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Puerto Rico, Elon Musk, and the Difference Between Environmentalism and Environmental Justice

By Courtney Parker - Intercontinental Cry, October 9, 2017

One more time for those in the back…but perhaps especially for those on the frontlines…there is a difference between environmentalism and environmental justice.

‘Environmentalism’ is a crucial ethos that has enjoyed a vital quickening in mainstream consciousness over the past decade or so, worldwide.

‘Environmental justice’ is an important layer to this burgeoning mass consciousness; and without it, environmentalism alone can harbor some latent flaws.

A crucial example of how environmentalism can be co-opted to promote certain causes or activities, at the expense of environmental justice, is uranium mining on Navajo land.

There are hosts of credible, well-meaning, scientifically minded people who support nuclear energy as a ‘clean energy alternative’ to coal and fossil fuels.

Yet, the uranium needed for that ‘alternative’ has to come from somewhere—and, the mining of it is anything but ‘clean’.

In the case of this radioactive ore, what is ‘clean energy’ for some, is unpotable water for others—namely, in the example cited above, the Dine.

Left And Right Have Nothing In Common On NAFTA

By Stephanie Basile - Popular Resistance, October 11, 2017

Contrary to popular belief.

Washington, DC – Today, the fourth round of renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are taking place in Washington, DC. Protests are planned at multiple locations around DC, including a petition delivery of over 360,000 signatures to Congress demanding the elimination of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). United under the threat from continually expanding corporate power, the fight against NAFTA has brought together a cross-section of social movements, including unions, community groups, land reform movements, environmentalists, food safety groups, and internet rights organizations.

NAFTA, in effect since 1994, is an agreement between the US, Canada, and Mexico. There has been much written about the original deal that need not be repeated here, but suffice it to say that local economies have been eviscerated under a deal that expands the rights of corporate profits at the expense of working people in all three countries. Renegotiations of NAFTA began this past August, with each session rotating to take place in each of the three member countries.

Today’s negotiations are largely focused on the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which allows corporations to sue local governments in secret tribunals. What this translates to is taxpayers literally paying corporations for any unrealized profits due to such basic protections as clean water ordinances or other common sense legislation. Over the years, lawsuits brought by corporations against governments have forced taxpayers to pay billions of dollars to these corporations.

While most of these cases have been settled with little public scrutiny, the ISDS has had some notable moments in the spotlight, such as when UPS sued Canada for $156 million due to unfair competition from the Canadian Post Office, or John Oliver’s memorable 2015 segment critiquing the absurdity of the ISDS system.

President Trump’s presidential campaign made much fanfare over his opposition to free trade, and the media largely accepted the premise that his opposition to free trade would logically result in more jobs and better working conditions for US workers. Furthermore, the reporting on free trade often conflated Trump’s position with the leftist position, saying that they are both “anti-globalization.”

Clearly, the language used to discuss trade poorly captures its reality. The terms “free trade” and “globalization” conjure up ideas of multiculturalism and unity across borders. However, those ideas are not reflected in the actual policies that have been pursued by both major political parties over the last 30 years. Innocuous terms like “free trade” and “globalization” have become synonymous with global capitalism, a capitalism that is supported by international structures that work to greatly expand corporate power while limiting the rights of workers, consumers, and residents who are most affected by those very policies.

The debate is often framed as US corporations and US workers vs foreign corporations and foreign workers, giving the idea that a worker somehow has more in common with a corporation of their home country than with a fellow worker of another country. This allows Trump to favor corporations and pretend as though he’s favoring workers. The media seems to mostly accept this framework in its coverage of trade deals. The media also conflates global capitalism with openness and tolerance, as if the arrival of Coca-Cola in your country obviously leads to democracy.

Instead, the leftist position sees workers around the world, both in the US and abroad, sharing the same interests with each other, and being in opposition to corporate interests, whether that corporation is in the US or abroad. The dominant narrative that the far right and far left share similar positions on trade is wrong and it sorely misses the substance of the left’s critique. At its core, a leftist approach to the trade debate centers working and marginalized people in its analysis, regardless of what country they live in. The right’s pursuit to push US corporate interests at the expense of workers and the environment is in direct contrast to the left’s goals, of which protecting workers’ rights and the environment are fundamental.

Leftists understand the limitations of adopting the typical “Buy American” theme, including strategic errors both in its failure to address the problem of declining wages and working conditions, and in its more insidious implications in fueling xenophobia. If working standards are declining all over the world, products could be made in the US and still be made under sub-par working conditions. Leftists support organizing and pushing standards up for workers all over the world, as a means to improve conditions everywhere, including the US. As for what Trump wants for workers, when he announced plans to renegotiate NAFTA during his “Made in America” week this past July, Lori Wallach of Public Citizen went on Democracy Now to point out that what little we know of the re-negotiations is so vague as to be impossible to tell what it would actually mean for workers and the environment.

The leftist analysis sees that those with power at the top are breaking down borders for the purpose of more aggressively exploiting the people, land, and resources around the world, not for any interest in lofty multicultural goals. Money, goods, and intellectual property flow freely across borders, while the people at the whim of such corporate power face increasing restrictions in their movement, facing resistance in the form of both restrictive laws and the rise in xenophobic violence.

Leftists seek to go to the roots of the problem by critiquing the political and economic structures that work to further enrich a tiny ruling elite at the expense of everyone else. A leftist approach that prioritizes people at the grassroots level requires building an international working-class movement in which working and oppressed people across all countries challenge corporate power everywhere.

Greece: Samothrace Against Construction of Wind Farms

Originally posted by Agência de Notícias Anarquistas (A.N.A.) translated by Earth First! Journal staff - July 30, 2017

In this post we touch on the imminent ecological destruction of the island of Samothrace, with the construction of two wind farms composed of thirty-nine giant aerogenerators. What follows is a related statement of initiative titled “Samothrace against the construction of the wind farm” by inhabitants of the island.

A few days ago we learned that in Samothrace, Anemómetra and Luludi (Flor), on the summit of the second highest mountain in the island after Saos, three and thirty-six wind turbines were installed respectively. That is, our island will become an industry of renewable energy sources.

The big investors Bóbolas and Kopeluzos, who act as mediators of the French and German energy colossi who have dozens of nuclear power stations in these countries, are trying to irreversibly destroy our mountain of archaic vegetation and unique beauty, taking advantage of laws approved in 2014 and 2015, tailored to their needs.

To make them understand the size of the catastrophe, we say that for the installation of the giant wind turbines of 90 meters, they will have to open paths of 30 or 40 meters wide up to the peaks. Once the paths are made, they will build the bases of the thirty-nine wind turbines. Each of them will weigh 1.3 tons of cement, that is, they will put 47 tons of cement on the mountain tops. This means the death of all the mountain forests, which are already suffering from excessive grazing for many years. The franked paths will pave the way for the illegal cutting of the trees from the mountain woods.

Also, due to the installation of these aerogenerators embedded in the body of the mountain, the aquifers will be affected, directly and irreversibly, since the precipitation water will not be able to penetrate the earth. This will disturb and change the microclimate of the island, and will have consequences for all its aquatic wealth. In addition, from the places where the wind turbines will be installed, a monstrous network of high-voltage electricity pillars will reach the coast, to the sea. These pillars are contaminants, radiating radioactivity, and will also constitute fires.

Lastly, the same story elsewhere in the territory of the Greek state, for example in Apopigad of Chania, Crete, has shown that the installation of wind turbines is the pretext for the creation of hybrid (complex) plants after conducting environmental studies At least suspect and of questionable reliability, in order to exploit the mountain’s aquatic resources, as these companies will aim to suck all the island’s energy resources.

And when we talk about hybrid plants, we mean wind plants, hydroelectric plants, motorized pump groups and drilling all over the mountain, in other words, a huge pool of water made to save the environment with another source of renewable energy. Green development, or the way to hell, is paved with good intentions.

It must be made absolutely clear that we are obviously in favor of wind and solar energy, and it does not leave us indifferent to the fact that Florina and Ptolemaida are being sacrificed for the sake of lignite-based energy production. The term, however, green development is by contradictory and deceptive antonomasia. Because development will be green. What they mean by this term, distorting reality and taking away its meaning, is the increasingly intensive exploitation of all the resources that have this place, disregarding the environmental consequences and local societies.

Neither will they offer jobs to the residents, since their teams are specialized and are generally from the country where the wind turbines were manufactured, namely France and Germany. Behind the beautiful words are hidden very profitable businesses, to the detriment of nature, whose purposes are the exploitation of raw materials and humans.

Your Personal Consumption Choices Can’t Save the Planet: We Have to Confront Capitalism

By Kate Aronoff - In These Times, July 18, 2017

New York Magazine’s latest 7,000-word cover story about climate change freaked a lot of people out. Like the reality of climate change itself, the story is depressing. Author David Wallace-Wells—collating several academic papers and interviews with climate scientists—meticulously lays out the possibility of melting ice caps releasing literal plagues, our air becoming unbreathable and geopolitics devolving into endless war. 

The response among climate wonks took a few different forms. Climate writer and meteorologist Eric Holthaus pointed out a series of factual errors in the piece on Twitter, and The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer detailed several points where Wallace-Wells’ narrative diverges from accepted science. Scientists like Michael Mann argued on Facebook that the article leaned too heavily on doomsday scenarios, barraging readers with scenes that Wallace-Wells himself states are unlikely to come to pass. “The evidence that climate change is a serious challenge that we must tackle now is very clear,” Mann wrote in a Washington Post response to the story. “There is no need to overstate it, particularly when it feeds a paralyzing narrative of doom and hopelessness.”

The debate about the article has also orbited around the question of whether fear is an effective motivating factor in getting people to try to change things, which—however you feel about the piece—clearly needs to happen. Environmental scientist Jon Foley said no, and called Wallace-Wells’ storytelling “deeply irresponsible.” David Roberts at Vox counters that fear shouldn’t be avoided: “It may be that there are social dynamics that require some fear and paralysis before a collective breakthrough. At the very least, it seems excessive to draw a pat ‘fear never works’ conclusion.”

Less discussed in the aftershock of New York Magazine story has been exactly what kind of response fear provokes, whether in individual people or the institutions they belong to. 

Like almost everything else, our reactions to fear—climate-based or otherwise—have been conditioned by 40-plus years of neoliberalism. Shortly after September 11, 2001, George W. Bush advised a reeling U.S. public to “get down to Disney World.” As the recession loomed, he told us to keep shopping. That proposed solutions to the climate crisis have taken a similar tone isn’t surprising. For years, mainstream climate activism centered around changing lightbulbs and riding more bikes. Shop green, in other words, and the earth will follow.

That’s started to shift, thanks to movements like Occupy Wall Street and hard-fought battles by indigenous activists, joined by a younger and more militant generation of environmentalists. Pushes to stop the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and to divest from the banks that finance them and the companies that build them, have injected environmentalism with an anti-corporate spirit, predicated on collective action.

Jerry Brown, climate leader or climate charlatan?

By Dan Bacher - Red, Green, and Blue, July 8, 2017

Brown made the announcement at a time when increasing numbers of Californians are challenging his  environmental credentials as he teams up with the Donald Trump administration to build the controversial Delta Tunnels and to exempt three major California oilfields from protection under the federal Safe Water Drinking Act.

“It’s up to you and it’s up to me and tens of millions of other people to get it together to roll back the forces of carbonization and join together to combat the existential threat of climate change,” said Governor Brown in his remarks on the eve of the G20 Summit. “That is why we’re having the Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, September 2018.”

“President Trump is trying to get out of the Paris Agreement, but he doesn’t speak for the rest of America. We in California and in states all across America believe it’s time to act, it’s time to join together and that’s why at this Climate Action Summit we’re going to get it done,” he claimed.

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.

The toll of pollution: How many lives vs. how much profit?

By Pete Dollack - Systemic Disorder, April 5, 2017

Frequently lost in the arguments over financial costs and benefits when it comes to pollution is the cost to human health. Not only illness and respiratory problems but premature death. To put it bluntly: How many human lives should we exchange for corporate profit?

Two new studies by the World Health Organization should force us to confront these issues head on. This is no small matter — the two WHO studies estimate that polluted environments cause 1.7 million children age five or younger to die per year.

Indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, and inadequate hygiene all contribute to these 1.7 million annual deaths, accounting for more than one-quarter of all deaths of children age five or younger globally. A summary notes:

“[W]hen infants and pre-schoolers are exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution and second-hand smoke they have an increased risk of pneumonia in childhood, and a lifelong increased risk of chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Exposure to air pollution may also increase their lifelong risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.”

One of the two reports, Don’t pollute my future! The impact of the environment on children’s health, notes that most of humanity lives in environmentally stressed areas:

“92% of the global population, including billions of children, live in areas with ambient air pollution levels that exceed WHO limits. Over three billion people are exposed to household air pollution from the use of solid fuels. Air pollution causes approximately 600,000 deaths in children under five years annually and increases the risk for respiratory infections, asthma, adverse neonatal conditions and congenital anomalies. Air pollution accounts for over 50% of the overall disease burden of pneumonia which is among the leading causes of global child mortality. Growing evidence suggests that air pollution adversely affects cognitive development in children and early exposures might induce development of chronic disease in adulthood.” [page 3]

These types of calculations on health and mortality are absent from debates on environmental regulations. And not only is the human toll missing from cost/benefit analyses, but this pollution is actually subsidized.

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.

Survival Is the Question

By Michael Löwy - Against The Current, January 2017

Facing the Anthropocene:
Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System
By Ian Angus
Monthly Review Press, 280 pages, $19 paper.

Green Capitalism:
The god that failed
By Richard Smith
World Economics Association, http://www.worldeconomicsassociation.org/, 115 pages, $21.50 paper.

CRITICAL ECOLOGY PUBLI­CA­TIONS are finding a growing audience in the United States, as is evident in the success of Naomi Klein’s  book This Changes Everything. Within this field there is also an increasing interest in ecosocialist thought, of Marxist inspiration, of which the two authors reviewed here are a part.

One of the active promoters of this trend is Monthly Review and its publishing house. It is this group that has published the compelling book, Facing the Anthropocene by Ian Angus, the Canadian ecosocialist and editor of the online review Climate and Capitalism.

His book has been lauded by the general public as well as by many within the scientific community, such as Jan Zalasiewicz and Will Steffen. Among the principal proponents of this outstanding work on the Anthropocene are Marxist researchers like Mike Davis and John Bellamy Foster, and ecologists on the left like Derek Wall of the Green Party of England.

From the work of such thinkers as chemist Paul Crutzen, who won the Nobel Prize for his research on the destruction of the ozone layer, geophysicist Will Steffen and many others, the conclusion that we have entered into a new geological era that is distinct from the Holocene (the era of the past 12,000 years) is beginning to be accepted.

The term “Anthropocene” is most often used to identify this new epoch, which is characterized by the profound impact of human activity on the earth-system. Most experts agree that the Anthropocene began in the mid-20th century, when a “Great Acceleration” of destructive changes were triggered. In fact, three-quarters of all CO2 emissions have been produced since the 1950s.

The term “Anthropos” does not mean that all humans are equally responsible for these drastic and disturbing changes — researchers have clearly shown the overwhelming responsibility of the world’s richest countries, the OECD countries, in shaping these events.

We also know the consequences of these transformations, notably climate change: most temperature rise, increasing extreme climate events, elevating ocean levels, the drowning of large coastal cities, etc. These changes are not gradual or linear and can be both abrupt and disastrous.

It seems to me, however, that this part of Facing the Anthropocene is less developed. Although Angus mentions these dangers, he does not discuss in a more detailed and concrete way the threats that weigh on the survival of life on the planet.

What are the established powers doing — especially the governments of the rich countries principally responsible for the crisis? Angus cites the fierce response of James Hansen, the North American NASA climatologist, to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, saying, “a fraud really, a fake…. It’s just bullshit.”

Indeed, even if all the countries present at the conference keep their promises, which is very unlikely considering that not a single sanction is expected to be fully met by the Paris agreements, we still will not be able to avoid an increase in the planet’s temperature past two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

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.

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