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COP26 to CON26: how we need to be at DEFCON level 1 to save our people and planet

By Dave Sherry - Scottish Left Review, January 2022

Climate Jobs: Building a workforce for the climate was written and published by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group (CACCTU) to coincide with COP26. It is a response to the urgency of the climate crisis and lays out the type and scale of the transition needed to match it. It is essential reading for every trade unionist and climate activist.

It provides a detailed, in-depth update of the earlier work produced by CACCTU, One Million Climate Jobs (2014), showing that there are many more than a million, well paid, skilled jobs that could be created if we get serious and urgently tackle the climate emergency. Packed with ideas, examples, and accompanying technical resources, it outlines the type of workforce needed and argues that to deliver it we need to break from the failed reliance on the market and instead invest in a huge expansion of public sector jobs across all sectors – from transport, energy and food to homes, education and more.

The pamphlet argues this will require a National Climate Service, which can organise, plan and train workers as well as deliver the jobs so urgently needed, amounting to a radical transformation which will improve our lives, ensuring among other things we have warm, affordable homes, a fully integrated public transport system and most importantly a safe climate and ecology now and in the future.

World leaders, NGOs, pressure groups and corporates jetted into Glasgow for COP26. Like previous summits, it saw major corporations vie with each other in the dark arts of greenwashing, having paid millions to sponsor the event itself. COP1 met in Berlin in 1995. Since then, the process has seen a quarter-century of failure with the environmental crisis becoming rapidly and terrifyingly worse.

Failure has much to do with the fact that the COP process has never been short of corporate influence. Glasgow had 11 major sponsors, including the energy giants Hitachi, National Grid, Scottish Power and SSE. Other sponsors included Microsoft, Sky media and NatWest. Boris Johnson, Jeff Bezos, Joe Biden, Barack Obama and India’s Narendra Modi arrived in town with the world’s media touting Glasgow as the ‘last chance saloon’. But Glasgow proved to be CON26. In the run-up activists around the world were already claiming it would be the most elitist, least democratic COP ever, with the politicians of the rich countries dominating the agenda and excluding representatives of the people bearing the brunt of the crisis. And, so it proved.

Now that the circus has left town every day that passes rams home its failure and the growing existential threat we face. 2021 was a year of unprecedented climate crisis marked by terrifying floods, wildfires, hurricanes and droughts. Tipping points, like the collapse of the Gulf Stream and the Greenland ice sheet, are in danger of being crossed. Meanwhile, the Amazon rainforest now emits more carbon dioxide than it absorbs, making it a source of, rather than a sink for, greenhouse gas emissions.

The crisis is spiralling out of control because capitalism’s inherent inequalities of class, race and gender block any prospect of climate justice. Estimates of who’ll be displaced by climate change vary dramatically. The most cited figure is that by 2050 there will be 200m climate refugees fleeing harvest failures, droughts and floods. No wonder the UN Climate Report flashed up Code Red for humanity, warning that the worst scenarios can only be avoided by immediate government action.

Citizen Pilgrim: Richard Falk and Me

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 2022

Although I have met him only once, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past fifty years learning from Richard Falk. Now in his 90’s, Falk has recently published a memoir called Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim that helps me understand why.[1]

Falk is the Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law and Practice at Princeton, but he has eschewed the dominant “realist” approach to international law that portrays existing states as the only significant actors, instead promoting an alternative vision in which social movements around the world contest the existing world order. While he is perhaps best known for his highly controversial role as UN Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967,” in which he stated that Israel’s 2009 offensive in Gaza was a war crime of the “greatest magnitude,”[2] he has been a prolific writer and speaker on subjects ranging from the Vietnam War to human rights to the environmental crisis.

I first became aware of Falk in the midst of the Vietnam War. One day, as the US war escalated, Marcus Raskin, co-director of the Institute for Policy Studies, mentioned the Manifesto of 121 that had encouraged resistance to the French war in Algeria and wondered how we could get a copy.[3] I was a young student at IPS, and I recalled that an old copy of the British New Left Review had a translation of the statement. Next time I visited my home I found it and gave it to Marc.

The Manifesto of 121 likened French torture in Algeria to Nazi atrocities, therefore justifying extralegal resistance to the war. It pledged to support soldiers who resisted the war and those who aided them, even though such resistance was a serious crime.

As the US escalated its war in Vietnam, young Americans started a draft resistance movement, burning draft cards, fleeing the country, and risking imprisonment for refusing to fight in Vietnam. They found support in a small number of religious and intellectual figures who issued a Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority.[4] As the Manifesto of 121 justified resistance to French atrocities in Algeria by comparing them to Nazi torture, the Call compared US atrocities in Vietnam to those for which Nazi leaders had been tried as war criminals after World War II – and justified resistance to the war as a right and even a duty.

This “extremist” charge received support from an unexpected quarter: Professor Richard Falk, who spoke and wrote extensively about the parallel. He co-edited the book Crimes of War[5] and advocated a “Nuremburg obligation” that made it a duty not to participate in war crimes, even if given orders to do so by those claiming governmental authority. He testified for the defense in numerous anti-war civil disobedience trials, notably those of the Catholic activists Philip and Daniel Berrigan.

Time for a Climate Insurgency?

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, December 20, 2021

The leaders of the world's countries gathered in Glasgow signed a death warrant for the world's people. Is there anything the world's people can do about it? To answer effectively, human solidarity may have to challenge the very legitimacy of the nation-state system.

Since the end of the feudal era the world order has been largely structured by the nation-state system. Individuals have been willing to kill and die for their countries. The pursuit of individual and collective interests has occurred largely within a national framework.

Nonetheless, social and political movements have often transgressed national boundaries and expressed solidarities that go beyond them. People frequently join together in social movements that embody the principle and practice of solidarity. And these movements often cut across national boundaries.

Image by Ralph Chaplin, published in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) journal Solidarity on June 30, 1917.

Beyond a Just Transition

Beyond "Just Transition"

By Dr Eurig Scandrett - The Jimmy Reid Foundation, December 3, 2021

Introduction

It is no use simply saying to South Wales miners that all around them is an ecological disaster. They already know. They live in it. They have lived in it for generations. They carry it in their lungs… you cannot just say to people who have committed their lives and their communities to certain kinds of production that this has all got to be changed… Everything will have to be done by negotiation, by equitable negotiation, and it will have to be taken steadily along the way. Otherwise, you will find … that there is a middle-class environmental group protesting against the damage and there’s a trade-union group supporting the coming of the work. Now for socialists this is a terrible conflict to get into. Because if each group does not really listen to what the other is saying, there will be a sterile conflict which will postpone any real solutions at a time when it is already a matter for argument whether there is still time for the solutions. Raymond Williams (1982/1989)

The idea of ‘Just Transition’ (JT) has gained traction in recent years. With its roots in the union movement at the end of the twentieth century, it has developed into a concept with diverse and contested meanings. This engagement with JT has created spaces within the urgent policy areas of climate change mitigation to address potential job losses and the disproportionate impact up on the poorest communities, and more positively, to work for the generation of good quality, unionised jobs and greater social equality in a green economy. This is a fast-moving and often technical area of policy development. In Scotland, the Just Transition Commission (2021) reported in May 2021 after meeting over a period of two years, and relevant technical and policy reports are published with increasing frequency.

This paper is not a detailed contribution to these debates, on which others are more competent to comment, although it will inevitably touch on these. The paper aims to take a somewhat longer-term and more abstracted view of JT. It asks what do we mean by ‘Just’ and to what are we expecting to ‘Transition’ to? It argues that, in the discussions over the meanings of JT, the collective interests of workers, low-income communities and the environment are central, and require mechanisms to facilitate challenging dialogues between these interests.

There is an inevitable tendency, in developing positions on JT, to seek common ground between the two principal social movements that have driven JT debates: unions and environmental NGOs; or else between different unions or different industrial sectors. This process of seeking common ground can lead to a dilution of principle on all sides, a common denominator that all can live with, but with which none is entirely satisfied. While the process of negotiating common ground is a necessary and useful process for practical purposes, and a process at which the union movement is particularly adept, this paper argues that JT also provides the opportunity for a deeper dialogue in which all key stakeholders – the environment and working-class people who are either dependent on or excluded from the current unsustainable economy – can seek to incorporate the principles of the others. There are areas where the union movement and the environmental movement disagree. These areas of disagreement could be seen as potentially fertile grounds for deep dialogue in order to seek meaningful and lasting resolution.

This paper is, therefore, not intended to reflect the policy of any union or environmental group, but rather constitute a contribution to a debate within these movements and outwith them as well. It is, in places, designed to challenge. Indeed, it makes the case that the union and environmental movements can best learn from one another by being willing to be challenged by each other. All social movements reflect the interests of their participants, members, opinion formers and supporters and are contingent upon the social and political conditions in which they are acting. This is a strength, but also leads to ‘blind spots’ which are best addressed through collective self-reflection and challenges in solidarity from comrades in the struggle.

It is argued here that JT provides an opportunity to explore, for example, the tension well known in unions between representing the immediate interests of members and the long-term interests of the working-class; and in the environmental movement between the disproportionately educated, white, professional middle-class membership of the NGOs and the communities most directly affected by environmental devastation.

As has been recognised in some of the debates about JT, the idea can be located in a radical working-class tradition which, in Britain includes defence diversification, the East Kilbride Rolls Royce boycott of Chilean engines, the Lucas Aerospace Alternative Plan, the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in, amongst others. JT can be more than a mechanism to address climate change, for it can also be a process which can be applied to transitions of many kinds that the labour movement and the left more generally have long advocated: the transition to a more democratic economy, more equal society and socially beneficial system of production, distribution and exchange. The paper, therefore, argues that the union movement, along with environmental and anti-poverty movements would benefit from going ‘beyond’ just transition.

Blah, Blah, Blah, Yay: Another Epic Fail for the COP, but Seeds of Growth for our Movements

By John Foran - Sierra Club, December 1, 2021

As COP 26 began, Greta Thunberg summed up the whole thing quite succinctly using just one word, three times:  Blah blah blah.

And as it ended two weeks later, she tweeted:

The #COP26 is over. Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah. But the real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever [emphasis added].

And indeed, COP 26 was an epic fail, even by the dismal standards of the 25 COPs that preceded it, but at the same time, the global climate justice movement made some much needed forward progress.

Chomsky and Pollin: Protests Outside of COP26 Offered More Hope Than the Summit

By C.J. Polychroniou, Noam Chomsky, and Robert Pollin - Truthout, November 22, 2021

The legacy of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) this fall was perhaps best encapsulated by its president, who bowed his head and — close to tears — actually apologized for the process, which ended with a last-minute watering-down of participants’ pledges on coal.

“May I just say to all delegates I apologize for the way this process has unfolded and I am deeply sorry,” said Alok Sharma, the British politician who served as president for COP26. The conference ended on November 13 with a disheartening “compromise” deal on the climate after two weeks of negotiations with diplomats from more than 190 nations.

In the interview that follows, leading public intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin offer their assessments of what transpired at COP26 and share their views about ways to go forward with the fight against the climate crisis. Chomsky — one of the most cited scholars in history and long considered one of the U.S.’s voices of conscience — is Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and currently Laureate Professor of Linguistics and Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona. He is joined by one of the world’s leading economists of the left, Robert Pollin, who is Distinguished Professor and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Chomsky and Pollin are co-authors of the recently published book, Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy to Save the Planet.

C.J. Polychroniou: COP26, touted as our “last best hope” to avert a climatic catastrophe, has produced an outcome that was a “compromise,” according to United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, while activists conducted a funeral ceremony at the Glasgow Necropolis to symbolize the failure of the summit. Noam, can you give us your analysis of the COP26 climate agreement?

Noam Chomsky: There were two events at Glasgow: within the stately halls, and in the streets. They may have not been quite at war, but the conflict was sharp. Within, the dominant voice mostly echoed the concerns of the largest contingent, corporate lobbyists; rather like the U.S. Congress, where the impact of lobbyists, always significant, has exploded since the 1970s as the corporate-run neoliberal assault against the general population gained force. The voice within had some nice words but little substance. In the streets, tens of thousands of protesters, mostly young, were desperately calling for real steps to save the world from looming catastrophe.

COP26 Report Back: Climate Justice Activists Speak Out

“That’s So F**king Imperialistic”: Responding to a Supporter of Cuba’s Government

By Daniel Fischer - New Politics, November 1, 2021

Following Cuba’s July 11th protests, University of Houston professor Bob Buzzanco posted on social media a strongly worded attack on New Politics, to which Lois Weiner and I responded with September’s “NP on Cuba: Consistent Opposition to US Imperialism and Support of Democratic Rights.” Buzanco’s subsequent critique titled “Doing Miami’s Dirty Work (Wittingly or Not): Responding to ‘New Politics’” asked the following questions of us anti-authoritarian and Third Camp leftists: “What will Left criticism of Cuba accomplish? How will it benefit the people in the streets of Cuba protesting? Where’s your solidarity?” These are fair questions, and they should be mainly asked to Cubans on the island. As a non-Cuban who hasn’t experienced Cuba’s everyday realities, I will respond with humility and with attention to local voices.

While Buzzanco claims that criticizing Havana aids Miami, a consistent defense of democratic rights actually makes our anti-imperialist movements more credible and strengthens our case for ending the unconscionable blockade. As critical leftists, we can provide a credible socialist alternative, both to the state-capitalist regime and to the neoliberal tendencies trying to co-opt the Cuban opposition. We can argue that respecting Cuba’s self-determination will not only improve the humanitarian situation but will also strengthen Cuba’s democratic dissidents by removing President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s ability to blame all his failures on Washington.

I actually agree with many of Buzzanco’s points, including his acknowledgement of Cuba’s accomplishments in ecology and health care. But I have my own questions for people like Buzzanco who stand fully behind the Cuban government. What is his message for Cubans who are becoming increasingly disillusioned with their leaders? What do you offer them beyond the bleak, Orwellian view that they should not protest until the U.S. blockade is lifted? Here is what he writes:

“[A]ny protest inside Cuba, no matter the intention, was going to have U.S. and Miami fingerprints on it and serve the interests of the Miami mafia and the American ‘National Security’ establishment […]

[A]ny disaffection in Cuba is generally engineered and absolutely and inevitably exploited by Calle 8 [8th Street in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood]”

I know that if I were Cuban, I would not take kindly to such condescending statements coming from a U.S. professor. I sent Buzzanco’s article to an Anarchist contact in Havana, and here was his response:

“That’s so fucking imperialistic in a pretty twisted way. We Cubans don’t owe shit to anyone. Not in Miami, not in Beijing, or in some office in Havana.”

Whatever a genuinely anti-imperialist approach toward Cuba might look like, it cannot be to rally behind a regime that denies Cubans some of their most basic rights. The most strategic way to build a socialist world, in fact the only way, is through critical though unwavering solidarity with the world’s oppressed. In consultation with Cuban leftists, we should explore what solidarity must mean when applied to a population that is suffering, firstly, from more than a century of U.S. imperialism, and secondly, from an authoritarian bureaucracy.

Learning About a Just Transition

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