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Capitalism’s renewable energy roadblock

By James Plested - Red Flag, April 7, 2017

Who can forget the image? George W. Bush’s stupid, blank face staring out across the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln under a giant banner emblazoned with the words “mission accomplished”.

The date was 1 May 2003 – a little over a month after the US launched its invasion of Iraq – and Bush was there to declare an end to major combat operations. As it turned out, this was somewhat premature.

Today, the environment movement seems to be having a “mission accomplished” moment of its own. With the price of renewables such as solar in free fall and new battery technology coming on line, many environmentalists are sounding the death knell of fossil fuels.

A recent article by Australia Institute strategist Dan Cass in Meanjin, “The sun rises: the democratisation of solar energy might change everything” – makes the case. The cost of solar power has decreased to the point where it’s now as cheap as, or cheaper than, coal or gas. “As late as 2007”, he writes, “Australia had only about 8,000 solar systems in total. As of 1 June 2016, there were more than 1,548,345”.

Globally, it’s a similar story. According to a Frankfurt School of Finance and Management report, in 2015, for the first time, renewables made up the majority of newly built electricity generation capacity. Investment in renewable energy, at US$265.8 billion, was more than double the US$130 billion invested in fossil fuel power generation.

Cass declares that “renewables have won the energy wars”. Crucially, he argues, this isn’t happening because of government intervention, but is in line with “capitalism as usual”:

“Consumers are rushing to a new technology that saves them money. Capital is flowing to the next big thing. Conservative critics of clean energy can’t quite admit it yet, but the rise of solar and the collapse of the old-energy utilities is ‘creative destruction’. It is the Kodak moment for big energy.”

According to this logic, we needn’t worry too much about continuing with environmental campaigning. Naomi Klein was wrong. It’s not, as she had it, “capitalism vs. the climate”, but rather capitalism for the climate. Put simply, technological developments mean that, while it may not yet be apparent, fossil fuels are dead in the ground.

All this is very comforting for those of us who have been alarmed by the headlong rush of global capitalism toward climate catastrophe. But just as with George W. Bush’s arrogant imperial overreach, this kind of triumphalism is unlikely to end well.

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.

Extinction 2017: California Edition

By Dan Bacher - CounterPunch, February 28, 2017

One of the least discussed issues in California environmental politics – and one of the most crucial to understanding Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels Plan – is the clear connection between the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative and the California WaterFix, formerly called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP).

At a time when local, national and international mainstream media are focusing on the Oroville Dam crisis, it’s important for reporters to dig deeper and understand the context that the emergency, which spurred the evacuation of over 188,000 people in Butte, Yuba and Sutter counties, occurs within.

It’s crucial to understand that these two neo-liberal processes, the MLPA Initiative and the California Water Fix, are the environmental “legacy” that two Governors, Arnold Schwarznegger and Jerry Brown, have devoted their energy, staff and money to, rather than doing the mundane but necessary process of maintaining and repairing the state’s water infrastructure, including Oroville Dam.

The privately-funded MLPA Initiative and the California WaterFix at first may appear to be entirely different processes.

The MLPA Initiative, a process begun in 2004 under the Schwarzenegger administration, purported to create a network of “marine protected areas” along the California coast. The network was supposedly completed on December 19, 2012 with the imposition of contested “marine protected areas” along the North Coast under the Jerry Brown administration.

On the other hand, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process began under the Bush and Schwarzenegger administrations to achieve the so-called “co-equal goals” of water supply reliability and Delta ecosystem restoration. In 2015, the state and federal governments divided the BDCP into two projects, the California WaterFix, the conveyance component and the California EcoRestore, the habitat “restoration” component.

But in spite of some superficial differences, the two processes are united by their leadership, funding, greenwashing goals, racism and denial of tribal rights, junk science and numerous conflicts of interest. When people educate themselves on the links between the two processes, I believe they can more effectively wage a successful campaign against the Delta Tunnels and to restore our imperiled salmon and San Francisco Bay-Delta fisheries.

Time for Tesla to Listen

By Jose Moran - Medium, February 9, 2017

I’m proud to be part of a team that is bringing green cars to the masses. As a production worker at Tesla’s plant in Fremont for the past four years, I believe Tesla is one of the most innovative companies in the world. We are working hard to build the world’s #1 car — not just electric, but overall. Unfortunately, however, I often feel like I am working for a company of the future under working conditions of the past.

Most of my 5,000-plus coworkers work well over 40 hours a week, including excessive mandatory overtime. The hard, manual labor we put in to make Tesla successful is done at great risk to our bodies.

Preventable injuries happen often. In addition to long working hours, machinery is often not ergonomically compatible with our bodies. There is too much twisting and turning and extra physical movement to do jobs that could be simplified if workers’ input were welcomed. Add a shortage of manpower and a constant push to work faster to meet production goals, and injuries are bound to happen.

A few months ago, six out of eight people in my work team were out on medical leave at the same time due to various work-related injuries. I hear that ergonomics concerns in other departments are even more severe. Worst of all, I hear coworkers quietly say that they are hurting but they are too afraid to report it for fear of being labeled as a complainer or bad worker by management.

Ironically, many of my coworkers who have been saying they are fed up with the long hours at the plant also rely on the overtime to survive financially. Although the cost of living in the Bay Area is among the highest in the nation, pay at Tesla is near the lowest in the automotive industry.

Most Tesla production workers earn between $17 and $21 hourly. The average auto worker in the nation earns $25.58 an hour, and lives in a much less expensive region. The living wage in Alameda county, where we work, is more than $28 an hour for an adult and one child (I have two). Many of my coworkers are commuting one or two hours before and after those long shifts because they can’t afford to live closer to the plant.

While working 60–70 hours per week for 4 years for a company will make you tired, it will also make you loyal. I’ve invested a great deal of time and sacrificed important moments with my family to help Tesla succeed. I believe in the vision of our company. I want to make it better.

I think our management team would agree that our plant doesn’t function as well as it could, but until now they’ve underestimated the value of listening to employees. In a company of our size, an “open-door policy” simply isn’t a solution. We need better organization in the plant, and I, along with many of my coworkers, believe we can achieve that by coming together and forming a union.

Many of us have been talking about unionizing, and have reached out to the United Auto Workers for support. The company has begun to respond. In November, they offered a raise to employees’ base pay — the first we’ve seen in a very long time.

But at the same time, management actions are feeding workers’ fears about speaking out. Recently, every worker was required to sign a confidentiality policy that threatens consequences if we exercise our right to speak out about wages and working conditions. Thankfully, five members of the California State Assembly have written a letter to Tesla questioning the policy and calling for a retraction.

I’m glad that someone is standing up for Tesla workers, and we need to stand up for ourselves too. The issues go much deeper than just fair pay. Injuries, poor morale, unfair promotions, high turnover, and other issues aren’t just bad for workers — they also impact the quality and speed of production. They can’t be resolved without workers having a voice and being included in the process.

Tesla isn’t a startup anymore. It’s here to stay. Workers are ready to help make the company more successful and a better place to work. Just as CEO Elon Musk is a respected champion for green energy and innovation, I hope he can also become a champion for his employees. As more of my coworkers speak out, I hope that we can start a productive conversation about building a fair future for all who work at Tesla.

New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil's Call to Continue Business As Usual

By Dan Bacher - Daily Kos, January 17, 2017

On January 12,  California Assemblymembers Autumn R. Burke, Jim Cooper, Evan Low, and Blanca Rubio introduced legislation, AB 151, to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program beyond 2020.  

The sponsors of Assembly Bill 151 said the legislation affirms the State’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emission at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 “in the most technologically feasible and cost effective way by using a market based mechanism: cap-and-trade.” 

“Cap-and-trade is an important tool to help disadvantaged communities participate in efforts to improve air quality,” said Assemblymember Cooper. “AB 151 will help ensure California continues to invest cap-and-trade revenues in areas of the state with the greatest need."

But Gary Graham Hughes, Senior California Advocacy Campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said “thorough academic review of the market-based compliance mechanism,” as implemented in California so far, shows that Cap-and-Trade does not work for the lower-income communities and communities of color that disproportionately live closest to polluting facilities.

Many environmental justice and indigenous organizations oppose cap-and-trade, calling it “carbon trading” or “pollution trading,” because of the tremendous adverse impacts the program has on indigenous communities and the environment throughout the world.

“Cap-and-Trade is a pollution trading scheme in which so-called greenhouse gas emissions ‘reductions’ rely extensively on scientifically dubious out-of-state ‘offset’ projects, while real emissions at many of the state’s largest industrial facilities continue to rise,” Hughes said. 

As Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said at a protest against Governor Jerry Brown’s environmental policies, including carbon trading and REDD, in October 2013:

“Governor Brown is moving ahead with a policy that grabs land, clear-cuts forests, destroys biodiversity, abuses Mother Earth, pimps Father Sky and threatens the cultural survival of Indigenous Peoples. This policy privatizes the air we breathe. Commodifies the clouds. Buy and sells the atmosphere. Corrupts the Sacred.” (www.ienearth.org/...)

Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan

By Dan Bacher - CounterPunch, January 16, 2017

Rejecting the call by fishermen, Tribes, conservationists, family farmers and environmental justice advocates to terminate the Delta Tunnels plan, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on January 4 issued a Secretarial Order that will mandate the completion of Governor Jerry Brown’s controversial California WaterFix process “in a timely manner.”

The final Biological Opinion will be issued by April 2017 — and the decision to sign a Record of Decision will be made by the next Secretary under the Trump administration, according to the order.

The Obama administration order directs the Department of Interior and its agencies to “take timely actions to help address the effects of drought and climate change on California’s water supply and imperiled wildlife.”

Regarding the Delta Tunnels project, the order directs Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) “to allocate available resources, as necessary, to complete in a timely manner the Biological Opinions under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act and a Record of Decision on the environmental documents for California WaterFix.”

The Secretarial Order directs the Fish and Wildlife Service to “take all necessary actions” to issue an initial Draft Biological Opinion in January 2017 and a final Draft Biological Opinion by March 2017 after incorporating the results of “independent scientific peer reviews.” Following these reviews, a final Biological Opinion will be issued by April 2017.

The order also specifies that the Department, working with the State and others, “will promptly review and consider any information received after publication of the Final EIR/EIS and issuance of the Biological Opinions, and will then be prepared to sign a Record of Decision. This decision will be made by the next Secretary.”

In a press release, Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor claimed, “This Secretarial Order is a practical and broad-based strategy to help protect California’s water lifeline for present and future generations. This order will ensure the integration of the Department’s actions with those of the State of California to provide a reliable drinking water supply for the public, sustain California’s agriculture, and continue to protect the Bay Delta ecosystem and enhance the conservation of species.”

Governor Jerry Brown lauded the Interior Secretary’s order, referring to the WaterFix’s so-called coequal goals of water reliability and ecosystem restoration.

“Today’s action tracks closely with the state’s multi-pronged Water Action Plan and commits the federal government to a timely review of the California WaterFix project,” said Brown. “This state-federal partnership is what’s needed to improve water reliability for residents and farmers and protect vulnerable ecosystems.”

In addition to the section of the order directing the the speedy completion of the California WaterFix, the agency ordered other related actions, including: a collaborative Delta science engagement process; a Delta smelt “resiliency” strategy; reinitiation of consultation under the Endangered Species Act on coordinated long term operations on the Central Valley Project and State Water project; active engagement in the development for flow requirements and coordination on flows with ESA requirements; and a winter-run Chinook “Species in the Spotlight” Action Plan.

North Dakota's Public Bank Was Built for the People: Now It's Financing Police at Standing Rock

By Matt Stannard, YES! Magazine - December 14, 2016

In 1918 in Bismarck, North Dakota, populist socialism won big: The Nonpartisan League, a political party founded by poor farmers and former labor organizers, captured both houses of the North Dakota Legislature. Farmers had been badly hurt by big banks charging double-digit interest rates and by grain companies that operated every elevator along the railroad route, underpaying and cheating the farmers. In response, the new government created the publicly owned Bank of North Dakota (BND) and the North Dakota Mill and Elevator. Both institutions epitomize American public cooperativism, creating democratic checks on private interests' ability to manipulate financial and agricultural markets. The Bank of North Dakota, in particular, created a firewall against the destructive practices of Wall Street banks, a firewall that went on to protect the state from the worst effects of the financial downturns of the next hundred years.

Nearly a century later, in 2016, that same bank lent nearly $10 million to local law enforcement to fund their response to protests near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and Cannon Ball, North Dakota. The millions in loans provided by BND allowed the police to double down on suppression of the Standing Rock Sioux's resistance to construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. They have used harsh detention measures, injury-causing rubber bullets, and water cannons in freezing weather in an effort to demoralize and disperse water protectors, whose chief political actions were praying and nonviolent civil disobedience.

North Dakota's leadership has bound the state's economy up so tightly in fossil fuels that it has forced itself to subsidize the security costs of energy companies. In fact, the energy industry has come to expect subsidization for its costs and easy externalization of its negative impacts.

A public bank created to empower small farmers and protect common people from outside interests was used to silence indigenous and environmental opposition to outside interests. How did this happen? And what's the takeaway for those who point to public banking as a key solution to breaking the power of Wall Street?

Community-Driven Social Change in the Age of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex

By staff - Murphy Institute, November 22, 2016

How can we make sense of the organizing coming out of today’s social change and resistance movements?

In a new article coming out in the Fordham Urban Law Journal, Professor Michael Haber connects many of today’s most important movements—from post-Occupy community organizing to the rise of the worker co-op movement to parts of the Movement for Black Lives—by looking at how activists’ growing understanding of the non-profit industrial complex has led to the creation of a new framework for social change practice, what he calls the community counter-institution.

Community counter-institutions have grown out of a decades-long tradition of anti-authoritarian activism, one with roots in women-of-color feminism and the service models of the Black Panther Party of the late 1960s and early 1970s, growing through the radical pacifist, anti-nuclear, LGBTQIA, and environmental movements of the 1970s and 1980s, continuing through the anti-globalization movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and getting perhaps its greatest boost through the Occupy Movement in the early 2010s. The article traces this history, focusing on how activists in recent years have come to develop an alternative model for community-driven activism, one that breaks from the dominant non-profit forms of community organizing, service provision, and community economic development.

The article, CED After #OWS: From Community Economic Development to Anti-Authoritarian Community Counter-Institutions, describes how community counter-institutions have grown out of this tradition of anti-authoritarian activism, making three shifts away from conventional non-profit practices:

  1. From hierarchy to horizontalism and intersectionality. Community counter-institutions move away from hierarchically-structured non-profit forms toward horizontalism and intersectionality, shifting away from conventional non-profits to new ways of structuring our group relationships that strive to overcome all forms of domination, including those that have led once-activist groups to embrace certain structural traits of the business world.
  2. From community economic development to prefigurative politics. Community counter-institutions move away from traditional, market-based community economic development projects toward an embrace of prefigurativism, the use of processes in organizing and building a social change movement that are themselves already constructing the world we want to see.
  3. From empowerment to autonomy. Community counter-institutions move away from a focus on empowerment, in which community dialogue, group cohesion, and compromise are top priorities, and instead they prioritize autonomism, organizing and taking action toward shared goals through small groups connected with one another through decentralized networks.

In these bleak times, clear visions for community-driven social change activism, and thoughtful analyses of our current models are essential. Haber spells out challenges that activists and organizers to overcome, analyzing a wide range of projects including the Common Ground Collective, Hands Up United, Mayday Space, Occupy Sandy, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and is full of hundreds of footnotes for further reading.

COP22’s Imperialist Environmentalism

By Joe Hayns - Jacobin, November 11, 2016

Each year, the world’s heads of state meet at the Conference of Parties (COP) to discuss how to “stabiliz[e] greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,” as the guiding United Nations Framework on Climate Change demands.

Last year’s COP garnered international attention and praise. Le Monde’s verdict included a quote from the event’s president and Parti Socialiste foreign minister, Laurent Fabius (“a compromise guided by ‘climate justice’”). The Guardian called the meeting “a rare and heartening case of disparate peoples being led to a common conclusion by evidence and reason.” The New York Times declared that the negotiations ended with “a historic breakthrough.”

But many climate justice activists and scientists disagree. Against the “People’s Test” — “a set of criteria that the Paris deal would need to meet in order to be effective and fair” created by social movements, unions, and environmental groups — the Paris agreements failed on every count.

On Monday, COP22 began in Marrakech, Morocco. International attention will again focus on the political class’s negotiations. But if we’re serious about fighting climate change globally, we might be better off listening to the Moroccan activists currently fighting environmental ruination.

This resistance comes out of the country’s imperialist environmental policy, which, to paraphrase William Faulkner, isn’t past: it isn’t even history.

DIRTY CLEAN ENERGY: Is Morocco’s renewable energy from Western Sahara really ‘Green’?

By Fabian Wagner - Green European Journal, November 28, 2016

Young Green Fabian Wagner attended the COP 22 negotiations in Marrakesh and found that despite the host’s eagerness to project itself as a constructive force in the fight against climate change, its policies in other areas raise serious concerns – not least the levels of repression around the question of Western Sahara.

Morocco certainly did not hold back in terms of advertising its efforts to become a country powered by renewable energy during the COP22. Only the most oblivious of visitors could have missed the banners at the airport, posters in the city, ads on horse carriages, and stickers on cars. Wind power, solar power — Morocco is transitioning towards clean energy at a very quick pace.

Africa’s forgotten conflict

Sounds great? Here’s the downside: Africa has a largely forgotten and ignored conflict right on the doorsteps of Europe. After colonial Spain retreated from Western Sahara in the ‘70s, Morocco quickly imposed itself following a bit of a struggle with Mauritania which ended in its favour, and subsequently annexed the entire territory as its “Southern Provinces”. The UN installed a peacekeeping mission there (without a mandate to observe human rights in the region) and spent the next almost half a century repeatedly, and without success, calling for a referendum on the independence of resource rich territory, and its identity as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. It was interesting to see how much effort Morocco invested into presenting this as the “African COP”, despite Morocco being the only country in Africa that is not a member of the African Union (AU) — Morocco left after the AU acknowledged the independence of Western Sahara. In the run-up to the COP in Marrakech the topic naturally attracted slightly more attention than usually, but very little criticism was raised openly for obvious reasons. Morocco’s reaction to any kind of criticism of its Western Sahara politics is brusque. When the UN Secretary General called the situation out for what it is — an illegal occupation — Morocco expelled the entire peacekeeping mission. A subsequent apology from the Secretary General was still not enough to re-admit the entire mission. Moreover, our own Green activists from several of the Federation of Young European Greens’ (FYEG) member organisations have been evicted from or denied entry to both Western Sahara and Morocco, when trying to report from the ground. Plain-clothes and uniformed police are everywhere, as FYEG’s activists witnessed first-hand, when trying to work on unrelated, but still undesirable for the Moroccan government, media projects. Under these circumstances FYEG, the Western Sahara Support Committees from around the world, the Sahrawis themselves, and other civil society organisations and movements like the teachers group we met in Marrakech found it very difficult to raise concerns about the topic of Western Sahara while being present for COP22 in Morocco.

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