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ecological movements and organizations

Chomsky and Pollin: Protests Outside of COP26 Offered More Hope Than the Summit

By C.J. Polychroniou, Noam Chomsky, and Robert Pollin - Truthout, November 22, 2021

The legacy of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) this fall was perhaps best encapsulated by its president, who bowed his head and — close to tears — actually apologized for the process, which ended with a last-minute watering-down of participants’ pledges on coal.

“May I just say to all delegates I apologize for the way this process has unfolded and I am deeply sorry,” said Alok Sharma, the British politician who served as president for COP26. The conference ended on November 13 with a disheartening “compromise” deal on the climate after two weeks of negotiations with diplomats from more than 190 nations.

In the interview that follows, leading public intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin offer their assessments of what transpired at COP26 and share their views about ways to go forward with the fight against the climate crisis. Chomsky — one of the most cited scholars in history and long considered one of the U.S.’s voices of conscience — is Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and currently Laureate Professor of Linguistics and Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona. He is joined by one of the world’s leading economists of the left, Robert Pollin, who is Distinguished Professor and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Chomsky and Pollin are co-authors of the recently published book, Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy to Save the Planet.

C.J. Polychroniou: COP26, touted as our “last best hope” to avert a climatic catastrophe, has produced an outcome that was a “compromise,” according to United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, while activists conducted a funeral ceremony at the Glasgow Necropolis to symbolize the failure of the summit. Noam, can you give us your analysis of the COP26 climate agreement?

Noam Chomsky: There were two events at Glasgow: within the stately halls, and in the streets. They may have not been quite at war, but the conflict was sharp. Within, the dominant voice mostly echoed the concerns of the largest contingent, corporate lobbyists; rather like the U.S. Congress, where the impact of lobbyists, always significant, has exploded since the 1970s as the corporate-run neoliberal assault against the general population gained force. The voice within had some nice words but little substance. In the streets, tens of thousands of protesters, mostly young, were desperately calling for real steps to save the world from looming catastrophe.

COP26 Report Back: Climate Justice Activists Speak Out

Want to Know How We Can Win a Just Transition? States Hold a Key

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, November 16, 2021

The climate justice movement has undoubtedly picked up steam in the last three years as talk of a Green New Deal has made its way into the mainstream. But even after uphill and innovative organizing, our federal government has not adequately responded to the serious and existential threat of climate change: The Build Back Better bill, touted by the Biden administration as our generation’s great hope for action on climate change, has been almost completely gutted in Congress, where it still awaits passage. And after the ultra-wealthy took private jets to and from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, it does not appear that the urgent action we need will come any time soon. As temperatures increase and storms become worse, the environmental situation is even more dire: Humans can expect ​“untold suffering,” scientists warn, including mass extinction and death, if we don’t act fast.

Amid our elected leaders’ monumental failures, the climate justice movement has smartly moved its focus away from pet projects, like small-scale lawsuits, and towards organizing to build a movement with enough popular support to change our political system. To get the numbers we need — of workers in the many millions — it is necessary to ensure that climate solutions, whether it’s stopping coal extraction or halting fossil fuel digging, don’t abandon workers in those industries. This is the idea behind a ​“just transition,” which aims to move to an environmentally sustainable economy while making sure all workers have safe and dignified work. 

State by state, organizers are working hard to make a just transition a reality and, fortunately, there are a few wins to point to. Unions and environmental groups won a joint victory this June, when the Climate and Community Investment Act, SB 999, passed in Connecticut. The legislation will do three important things: require prevailing wages for construction workers on renewable energy projects, ensure renewable energy projects create good, union jobs for Connecticut residents from disadvantaged communities, and negotiate community benefits agreements, which are agreements that describe a developer’s obligations to the broader community.

This state-level legislation is a step toward an urgent — and existential — need. Kimberly Glassman is the director of the Foundation for Fair Contracting of Connecticut, a non-profit organization that represents both building trades unions and union contractors to monitor public works’ projects for compliance with wage and other labor laws. She told In These Times, ​“As we transition away from fossil fuel dependent energy into green energy, [we have to make sure] that the workforce that has built their livelihoods in the fossil fuel industry has a way to transition and has access to good paying jobs in the green energy sector.” 

Learning About a Just Transition

Book Review: The Tragedy of the Worker

By Aragorn Eloff - New Frame, October 5, 2021

A radical collective committed to change in the face of climate collapse calls for global solidarity and a turn to the worker to revolutionise how we relate to the world.

The tone of The Tragedy of the Worker: Towards the Proletarocene is set in the opening paragraph with a sobering addendum to the Communist Manifesto’s most well-known sentences: “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win. What if the world is already lost?”

This important new book, written by the Salvage Collective – of which well-known science fiction author China Miéville is a member – is a manifesto-like cry to countenance the state of our social and ecological lifeworlds, and to grapple with the question of how “we imagine emancipation on an at best partially habitable planet”. Herein, for Salvage, lies the titular concern of the book, which unashamedly wears its politics on its sleeve: the tragedy of the worker is that “she was put to work for the accumulation of capital, from capitalism’s youth, amid means of production not of her choosing, and with a telos of ecological catastrophe”.

How do we think about progressive – even revolutionary – forms of politics when we live “at a point of history where the full horror of the methods of fossil capitalism is becoming clear”, and where, even if capitalism were overthrown tomorrow, we would “inherit productive forces inextricable from mass, trans-species death”?

As we are relentlessly reminded throughout the text, the situation is not good. The current confluence of accelerating ecological crises, most popularly termed the “Anthropocene” or the “sixth mass extinction crisis” is, as Salvage describes, “a megaphase change taking place in microphase time”.

The ZAD: between utopian radicalism and negotiated pragmatism

By Fareen Parvez and Stellan Vinthagen - ROAR, September 11, 2021

The global coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp relief the many failures of contemporary capitalist states around the globe. These include the failure to ensure social and economic justice and to provide basic protections for the most vulnerable individuals and communities, from refugees to the houseless. Consequently, it has also made clear the need for social movements to not only resist the violence of the state and its facilitation of global capitalism, but to simultaneously and actively build a prefigurative politics toward an alternative society. Carving out autonomous spaces for mutual aid and radical politics is more important than ever.

Among the multitude of ways movements engage in prefigurative politics, land occupation struggles have long been central — from the historic Maroon communities formed by fugitive slaves throughout Latin America, the long-standing Acampamentos of the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil to the short-lived Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle in the aftermath of the uprising in response to the murder of George Floyd.

One such movement, relatively unknown outside of Europe, is the Zone à Défendre (Zone to Defend), the ZAD, in western France. Located in the commune of Notre-Dame-des-Landes outside the city of Nantes, the ZAD is the largest of dozens of occupation zones in France. It originated as an anti-development project opposing the construction of an international airport and it survives to this day despite repeated efforts by the state to crush it.

The struggles of la ZAD illustrate both the potential and the many challenges faced by today’s radical occupation movements. History shows that when radical movements push the limits of global capitalist hegemony, states will respond with brutal repression. Examples, among many, include the Bloody Week that ended the 1871 Paris Commune, Turkey’s military attacks on autonomous Kurdish towns and repeated massacres of Landless Workers’ Movement activists by police or private militias in Brazil.

In addition to the use of all-out force, however, contemporary states have also increasingly turned to other tactics. As public opinion and human rights regimes pressure states to use “legitimate and proportional” means, they utilize legal-bureaucratic and ideological repression, to seduce, manipulate and forcibly incorporate movements into the system. We have seen this at work against urban squatters and rural land occupations around the world, where states employ a broad repertoire of tactics — from co-opting leaders to promoting gentrification. Ultimately, though, it is the threat of violence that makes such legal-bureaucratic strategies viable. The story of the ZAD repeats many of these patterns.

The ZAD also raises questions about the role of unity in radical struggle, as well as the effectiveness of specific land occupation strategies. Is it enough to share a common enemy — in this case an airport development project — or must members share the same vision of prefigurative politics? As the French state attempts to incorporate the remains of the ZAD into a vision of rural capitalist development — as always, with the backing of police violence — how do members continue their struggle? Where are the cracks within the repressive state-capitalist system that radical activists can use to their advantage and for their survival?

To seek some answers to these questions, we made several visits to the ZAD over a few years, the last one being in early 2020. As sociologists and activists with a long interest in resistance and prefigurative politics, we shared sympathies with the movement and developed a more intimate understanding of the struggle by talking with residents and taking a closer look on the ground. What we saw indeed diverged from the dominant narrative, which had declared the end and defeat of la ZAD.

Staff at Anti-Mountaintop Removal Nonprofit Coal River Mountain Watch Unionize with IWW

By Maxim Baru - IWW.ORG, September 7, 2021

Workers fighting destruction of communities & environment by mountaintop removal mining in WV join expanding non-profit labor union

NAOMA, West Virginia — The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is excited to announce that workers at the Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW) have organized with unanimous support under the banner of the IWW.

As of September 7, the IWW has asked for and received voluntary recognition from CRMW management.

Employees at CRMW join their colleagues at Holler Health Justice and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in the widening slate of nonprofits unionized with the IWWs West Virginia Branch.

Coal River Mountain Watch is a grassroots organization created in 1998 in response to the fear and frustration of people living near or downstream from enormous mountaintop removal sites. From humble beginnings as a small group of volunteers working to organize Southern WV residents to fight for social, economic, and environmental justice, CRMW become a major force in opposition to mountaintop removal.

As an organization that stands for human rights in mountain communities and against community destruction by the coal industry – in recognizing their staff’s union – the CRMW can now proudly boast that their values align with their practice.

“I’m beyond proud to be in a union now, and I’m beyond proud to work for an organization that values my rights as a worker,” said Coal River Mountain Watch staff member Junior Walk, adding “Here’s to a brighter future for West Virginia and the brave souls who try to make it a better place to live.”

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is a labor union representing nearly 9,000 workers across North America. Established in 1905, the IWW is known for its high standards of democracy, transparency, multi-nationalism, and active use of the right to strike.

Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon

By Dallas Goldtooth, Alberto Saldamando, and Kyle Gracey, et. al. - Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International, September 1, 2021

This report shows that Indigenous communities resisting the more than 20 fossil fuel projects analyzed have stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least 25 percent of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions. Given the current climate crisis, Indigenous peoples are demonstrating that the assertion of Indigenous Rights not only upholds a higher moral standard, but provides a crucial path to confronting climate change head-on and reducing emissions. 

The recently released United Nations climate change report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that in order to properly mitigate the worst of the climate crisis, rapid and large-scale action must be taken, with a focus on immediate reduction of fossil fuel emissions. As the United Nations prepares for its upcoming COP 26 climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, countries are being asked to update their pledges to cut emissions — but as the IPCC report states, current pledges fall short of the changes needed to mitigate the climate chaos already millions of people around the world. 

While United Nations member countries continue to ignore the IPCC’s scientists and push false solutions and dangerous distractions like the carbon markets in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, Indigenous peoples continue to put their bodies on the line for Mother Earth. False solutions do not address the climate emergency at its root, and instead have damaging impacts like continued land grabs from Indigenous Peoples in the Global South. Indigenous social movements across Turtle Island have been pivotal in the fight for climate justice.

Read the text (PDF).

Sierra Club and Sunrise Movement react to criticism for toxic workplace cultures

By Adam Mahoney - Grist, August 24, 2021

In a summer dictated by converging climate disasters, two of the nation’s largest progressive climate organizations have been preoccupied with their own crises.

Both the Sierra Club and the Sunrise Movement face criticism for workplace cultures that attempted to cover up episodes of racism and abuse, while the Sierra Club is also facing allegations of repressing acts of misogyny and sexual misconduct. The Sierra Club is facing internal upheaval after a former staff member came forward with allegations of being raped by a “celebrated” Sierra Club employee in the summer of 2020. Meanwhile, the Sunrise Movement, known for its diversity and pivot away from the historically majority-white climate movement, is facing allegations of “tokenizing” its members of color for political advantage. 

The fallout comes at a critical time in their fight against climate-induced disasters and the fossil fuel industry. As leaders in the struggle for environmental justice — which inherently involves defending women and communities of color — their efforts may be thwarted by not supporting these vulnerable groups within their respective organizations. Both groups, aware of the bad optics, are trying to react swiftly.

Earlier this month, Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, which is the largest environmental organization in the U.S., announced his resignation. Sierra Club President Ramon Cruz says the organizational shake-up is part of a years-long process to re-examine how the organization affects its community. “We recognize the impacts of our organization’s history and harm, and we are deeply dedicated to fundamental transformation,” Cruz told Grist. “We are making substantial changes to our policies and committing substantial resources to much needed capacity, and we know that the trajectory for transformation will be a long one.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Resigns Amid Upheaval Around Race, Gender, and Abuses

By Alleen Brown - The Intercept, August 19, 2021

During a summer of extreme heat, wildfires, and floods, the largest environmental organization in the U.S. announced last Friday that its executive director will step down, effective at the end of the year. The resignation of Michael Brune, the head of the Sierra Club, comes amid the fallout of an internal report, the executive summary recommendations of which were obtained by The Intercept, that describes an organizational crisis likely to upend the Club’s volunteer-led structure.

The internal reckoning around race, gender, and sexual as well as other abuse allegations coincided with a more public confrontation with the legacy of the Sierra Club’s once-revered founder John Muir, who expressed racist sentiments and traveled in circles that included eugenicists. Following the racial justice uprisings during the summer of 2020, the Sierra Club disavowed Muir. At the same time, discontent was brewing inside the organization over less symbolic issues, leading to the internal report.

The report, prepared for the Sierra Club by the consulting firm Ramona Strategies, describes a series of recommendations developed as part of a “restorative accountability process,” based on dozens of interviews and hundreds of pages of documentation. The sharply worded executive summary describes how the organization of nearly 900 staff members fostered a culture lacking accountability for abuse and misconduct, especially when it came from the Club’s 4,000 volunteers, some of whom act as managers for the organization’s employees. The report, which was commissioned after a volunteer leader was publicly accused of rape, underlined that employees and volunteers from historically marginalized groups were most vulnerable to abusive behavior.

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