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System Change not Climate Change

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.

Momentum Builds for May Day Strikes

By Jonathan Rosenblum - Labor Notes, March 23, 2017

Shop steward Tomas Mejia sensed something was different when 600 janitors streamed into the Los Angeles union hall February 16—far more than for a regular membership meeting. Chanting “Huelga! Huelga!” (“Strike! Strike!”), they voted unanimously to strike on May Day.

This won’t be a strike against their employers. The janitors of SEIU United Service Workers West felt driven, Mejia says, “to strike with the community” against the raids, threats, and immigrant-bashing hate speech that the Trump administration has unleashed.

“The president is attacking our community,” said Mejia, a member of his union’s executive board. “Immigrants have helped form this country, we’ve contributed to its beauty, but the president is attacking us as criminal.”

Following the Los Angeles vote, union janitors elsewhere in California have also voted to “strike with the community” on May 1. As the meetings gathered steam, Mejia reports, workers in schools, grocery stores, restaurants, and farms started talking about joining the walkout too.

And the strike is going on the road: SEIU-USWW is partnering with the human rights group Global Exchange, worker centers, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, and faith groups to organize a “Caravan against Fear” that will tour California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in April, staging rallies, cultural events, direct action trainings, and community strike votes leading up to May Day.

Apollo-Earth: A Wake Up Call In Our Race against Time

By Rupert Read and Deepak Rughani - The Ecologist, March 9, 2017

Why a project to find common meaning in our common struggle to prevent climate-catastrophe deserves the name 'Apollo-Earth'

There is a mission brewing and building, a mission that needs all hands that are ready: To bring the 'un-named movement' - the 'for-life' story of our time - to a tipping point.

This needs to happen faster than the rate at which our planet is approaching fatal climatic tipping points (fatal, that is, to us - always remember that it isn't strictly speaking 'the planet' that needs saving, only the animals, including ourselves, who live on it). The climate nemesis we face is now quite predictable: it is a 'white' swan event: But it could still be forestalled, with determination. If that forestalling is to be successfully accomplished, if together we are to choose to save ourselves and our descendants, then we need to see a radical shift in humanity's collective response to the rapidly growing threat of breakdown of our environmental life-support systems.

This will only happen if the forces of negativity, idiocy and oppression are outweighed by the force for rebellion, for sanity and for good in the epic struggle which will define our century.

The Walking Dead in Washington

By Paul Gilding - Paul Gilding, February 23, 2017

We’re all focused on the drama and entertainment of Trump’s takeover of the world’s centre of military, security and economic power. For some it’s exciting and entertaining, for others terrifying and apocalyptic. I too have been glued to the news – at various times having each of those responses! But now I’ve come back to earth, recognising it all for what it is. Important, but a sideshow to a much bigger and more important game. And on reflection, I’m glad he got elected.

How can a Trump Presidency be positive? Surely this is a major setback – to action on climate change, to addressing inequality, to human rights and global security. Doesn’t it make the world a scarier and less stable place?  In isolation, all true, but in context, not so much. The context is the key.

Trump’s election is not a trend. It should not be seen as evidence of a swing to the right, to nationalism and xenophobia etc. It is simply a symptom of the volatility inherent in the accelerating breakdown of our current economic approach and model.

What we are seeing is the last hurrah of a dying approach. A desperate attempt by the incumbents to rescue the now failing economic model that did deliver great progress for humanity but has come to the end of its road – and that road finishes at a cliff.

A cliff is the right analogy for a range of reasons. Perhaps most starkly it’s climate change and resource scarcity but also inequality and the failure of the old model to deliver further progress for most people in Western countries. There are many other issues we face, but these two – climate change (and with it food supply and geopolitical security risks) and inequality within countries – are the systemic risks. They define the cliff because neither can continue to worsen without the system responding – either transforming or breaking down. So the old approach is finished, along with the fossil fuel industry, and the walking dead taking over Washington won’t bring it back to life.

This leads to why, on reflection, I’m surprisingly pleased Trump was elected, rather than Hillary Clinton. I know it is hard to imagine how someone as appalling as Trump is better than the alternative, so let me expand.

We are now accelerating towards the cliff and we don’t have much time left to change course. If Clinton had been elected, we would have continued to suffer the delusion that we were addressing the systemic risks we face in an inadequate but still worthwhile way. There would have been the same debates about fossil fuel companies having too much influence on politics, the conservative wealthy elites (yes there are liberal wealthy elites!) manipulating the system to their benefit etc. But we would have seen some progress.

Meanwhile business people would have argued the need for less regulation and “freeing up” the economy. They would have argued we needed to run the country like business people run companies, that if only we had strong (i.e. autocratic) leadership, we could get things done. And the Tea Party style extremists would have had their favourite enemy – another Clinton – to rail against and blame for it all, as they mobilized their base.

Now there’s no debate – it’s all there to see. The fossil fuel industry dominates the administration, gaining unfettered access to more coal, oil and gas. The iconic symbol and long term funder of climate change denial, Exxon has seen their CEO put in charge of US foreign policy and climate negotiations. Trump is “the businessman in charge” and can slash regulation, free up the financial markets to unleash more mayhem and wind back those pesky environmental protections.

He will attack the media, mobilise extremists and unleash all the autocratic and nationalistic tendencies that the system has – but normally suppresses. His solution to inequality will be to give tax breaks to the rich (you can’t make this stuff up!) when we know only government intervention – or catastrophe–  prevents inequality being the inevitable result of unfettered markets.

The critical result of all this? No change to the fundamental direction we are on. The rich will get richer, the middle class will stagnate, racism and conflict will worsen and we will be less secure – all while climate change destabilises civilisation.  How is this good?

Because three big things will change.

Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions

By Patrick Bond - CounterPunch, January 19, 2017

The forces arrayed against Donald Trump’s presidency and neo-fascist movement range from the Central Intelligence Agency to oppressed minorities, and will soon encompass the whole world once his climate change threats are carried out. From above, conflicts will continue with moderate Republicans, Democratic Party elites, so-called Deep State opponents including neoconservative factions of the military, exporting companies concerned about protectionism, and deficit hawks worried about excess spending on filthy-Keynesian infrastructure.

But it’s likely that elite opposition will fade within weeks. Then what about resistance from below? Learning explicitly from apartheid’s defeat, it makes sense to prepare a global Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) strategy against Trump, his leading cronies and United States corporations more generally.

For human rights victims in the US, mutual aid commitments like the new United Resistance linking dozens of campaigning groups and a sanctuary movement (hated by the far right) offer close-to-home “social self-defence,” as activist Jeremy Brecher remarks in his survey of myriad anti-Trump struggles.

When it comes to raising the costs of Trump’s noxious politics internationally and preventing corporations from full cohesion to his program, the US oppressed still must take the lead. Evidence of this is already emerging, with Trump boycotts seeking to delegitimise his political agenda and companies that support it. Internationally, we can predict that when Rex Tillerson takes trips or Trump attends the Hamburg G20 in July, protesters will be out.

Not Just Transition, But Transformation: the Paris Climate Agreement

By Sean Sweeney - The Murphy Institute, November 7, 2016

The Paris Climate Agreement came into effect November 4th, 2016. More than 90 countries have ratified the deal, which is enough to turn it into international law.

Unions all over the world are trying to anticipate the agreement’s likely impacts and navigate its provisions to advance the interests of working people. Towards that end, a cross section of international labor will be in Marrakech from November 7th-19th calling for a “just transition strategy,” and to press for more ambitious targets and adequate climate financing for the global South.

Shock doctrine of the left: a strategy for building socialist counterpower

By Graham Jones - Red Pepper, December 2016

Editor's Note: socialism here is inclusive of Marxian and other forms of socialism (including anarchism).

2016 has been a chaotic year. Twice in the space of 6 months, we have been left reeling by a political event of global significance, with both the Brexit vote in June and the election of Trump in November. In both cases, we knew of the dates in advance, and the possibility of the outcome. And yet in neither case has the left been fully prepared for these moments. We are, as always, on the back foot.

In the weeks following Trump's victory, many arguments have broken out over what is the best way for the left to move forward. Do we put all our energies into supporting radical electoral candidates like Jeremy Corbyn, or is the rise of fascism the final nail in the social democratic coffin? Do we focus on building egalitarian economic alternatives in the cracks, or smashing the state head-on? Or maybe we just ride it out, just try our best to build a culture of care for each other, to help us survive in this terrifying world before a better one comes along.

These various ways of approaching social change tend to correspond to broad divisions on the left. For some, like certain revolutionary socialists, direct action to disrupt or destroy systems is the way. Others stay away from the state, creating their own economic alternatives which aim to take over in the future – in workers cooperatives, Transition towns, or creating the 'digital commons'. A more interpersonal approach is taken in the formation of communities of care, such as among LGBT people, disabled people and people of colour, to try to create spaces and practices which enable marginalised people to survive in the here and now. And of course there's the electoral route, currently en vogue among the radical left in Britain, aiming to support a social democratic candidate to take power through mainstream electoral means and reform its way to socialism. Drawing on and altering Erik Olin Wright's typology of strategic logics, we might refer to these as Smashing, Building, Healing and Taming. Whilst these rarely occur in complete isolation from each other, the categories are useful for focusing our minds on the pros and cons of different approaches.

Taken alone, all of these strategies have failed. But all of them have also had their successes. An alternative is to combine their strengths and weaknesses into a coherent meta-strategy, aiming to unify the left around a common strategic framework whilst maintaining the autonomy of groups within it. This is not simply a vague 'diversity of tactics', but an analysis of how those different tactics and broader strategies can feed into one another. What follows is a proposal for such a framework; not a blueprint to be dogmatically followed, but an initial idea to be tried, tested, and adapted.

The vehicle for this meta-strategy is an ‘ecology of organisations’.

Metabolic Rift and Ecological Value: the Ecosocialist Challenge

By Gordon Peters - Climate and Capitalism, November 29, 2016

In this short paper I am taking as a starting point the ecological rift, or metabolic rift in Marx’s own phrase, at the heart of the way in which capitalism appropriates the natural world and alienates humanity from its species being and from nature in the process. This is elaborated at considerable length by John Bellamy Foster and Brent Clark (but not exclusively by them) and what I hope to do here is while accepting their recovery of ecological balance and its disturbance in Marx, give an overview of an ecological praxis related to that theorization. What does restoring ecological value look like?

In their article in Monthly Review, Bellamy Foster and Clark mention—although they do not explore—two useful concepts to challenge the metabolic rift and the separation of humanity from nature, accelerating as it is with capital accumulation and reproduction.[1]  One is metabolic restoration and the other is sustainable co-evolutionary ecology. I think it is worth exploring the social and political interventions which are called for by these concepts. To do so we need to see clearly what is happening, what processes are taking place, what is irreversible, what can be refused, what can be overcome.

I want to look at four important tendencies in modern capitalism and what can constitute ecological challenges which are not themselves already determined by capitalist relations, or are likely to be re-shaped in managing capitalism to maintain its power or hold.  These are:

  1. Automation and precarity
  2. Despoliation and species reduction
  3. Commodification and fetishism –reification
  4. Ecological debt and unequal exchange

They are discussed only in broad outline as there is vast empirical evidence now in many places, and the point here is to orientate a praxis.

Nationalize the energy industry!

By Bruce Lesnick - Socialist Action, November 23, 2016

On Nov. 18, the Obama administration banned oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans for the next five years, while allowing drilling projects to go forward in the Cook Inlet (southwest of Anchorage, Alaska) and in the Gulf of Mexico. The media have noted the strong possibility that when Donald Trump assumes office, his administration would try to rewrite this blueprint in order to ramp up off-shore oil drilling even more.

The environmental movement points out that if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided, the world’s remaining oil and gas deposits must remain in the ground. Yet the U.S. government, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike, has ignored these warnings and continues to feed the oil companies’ hunger for profits. In this article, Bruce Lesnick outlines why and how these companies should be taken out of the hands of the billionaire tycoons and nationalized to be run by working people.

We know that human activities are adversely affecting Earth’s climate. Scientists began to draw our attention to the link between fossil fuels, greenhouse gases, and climate in the 1980s. Since then, the evidence for anthropogenic climate change has become overwhelming. All that’s left to debate is what to do about it.

Under the current setup, energy conglomerates that owe their fortunes to fossil fuels have every incentive to dismiss global warming and to cast aspersions on climate change research. The top five oil companies (BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell) reported combined profits of $93 billion for 2013. That’s more than the U.S. budget that year for Education ($71.9 billion) or Housing ($46.3 billion.) It’s more than 10 times the federal budget for environmental protection ($8.9 billion). The more coal, oil, and natural gas that get burned, the more the climate is thrown out of whack, and the more these companies are rewarded financially.

If we’re serious about addressing climate change, nationalization of the energy industry must become a central organizing demand. Nationalizing the big energy companies would make all the difference to the fight to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Right from the start, it would eliminate profit from the energy calculus and remove a large pool of money that’s used to manipulate government policy. It would make it possible to embark on a plan for a sustainable energy future, which would focus on the needs of the population and the planet as a whole, rather than on the reckless aggrandizement of a few.

But the issue of nationalization does raise many important questions: Is it moral? Is it legal? How would it work? Is it practical? Should the owners of nationalized industries be compensated?

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?

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