of Earth First! by 1980.

Critique of the "Big Green" environmental organizations was a constant topic of discussion within the pages of the Earth First! Journal. In March 1990, that publication thoroughly excoriated the mainstream environmental organizations for partnering with corporations to greenwash Earth Day, to the point where the most outspoken opponents of environmentalism were sometimes listed as the initial sponsors for the local Earth Day events in the rural communities where the most pitched battles over the environment were taking place.

Judi Bari once commented in 1994, "One compromise made by a white-collar Sierra Club professional can destroy more trees than a logger can cut in a lifetime." In speaking those words, Bari was not only challenging mainstream environmentalism for not being sufficiently green, she was also taking them to task for their lack of class consciousness, because--as a rule--these groups would not hesitate to blame the resource extraction workers for carrying out the dictates of their capitalist masters, rather than seeing the workers as no less the victims of capitalism than the environment itself.

Such critiques have not abated in recent years, and several of our own writers, as well as a few invited guests, have thoroughly called out Big (Gang) Green for their willingness to dance with the very devil they seek to exorcise. See for example:

Think--for a second--of the tragic character of Saruman the White in Lord of the Rings. He was mortally afraid of his arch enemy, Sauron the Terrible, and his jealousy and contempt for those with less power and privilege than he (as personified by his one-time ally Gandalf the Grey) that he "joined" with Sauron in order to carve out his own supposedly protected enclave. In doing so he destroyed all of the lands and peoples in his own sphere of influence directly far more effectively than Sauron could have done from a distance.

There is a common thread among each of these narratives and that is that time-honored chestnut of IWW wisdom that capitalism cannot be reformed. As we have made quite clear, that holds true for both workers and the environment.

Therefore, Klein's statement shouldn't shock anyone, and yet spokespeople for Big Green and their apologists are stark raving mad over them.

By far the most self-serving self-congratulatory example of defensive foaming at the mouth drivel comes from Eric Pooley,  Senior Vice-President of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and author of The Climate War

In a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black, Pooley accuses Klein of "promoting her forthcoming book with the time-honored tactic of saying something so outrageous that media can’t help but report it", but in defending the record of the EDF, isn't Pooley trying to shore up the organization's donor base (which includes contributions from wealthy individuals, including many capitalists) which--in part--pay his salary? How is that any less questionable ethically?

And if Klein makes a few dollars here and there calling a spade a spade, is that really so egregious? Consider what Burkley Hermann had to say about EDF:

In order to fully understand the EDF, one must understand the US Climate Action Partnership, or USCAP. The group describes itself as an “expanding alliance of major businesses and leading climate and environmental groups that have come together to call on the federal government to enact legislation requiring significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.” However, as a post on the Earth First! Journal noted, “organizations like Environmental Defense and Natural Resources Defense Council have actively partnered with the fossil fuel industry in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a front group that helped stop climate legislation in 2010.” This is further ingrained in stone when one sees that the members of this group include a number of companies, including: AES, Alcoa, Chrysler, Dow Chemical Company, Duke Energy, DuPont, Exelon, Ford Motor Company, General Electric, General Motors, Honeywell, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, and Pacific Gas & Electric. SourceWatch writes that the organization “has been criticised for greenwashing, as many of the corporations which are members… are also working behind the scenes to undermine greenhouse-gas regulations… [while] eight… members sit on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is critical of attempts to reduce carbon.” Additionally, the organization seems to support the continuing use of coal energy, saying there should be more “advanced coal technologies” but carbon sequestration.

In the end, their plan calls for “cost-effective” approaches – the industry-friendly cap and trade, diverse use of dirty energy, emissions offsets, increasing coal plants, and no use of alternative energy unless that’s “lower-carbon transportation fuels.” Such a description is very troubling especially if one considers their full “background” material, which includes their environmental statements.

Based on EDF's record, We could argue that Klein is deserving of sainthood by comparison! And yet, Pooley sanctimoniously defends the practices of his organization by declaring:

Here’s where we part ways with Naomi Klein, who rejects the strategy of building coalitions with business — and is opposed to all market-based environmental solutions — because she sees climate action as a way to reform or replace capitalism itself. EDF is about environmental results. When faced with the choice of making real progress in our fight against climate change or waging ideological warfare, we will always choose the former.

Is he serious?!?  It's not "ideological warfare" to point out what should be regarded as a scientific truth, namely that capitalism is inherently destructive to the environment. Quoting John Bellamy Foster:

The dominant pattern of capitalist development is clearly counter-ecological. Indeed, much of what characterizes capitalism as an ecohistorical system can be reduced to the following counter-ecological tendencies of the system:

  • The only lasting connection between things is the cash nexus;
  • It doesn’t matter where something goes as long as it doesn’t reenter the circuit of capital;
  • The self-regulating market knows best; and
  • Nature’s bounty is a free gift to the property owner.

In spite of these painfully obvious truths, Pooley, Krup, et. al. at the EDF continue to push "Market Based Solutions", namely capitalism, which--as We have stated in this space many times--involved the privatization of the earth's resources and the externalization of costs to the workers and the environment. There are no "market based solutions" that don't do this, because to not outsource or defer the cost is to operate outside of the rules of capitalism!

And exactly what have "market based solutions" brought us in the past year or so?

In each of these examples it is the poorest of the 99% and the bulk of the environment who have suffered and in each case the 1% gets away, scot-free to continue with business as usual; if anything, Klein is understating her case!

Pooley ignores all of this, and tries to convince us that EDF's approach is actually effective at bringing about the change in course we need to avert certain disaster:

The results of our corporate partnerships speak for themselves. In 1991, we helped McDonald’s phase out foam “clamshell” sandwich containers. In 2004, EDF and FedEx launched the first “street-ready” hybrid trucks ever built. Today, hybrids are in hundreds of corporate fleets, from UPS to Coca-Cola to the U.S. Postal Service. And since 2008, EDF’s Climate Corps program has placed hundreds of MBAs at some of the biggest corporations in the world to both increase energy efficiency today and train them as business leaders of tomorrow. To date, our Climate Corps fellows have identified $1.2 billion in potential energy savings, with greenhouse gas reductions equivalent to taking 200,000 cars off the road.

If Pooley thinks these few token measures have made any significant dent in the onward plunge off of the suicidal cliff the capitalist economies of the world have us careening towards, then he hasn't been checking the news lately. Do We really need to remind him that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 has exceeded 400 PPM, well above the already 350 PPM limit advocated by Bill McKibben which gives his particular NGO its name?  Does that look like success to you? It certainly doesn't look like success to us!

Perhaps Pooley and Krupp believe in the concept of the New Deal, which President Franklin D Roosevelt used to "save capitalism from itself" when the neo-classical economic "market based" strategies led to the great depression. What they don't realize of course was that if it hadn't been for the left wing pressures brought on by years and years of organizing by anti-capitalists who argued against any collaboration with the capitalist economic system which made such reforms (limited though they were) possible in the first place!

Of course, in the 1930s, the entire ecological system wasn't in the midst of an accelerating collapse, so it was a lot easier to believe that capitalism could be reformed without putting at risk the survival of all life on Earth. However, given the urgent ecological crisis, capitalism must be identified as the root cause.

The strategy Pooley and Krupp advocate is not unlike the course set by the business unions since the late 1940s. In an effort to trip over themselves and prove that they could be just as anti-"communist" as Joe McCarthy, J Edgar Hoover, and Roy Cohn, the once radical CIO (often using subterfuge and trickery) purged the leadership of their affiliate unions of anyone suspected of being "red" (anti-capitalist). Members of the IWW who had initially warned the leftists who had naively gone along with the "united front" strategy within the formative years of the CIO in the 1930s were soon vindicated when, by 1955, the CIO merged with the conservative AFL from which there was little difference anymore. The combined federations then (even more readily) pursued an increasingly suicidal strategy of "labor-management partnerships" which led to the eventual liquidation of the New Deal and any pretense of "social democracy" under capitalism, which brings us to today, where the same austerity measures that have driven the working class of the world into abject poverty are likewise responsible for the very market trends which push for fracking, tar sands, and coal booms in order to stave off what looks like an inevitable carbon bubble.

Doesn't Pooley realize that if it weren't for the resistance by indigenous communities, Occupy, Earth First!, the IWW, assorted anarchists and socialists, and others that the very "compromises" he seeks to make would be damn near impossible?

This process is not just some random thing. In fact it's a natural symbiotic function of true rank and file democracy.

Maybe Pooley doesn't understand the process, but those of us who wish to be truly effective better get it in our heads. Real change happens at the grassroots, and groups like EDF are a resulting side effect rather than an engine that drives it forward (and that side effect is by no means either necessary or even necessarily desirable). When people begin to assume that those side effects (like bureaucratic business unions, reformist political parties, and environmental NGOs) are the engine of change and energy is siphoned away from the grassroots, then the engine runs out of gas (so-to-speak).

All attempts to save the planet by appeasing the very transnational corporations that are destroying it, promising them no loss of profitability and even accepting their logic that nothing will be done to stop global warming if it does not bring in new profits for them, all of these attempts are foolhardy and doomed to failure. This is the denialism that Klein correctly identifies, the belief that the very authors of the planet's destruction are willing to change their fundamental organizational structures, which by law are only accountable to shareholder profits, and do the opposite of what they have always done. Saving the planet is not profitable for the funders of One Sky and the Environmental Defense Fund. They know it, but their grant recipients apparently can't figure that out.  

Moving on from there, Joe Romm makes a somewhat less reactionary critique, harping on Klein's downplaying of the dangers of the right wing climate change denialists, spending a good deal of energy (no pun intended) pointing out just how dangerous these flat-earth-society-know-nothings really are. Indeed, these forces are incredibly dangerous and a good deal more influential than even some of us realized as Greenpeace has just made clear

We appreciate Romm's sense of urgency, but he needs to understand that Klein isn't suggesting that the climate change denial wing of capitalism isn't incredibly dangerous any more than Malcolm X was suggesting that white conservatives were not dangerous to black folks in America. What she is saying is that capitalism is the most dangerous player in the game and any attempt to partner with it would lead to disaster.

In Pooley's case, he sounds like an abuse victim who just cannot bring himself to understand that he will never transform his abuser into someone whole and self-actualized unless and until he severs all ties with it.

That's because capitalism is the problem, in fact the source of all of our problems. Sure, one might argue, environmental destruction existed long before capitalism, and that is certainly true, but capitalism is the ultimate manifestation of those dysfunctional behaviors. Capitalism is the ultimate abuser and sociopath. An abuse victim will often try and appease their abuser, but the results are the same: more abuse. The only solution to an abusive relationship is the abolition of that relationship. Anything less is no solution.