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It’s Time for Disaster Communism

By Rahula Janowski - The Indypendent, October 13, 2017

The fires here are still uncontained. Over 8,000 people have already lost everything and while I pray that no one else loses their home or is harmed in the fires, that looks unlikely. Where are all these people supposed to go? There is no affordable housing here in the Bay area.

It’s time for some disaster communism, disaster socialism, some disaster anarchism. We know the speculators are drooling and champing at the bit right now. There are so many ways for them to make a profit from a tragedy. If we move forward in an individualist way, in a capitalist way, each family’s loss and struggle will be theirs alone. It will be horrific. It will not end well for anyone except those for whom things always end well, those who can use money to wipe their butts but never have a dime to spare.

What if we took a different route?

What if we expropriated every housing unit in San Francisco that is currently unoccupied for all but two vacation weeks a year and housed people whose homes in from Santa Rosa were incinerated? What if every illegal Airbnb unit was handed over to displaced families? What if law enforcement came under immense public pressure to ignore property laws and refused to evict squatters?

The 600-foot Millennial Tower in San Francisco has made headlines as it slowly sinks and leans by the centimeter against the skyline. The minuscule tilt has sent wealthy condo owners dialing their attorneys. But maybe, for those displaced, life in a leaning tower will be better than a shelter, a chance to experience a little lopsided luxury for a while?  

What if we socialized our housing or, at a minimum, all our unoccupied housing?

The possibilities are endless and it’s time. It’s time to shift gears. I mean, it’s been time. If the bankers, developers, landlords, the capitalists who have done so much harm already can see this crisis as an opportunity, maybe we should too — a chance to build a new world from the ashes of the old.

Time for Disaster Socialism

By Nato Green - San Francisco Examiner, October 15, 2017

The fires are not contained. The bodies haven’t been found. It’s time to talk about politics …

During and in the immediate aftermath of tragedies, we are told it’s not the time for politics. As a nation, we love the spectacle of what author Teju Cole called “the white-savior industrial complex,” in which justice is replaced by a “big emotional experience that validates privilege.” While we take a respite from breathing this week, let’s try justice instead.

On the West Coast, our historically unprecedented drought was followed by historically unprecedented fires. The South and the Caribbean are being ravaged by historically unprecedented hurricanes. It’s either God’s wrath for squandering a perfectly good planet, or our own squandering a perfectly good planet — and it’s becoming uninhabitable.

Try as they might, politicians did not summon fires, storms or earthquakes. However, our craven politics certainly increased the likelihood that these calamities would occur and be horrendous. Politics ensured the inadequacy of the disaster response and, we may confidently anticipate, utter neglect of the effort necessary to rebuild and restore people and lands so traumatized or to mitigate further disasters.

Scientists told us this was coming, and we didn’t listen, because driving was too fun and the beef too delicious. We know what happens next. It’s what Naomi Klein called “disaster capitalism.” Corporations made fortunes ignoring the risks and now will make another fortune on the back end. Capitalism is a protection racket. While we heal and grieve, savvy businessmen seek to use our collective anguish to further privatize and profit and deregulate in the name of recovery. After Hurricane Katrina, for example, the Louisiana legislature handed the public school system to the charter school industry, with predictably wretched results for students.

The market can’t be allowed to lead the response to the fires, because the market is the problem. We knew that impending climate change meant these related cataclysms. Gov. Jerry Brown didn’t want to ban oil drilling or fracking. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that half of the increase in forest fires is from climate change. Yet, just last year, Gov. Brown vetoed SB 1463, a bipartisan bill to improve inspection of power lines and address higher risk of wildfires because of neglected power lines next to dead trees. Reports have suggested that PG&E power lines were the probable spark of the fires, which spread so ferociously because California is getting hotter and drier.

Fixing, regulating and preventing are a known and ongoing cost, whereas betting against worst-case scenarios is lucrative business for a quarterly return.

In Santa Rosa, more than 2,800 homes have been destroyed in a region with insufficient affordable housing; the city was trying to figure out how to build another 5,000 units. In one rental listing in Santa Rosa, the landlord hiked the rent more than 30 percent immediately after the fire started. Left to its own devices, will the market build the housing needed by the people affected? Or will it build for rich future residents and let those who lost everything fend for themselves?

We need a People’s Fire Recovery Plan, a “disaster socialism” to answer disaster capitalism. The people and land affected by the fires need to get whatever help they need, regardless of cost. The crisis is an occasion to demand what we needed last week — aggressive regulatory oversight to protect public health and safety, adequate funding of public services for first, second and third responders, physical and mental health care. Burning down a lot of real estate means there’s plenty of space to rebuild affordable housing and public transit. We need urban planning that prepares for more ecological adversity.

The old Industrial Workers of the World union song “Solidarity Forever” had a fitting lyric: “We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old.” In 2017 California, we are learning the hard way that the Wobblies meant literal ashes. Get ready for the birthing.

Open Letter To Union Leaders: Act On Climate

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 2017

To the leaders of the American labor movement:

Working people, poor people, and frontline communities are most heavily impacted by the effects of climate change. We feel the force of this devastation first and worst—from more powerful hurricanes to wildfires, from rising sea levels to crop-destroying droughts and floods. Our families and communities receive the greatest blow and have the biggest stake in moving as rapidly as possible from a fossil fuel-based society to a sustainable energy society.

Global warming represents an existential threat to the world’s people. We must act rapidly to avoid even more devastating climate change. But moving to 100% renewable energy will also impact jobs for many of us. So any transition, to be just, must protect workers and frontline communities impacted by the changes we must make from having to disproportionately bear rather than share the social cost.

Organized labor with its allies is the strongest, best-organized force to turn this around. Who will speak for the global majority of working people and poor people if organized labor does not?

The Earth is our only home. There is no Planet B. And there are no jobs on a dead planet.

As union members and families of union members, we call on you to take the lead in backing policies that call for:
(1) A rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy;
(2) Massive rebuilding of our energy, transport, and other infrastructure in support of that transformation; and
(3) A just transition for workers and communities directly affected by climate change and the transition to renewable energy – including income support, retraining, retirement security, and the creation of quality living-wage union-protected jobs in infrastructure, energy efficiency, and clean energy.

Future generations will ask what the labor movement did to respond to, slow and mitigate the worst effects of climate change. We urge you to take bold action to address the climate crisis with solutions that protect our planet and our people. You will have my full backing for these policies and the backing of millions of working Americans who are looking for your leadership at this critical moment.

The actions we take today will determine the world that our children, grandchildren, and future generations will inhabit tomorrow and for centuries to come. Let’s act decisively now to improve rather than imperil their lives.

How We Beat Trump’s Dirty Power Play

By Ben Ishibashi - Common Dreams, October 11, 2017

Donald Trump and his Environmental Protection Agency chief, Scott Pruitt, think undoing all that has gone before them is something to celebrate. With no real accomplishments of their own, they revel in their power to destroy, rather than defend.

This is what Pruitt wants out of his bid to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the Obama Administration’s signature effort to cut carbon emissions from electric power generation by 32 percent by 2030.

“The war on coal is over,” Pruitt crowed at a press conference on Monday in Hazard, Kentucky, beaming. as if easing restrictions on dirty generators will magically bring back jobs to the state’s ravaged coalfields. It will not.

Allowing power companies to pump more carbon into the atmosphere won’t create jobs, nor will it revitalize the economy, even if Pruitt and Trump claim it as a big win.

But their bid to repeal the Clean Power Plan may have one silver lining: It gives all of us who care about climate justice a new opportunity to make our voices heard, and to fight for our planet’s future.

The Corporate Assault on Science

By Murray Dobbin - CounterPunch, October 6, 2017

The fact that science is the foundation for civilization and democracy should be self-evident. Regrettably that connection seems often to escape our collective consciousness. We tend to think of science narrowly as restricted to hi-tech, laboratories and the development of electric cars or travel to Mars. But everything we do collectively from Medicare to fighting climate change to designing social programs, building infrastructure and tax policy we take for granted is rooted in evidence, that is, science.

The advent of right-wing populist hostility towards evidence and now extended by so-called alternate facts, threatens to take us down the dystopian road of the irrational. The spread of this trend in the US – highlighted by the election of Trump as president and the inability of US culture to cope with gun violence – is as much a threat to the future of the human race as is climate change.

The trend started in earnest in the 1990’s and it took a long time for scientists themselves to step up and defend their ground. An unprecedented and overt attack on public science by Stephen Harper forced the traditionally a-political science community to take a public stand for evidence-based policy. In the summer of 2012 hundreds of demonstrators marched from an Ottawa science conference to Parliament Hill under the banner the ‘Death of Evidence’.   Many were working scientists wearing their lab coats. Last April there was the world-wide Global March for Science in 600 cities coinciding with Earth Day.

The fight back for science and by scientists is one of the bright spots in the resistance against the rise of irrationalism. But there is another dark corner that has not had as much light shone on it and that is the pernicious corruption of science and scientists.

A recent book gives us a major resource for understanding and exposing the sinister trade in lies and obfuscation that results in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of deaths every year. Corporate Ties that Bind: An Examination of Corporate Manipulation and Vested Interests in Public Health is a 450 page, 24 chapter compendium by an   international group of scientists about how corporations routinely set out to undermine public interest science – and how they have found hundreds of scientists eager to do their bidding.

Those who consider themselves informed citizens know of course that science is often corrupted with the tobacco industry being the poster child for deadly science fraud. But even the most disillusioned will have their breath taken away by the accounts in this book. One of the most compelling chapters is authored by Canadian Kathleen Ruff (a friend) who led the successful fight against asbestos in Canada.

Ruff documents how the strategy of the tobacco industry was adopted by virtually every other dirty industry eager to hide their toxic products. The advice received by the industry from the infamous Hill and Knowlton was “…not to challenge scientific evidence but instead to seize and control it. …declare the value of scientific skepticism…creating an appearance of scientific controversy.” It was a brilliant strategy and is still being used today.

Appetite for Destruction: Trump’s War on the Environment

By Joshua Frank - CounterPunch, October 6, 2017

From the senseless slaughter in Las Vegas to the horrific impacts of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico, to Trump’s boisterous threats against North Korea and unfolding strife within the White House — it’s easy to get lost in the world’s madness and the nefarious mind of Prez Trump. It’s a dangerous vortex, no doubt, but Trump’s twitter storm and paper towel tossing photo ops are little more than a distraction from his administration’s unfettered assault on the environment.

This past week, Team Trump quietly denied protection for 25 species that are on the verge of extinction, including the Pacific walrus and black-backed woodpecker. The reason, of course, is that science doesn’t mean jack shit to the corporate barons ruling our government.

“Denying protection for these 25 species despite the imminent threat of climate change and ongoing habitat destruction is typical of the Trump administration’s head-in-the-sand approach,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

This is only Trump’s latest violation of our country’s endangered species. In June, Trump stripped protections for Yellowstone’s imperiled grizzly bear.

Under the noses of the environmental community, as Steve Horn and I recently reported, the Trump admin is also moving forward with new regulations that would allow certain liquid natural gas (LNG) exports in the US to skirt environmental reviews, a literal wet dream of America’s fracking empire. In many cases, Trump’s war on the environment and appetite for fossil fuels is shared by the so-called opposition in the Washington. The push for expediting LNG exports, for example, is largely spearheaded by former Clinton campaign employees.

Then there’s Trump’s overt destruction of the EPA, typically the last stopgap against environmental plunder. Indeed, Trump’s defanging the EPA is one campaign promise he’s managed to uphold. The EPA employs a mere 14,000 people, but Trump is doing his best to shrink that number substantially. Not only is there a current hiring freeze in place, it was reported last June that the EPA was planning to offer buyouts to more than 1,200 employees. Buyout is short for forced retirement. In September a wave of these forced retirements swept the EPA and at least 362 employees accepted Trump’s buyout last month.  The EPA hasn’t been this small and impotent since the Reagan era.

It’s all by design. Trump, with help from Congress, is hoping to slash the agency’s budget by 31% next year. EPA administrator Scott Pruit, who infamously denied the existence of climate change, is carrying out Trump’s mission to scrub all science from the EPA’s toolbox. But what’s better than banning science research at the agency? How about getting rid of the EPA altogether, one employee at a time. Sadly, Trump is carrying on with a trend President Obama set into motion. During his second term, the Obama admin paid more than $11 million to buyout 436 EPA employees. Shrinking the government is a bipartisan affair.

However, if Trump and Pruitt have their way, they’ll take Obama’s move a step further and scrap Superfund cleanup funds along with eliminating 50 other EPA programs. Also on the chopping block is the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, which works to protect our most environmentally impacted poor, minority communities.

Of course, we also have Trump signing an executive order to expand offshore drilling, wanting to back out of the Paris climate deal, as well as a push to open up oil exploration in ANWAR. He also hopes to scrap Obama’s climate regulations. And Trump, along with Secretary of the Interior Zinke, are working to reduce the size of nearly half of our National Monuments. To top it off they are also seeking to open these wild lands to oil and gas development. Nothing is sacred.

No doubt President Trump is a daily, almost hourly, train wreck — but his antics are coming at a very real cost to the environment and those species and people most impacted by its destruction.

Memo to Jacobin: Ecomodernism is not ecosocialism

By Ian Angus - Climate and Capitalism, September 25, 2017

This summer, the left-wing magazine Jacobin published a special issue on climate change. The lead article declares that “climate change … has to be at the center of how we mobilize and organize going forward. From now on, every issue is a climate issue.”

That’s excellent news: a magazine that calls itself “a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture,” ought to be a leader in the fight against capitalism’s deadly assault on the earth’s life-support systems.

Unfortunately, if the special issue is any indication, Jacobin is heading in the wrong direction. Although the term eco-socialism appears from time to time (always with a hyphen, which may indicate some uneasiness with the combination) there is nothing in this issue resembling an ecosocialist analysis or program. There’s not a word about stopping coal or tar sands mining, and no mention of shutting down the world’s biggest polluter, the US military. Instead we are offered paeans to technology in articles that advocate nuclear power, geoengineering, new power grids, electric cars and the like.

But despite their technophilia, the authors display little understanding of the technologies they support. Take, for example, the piece by Christian Parenti. He has written elsewhere that the U S government can resolve the climate crisis without system change by supporting clean technologies, so “realistic climate politics are reformist politics.” This article says much the same, that “state action and the public sector” can solve climate change by implementing carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). He tells us that removing CO2 from the atmosphere is “fairly simple,” because it has been done in submarines for years, and because Icelandic scientists recently developed a safe method of injecting CO2 into underground basalt, where it becomes a limestone-like solid within two years.

That sounds impressive, but is it credible?

The MST and the Fight to Change the Brazilian Power Structure

Gilmar Mauro interviewed by Brian Mier - The Bullet, September 15, 2017

During the 1960s, legend has it that governor José Sarney sat down at a table with a group of cattle-ranching cronies and aerial photographs of Maranhão state, in Northeastern Brazil. They marked boundaries on the photos with pencil and divided up the land. In the decades that followed, these ranchers committed what Brazilians call grilhagem, altering documentation to illegally appropriate land. Sarney and his henchmen fenced off millions of hectares of land, then either kicked out the peasants who were living there, forcing them into mud hut settlements between the road and the fences, or keeping them on as labourers, often paying them with vouchers for use at their own stores and patrolling the grounds with armed guards so that no one can escape. Under Sarney’s control, Maranhão state was deforested, and roughly half of its majority Afro-Brazilian and indigenous population migrated to big cities in the Southeast, some of which, like São Paulo, saw their populations increase fivefold over a period of a few decades.

The case of José Sarney, who would become the president of Brazil (1985-90) and three-time Senate President, is just one chapter in the 500-year-old story of how large rural landholders dominate Brazilian political and economic life, which is represented today in the largest political caucus in the Brazilian Congress, the ruralistas, whose majority recently voted to throw out massive corruption charges against current President Michel Temer.[1]

Unlike other former European colonies in the Americas, Brazil has never implemented agrarian reform. With the world’s most unequal land division, three per cent of the population owns approximately 2/3 of the arable land.[2] When former president João Goulart attempted to enact agrarian reform in 1964, he was thrown out of office in a U.S.-backed military coup.[3] As the resultant dictatorship approached its end in the early 1980s, a new peasant-based social movement arose in Rio Grande do Sul state, called the Movimento de Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Rural Worker’s Movement, MST). Incorporating theories from liberation theology and intellectuals like Paulo Freire, Karl Marx, and Antonio Gramsci into practice, landless rural workers organized in groups to occupy fields of stolen land, resist eviction (sometimes fatally), and farm.[4] Using an innovative organizational structure of upwards and downwards democratic accountability through voluntary assemblies at the family, village, regional, state and national levels, the MST quickly spread across the country and now operates in all 26 Brazilian states, with “Friends of the MST” groups operating worldwide.

Although it has yet to reach its goal of enacting agrarian reform and building a socialist society, there are currently 400,000 families living and farming in MST agrarian reform villages across the county and the movement has successfully pressured the government to create a series of innovative policies, such as the Programa de Aquisição de Alimentos (Food Acquisition Program/PAA), ratified by former President Lula, which requires all public schools and hospitals in rural areas to purchase all food for their meal programs at subsidized prices from local family farmers.

The MST has a gender-balanced national directorate of 52 individuals, with two people elected periodically in each of its 26 state assemblies. Gilmar Mauro is a member of the national directorate, representing the state of São Paulo. I caught up with him at the MST national secretariat in São Paulo on August 25th, 2017, to talk about the current political context and its ramifications for small farmers.

After the Storms: Defeating Trumpism, Rebuilding America

By Gar Alperovitz and Ted Howard - Common Dreams, September 20, 2017

A political system haunted by racial violence and terror. An economy delivering great wealth for the few amid stagnation and indebtedness for the many. A rising millennial generation with deteriorating prospects increasingly willing to put their bodies on the line for something better. A climate catastrophe already beginning to unfold on the flooded streets of our largest cities. With the profoundly troubling events in Charlottesville—and before that in Ferguson, Berkeley, Baltimore, and elsewhere—the ghosts of America’s past have come crowding in. And the ghosts of our future made landfall with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Like all such ghosts, these demand a response. We must now produce one that is both deeply moral and capable of getting at the heart of our difficulties. We must overcome the nightmares of fear, hatred, and isolation that have seized our politics with a strategy that can deliver solutions commensurate with the scale of the problems we face.

Three challenges stand out against a backdrop of crisis and malaise. The first is the need to confront squarely, and on an ongoing basis, America’s deep history of racism that has led to armed white supremacists marching openly in the streets and a Neo-Nazi sympathizer sitting in the White House. The second is the imperative to get off the defensive and, coming together, put forward a much more powerful, transformative alternative to Trumpism—real, practicable solutions to the deep economic and ecological problems we are facing as a nation, building from the bottom up, as all serious movements must. The third calls for a political strategy capable of uniting a broad coalition around a shared agenda for building power, mobilizing the potential mass movement for fundamental transformation that is in the making if we develop the tools and alliances to bring about lasting change.

Our first commitment, as Cornel West has urged, has to be moral and political. We must mount an all-out attack on racism, racist leadership, and the so-called “alt-right”—including those who currently lead the country. America is not the only nation in the world in which the populist right has captured state power. Hungary and Poland each have right-wing authoritarian governments. Narendra Modi, India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister, once incited a massacre, while Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu have each presided over one. But the presidency of the United States is unique in the extraordinary political, economic, and military resources it commands. It’s time to face up to the fact that racism has been central not incidental to this power, with deep roots extending all the way back to the origins of the nation.

After Harvey and Irma: Mitigation, Adaptation and Suffering

By Tim DeChristopher and Suren Moodliar - Counterpunch, September 20, 2017

In this conversation, the Climate Disobedience Center’s Tim DeChristopher looks at how the progressive movement’s strategies need to change in now that climate change’s real impacts are more obvious to the American public. He addresses the focus on carbon mitigation (policies for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions) in light of the now very evident need for climate adaptation (adjusting how we live to deal with the changes that come with a warming planet), and the resulting suffering (the human, material, and environmental costs of warming).

Adaptation and Human Rights

Suren: Recently you challenged our community organizations and environmental movements to stop acting as if we’re able to forestall climate change and that all we must do is reduce carbon emissions.[1] What’s your general take on this mindset?

Tim:  Yeah. Well, that’s definitely been the focus of the climate movement for a long time, has been mitigating climate change, and there has been increasing discussion in some sort of policy circles about the need to also adapt and deal with impacts that will likely be inevitable at this point. One of the great contributions to the climate discourse that I think John Holdren, Obama’s science advisor, made was emphasizing this point that there are three responses to climate change, mitigation, adaptation and suffering, and that it’ll be some combination of those three that will make our full response to it, and the less mitigation we do, the more of the others we will do.[2]

At this point in 2017, we’ve gone far enough down that road that we know that there’s going to be a significant amount of adaptation and suffering that will need to happen, because we’ve fallen short in a lot of ways on the mitigation front. Of course there’s still a lot of mitigation that needs to be done to impact the degree of that suffering that will occur, but by and large I think our movements and our organizations haven’t been able to find a way to talk about adaptation without drawing away from the continued urgency of maintaining those mitigation efforts. There’s often a sense within the leadership of these movements that the talk about adaptation distracts from the need for mitigation. A common sentiment that I hear is, “If we tell people that it’s too late to avoid major impacts, then everybody’ll just give up and not do any mitigation efforts anymore.”

We need to be entering into this nuanced territory where it’s not all of one or all of the other, but more of a both-end, and holding attention between not just two points but three points, you know, of the policies for mitigation, the policies for adaptation, but also the social and personal and spiritual response of learning how to deal with the suffering that I think will be unprecedented and a huge challenge for our society, dealing with that suffering in a way that doesn’t abandon our humanity, that doesn’t pit us against one another, that doesn’t bring out the worst in us. That’s a whole new front that needs to be explored and engaged, as we maintain the work that needs to happen in terms of mitigation and in terms of adaptation.

[We need] the policies for mitigation, for adaptation, but also for the social and personal and spiritual response [to] the suffering that I think will be unprecedented… dealing with that in a way that doesn’t abandon our humanity, that doesn’t pit us against one another, and that doesn’t bring out the worst in us.

I think the urgent point there that needs to be remembered is even if our movements are not leading the public discourse around adaptation and how we adapt to this in a way that’s in line with our shared values, someone is. There are powerful people in our power structure that recognize how far along we are, and after the failures of Copenhagen at the end of 2009, when it became clear that we were not going to stop climate change at a manageable level, and that places like Bangladesh would likely go underwater, there were clearly some conversations that were happening about what would become of the people in places like Bangladesh if they go underwater, where there’s 80 million people that live less than 10 meters above sea level in Bangladesh.

We weren’t having that conversation publicly, but in the years after Copenhagen, India began building a border fence almost the entire way around Bangladesh, a 1,790-mile, partially-electrified fence. Somewhere, at some level of the power structure, the decision was made that, “Our adaptation policy is that we’re going to keep the most impacted and vulnerable people right where they’re at,” and that happened at a time when our secretary of state, who certainly at least had some say in a major geopolitical move like that by a close ally of ours, with India, was Hillary Clinton, and there was no accountability around her greenlighting a genocidal adaptation policy to climate change, because we as a movement weren’t really spearheading and leading that conversation about what humane and just adaptation to the climate crisis would look like.

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