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Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice

By Ahmad Gaya - CounterPunch, November 30, 2015

Image: Shutterstock

In the past two years, the way the climate movement talks about itself has changed dramatically. Seemingly overnight, there are no more ‘climate activists’, and everyone is a ‘Climate Justice’ campaigner. Mainstream environmental groups issued statements of solidarity with Ferguson and Baltimore and the blogosphere is filled with articles patiently explaining how global warming connects to struggles for racial, economic and migrant justice.

As a South Asian organizer who has called the environmental movement home for a decade, I’m happy to see this shift. Fifteen years ago the idea of Climate Justice was posed as a challenge to the corporate solutions pushed by ‘big green’ groups in international negotiations. The fact that those same groups are adopting our language and analysis shows real progress.

But rhetoric and analysis is not enough. While the speakers and rally photo-ops have changed, I still find myself and other people of color in the movement speaking to nearly all-white crowds. Big green groups that have “Climate Justice” campaigns can be found pushing cap and trade and other corporate policies that the Climate Justice movement was birthed to oppose. I still find myself in meetings where people go around in circles asking “how do we make this movement/event/group more diverse” or “where are all the brown people?”

The answer to that question is simple if you look around. People of color in the United States are engaged in some of the boldest, most aggressive movements for survival and liberation in recent memory. Black people are rising up against systemic oppression and a violent police state in Ferguson, Baltimore and elsewhere; Indigenous peoples are blocking trains and freeways under the banner of Idle No More; low-income people of color are leading the fight for a just economy; and undocumented people are putting themselves at extreme risk blocking deportation buses, occupying offices and even publicly crossing the border.

More than ever we need a thriving climate justice movement. But it can’t be committed to justice in name only. Enough statements of solidarity have been written. It’s time for us to get into the streets, take action and make real sacrifices for these struggles.

Last May, Rising Tide North America issued a challenge to the movement. We called for people to ‘Flood the System’ with blockades, occupations and mass civil disobedience. We challenged groups to move beyond the narrow frame of organizing against fossil fuel infrastructure, and engage in direct action at police stations, prisons, I.C.E. offices, detention centers and banks. We asked climate activists to find the intersections of our struggles–focusing on the logic of white supremacy, colonialism, patriarchy and extractive economies that creates all our crises–instead of merely inviting our allies into the climate fight.

It’s our belief that one of the best ways to show our commitment to the intersection of struggles is by putting our bodies into the gears that drive oppression.

Confronted by the ecological emergency: project of society, programme, strategy

By Daniel Tanuro - International Viewpoint, October 12, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In April 2014, two different teams of American glaciologists, specialists in the Antarctic, reached - by different methods, based on observation - the same conclusion: because of global warming, a portion of the ice sheet has begun to dislocate, and this dislocation is irreversible.

Although scientists are reluctant to say that their projections are 100 per cent certain, these ones were categorical: "We have gone beyond the point of no return," they said at a joint press conference. According to them, nothing can prevent a rise in sea level of 1.2 metres in the coming 300-400 years. It is their opinion that the phenomenon will lead to accelerated destabilization of the adjacent area, which could subsequently lead to a further rise in sea level of more than three metres. [1]

Why the climate movement needs to move beyond the ‘big tent’

By Cam Fenton - Waging Nonviolence, September 3, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

More than 10,000 gathered in Toronto on July 5 for the largest and most diverse climate mobilization in Canadian history. (Project Survival / Robert van Waarden)
More than 10,000 gathered in Toronto on July 5 for the largest and most diverse climate mobilization in Canadian history. (Project Survival / Robert van Waarden)

Earlier this summer I helped to organize the March for Jobs, Justice & the Climate — an action that brought more than 10,000 people to the streets of Toronto in one of the largest and most diverse climate mobilizations in Canadian history. More than 100 organizations supported the march — from national environmental groups to labor unions to the indigenous rights’ movement Idle No More to Toronto-based groups tackling poverty, food justice and migration. It was, as Naomi Klein put it, the “first steps of a new kind of climate movement” that reached beyond the traditional boundaries of the environmental movement.

The march was a “big tent” approach to climate organizing being put to practice, the same approach that helped the People’s Climate March bring over 400,000 people to the streets of New York City last September. It’s also an approach that we’re seeing gain more momentum in the lead-up to the Paris climate talks this December. In fact, another round of People’s Climate actions are already being planned for later this year.

Whether it’s called a big tent, intersectional organizing or building a “movement of movements,” this approach is key to the kind of transformative change required for solving the climate crisis. It’s also clear that it’s not an approach that’s going away any time soon.

During the organizing of the March for Jobs, Justice & the Climate, I learned a lot of hard lessons about the strengths and limitations of the big tent. In so doing, it became clear to me that the climate movement is struggling with this style of organizing, and that if we hope to build transformative power across and beyond social movements it’s going to take a lot more than just one big tent.

Sid Ryan on the unstoppable alliance of labour, environment and Indigenous groups

Sid Ryan Interviewed by Steve Cornwell - Rabble.Ca, July 16, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The recent March for Jobs, Justice, and the Climate brought together -- among others -- Indigenous, labour, and environmentalist groups. What do you expect to arise out of such a diverse movement of groups and communities?

The march is a way to announce to the world that there is a very powerful coalition coming together. I think people are beginning to believe that a lot of what we need to be doing is dealing with the climate. We know that all of our different groups, labour, First Nations, environmentalists, if we don't come together to put the pressure on, we're not going to be successful.

I was at the Battle in Seattle. You had the community activists, environmentalists, and you had a lot people from around the world and different organizations coming into Seattle. The labour movement had its own separate demonstration in a football stadium five miles out of town in a football field. There were all these wonderful speeches taking place in this football field.

But downtown Seattle was erupting with running battles between police, environmentalists, students and activists from around the world. We were completely disconnected. I thought "wow, now I can see why sometimes these other organizations say to the labour movement that we don't see you guys involved in the fight." Even though we think we're supportive of all of their issues, we seem to be doing it apart from them.

I see the July 5 march as a coming out of a new movement -- the beginnings of us saying that we're willing to work together. We know that shifting away from a carbon-based economy is a difficult decision, certainly for labour. But we're going to be there and we're going to be a part of it, and the hope is to build something much much bigger.

The aim is to say to the world that there is a new game in town, and keep your eye on it because it can build into something very powerful.

A truly green economy requires alliances between labour and Indigenous people

By Harsha Walia - Ricochet, June 3, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Dozens of social movement organizers recently gathered in Toronto at a meeting convened by the This Changes Everything team to envision a new economy centered on climate justice. With relentless extractions of labour and land harming all life on earth, cross-sectoral alliances are necessary.

But a number of predictable tensions bubbled up at the gathering, some related to land defence and workers’ rights. How do we shift from a petro-economy to prevent catastrophic climate change while safeguarding workers whose livelihoods depend on the resource economy? Over the past few decades a green economy, which would ensure jobs and equity within a low-carbon economy, has been posited as a solution.

Extending from this and in the context of reconciliation, I want to envision emancipatory possibilities of solidarity between workers’ movements for self-management and Indigenous struggles for self-determination.

Anarchist Anti-Fascists Join London People's Climate March

By Urban Pictures UK - YouTube, March 7, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Anti-Fascist & anti-capitalist anarchist protesters - with face masks, dressed in black and waving black & red flags - joined 20,000 people marching through Central London. It was part of a climate rally, an annual demo to highlight the issue of global climate change. They then invaded Parliament Square in defiance of local by-laws.

On Climate Satyagraha: Interview with Quincy Saul

By Javier S Castro - CounterPunch, April 10, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. 

The socio-ecological catastrophe that is global capitalism is clear for all to see. We are in dire need of an alternative system which does not ceaselessly destroy nature and oppress and impoverish the vast majority of humankind, including our future generations, whose lives may very well be highly constrained if not outright canceled due to prevailing environmental destructiveness. It is in this sense of contemplating and reflecting on alternatives to capitalist depravity that I was fortunate enough recently to discuss the present moment and some of the possible means of displacing hegemonic power with Quincy Saul of Ecosocialist Horizons (EH). Quincy and the rest of the members of this collective have envisioned a compelling means of overcoming the environmental crisis: that is, through climate Satyagraha.

The latest biological studies show a decline of a full half of animal populations on Earth since 1970, and an ever-burgeoning list of species and classes of vertebrates at immediate risk of extinction: a quarter of all marine species, a quarter of all mammals, and nearly half of all amphibians are on the edge.1 Moreover, two independent studies published in Science and Anthropocene Review in January conclude that the present rate of environmental destruction essentially threatens the fate of complex life on the planet.2 Meanwhile, global carbon emissions continue in relentless expansion, with each new year bringing a new broken record, whether in terms of total greenhouse gas emissions, average global temperatures, or both. Truly, then, this is a critical moment in human history, one which could lead to utter oblivion, as through the perpetuation of business as usual, or alternately amelioration and emancipation, as through social revolution.

Quincy, could you share your assessment of the global climate-justice movements at present, some seven months after the People’s Climate March (PCM)—a development of which you were famously highly critical—and five months after yet another farcical example of the theater of absurd that is the international climate-negotiation process, as seen at the Twentieth Conference of Parties (COP20) in Lima, Peru?

Thank you Javier for compiling those statistics. There’s such an immense range of data out there, and it’s important to hone in on the key information. In terms of the climate-justice movement, the problem I see is that the whole doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. So you have this amazing, fearless, courageous work that’s happening on local levels, all over the world—too numerous to even start listing. When it comes to resistance struggle, people are resisting mines, pipelines, and destructive development projects from the Altiplano of Peru to central Indian jungles, the Amazon River, indigenous reservations in the U.S., the factory-cities of China, the Niger Delta—uncountable acts of courage that people are taking to defend their ecosystems and their lives, whether climate change is the central issue, or it’s about defense of a single ecosystem. And then on the prefiguration side, there are people on every continent who are working really hard laying the foundations for the next world-system. Seed-saving, agroecologies—people are combining ancestral productive projects with appropriate technologies, building community resilience, and constructing community democracy in the context of war and natural disaster. So this is hopeful and wonderful work that has be encouraged. But somehow it’s not adding up.

Why solidarity is necessary – but it’s not just about class

By Geoff - Ideas and Action, April 9, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. 

“An injury to one is an injury to all”. This IWW slogan characterizes the solidarity necessitated by class struggle. It characterizes the idea that it’s necessary for the working class to cooperate and work together towards their individual interests, as these are also class interests. The interests of gaining control over economic, social and work decisions which affect the working class directly is made necessary due to the odious nature of our current global economic conditions.

But this slogan really goes further than just class. It is also an embodiment of the solidarity necessitated by intersecting forms of oppression which divide the working class and hinder their ability to fight back in the global class war. Intersectional, meaning, issues concerned with intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination. These issues also create various social hierarchies which marginalize and disempower people. Examples of these issues include, but are not limited to, racism, sexism, queerphobia and gender essentialism. For instance, sexual harassment in the workplace, workplace discrimination on bounds of race or gender, and gender essentialism when it comes to the dignity of transgender folks who often experience terrible cruelty from others when they need to use public restrooms.

To quote Bakunin, “I am truly free only when all human beings…are equally free…”. This means that a worker in the USA who gains freedom and control over their own work isn’t truly free while other workers in, say, China and Africa continue to be brutally repressed and exploited. But it also means that, so long as social hierarchies characterized by intersectional issues are not addressed and dissolved, that the working class as a whole cannot be free. In other words, there cannot be real liberty, equality and solidarity where some workers are discriminated against or otherwise disempowered by social hierarchies.

So, for instance, there is no real solidarity expressed by people who are only interested in their particular craft’s labor fights (because it has no real class characteristic)…for instance, IBEW workers crossing USW’s picket line during the recent refinery strike. But additionally, there is also no real solidarity expressed by people who are only concerned with freedom, for instance, for white, male, heterosexual, cisgender workers, as these are folks who are not subject to marginalization like other workers are, including people of color, women, queer and transgender folks. Because different workers are subject to various social hierarchies (like patriarchy, racism and queerphobia) and they experience a lack of freedom differently than others of the working class.

As a result, it is critical for those of us who believe fighting for another world characterized by human dignity, liberty and equality, to understand that such a thing is necessitated by solidarity. But also that this solidarity must be characterized by both class struggle as well as the recognition of the need to combat and resolve intersectional issues and dissolve all their associated social hierarchies. Because these issues ultimately disempower and marginalize people, prevent the liberation of the working class and throw a wrench in the spokes of libertarian solidarity.

The Secret History of Tree Spiking, Part 3

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 11, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Note: The Secret History of Tree Spiking Part 1 and Part 2 were written by Judi Bari in 1993.

Twenty-five years ago, a group of Earth First!ers, including Judi Bari, Darryl Cherney, and Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle held a press release in Samoa, California (a small town west of Eureka, in Humboldt County, northwestern California) at the Louisiana-Pacific lumber mill and export dock. There, they issued the following statement:

In response to the concerns of loggers and mill-workers, Northern California Earth First! organizers are renouncing the tactic of tree spiking in our area. Through the coalitions we have been building with lumber workers, we have learned that the timber corporations care no more for the lives of their employees than they do for the life of the forest. Their routine maiming and killing of mill workers is coldly calculated into the cost of doing business, just as the destruction of whole ecosystems is considered a reasonable by-product of lumber production.

These companies would think nothing of sending a spiked tree through a mill, and relish the anti-Earth First! publicity that an injury would cause.

Since Earth First! is not a membership organization, it is impossible to speak for all Earth First!ers. But this decision has been widely discussed among Earth First!ers in our area, and the local sentiment is overwhelmingly in favor of renouncing tree-spiking. We hope that our influence as organizers will cause any potential tree-spikers to consider using a different method. We must also point out that we are not speaking for all Earth First! groups in this pronouncement. Earth First! is decentralized, and each group can set its own policies. A similar statement to this one renouncing tree spiking is now being made in Southern Oregon, but not all groups have reached the broad consensus we have on this issue.

But in our area, the loggers and mill workers are our neighbors, and they should be our allies, not our adversaries. Their livelihood is being destroyed along with the forest. The real conflict is not between us and the timber workers, it is between the timber corporation and our entire community.

We want to give credit for this change in local policy to the rank and file timber workers who have risked their jobs and social relations by coming forward and talking to us. This includes Gene Lawhorn of Roseburg Lumber in Oregon, who defied threats to appear publicly with Earth First! organizer Judi Bari. It also includes the Georgia Pacific, Louisiana Pacific, and Pacific Lumber employees who are members of IWW Local #1 in northern California.

Equipment sabotage is a time-honored tradition among industrial workers. It was not invented by Earth First!, and it is certainly not limited to Earth First! even in our area. But the target of monkey wrenching was always intended to be the machinery of destruction, not the workers who operate that machinery for $7/hour. This renunciation of tree spiking is not a retreat, but rather an advance that will allow us to stop fighting the victims and concentrate on the corporations themselves.”

For those not familiar with the tactic of "tree spiking", Earth First cofounder Dave Foreman describes the act in great detail in the book, EcoDefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching. While that text is not official Earth First! literature--in the sense that Earth First!, as a loose ad hoc organization that prefers to think of itself as a movement, has long distanced themselves from the text, and Dave Foreman, due to the latter's borderline racist and classist perspectives, has long been associated with Earth First!, and Earth First! has long been associated (for better or worse) with Tree Spiking, and to this day, there are many Earth First!ers who continue to support the tactic, or--at least--choose not to renounce it.

A “Climate Movement Across the Movements”

By Patrick Bond - CounterPunch, March 31 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Looming ahead in eight months’ time is another Conference of Polluters, or COP (technically, the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). The last twenty did zilch to save us from climate catastrophe. Judging by early rough drafts of the Paris COP21 agreement recently leaked, another UN fiasco is inevitable.

The ‘Coalition Climat21’ strategy meeting for Paris was held in Tunis on March 23-24, just before the World Social Forum. I had a momentary sense this could be a breakthrough gathering, if indeed fusions were now ripe to move local versions of ‘Blockadia’ – i.e. hundreds of courageous physical resistances to CO2 and methane emissions sources – towards a genuine global political project. The diverse climate activists present seemed ready for progressive ideology, analysis, strategy, tactics and alliances. Between 150 and 400 people jammed a university auditorium over the course of the two days, mixing French, English and Arabic.

It was far more promising than the last time people gathered for a European COP, in 2009 at Copenhagen, when the naivety of ‘Seal the Deal’ rhetoric from mainstream climate organisations proved debilitating. That was a narrative akin to drawing lemmings towards – and over – a cliff: first up the hill of raised expectations placed on UN negotiators, before crashing down into a despondency void lasting several years. Recall that leaders of the US, Brazil, South Africa, India and China did a backroom deal that sabotaged a binding emissions follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol. In ‘Hopenhagen,’ even phrases like ‘System change not climate change’ were co-opted, as green capital educated by NGO allies agreed that a definition of ‘system’ (e.g. from fossil fuels to nuclear) could be sufficiently malleable to meet their rhetorical needs.

That precedent notwithstanding, the phrase “A climate movement across the movements” used here seemed to justify an urgent unity of diverse climate activists, along with heightened attempts to draw in those who should be using climate in their own specific sectoral work. The two beautiful words ‘Climate Justice’ are on many lips but I suspect the cause of unity may either erase them from the final phraseology or water them down to nebulousness.

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