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The centre-left’s narrative on climate change has convinced no one

By Alex Randall - Red Pepper, November 2016

The election of Donald Trump reflects the unraveling of the centre-left across the West, and with it a fragile consensus on climate change. For two decades parties of the centre-left have created narratives about climate change that they do not really believe. They have done this to try and convince their fragile coalition of supporters and to try to bring they’re political opponents on the right into the fold. These attempts have failed.

The centre-left long ago abandoned ‘typical' green messaging in the way it talks about climate change. You don’t hear Obama, Clinton or Justin Trudeau talking about polar bears, sinking Pacific Islands or even climate change as a human rights issue. The go-to arguments of the centre-left (and to some extent centre-right politicians like Germany’s Angela Merkel) are these:

  • Climate change will create war, terrorism and migration—it’s a national security issue
  • The solutions to climate change could create millions of jobs in manufacturing and industry—in areas hit most by industrial decline
  • Tackling climate change is an opportunity for economic growth—there is money to be made by entrepreneurs

How did the centre-left end up making these arguments? And why does no one believe them?

Trump Vows to Disrupt Trade; Progressives Need to Push Him in the Right Direction

By Michelle Chen - In These Times, November 22, 2016

The one election issue tying together populist voices on the right and left was trade—or so it seemed. Donald Trump’s upset win, fueled in part by Rust Belt rage against free trade deals and globalization, could hand liberals an unexpected opportunity to push a fairer set of trade rules, if they can shift the debate away from Trump's reactionary “bull in a China shop” spectacle and toward a concrete movement to advance a people-centered alternative, based on social-justice principles not return-on-investment.

A group of human rights organizations, including the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre and Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), has framed a human rights-based trade agenda requiring signatories to “understand, assess, and address their full effects on human rights, with a particular focus on vulnerable and marginalized groups,” such as women and migrants. Core provisions would include the right to a safe and healthy environment, fair access to medicines and respect for labor and indigenous rights.

The group contends that pending trade deals fail on these basic human rights standards. Such deals include the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would link 12 Pacific Rim nations and was panned by both Trump and Bernie Sanders during the campaign, and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would connect Europe and the United States.

One of Trump's first policy announcements was that he would immediately kill the already-stalled TPP negotiations and, instead, seek to negotiate bilateral trade agreements supposedly more beneficial to the United States. But progressive internationalists, who note that the TPP was likely moribund anyway due to widespread public backlash, warn that Trump’s rhetoric is equally short-sighted.

In a broadly-worded memorandum on a 200-day trade agenda, Trump's camp has laid out a program of deregulation and corporate tax breaks as a way to preserve domestic manufacturing jobs. The president-elect plans to sanction China for violating trade rules and promote “America First” by privileging the enrichment of U.S. corporations and workers above those of Mexico.

Despite its populist spin, Trump’s plan centers on growing multinational monopolies, and by extension, aggravating global inequality, critics say.

“This is a guy who has said U.S. workers are overpaid, that climate change is a hoax and that has no problem buddying up with authoritarian regimes,” says Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of the fair-trade coalition Citizens Trade Campaign.

Advocates like Stamoulis see Trump as a continuation of previous administrations' neoliberal agendas. Even if he scraps the TPP and similar deals, his whole business persona embodies the predatory multinational investment that underlies free-trade market liberalism. According to IPS associate fellow Manuel Perez-Rocha, despite his populist veneer, the president-elect will likely “expand free trade and corporate-friendly policies but just with other names.”

A structural challenge to the neoliberal order would involve tackling not only trade policy, but also, for example, labor exploitation and dominance of international financial institutions over Global South economies. Rather than Trump's “'them against us approach,” a left trade analysis should, in Perez-Rocha's view, show “all these problems … are interconnected.”

After Brexit and Trump: don't demonise; localise!

By Helena Norberg-Hodge & Rupert Read - The Ecologist, November 22, 2016

The election of Donald Trump was a rude awakening from which many people in the US have still not recovered.

Their shock is similar to that felt by UK progressives, Greens, and those on the Left following the Brexit referendum.

In both cases, the visceral reaction was heightened by the barely-disguised racist and xenophobic messaging underpinning these campaigns.

Before these sentiments grow even more extreme, it's vital that we understand their root cause. If we simply react in horror and outrage, if we only protest and denounce, then we fail to grasp the deeper ramifications of their votes.

For the defeat of both the Clinton campaign in the US and the Remain campaign in the UK can be explained by their inability to address the pain endured by ordinary citizens in the era of globalisation.

By failing to focus on the reckless profiteers driving the global economy, they allowed their opponents to offer a less truthful and more hateful explanation for voters' social and economic distress.

In order to move forward, we need to give those who voted for Trump and Brexit something better to believe in. And we can. Because in both countries, voters emphatically rejected the system that has inflicted so much social and economic insecurity: pro-corporate globalisation. And that is the silver lining to the dark storm clouds we see.

Unfair Market Value II: Coal Exports and the Value of Federal Coal

By Clark Williams-Derry - Sightline Institute, June 17, 2016

This report documents massive exports of federally owned coal from 2000-15. The US Bureau of Land Management sold private companies the right to mine this coal for a pittance—in some cases, for less than 20 cents per ton. And when Asian demand was red-hot, these companies made massive profits selling millions of tons of federal coal overseas. Nonetheless, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has essentially ignored export economics when setting the “fair market value” that it will accept for federal coal leases. Now that the Department of Interior has placed a three-year moratorium on new coal leases pending a thorough review of federal coal policies, BLM has an ideal opportunity for a thorough review of the economics of exports. And our report points to evidence that by ignoring exports, the BLM has been selling many federal coal leases at just a fraction of their true economic value.

Read the report (PDF).

Pitch Black: The Journey of Coal from Colombia to Italy; the Curse of Extractivism

By various - Re:Common, April 2016

By presenting the horrors suffered under the domination of multinational companies, this work by Re:Common will dispel any lingering doubt that the current economic system based on extractivism is a war against the poor (what subcommander Marcos called the “Fourth World War”).

If someone who trusts the mainstream media and academic analyses thinks that at some point colonialism disappeared from the face of the Earth, this work, based on documents and testimonies, demonstrates otherwise.

For those who believe that progress is the most striking characteristic of our times, starting with the post-World War II period, the voices of the missing that populate these pages will convince you that present-day capitalism is a just a revamped version of the Spanish conquest of five centuries ago.

Throughout this work, all the variables of extractivism can be seen: from occupation of the territory and displacement of people to the role of the offshore banking and financial system, as two complementary and inseparable parts of accumulation by theft/dispossession. In the occupied territories, the displacement occurs in the form of war, with the participation of military, paramilitary, guerrilla and the greatest variety of imaginable armed actors.

The victims are always the weak: poor women and their children, elderly men and women, peasants, Indians, blacks, mestizos, the “wretched of the Earth,” as Frantz Fanon calls them. I want to emphasize, though it may seem anachronistic, and without reference to academic sources, how the extractive model coincides with colonialism, despite the different eras. This is not only due to the violent occupation of territories and the displacement of populations, but also to the salient features of the model.

Economically, extractivism has generated enclave economies, as it did in the colonies, where the walled port and plantations with slaves were its masterworks. This colonial/extractive model held populations 6 hostage in both 1500 and 2000.

Extractivism produces powerful political interventions by multinational enterprises, often allied with States, which manage to modify legislation, co-opting municipalities and their governors. It is an asymmetrical relationship between powerful multinationals and weak states, or better, states weakened by their own local elite who benefit from the model.

Like colonialism, the extractive model promotes the militarization of the territories, because it is the only way to eradicate the population, which, recalling Subcommander Marcos, is the real enemy in this fourth world war. Militarization, violence, and systematic rape of women and girls are not excesses or errors; they are part of the model because the population is the military objective.

To understand extractivism, we must consider it not as an economic model, but as a system. Like capitalism. Certainly there is a capitalist economy, but capitalism is not just the economic aspect. Extractivism (as stated by Re:Common) is capitalism in its financial phase and cannot be understood only as an economic variable. It implies a culture that promotes not work but consumption, which has (systemic) corruption as one of its central features. Put in another way, corruption is the extraction mode of governing.

Therefore, extractivism is not an economic actor; it is a political, social, cultural, and of course also economic actor. At this point, it’s crucial that the central part of this work describes human beings and the Earth as the subjects for looting, which is much more than the theft of the commons. Understanding dispossession only as robbery places property ownership at the center of the matter, in the place of people and land; e.g., life.

Read the text (PDF).

Beyond Coal: Scaling Up Clean Energy to Fight Global Poverty

By lmi Granoff, et. al. - Overseas Development Institute, 2016

Eradicating global poverty is within reach, but under threat from a changing climate. Left unchecked, climate change will put at risk our ability to lift people out of extreme poverty permanently by 2030, the first target of the Sustainable Development Goals. Coal is the world’s number one source of CO2 emissions. Most historic emissions came from the coal industry in the developed world in the last century, with China joining the biggest emitters at the beginning of this one. It is widely accepted that a rapid and just response to climate change will require the urgent replacement of coal with low-carbon energy sources in rich economies.

Now the coal industry claims that expanding coal use is critical to fighting extreme poverty and improving energy access for billions of people in developing countries. In fact, the opposite is true. The global commitment to eradicate extreme poverty and energy poverty by 2030 does not require such an expansion and it is incompatible with stabilising the earth’s climate. The evidence is clear: a lasting solution to poverty requires the world’s wealthiest economies to renounce coal, and we can and must end extreme poverty without the precipitous expansion of new coal power in developing ones.

This paper explores the role of energy in fighting poverty, arguing that:

  • More coal will not end energy poverty
  • Coal is given too much credit for the reduction of extreme poverty
  • Better energy options exist to lift people out of income poverty
  • More coal will entrench poverty.

Read the report (EN PDF) | (JA PDF) | (ZH PDF).

“Anarcho-capitalism,” “Free Markets,” Jumbo Shrimp, and Other Oxymorons

By A S Goldstein - Tools of Control, December 14, 2015

Lately, I have been having endlessly frustrating debates with people who call themselves “anarcho-capitalists” or “ancaps” and who seem to be stuck in the McCarthy Era as they still view socialism as some kind of “Red Terror.” Ironically, these people are about as fervent in their support of capitalism and their hatred of socialism as the very government they supposedly want to destroy. These debates generally devolve into ad hominem attacks as the people arguing for capitalism tend to lose their cool rather quickly, and like most people they do not want to hear opposing opinions, especially ones supported by facts. I strongly believe in anarchism and autonomy as I believe they are the only foundations for a truly free society, so I have joined many anarchist groups, but it seems like many of the them (in America anyway) are overrun by so-called “ancaps,” which is why I end up having these silly arguments, and it is sad because they don’t understand “anarcho-capitalism” is an oxymoron or a contradiction of terms that are diametrically opposed. People who believe in this contradiction of terms do not understand what anarchism or capitalism is, and so I hope they read this explanation and do their own research, (and read authors that do not just reinforce their own opinions) instead of reacting defensively or reflexively.

Anarchy means a system without rulers. The etymology of the word demonstrates that as its root Greek words are “an” and “arkhos”, which together mean “without ruler.” Yet capitalism inherently has rulers. It puts people with massive capital and monopolies on resources at a much greater advantage over people who don’t have such capital or resources. The super rich also rely on state thugs and governments and their monopoly on violence and force to protect them. In a world without violent governments or police without the ability to use force, there would be no billionaires. Without police and governments that protect the rich and powerful, there is no way common people would allow a handful of incredibly greedy, misanthropic individuals to hoard billions while 80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day. Capitalist managers rely on cops to break worker strikes and quell worker dissent, they rely on state armies to secure resources, and they rely on government subsidies, tax breaks, bailouts, and bribes to politicians and judges for legislation that favors them.

“Ancaps” remind me of these Ron Paul “libertarians” who misunderstand libertarianism and anarchy as meaning a system with no rules where they think their freedom is defined by how much they can hoard and how much they can disregard other people’s rights and freedoms. But our freedom is not defined by how much we can take away the freedom of others. That is a zero sum equation (as is capitalism) and not true freedom. In this system, one person’s loss is always another person’s gain. For example, the loss of someone’s house due to foreclosure is a gain for the bank that lent the homeowner money, and it is also a gain for the person who buys the property from the bank because banks generally sell foreclosed homes for less than they are worth. We are not truly free unless everyone is free. As Martin Luther King said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Frackademia in Depth; An analysis of the oil and gas industryʼs case for fracking

By Robert Galbraith, Gin Armstrong, and Kevin Connor - Public Accountability Initiative, February 2015

In the wake of New York Stateʼs decision to ban fracking, drilling proponents have criticized Governor Andrew Cuomo and his administration for basing the decision on “pseudo science”and “junk science.” When asked about the New York fracking ban at his 2015 “State of American Energy” press conference, American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard called for “more thoughtful consideration as to economics, environment, and sound science –because the science is clearly on the side of development and on the side of industry.”

Over the years, some of this science has proven less than reliable. In a trend that became known as “frackademia,”several universities issued industry-friendly fracking studies that the institutions later retracted and walked back due to erroneous central findings, false claims of peer review, and undisclosed industry ties. The studies bore the hallmarks of an industry effort to manipulate and corrupt the scientific debate around fracking, much like the tobacco industry manipulated the scientific debate around the dangers associated with smoking.

This report suggests that those studies, rather than being isolated cases, were consistent with a larger pattern – pro-fracking scholarship is often industry-tied and lacking in scientific rigor. An in-depth look at frackademia reveals that many of these kinds of studies have been produced by industry and its allies in academia, in government, and in the consulting world.

The report approaches this topic by analyzing a broad set of fracking studies that the industry has put forward to help it make its case. Specifically, the report considers an extensive list of over 130 studies compiled by an oil and gas industry group, Energy in Depth. The list was specifically used to convince the government of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, home of the city of Pittsburgh, to lease mineral rights under its Deer Lakes Park to Range Resources for gas drilling. Though that decision was a relatively minor one in the context of the nationwide fracking debate, the list provides a telling window onto the fracking research that the industry believes is fit for public consumption, and which it uses to make the case that the science around the issue is settled.

The report assesses the relative independence and quality of the studies by identifying and classifying each studyʼs industry ties –through funders, authors, and issuers –and determining whether it was peer-reviewed.

Read the report (PDF).

A just transition for all: Can the past inform the future?

By various - International Labour Office, 2015

2015 is a decisive year for global agreements on Sustainable Development and climate change. The ILO calls for a just transition for all towards a greener and more socially sustainable economy. This Journal is focussing on drawing lessons from a few transition experiences in order to analyse how successfully (or not) these processes were managed in the past and how future transitions might be handled in a just manner. Challenges such as policy coherence, consultations and participation by all relevant stakeholders are addressed and lessons learned on these issues are highlighted in the Journal.

Read the report (Link).

Europe's energy transformation in the austerity trap

By Béla Galgóczi - European Trade Union Institute, 2015

Our planetary limits demand a radical transition from the energy-intensive economic model based on the extraction of finite resources, which has been dominant since the first industrial revolution, to a model that is both sustainable and equitable.

Unfortunately however, energy transformation in Europe has, after a promising start, fallen hostage to austerity and to the main philosophy underpinning the crisis management policies in which overall competitiveness is reduced to the much narrower concept of cost-competitiveness. Regulatory uncertainty, design failures built into incentive systems, and unjust distribution of the costs, have also contributed to the reversal of progress in energy transformation currently observable across Europe.

In this book three country case studies highlight the different facets of these conflicts, while additional light is thrown on the situation by an account of the lack of progress in achieving energy efficiency.

By way of conclusion, a mapping of the main conflicts and obstacles to progress will be of help in formulating policy recommendations. Ambitious climate and energy policy targets should be regarded not as a burden on the economy but rather as investment targets able to pave the way to higher employment and sustainable growth. It is high time for this perception to be recognised and implemented in the context of Europe’s new Investment Plan, thereby enabling clean energy investment to come to form its central pillar. A shift in this direction will require an overhaul of the regulatory and incentive systems to ensure that the need for just burden-sharing is adequately taken into account.

Read the report (Link).

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