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Capital Blight: Overshooting the Message

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 21, 2015

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.

On or around August 13, 2015, many news sources, including especially mainstream environmental news sources announced with great foreboding that "Earth Overshoot Day" occurred at its earliest point during the calendar year in recorded history. In case one is not familiar with Earth Overshoot Day, there is a wesbite devoted to it, which explains the concept in simple, concise, and stark terms: 

"Global overshoot occurs when humanity’s annual demand for the goods and services that our land and seas can provide—fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing, and carbon dioxide absorption—exceeds what Earth’s ecosystems can renew in a year. Overshoot means we are drawing down the planet’s principal rather than living off its annual interest. This overshoot leads to a depletion of Earth’s life-supporting natural capital and a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"The concept of Earth Overshoot Day was first conceived by Andrew Simms of the UK think tank New Economics Foundation, which partnered with Global Footprint Network in 2006 to launch the first global Earth Overshoot Day campaign. At that time, Earth Overshoot Day fell in October. WWF, the world’s largest conservation organization, has participated in Earth Overshoot Day since 2007."

This narrative sounds ominous, and indeed it is, because it's true, at least in general, and it demonstrates just how precariously close to the brink of destruction humanity (and perhaps life on Earth itself) currently stands. There are no shortage of dire reports being released daily about just how serious global warming's effects are being currently felt, how the Earth is already locked into rising sea levels, how those trends are accelerating and are going to continue to accelerate, and how the planet is perhaps on the brink of the 6th Mass Extinction in its biological history. The time in which humanity has to prevent disaster seems to have already past. At present, our choices seem limited to survival or annihilation. Earth Overshoot is yet one additional grisly reminder of our peril.

Yet, the narrative offered by the Earth Overshoot folks is nevertheless deeply flawed, because it fails to identify the cause and provide the solution to ending "overshoot", and that's capitalism.  You see, dear reader, the reason why the demands of "humanity" are exceeding what Earth’s annual "resource" output is because it is locked into an economic system that is based on the internal logic of "growth for growth's sake," an ideology that Ed Abbey once identified as the "ideology of a cancer cell".  Now at the risk of beating a dead horse, I won't repeat all of the arguments that clearly demonstrate how capitalism is inherently irreconcilable with ecological sustainability, nor am I going to rehash the rebuttals to Malthusian pseudo-scientific dogma which has been thoroughly debunked (other than to encourage you--for the sake of brevity--to follow the links to the rich corpus of work on both subjects we have preserved on ecology.iww.org).

However, I do feel compelled to point out that it does no good to constantly browbeat the 99%, like a broken record (or a skipping .mp3 file for those of you who are too young to remember what "a broken record" means), that "we need to radically change our 'overconsumptive' ways" lest the Earth rise up a smite us (granted that this will happen if we don't, of course, but that's not the point).  The problem is that under capitalism, the ability of the 99% to make any meaningful change is severely limited, if capitalism is allowed to continue.  As Ragina Johnson and Micheal Ware point out in an article written after last year's Earth Overshoot Day, Whose Consumption is Killing the Planet?, for the 99%, the vast majority of our consumption patterns are beyond our capability to alter.

Obama's climate plan won't put out the fire

By Nicole Colson - Socialist Worker, August 16, 2015

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.

THE "most important action any president has taken to address the climate crisis." America's "strongest-ever climate action." An example of "visionary leadership necessary to reduce emissions and to tackle climate change."

It would be an understatement to say that the mainstream press was effusive in praising Barack Obama's plan to stem climate change--dubbed the "Clean Power Plan"--unveiled earlier this month.

According to the narrative, Obama, with nothing left to lose at the close of his presidency, is finally focusing on creating a legacy of real change, rather than playing politics with the Republicans. Thus, he's doing now what he should have long ago and directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to tighten existing regulations on U.S. power plants in order to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the main driver of climate change.

But when some of the loudest applause for Obama's "visionary" plan comes from corporate polluters themselves, we should be more than skeptical that what Obama is proposing is in any way a game-changer for the environment.

Prisons, Ecology and the Birth of an Empire

By Panagioti - Earth First! Newswire, July 25, 2015

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.

Strange sometimes how worlds collide. Nine years ago I found myself in the swamps of the northeastern Everglades listening to an independent, traditional Seminole activist asking for support in challenging the state and federal government’s plans to fund a celebration of 500 years of Florida—a history that began, in many ways, with the founding of one of the best known tourist traps in this country’s history.

If Christopher Columbus is a symbol marking the origin of Manifest Destiny’s rampage across the western hemisphere, then conquistador Pedro Menendez de Aviles, who established the colony of St. Augustine, built the first literal foundation under that genocidal, ecocidal mindset.

Today, as I occupy my time developing the Prison Ecology Project, aimed at mapping the intersections of incarceration, ecology and environmental racism, it’s hard not to also view St. Augustine as the first prison town of what would be become the U.S. Empire—a nation that has distinguished itself in the modern world by simultaneously pushing global policies that have facilitated an unprecedented pillaging of the planet for resources and for locking people up at a never-before-seen scale or pace in human history.

For many people I’ve spoken with over the past several months, there is a gut level, intuitive response to view these things—mass incarceration and industrial pollution—as connected in some way. Since the Prison Ecology Project began earlier this year, it has been able to establish dozens of concrete examples of that connection all across the country in the here-and-now. But learning more about the history of St. Augustine, as their big 450th Anniversary celebration is about to commence in 6 weeks (featuring a planned appearance by the King and Queen of Spain), has got me thinking a lot about the deeper roots of the prison/ecology intersection. And it ain’t pretty.

EcoUnionist News #59

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 4, 2015

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.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

Bread and Roses:

EcoUnionist News #58

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 27, 2015

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.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW

The root of climate change

By Tyler Hansen - Socialist Worker, July 9, 2015

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.

In his book Storms of my Grandchildren, leading climate scientist James Hansen writes that "continued exploitation of all fossil fuels on Earth threatens not only the other millions of species on the planet but the survival of humanity itself and the timetable is shorter than we thought."

The effects of this are apparent all over the world. For example, California is facing its worst drought in 1,200 years. "Right now, the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs," warns NASA water scientist Jay Famiglietti. "And our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing."

Meanwhile, record levels of flooding in Texas and Oklahoma this spring have killed 23 people, while a heat wave that sent temperatures as high as 122 degrees Fahrenheit has devastated South Asia--India's death toll is over 2,300, while more than 1,000 people have died in Pakistan.

In the Midwest and Northeast U.S., "February 2015 ranked as one of the coldest Februaries on record for many major cities," wrote Chris Dolce at weather.com. "In Syracuse, New York, and Bangor, Maine...it was...the coldest of any month since records began."

The cold winter prompted Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, speaking on the floor of the Senate, to foolishly attempt to disprove climate change because of...the existence of a snowball. "In case we have forgotten," Inhofe lectured, "because we keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record, I ask the chair, you know what this is? It's a snowball. And that's just from outside here. So it's very, very cold out."

As chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Inhofe ought to know that one of the effects of climate change in certain areas is extreme winters--which doesn't negate the fact that 2014 was, indeed, the warmest year on record. In fact, 13 of the 15 warmest years in history have all happened since 2000.

Africa has seen some of the worst effects of climate change. The Department for International Development (DfID) estimates that during the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa, between 50,000 and 100,000 people died in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya--more than half of them children under five.

Across the world in 2013, "22 million people were displaced by disasters brought on by natural hazard events," according to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. The number of climate refugees is only expected to increase, possibly up to 200 million by 2050.

Let Them Eat Climate Change

By Brendan Montague - DeSmog UK, July 1, 2015

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.

The winds are changing for the energy giants. And so the black plumes of smoke emitted by the climate deniers in an attempt to provide cover for the coal, oil and gas industry have already been refined.

The free market think tanks funded by dirty energy have spent the last decade claiming there is no global warming. But now their message is subtly different. 

The primary concern has become the plight of Indian peasants, Chinese factory workers and African children who are, we are told, being denied a prosperous and dignified life by uncaring environmentalists and climate alarmists.

The most eloquent and charming of the sophists selling this new line of snake oil for the world’s most profitable and powerful companies is Matt Ridley, the popular science writer and also a viscount and a member of the House of Lords.

Avaaz’s Climate Vanity

By Patrick Bond - Triple Crisis, June 17, 2015

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.

Who’s not heard the great African revolutionary Amilcar Cabral’s injunction, fifty years ago, “Tell no lies and claim no easy victories”? If, like me, you’re a petit bourgeois who is hopeful for social progress, then let’s be frank: this advice hits at our greatest weakness, the temptation of back-slapping vanity.

The leading framers for the 41-million strong clicktivist team from Avaaz need to remember Cabral. They over-reached ridiculously last week in praising the G7:

Many told us it was a pipe dream, but the G7 Summit of leading world powers just committed to getting the global economy off fossil fuels forever!!! Even the normally cynical media is raving that this is a huge deal. And it’s one giant step closer to a huge win at the Paris summit in December – where the entire world could unite behind the same goal of a world without fossil fuels – the only way to save us all from catastrophic climate change… Our work is far from done, but it’s a day to celebrate – click here to read more and say congratulations to everyone else in this incredibly wonderful community!!

Actually, according to The Economist: no fossil-fuel-burning power station will be closed down in the immediate future as a result of this declaration. The goal will not make any difference to the countries’ environmental policies, since they are mostly consistent with this long-range goal anyway. Where they are not (some countries are increasing coal use, for example) they will not be reined in because of the new promises… the G7’s climate effort raises as many questions as it answers. The group seems to have rejected proposals for more demanding targets, such as decarbonisation by 2050.”

Or Time: “The results were disappointing to say the least… The G7 announced an ‘ambitious’ plan to phase out all fossil fuels worldwide by 2100. Unfortunately, they didn’t make any concrete plans to scale back their own conventional fuel consumption. That’s a big deal when 59 percent of historic global carbon dioxide emissions—meaning the greenhouse gases already warming the atmosphere—comes from these seven nations. Taken as a group, G7 coal plants produce twice the amount of CO2 as the entire African continent, and at least 10 times the carbon emissions produced by the 48 least developed countries as a whole. If the G7 is serious about tackling climate change, they should start at home.”

So what was going on, really? Here’s a talking head from the Council on Foreign Relations (an imperialist braintrust): “The United States has long pressed for a shift away from binding emissions reduction commitments and toward a mix of nationally grounded emission-cutting efforts and binding international commitments to transparency and verification. European countries have often taken the other side, emphasizing the importance of binding targets (or at least policies) for cutting emissions. Now it looks like the big developed countries are on the same page as the United States. The language above is all about binding countries to transparency – and there isn’t anything elsewhere in the communiqué about binding them to actual emissions goals.”

There is an even tougher critique from the left, e.g. from Oscar Reyes of the Institute for Policy Studies, who annotated the G7 climate communique here. He lands many powerful blows, not least of which is that you simply cannot trust these politicians. This is well known in Africa. Exactly a decade ago, Tony Blair led the (then-G8) Gleneagles Summit that made all manner of ambitious redistributive promises for the continent that weren’t fulfilled.

The Global Fossil Fuel Subsidy Scam

By James Plested - Red Flag, May 30, 2015

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.

Five trillion US dollars annually – that’s how much is being lavished in various forms of subsidies on the global fossil fuel industry, according to a recent report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). US$10 million a minute – more than the health budgets of every country on earth combined.

We’re told that there’s not enough money for decent health care, education or welfare. But the equivalent of 6.5 percent of global GDP is being poured into an industry that’s driving the world to social and environmental catastrophe.

The shocking findings of the IMF’s working paper, “How large are global energy subsidies?”, are based on calculations of the true cost of fossil fuels when all their destructive environmental, health and other impacts are taken into account – what in economic terms are called “externalities”.

The most obvious of these externalities is climate change. Phenomena such as rising sea levels, increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events (droughts, floods, cyclones) and bushfires are already costing the world hundreds of billions of dollars annually.

But even this, according to the IMF’s analysis, is only a small part of it. The larger portion of the hidden costs of fossil fuels relates not to climate change, but rather to more “everyday” impacts such as the negative health effects of air pollution.

Astoundingly, the headline figures coming out of the working paper – subsidies totalling US$4.9 trillion in 2013, rising to US$5.3 trillion this year – are likely to be a significant underestimate. For a start, the IMF based its calculation of the cost of climate change on a highly optimistic US government model. The list of damaging impacts of the fossil fuel industry could also easily be broadened. A strong case could be made, for example, that the cost of wars associated with global competition for fossil fuels should also be included.

Obama’s Trade Agreements are a Gift to Corporations

By Robert Kuttner - Common Dreams, April 18, 2015

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.

On Thursday, legislation moved forward that would give President Obama authority to negotiate two contentious trade deals: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). But for the most part, these aren’t trade agreements at all. They’re a gift to corporations, here and in partner countries, that claim to be restrained by domestic regulations.

If these deals pass, the pharmaceutical industry could get new leverage to undermine regulations requiring the use of generic drugs. The tobacco industry has used similar “trade” provisions to attack cigarette package warnings.

A provision in both deals, known as Investor State Dispute Settlement, would allow corporations to do end runs around national governments by taking their claims to special tribunals, with none of the due process of normal law. This provision has attracted the most opposition. It’s such a stinker that one of the proposed member nations, Australia, got an exemption for its health and environmental policies.

To get so-called fast-track treatment for these deals, the administration needs special trade promotion authority from Congress. But Obama faces serious opposition in his own party, and he will need lots of Republican votes. He has to hope that Republicans are more eager to help their corporate allies than to embarrass this president by voting down one of his top priorities.

But the real intriguing question is why Obama invests so much political capital in promoting agreements like these. They do little for the American economy, and even less for its workers.

The trade authority vote had been bottled up while the Senate Finance Committee Chair, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and his Democratic counterpart, Ron Wyden of Oregon, worked out compromise language in the hope of winning over skeptical Democrats. The measure announced Thursday includes vague language on protections for labor and environmental standards, human rights, and Internet freedoms. Congress would get slightly longer to review the text, but it would still have to be voted on as a package that could not be amended.

Wyden trumpeted these provisions as breakthroughs, but they were scorned by leading labor and environmental critics as window dressing. Lori Wallach, of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, points out that the language is almost identical to that of a 2014 bill that had to be withdrawn for lack of support. Only about a dozen House Democrats are said to support the measure — and many Republicans won’t back it unless more Democrats do.

But why would they, at a time when Hillary Clinton sounds more populist and momentum is increasing for campaigns to raise the minimum wage? Speaking last week at the Brookings Institution, Jason Furman, chair of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, proclaimed that, according to an elaborate economic model, by 2025 the Pacific deal would increase US incomes by 0.4 percent, or about $77 billion.

That’s pretty small beer. And as Furman admitted, the projection is only as good as its economic assumptions. One such heroic assumption is full employment, but this deal might well reduce US employment by increasing our trade deficit.

The TPP was rolled out with great fanfare in 2012 as part of Obama’s “pivot to Asia.” The subtext was that a Pacific trade deal would help contain China’s influence in its own backyard.

Since then, Beijing has unveiled a development bank that rivals the US-dominated World Bank, and our closest allies — Britain, France, Germany, Italy — are lined up to join. It’s not at all clear how the TPP, whose only large Asian member would be Japan, helps contain China, whose economic influence continues to grow.

Basically, ever since the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1993 (NAFTA), trade policy has been on autopilot. Tariffs are now quite low, and these deals are mainly about dismantling health, safety, consumer, labor, environment, and corporate regulations.

These agreements are conceived and drafted by corporations, and sponsored by both political parties. For the Obama administration, the key official negotiating these deals is US Trade Ambassador Michael Froman, a protégé of former Citigroup and Goldman Sachs executive Robert Rubin, who was a big promoter of NAFTA while serving as Bill Clinton’s top economic official.

Mainly, these deals help cement a corporate alliance with the presidential wing of the Democratic Party and divert attention from the much tougher challenge of enacting policies that would actually raise living standards. In the closing days of the Obama era, this is what passes for bipartisanship.

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