You are here

green capitalism

"Socially Responsible" Capitalism Still Feeds the Disease

By Toshio Meronek - Truthout, September 16, 2014

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.

Capitalism with a conscience? That's the idea behind so-called "socially responsible" investments - buying stocks in companies that are screened for criteria like good labor practices, sustainability and whether or not the company is involved in arms manufacturing. The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, an industry association, claimed in its latest report from 2012 that at least $3.74 trillion in the United States is invested with environmental and social impacts in mind.

Some socially responsible investments (SRI) weed out cigarette companies like Philip Morris; others shun companies with poor environmental records, like BP. But whichever investments you choose, there's a good chance you'll be profiting off companies with bad human rights records because the backbone of many SRI funds are consumer technology stocks - companies like Apple and Samsung, which have histories replete with labor and privacy abuses.

China Labor Watch (CLW) is one of the groups that investigates ongoing labor problems; Kevin Slaten is its US-based program coordinator. He spoke to Truthout about the reports his organization has conducted on Apple, which started to be heavily scrutinized around 2010 when activists brought attention to child labor in some of the factories used by the computer giant. Some of these same factories were the subjects of protests over a number of Chinese labor law violations and mass worker suicides.

According to Slaten, "We constantly find these symptoms, but the disease underlying these symptoms has not been properly taken care of for years. The disease is these companies want the most amount of products in the shortest amount of time."

Fallout from the multiple scandals at Apple manufacturing plants included a major mutual fund company, TIAA-CREF, dropping Apple from its Social Choice Fund. TIAA-CREF's analysts admitted in its most recent investor brief that the exclusion of Apple "trimmed results" for Social Choice shareholders. That's an obvious reason why Apple's ever-profitable stock, which set a record high price this month, continues to show up in many SRI portfolios.

Why Won’t Our ‘Environmental President’ Stop Fracking on Public Land?

By Cole Stangler - Vice, August 29, 2014

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.

It has become increasingly fashionable in liberal circles to credit President Barack Obama for doing all he possibly can to combat climate change. Praise reached especially dizzying levels in the aftermath of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s proposal of new rules to reduce carbon pollution from power plants this June.

The EPA plan is hard proof that our nation’s “environmental president” has “done everything within his power to fight the most urgent crisis of our time,” gushed New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait. Obama’s actions are “about as much as a president could do on climate change without Congress,” declared Slate’s Will Oremus. Even former President Jimmy Carter, never shy about launching the occasional barb at the White House, said as much at a recent energy conference in that most elite of hangouts, Aspen, Colorado.

One is free to bemoan the painfully slow rate of progress, the logic goes, but the blame lies squarely with Republican obstructionism.

The problem is that this is an awfully shortsighted (if not outright deceptive) way to measure Obama’s environmental legacy. It is no secret that major climate legislation—like a carbon tax—is dead on arrival in Congress, thanks to the pack of troglodytes controlling the House of Representatives. But as the president’s detractors and champions know all too well, some pretty significant environmental policy can be made directly by federal agencies. And on that front, the administration’s weak record speaks for itself.

Under Obama’s watch, coal exports have risen more than 50 percent. Federal officials have paved the way for oil and gas exports, too, rubberstamping massive liquefied natural gas export plant proposals and loosening the four-decades-old ban on crude oil exports. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is in charge of administering public land, continues to lease millions of acres to coal companies at below-market rates.

But of the administration’s many climate sins—and there are many—one stands out in particular: ongoing tolerance, and even support, for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public land. No other energy policy seems to so brashly defy climate science, popular will, and rudimentary political wisdom at the same time.

Why Aren’t Rural Electric Cooperatives Champions of Local Clean Power?

By John Farrell - Institute for Local Self-Reliance, August 18, 2014

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.

When it comes to ownership, there are few better structures for keeping a community’s wealth local than a cooperative. So why is it that America’s rural electric cooperatives are tethered to dirty, old coal-fired power plants instead of local-wealth generating renewable power?

There are a lot of answers to this question, but it might start with this: electric cooperatives aren’t quite like other cooperatives.

The Seven Slipping Cooperative Principles

Cooperatives around the world adhere to the “Seven Cooperative Principles,” but electric cooperatives (at least in the United States) fail on several of these principles.

  • Voluntary and open membership. Nope. If you want electric service in cooperative territory, you sign with the cooperative. While it’s no different than rules for other types of utilities in the 30 states that grant utilities a monopoly service territory, it violates the principles of cooperatives.
  • Democratic control (one member, one vote). Not always. Some electric cooperatives award one vote per meter, and some customers (e.g. farmers, industry) have more than one meter. Furthermore, many cooperatives filter potential board candidates with “nominating committees.” And look, here’s a board election with no opposition!There’s also a big gap between cooperative member support for (paying more for) renewable energy and cooperative behavior. This 2013 survey in Minnesota, for example, shows little separation between urban and rural areas (where cooperatives are dominant) in support for renewable energy, yet cooperatives opposed every bill favoring clean energy in the 2013 legislative session.
  • Members control the capital of the cooperative.
  • Cooperatives maintain their autonomy and independence even if they enter into agreements with other entities. Questionable. Many cooperatives sign 40- or even 50-year purchase contracts with power suppliers to supply 95% of their entire sales, mostly from coal-fired power plants. Standard and Poor’s explains this in an evaluation of a Seminole Electric in Florida, a generation & transmission cooperative that sells to rural cooperatives. In their words, one of the utility’s credit strengths is, “A captive retail market and the ability to set rates through take-and-pay, all-requirements wholesale power agreements with nine of 10 members through 2045.”
  • Cooperatives provide educational opportunities to their members and the public on the benefits of cooperatives. Questionable. If you read rural electric cooperative newsletters, you’ll hear a lot about climate change but you’ll often find the phrase in quotes
  • Cooperatives work best when cooperating with other cooperatives. Questionable, refer to #4. Some of these power suppliers are “co-ops of co-ops,” but these long-term contracts have tethered the economic fortunes of cooperative members to the vagaries of the coal market (see below). More than any other type of utility (public or investor-owned), rural electric cooperatives are reliant on coal for their electricity fuel. The average U.S. utility is 38% coal-fired power.

The State of the Environmental Movement

By Burkeley Herrman - August 17, 2014

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.

Recently, the Washington Post covered a 192-page study that struck to the heart of the big environmental organizations. As summarized by reporter Darryl Fears of the Post, who covers wildlife and the Chesapeake Bay, the study showed that the US's biggest environmental groups have “failed to keep pace with the nation's expanding minority populations—and remain overwhelmingly white.” Rather than going into the specifics of certain numbers in the article and the study, this article will be a reaction to what the Post wrote and my thoughts on the current state of the environmental movement.

As the article notes, the study, which was one of the first investigations “of diversity within green groups in years,” was supported financially by the Sierra Club, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Green 2.0. Through some further research I found that Green 2.0. is clearly a mainstream environmental organization since it has a working group composed of people from top environmental groups, academics, nine individuals from a lobbying and consulting group with clients including big foundations, big corporations and nonprofits (The Raben Group), governmental officials and other green activists. What about the study itself? The article talks not only about the lack of diversity in the environmental organizations, but why people of color don't join such organizations. This was part of the article I found most interesting since it noted that people of color who are employed at such organizations feel “alienated” and not welcome, while “recruitment for staff frequently occurs through word-of-mouth and informal networks...[which] makes it difficult for ethnic minorities, the working class” or anyone outside “traditional environmental networks” to know about job openings and then apply for such jobs.

This was only the first part of the article that made me realize the divide in the environmental movement. This divide is a racial one. As the article notes, during the civil rights movement, people of color joined big environmental organizations in an effort to “battle the power plants, petrochemical refineries, railroads, sewers, and other polluters operating in their communities,” but they were “unwelcome” in these organizations. Eventually, there was a summit of environmentalists who were people of color which condemned the big environmental organizations for not having diversity among their members and taking in a “lion's share of funding.” Recruiters from some of the groups responded, saying, in an almost a racist way, that “they tried to be more inclusive, but minorities lacked the education and skills needed to be effective advocates,” which implied that white advocates had the skills and education. While it is true that some people of color don't have such skills, others do. Additionally, the social environment certain people of color grow up in, especially in ghettos or slums in the inner-city areas, could result in not having these skills. As I wrote in a paper about the conditions inside prisons and the reasons for the rise of mass incarceration, that not only is the mass arrest of people within the US, the war on drugs, and the education system bias against people of color, but the hope for “a better world is to be in the 'next generation'” is greatly diminished when “when many of these people [of color] are these people are in jail or in prison.” Even so, it is still unacceptable that people would be excluded since all the environmental groups would have to do is teach someone skills if they did not know them already. It's not that hard. As a result of such opinions and the treatment of people of color inside such organizations, it is not a surprise that it's hard to retain people of color.

Localism? I don’t buy it

By Stan Cox - Al Jazeera, April 4, 2014

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.

Humanity’s failure so far to deal with multiple crises – planet-wide ecological degradation, domination by a transnational economic elite, the deepening misery that afflicts billions in both rich and poor nations – has prompted increasing interest in local economies as less intimidating arenas where much-needed change might be more readily achieved.

It’s true that in the earliest days of capitalism, the human exploitation and environmental destruction that came along with the pursuit of profit were largely local problems. Then, inevitably, those local economies grew and coalesced into an even more destructive global economy. But retreating into local issues means latching onto one of capitalism’s symptoms – the eclipsing of local economies and governments by more powerful transnational forces – and treating it as if it’s the disease itself.

In his 2012 book, No Local: Why Small-Scale Alternatives Won’t Change the World, Greg Sharzer writes, “The problem with localism is not its anti-corporate politics, but that these politics don’t go far enough. It sees the effects of unbridled competition but not the cause.”

SpaceX Sued for Laying Off 400 Workers Without Proper Notice or Wages

By Natasha Tiku - Valley Wag, August 8th, 2014

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 Monday former employees of SpaceX, Elon Musk's own private NASA, filed a proposed class action lawsuit. The complaint alleges that SpaceX "ordered the mass layoffs of between 200 and 400 workers" in late July without properly notifying them or paying the wages they were owed.

Law360 reports:

"Plaintiffs and other similarly situated employees also seek recovery of waiting time penalties as a result of defendants' failure to pay employees all wages due and owing at the time of their termination," the complaint says.

The plaintiffs allege that SpaceX's decision was "willful," according to the legal news site:

Among the fired workers were plaintiffs Bobby R. Lee and Bron Gatling, who worked as structural technicians in the company's Hawthorne facility. They claimed SpaceX's failure to pay the fired employees all wages earned before termination in accordance with the California Labor Code was willful.

SpaceX is based in Hawthorne, California, where those named plaintiffs worked. The company was recently offered $15 million in incentives to build a new launch facility in Texas. I have reached out to SpaceX and will update the post if I hear back.

Update: Here is a copy of the complaint.

Complaint Against SpaceX for Lost Wages after Mass Layoffs

Warren Buffett's Coal Problem : To run his coal trains, the billionaire investor needs to seize land from a bunch of Montana cowboys; That's not going over very well

By Marc Gunther - Sierra, May & June, 2013

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.

It's easy to see why Warren Buffet is called America's most admired investor. The 82-year-old chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway has made gobs of money—$53.5 billion, at last count—and has pledged to give away 99 percent of it. Despite his wealth, Buffett is folksy, unpretentious, and grateful for what he describes as his good luck. He lives in the modest Omaha, Nebraska, home that he bought in 1958 for $31,500 and eats at the local Dairy Queen. (He owns the chain.)

Buffett also gets favorable attention—and deservedly so—for Berkshire's large investments in solar power, wind farms, and the Chinese electric car company BYD. When Berkshire's Iowa-based MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company bought a 579-megawatt solar photovoltaic project in California's Antelope Valley in January, the headlines read, "Warren Buffett in $2 Billion Solar Deal" and "Warren Buffett Continues His Solar Buying Spree." So influential is Buffett as an investor that solar stocks surged on the news. MidAmerican's renewable energy unit also owns a 550-megawatt solar project in San Luis Obispo County, California, and a 49 percent stake in a 290-megawatt solar plant in Yuma County, Arizona. Those are among the biggest solar projects in the world.

A subsidiary of MidAmerican, called MidAmerican Energy Company, a regulated utility with customers in Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota, and Nebraska, has helped build Iowa's thriving wind power industry. Thirty percent of its portfolio is wind-powered generation. "It has been a great and low-key leader," says Bruce Nilles, senior director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.

But Buffett has a problem—a coal problem. In addition to its solar and wind operations, MidAmerican Energy Holdings relies on coal for roughly half of its 18,000-megawatt generating capacity. Buffett's Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) Railway Company derives a quarter of its $20 billion in annual revenues from transporting coal, and it lobbies aggressively on the industry's behalf. Berkshire Hathaway is one of the very few major U.S. companies that don't disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, and it has opposed shareholders who ask it to do so.

Nowhere is Buffett's green reputation taking more of a beating, though, than in a remote and sparsely populated corner of southeastern Montana. Ranchers, Native Americans, and Amish farmers there are fighting to preserve their livelihoods and landscapes, which are threatened by what, if developed, would be one of the biggest coal strip mines in the West. And shipping all that coal to West Coast ports would be Warren Buffett's BNSF Railway.

How Green is the Green New Deal?

By Don Fitz - Climate and Capitalism, July 15, 2014

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 world has over half a century of experience with programs that claim to help nature or feed the planet while they do the opposite.  The twin crises of the early 21st century are economic and ecological collapse.  Should we increase production to create more jobs and accept horrible environmental damage?  Or, should we protect a livable world at the cost of causing more unemployment?

An increasingly popular answer is the “Green New Deal” (GND): create “green jobs” in order to jump start the economy.   But the GND might not provide long term employment and could cause major environmental harm.  Digging beneath the surface appearance of the GND requires exploring its family tree: the Green Revolution, Green Capitalism and the Green Economy.

The Green Revolution

As capitalism spread across the globe, hunger and starvation spread with it.  Hoarding food and selling it to those who have plenty has always been more profitable than sharing food with those who need it.

By the middle of the 20th century, agribusiness decided that new plant varieties could be the focal point of a “Green Revolution” that would “feed the world.”  According to Stan Cox, dwarfing genes “allowed the plant to divert less energy to making stems and leaves and allowed the farmer to apply much more nitrogen fertilizer without making the plants get too tall and fall over.”  But these new varieties required pesticides and were more vulnerable to diseases. [1]

For at least 10,000 years, humans have been using “open pollination” seeds which could be gathered and planted the next year.  The Green Revolution also promoted hybrid seeds, especially for corn.  But hybrid seeds did not reproduce traits sought by farmers.  Those who use them must return to the seed company each year.  Hybrids fostered agricultural dependency.

One of the best summaries of the effects of hybrid corn is in Carmelo Ruiz’ story of Henry Wallace, the agrarian progressive who was Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture.  According to Ruiz, “Among the most celebrated attributes of hybrid corn is the ease with which it can be harvested by machine.”  Huge fields with “genetic uniformity created a dream situation for pests.” [2, p 10]  As with dwarf varieties, this generated a need for pesticides.  Rapid growth as well as pesticide destruction of the soil’s natural fertility created a need for fertilizers.

A huge increase in output resulted: “between 1950 and 1980, US corn exports were multiplied times 20.” [2]   Results also appeared in increased farming costs, impoverishment of family farmers, and further concentration of wealth in agriculture.

Was this truly the price that had to be paid in order to “feed the world?”  Is it possible that the same yield increases could have occurred if research had gone in another direction?  Ruiz quotes geneticist Richard Lewontin as concluding, “Virtually no one has tried to improve the open-pollinated varieties, although scientific evidence shows that if the same effort had been put into such varieties, they would be as good or better than hybrids.” [2]

Research focused on developing hybrids because they were part of an overall agenda to concentrate capital.  Proponents of the Green Revolution identified a real problem (hunger), but they trumpeted a solution friendly to big business which created as many problems as it solved.  Meanwhile, a low-tech solution was ignored.

Capital Blight: The More Things Change...

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 12, 2014

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.

A recent article from the folks over at the Rocky Mountain Institute--a pro renewable energy, green capitalist think tank founded by Amory Lovins, Lessons from Australia: How to Reduce US Solar PV Costs through Installation Labor Efficiency, written by Robert McIntosh and Koben Calhoun, demonstrates all too clearly why it's not enough just to replace the existing fossil fuel energy system with renewable alternatives. To sufficiently transform our world, we must confront the root of the problem, and that's hierarchical command / control political-economic systems like capitalism itself.

Yes, it's certainly a good idea to strive for a reasonable degree of efficiency in accomplishing one's desired goals by minimizing input and maximizing output. Doing so is human nature. If this weren't true, humans wouldn't have developed tools and machines to minimize throughputs. The flaw in this concept is the tendency to "externalize" the negative consequences of maximizing this efficiency and to unfairly distribute the fruits of such efforts. A several thousand (or perhaps million) year history of combined and cumulative efforts has created hierarchical class structure and nearly brought about a sixth mass terrestrial extinction event.

The idea that such practices can somehow be reconciled with both a sense of fairness and with ecological sustainability is simply another way in which capitalism has poisoned our minds and our environment.

World Bank and UN carbon offset scheme 'complicit' in genocidal land grabs - NGOs Plight of Kenya's indigenous Sengwer shows carbon offsets are empowering corporate recolonisation of the South

By Nafeez Achmed - The Guardian, July 3, 2014

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.

Between 2000 and 2010, a total of 500 million acres of land in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean was acquired or negotiated under deals brokered on behalf of foreign governments or transnational corporations.

Many such deals are geared toward growing crops or biofuels for export to richer, developed countries – with the consequence that small-holder farmers are displaced from their land and lose their livelihood while local communities go hungry.

The concentration of ownership of the world's farmland in the hands of powerful investors and corporations is rapidly accelerating, driven by resource scarcity and, thus, rising prices. According to a new report by the US land rights organisation Grain: "The powerful demands of food and energy industries are shifting farmland and water away from direct local food production to the production of commodities for industrial processing."

Less known factors, however, include 'conservation' and 'carbon offsetting.'

In west Kenya, as the UK NGO Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) reported, over a thousand homes had been torched by the government's Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to forcibly evict the 15,000 strong Sengwer indigenous people from their ancestral homes in the Embobut forest and the Cherangany Hills.

Since 2007, successive Kenyan governments have threatened Sengwer communities in the Embobut forest with eviction. A deadline for residents to leave the forest expired in early January, prompting the most recent spate of violence. The pretext for the eviction is that the indigenous Sengwer – labelled wrongly as 'squatters' – are responsible for the accelerating degradation of the forest.

Elsewhere in Kenya's Mount Elgon forest, however, the KFS' track record reveals a more complicated story. In 2010, the indigenous Ogiek were issued a deadline to relocate in the name of forest conservation and reforestation. In February this year, Survival International reported that, like the Sengwer, the Ogiek continued to be violently evicted from their homes in violation of court orders, with reports of government officials and their supporters seizing their land.

While deforestation is undoubtedly linked to the activities of poor communities, the Kenyan government's approach illustrates favouritism toward parochial vested interests. In addition to the indigenous communities, the forests are also inhabited by many thousands of tea-planters, loggers, and squatters.

Pages