Beyond Petroculture: strategies for a Left energy transition

By Imre Szeman and Jeff Diamanti - Canadian Dimension, February 17, 2017

Five years ago, a group of us at the University of Alberta in Edmonton formed the Petrocultures Research Group to develop a sharper understanding of the ways we use (and abuse) energy. Our immediate intention was to examine the social, cultural and political implications of Canada’s turn-of-the-twentieth-century leap into the ranks of the world’s oil superpowers. Our interest in energy arose in part as a result of working at the research university closest to the Athabasca tar sands. In Edmonton, it’s hard not to see oil everywhere, and not only in the physical infrastructure of refineries, but also in its social costs and consequences: labour dislocation, inflated housing prices, alcohol and drug abuse, and rates of sexual violence and family dysfunction.

Very quickly, however, Petrocultures scholars also began to grapple with other, larger questions. What is energy for in our society? How does the availability of relatively cheap energy effect how we socialize and relate to one another? What are the inequalities that come with fossil fuels, and what is stopping renewables from carrying those same inequalities forward? Petrocultures began investigating how energy in the 20th century made a number of other, seemingly unrelated things, possible. We moderns tend to image energy as a largely neutral aspect of social life, as little more than a dead input into the motors of a society whose form and rationale originates at a distance from coal mines and oil fields. But in fact, the forms of energy we use, and how we use them, shape society through and through, and not just how we work (in factories instead of fields) or how we move around (using horsepower instead of horses).

This is what we mean by “petroculture,” the term that gives our group its name. Petroculture is the global culture we find ourselves in today. It is the name for a society that has been organized around the energies and products of fossil fuels, the capacities it engenders and enables, and the situations and contexts it creates. It’s not just that our physical infrastructures depend on oil and gas, or that our social and economic practices have been organized around easy and cheap access to fossil fuels. The relationship to our dominant energy form is deeper, pervasive, and constitutive: to say we inhabit a “petroculture” is to say we are fossil-fuel creatures all the way down. Our expectations, our sensibilities, our habits, our ways of being in and moving across the world, how we imagine ourselves in relation to nature, as well as in relation to one another—these have all been sculpted by, and in relation to, the massively expanded energies of the fossil-fuel era. To give but one example: in the potential shift from gas to electric-powered cars now promised us, what is never questioned is necessity of the automobile itself. As inhabitants of a global petroculture, we have all come to expect the mobility, freedom and autonomy of mechanized movement by land, sea and air. Those parts of the world that don’t yet have a car in every garage see it as an index of economic and social progress — a sign of having joined the modern community because, at long last, they are able to use energy at the same level of those in the global North.

The agricultural policy must serve the people

By Geneviève Savigny - La Via Campesina, March 30, 2017

Where have the consistency between the objectives and tools that prevailed in 1957 gone, when we signed the Treaty of Rome A radical shift in policy is necessary in the European Union.

Agriculture, a source of food and of numerous useful products for human life, concerns the whole of society. There was surely a sort of consensus between the agricultural world, policy makers and society on the role played by farmers and the objectives of an agricultural policy, when the Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957, laid the foundations for the first Common Agricultural Policy. It was first necessary to guarantee food security for people, and thereby produce more, modernize farms but also equip the houses of peasant families where several generations often lived together with the comfort already found in cities. The initial objectives and tools were consistent; increase agricultural productivity, ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural population, stabilise markets, guarantee security of supply, and ensure reasonable prices for consumers. Cheap food would enable keeping low wages and foster Europe’s industrial development. 

Why did Plane Stupid chain themselves to the runway at Stansted Airport?

By Plane Stupid - New Internationalist, March 29, 2017

Editor's Note: Plane Stupid includes members of the IWW.

Just over a year ago we were convicted for our part in the Heathrow 13 action. We occupied the Northern runway at Heathrow, cancelling 25 flights, saving hundreds of tonnes of carbon dioxide from being emitted and protesting against the construction of the proposed third runway. For this we nearly went to prison.

So, why this move? Why is a well known environmental group now taking action against mass deportations?

Well, as Audre Lourde says, ‘there’s no such thing as a single issue campaign, because we do not live single issue lives.’ We do not see ourselves as ‘environmentalists’, nor do we see the fight against airport expansion or the fight against climate change as isolated from any other issue. Airport expansion is a form of violence and a form of oppression, one that a minority of people will benefit from the profits, whilst countless people will suffer from loss of community and health, both locally and globally.

As Black Lives Matter clearly stated back in September, the climate crisis is a racist crisis as it is Black, Brown and Indigenous bodies feel the worst effects of this violence. Oppressions are connected and the different forms it takes often share common roots. These roots include capitalism, racism, hetero-patriarchy and colonialism.

Why the NGOs won't lead the revolution

By Leela Yellesetty - Socialist Worker, March 29, 2017

FOR MANY who are outraged and want to do something about the human suffering and environmental devastation wrought by capitalism, volunteering or working for a nonprofit or non-governmental organization (NGO) is a natural place to turn. So why do socialists think this isn't the best way to address the problem?

There is no shortage of such organizations today. Most of them are engaged primarily in direct service work, providing a whole spectrum of needed resources such as housing, food, health care, child care, legal defense and so on. Often, these services fill the gap left by cuts in government funding and are a lifeline for those who otherwise couldn't afford or wouldn't have access to a basic necessity.

There are, of course, problems with some of these organizations: Many overwork and underpay their employees while executives award themselves fat paychecks. Unlike governmental agencies, they are free of any democratic accountability and can choose to impose their religious or political views on those they serve or employ.

But even for organizations which do good, needed work and genuinely attempt to be responsible and accountable to the communities they serve and the people who labor for them, there is a built-in limitation: They are only addressing the symptoms and not the cause of the problems.

'Sheer Reckless Folly': Trump Destroys Obama-Era Climate Rules

By Nika Knight - Common Dreams, March 28, 2017

President Donald Trump on Tuesday set about aggressively dismantling Obama-era climate policies with an executive order decried as "sheer reckless folly," which will increase U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the climate crisis.

"Aside from provoking a large-scale nuclear war, it is hard to imagine an American president taking an action more harmful to the U.S. than Trump's effort to accelerate greenhouse gas emissions," said David J. Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen's Climate Program, in a statement.

"This day may be remembered as a low point in human history—a time when the world's preeminent power could have led the world to a better future but instead moved decisively toward catastrophe," Arkush added.

The order instructs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rewrite former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan (CPP), which would have limited the emissions of coal-powered power plants. It also lifts the moratorium on federal coal leasing, repeals limits on methane emissions from fracking, and directs the agency to reconsider the Social Cost of Carbon and the National Environmental Policy Act guidance on greenhouse gas emissions.

"The EPA's rollback of basic environmental rules demonstrates that when it comes to the health of our children, our communities, and our climate, this is an administration of lawlessness and disorder," said Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of the grassroots sustainability group UPROSE, in statement.

"For frontline communities, those of us impacted first and worst by the extraction economy, this means an escalation of public health crises, from asthma to cancer. It means an utter disregard for those of us most vulnerable to climate disasters," Yeampierre added. "It means a  world of volatility and exploitation for our children and grandchildren."

Environmentalists, local and state leaders, and advocacy groups are vowing to resist.

Beyond Protest in the Age of Trump

By Black Rose Anarchist Federation - It's Going Down, March 25, 2017

In the early days of the Trump administration, we are seeing Trump’s utilization of executive orders to initiate and/or implement a wide array of right-wing policies.  He is starting to make troubling organizational moves, such as the appointment of Steve Bannon- the former executive chairman for Breitbart News, a platform for the Alt-Right- to his National Security Council.  We are seeing the emboldenment of the far right and the rising possibility of international warfare with nuclear capable countries such as China.  Many are feeling overwhelmed and questioning the best way to resist.  None of us has the power to resist these attacks individually; but we do have the power to resist collectively.

We have been engaged in protest actions across the nation mobilizing large numbers of people; but this is not enough. Now is the time to build and strengthen groups in our schools, communities and workplaces to not only resist the far right agenda, but to move on the offensive while building bottom-up popular power in the process.  There are three ways we can do this and all of them are necessary: 1) maintain the protest mobilizations, 2) engage in efforts to criticize the right and put forward alternative ideas, and 3) build collective sites of popular power for resistance, as well as going on the offensive towards a more free and egalitarian society.

Let Us Now Praise A Coal Miner: Chuck Nelson Is An American Hero

By Jonathan Rosenblum - Common Dreams, March 26, 2017

Among the hundreds of coal miners I have interviewed over the years, retired coal miner Chuck Nelson has always been among the most fearless truth-tellers in the coal country of West Virginia.

An indefatigable presence at hearings, meetings, media briefings, and in his beloved mountains, Nelson’s powerful voice and witness have never been needed more than now—during this unending “war” on Appalachia by the coal industry and its sycophants in state halls and Washington, DC.

“Chuck Nelson is an invaluable member of our community,” said Maria Gunnoe, the Goldman Prize Award recipient with Coal River Mountain Watch in West Virginia. “The coal industry may have broken his health down, but they sure didn’t break his Appalachian spirit to always fight for something better.”

A 4th generation union coal miner, who spent 30 years working in underground mines, Nelson has witnessed first-hand the demise of a once strong union movement for workplace safety and wage justice, the unraveling of deeply rooted communities, the clear-cut destruction of his mountain forests and poisoning of his neighbors, and the fierce struggle of local communities to defend their health, land and ways of life.

Int'l Day of Peasant Struggles 2017: Call to Mobilise!

By Jonathan Rosenblum - La Via Campesina, March 23, 2017

Harare, 23 March 2017: The international farmers’ movement La Via Campesina calls all its members and allies to mobilise on April 17, the International Day of Peasant's struggles.[1]

This year, we want the world to know that peasants and other people working in rural areas have been working very hard for their rights. The rights of peasants initiative, which La Via Campesina started 17 years ago, now is in advanced process within the United Nations towards a Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. This declaration, if approved, will create an international legal instrument to protect the rights of and draw attention to the threats and discrimination suffered by peasants and other people working in rural areas.

The need for a UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People Working Rural Areas is more urgent and evident in the 21st century. Peasants, who produce the bulk of the food consumed globally, continue to face criminalisation, discrimination, displacements and persecution despite existence of numerous international legal instruments for recognition and protection of such rights.

Peasants’ basic rights are increasingly very vulnerable as the economic and ecological crisis worsens. This situation is closely linked to human rights violations: expropriation of land, forced eviction, gender discrimination, the absence of right to land and lack of rural development, low income and lack access to means of production, insufficient social protection, and criminalization of movements defending the rights of peasants and people working in rural areas.

For instance, in Africa, over 70% of the agricultural production and care-giving is done by women but there is little recognition of their rights in relation to asset ownership, access to credit, information and participation in policy making etc. In Brazil, despite many years of peasants struggling for comprehensive agrarian reform, fair redistribution of land remains unfulfilled. In Europe, the Common Agricultural Policy and market deregulation of the milk sector affect hundreds of thousands of family farmers. In Asia, much as in rest of the world, free trade agreements and bilateral treaties have destroyed local markets and continue to threaten local and traditional ways of farming and farmers‘ exchange. Land concentration is increasing as some of the affected farmers are forced to sell their land; youth participation in farming is at its lowest. 

We call upon the people around the world to celebrate International Day of Peasants’ Struggle by continuing to work to reinforce food sovereignty, the fight against climate change and the conservation of biodiversity; to fight for a genuine agrarian reform and a better protection against land-grabbing; continue to conserve, use, and exchange our seeds; and strengthen the solidarity among ourselves. These give strength for us to defend our land against corporate interest, persecution and violence against peasants and other people working in rural areas.

This year in July 2017 in the Basque Country, La Via Campesina will hold its VIIth International Conference to deepen our analysis of the current crisis and agree on strategic lines for action to strengthen our movement.

We also call upon countries to support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. We will mobilise our members and allies to pressure our governments to make the next negotiation in the 4th session of Open Ended Intergovernmental Working Group on rights of peasants and other people working in rural area at UN HR Council Geneva successful. We believe in championing the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, humanity also wins.

The Revolution in Work Calls for an Evolution in Living

By Graham Peebles - CounterPunch, March 17, 2017

Poverty blights the lives of billions of people throughout the world: in developing countries, where it is acute, and industrialised nations, where it’s hidden but growing. It rises out of social injustice, makes exploitation and abuse inevitable, brings death and disease, robs people of opportunity and dignity, feeds anger and resentment.

Much like the rubbish that litters the streets of our cities, the poor, destitute and hungry are swept out of sight. Their existence is an embarrassment to politicians and sits uncomfortably within the shiny materialistic image promoted by cities and countries eager to attract ‘inward investment’.

As more jobs become obsolete due to new technology and the closure of traditional industries, unemployment is set to rise, incomes disappear, and, unless there is a radical reappraisal of the economic environment, poverty levels will rise, perhaps exponentially. In fact, with wages stagnant many of those now living in poverty are actually in work – the ‘working poor’ – trying to survive on a pittance, many of whom cannot feed themselves without the support of food banks.

Manifest: Rights of peasants – a step ahead for the future of humanity

By staff - La Via Campesina, March 17, 2017

The International Congress on Peasants’ Rights, which took place from 7 to 10 March in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany, brought together close to one hundred peasants and representatives of food producers from all over the world,  along with the same diversity of human rights defenders and activists. The Congress concluded with the presentation of a Manifesto on the need for a Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, a text that was finalized with the contribution of the participants to the event. Below you can find the full text.

Almost 500 years ago, growing encroachments on peasants’ common lands by princes and churches led to rural uprisings in Southern Germany and to the drafting of the peasants’ “Twelve Articles”. This document represents the first record of demands for human rights and liberties in Europe, and included the right to equal access to lands, forests and fishing grounds. Although the feudal lords brutally crushed this revolt, peasants kept resisting and showing that the feudal nobility hadn’t defeated them. History shows that when peasants are rolled back in one place they reappear in another one. Peasant revolts are still on-going!

The Global Peasants’ Rights Congress, taking place from the 8th to the 10th of March 2017, shows this. More than 400 peasants, fishers, pastoralists, beekeepers, indigenous people, migrant and seasonal workers, rural women, youth, food consumers, NGOs’ representatives, academics, lawyers, activists and government representatives from more than 50 countries gathered together in the city of Schwäbisch Hall, a hotspot of the 16th-century “Great Peasants’ War”, to exchange views, to learn and to increase awareness about the current process of drafting a United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. This Declaration has roots in an initiative of La Vía Campesina launched more than 15 years ago. With the sponsorship of the Bolivian Government, the process has been rapidly advancing in the UN Human Rights Council and will now go to a fourth round of negotiations in May 2017. This week’s Global Peasants’ Rights Congress showed that while we come from highly diverse backgrounds, we are nonetheless able to join hands in defense of human dignity and nature. This process resembles a river, with an increasing number of tributaries, crossing different landscapes and flowing together in a mighty stream of life.

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