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climate justice

Why “Good Liberals” Won’t Save the Climate

By Scott Parkin - CounterPunch, October 24, 2018

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
–Martin Luther King Jr.

Grey not Green: Technocratic Climate Agreement and Police State Terror

By Alexander Reid Ross - Earth First!, December 13, 2015

Image, right: Police confront Indigenous protest at COP21, Indigenous Environment Network.

World leaders congratulated one another with the help of some professional conservationists who have agreed that the climate accords are, as President Obama put it, “the enduring framework… the mechanism, the architecture, for us to continually tackle this problem in an effective way.”

During a protest march, indigenous activists presented to the world leaders a traditional cradleboard used to carry children by the Ponca Nation (Oklahoma, USA). Ponca elder Casey Camp-Horinek declared: “We come here with a present for Paris, we know what happened on November 13. We Indigenous people know how that feels to have someone kill the innocent ones. We offer this symbol in memory of lives lost, and we thank you for hosting us on this sacred day.”

The “mechanism” of the COP21 agreement calls for an “accelerated reduction” of carbon emissions to keep global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees. To get there, it summons a list of “shoulds” rather than “musts” with no actual “mechanism” of enforcement.

In one incredible line likely difficult to swallow for many of the US’s allies and multinational corporations, the agreement states, “Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.”

The agreement surges forward with a series of “recognitions” and “acknowledgements” meant perhaps as an eye to imperialist conditions in the Global South. For example, “acknowledging the specific needs and concerns of developing country Parties arising from the impact of the implementation of response measures[.]” Acknowledgement, unfortunately, has never been lacking. Assessing the immediate needs and demands is another thing entirely, and the climate agreement takes at best a glancing notice of this mechanism failure, relegating those discussions to ad hoc subgroups and committees.

In terms of actual execution, the agreement declares: “In accounting for anthropogenic emissions and removals corresponding to their nationally determined contributions, Parties shall promote environmental integrity, transparency, accuracy, completeness, comparability and consistency, and ensure the avoidance of double counting, in accordance with guidance adopted by the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement.” Relying on the good faith of some of the most heinous violators of human and ecological rights in the world sounds great when read off of an official document signed by those perpetrators, but when one steps outside into an abject police state at permanent war with its own population and countless other groups, sects, and parties, the clarity begins to fade into an overwhelming, terrifying, and stark sense of grey.

Resist the Climate Coup d’Etat! Paris COP21 Protests Still On

By Alexander Reid Ross - Earth First! Newswire, November 19, 2015

Although Syrian refugees are still being blamed for the Paris attacks, the news that the attackers were all European nationals seems only to have created a growing sense of disquiet. It’s as if some sense of purpose has been lost with cavalier bravado that always obscures the chauvinism staring plainly back at the West through the mirror of “the Orient.”

Lost on many is the fact that NATO powers helped to fuel the conflict in Syria and ensuing growth of ISIS. Lost on many more is the accelerant that climate change has become, creating systems of drought and despair in Syria and throughout the world that feed the conditions of civil war. Solving climate change would provide an important key to liberate those struggling for global justice, because it would come from them.

At this point, domestic questions begin to arise, and answers do not come easily for the bomb-dropping President of the French Fifth Republic whose imperial policies are so clearly part of the problem. He has agreed to allow Syrian refugees into France regardless of the notorious ressentiment of the radical right. However, his government has also used the attacks as convenient leverage to attempt to preemptively disperse protests for the upcoming Paris Conference of Parties (COP21), slated to take place November 30 to December 11.

Let Them Drown: The Violence of Othering in a Warming World

By Naomi Klein - London Review of Books, June 2, 2016

Edward Said was no tree-hugger. Descended from traders, artisans and professionals, he once described himself as ‘an extreme case of an urban Palestinian whose relationship to the land is basically metaphorical’. In After the Last Sky, his meditation on the photographs of Jean Mohr, he explored the most intimate aspects of Palestinian lives, from hospitality to sports to home décor. The tiniest detail – the placing of a picture frame, the defiant posture of a child – provoked a torrent of insight from Said. Yet when confronted with images of Palestinian farmers – tending their flocks, working the fields – the specificity suddenly evaporated. Which crops were being cultivated? What was the state of the soil? The availability of water? Nothing was forthcoming. ‘I continue to perceive a population of poor, suffering, occasionally colourful peasants, unchanging and collective,’ Said confessed. This perception was ‘mythic’, he acknowledged – yet it remained.

If farming was another world for Said, those who devoted their lives to matters like air and water pollution appear to have inhabited another planet. Speaking to his colleague Rob Nixon, he once described environmentalism as ‘the indulgence of spoiled tree-huggers who lack a proper cause’. But the environmental challenges of the Middle East are impossible to ignore for anyone immersed, as Said was, in its geopolitics. This is a region intensely vulnerable to heat and water stress, to sea-level rise and to desertification. A recent paper in Nature Climate Change predicts that, unless we radically lower emissions and lower them fast, large parts of the Middle East will likely ‘experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans’ by the end of this century. And that’s about as blunt as climate scientists get. Yet environmental issues in the region still tend to be treated as afterthoughts, or luxury causes. The reason is not ignorance, or indifference. It’s just bandwidth. Climate change is a grave threat but the most frightening impacts are in the medium term. And in the short term, there are always far more pressing threats to contend with: military occupation, air assault, systemic discrimination, embargo. Nothing can compete with that – nor should it attempt to try.

There are other reasons why environmentalism might have looked like a bourgeois playground to Said. The Israeli state has long coated its nation-building project in a green veneer – it was a key part of the Zionist ‘back to the land’ pioneer ethos. And in this context trees, specifically, have been among the most potent weapons of land grabbing and occupation. It’s not only the countless olive and pistachio trees that have been uprooted to make way for settlements and Israeli-only roads. It’s also the sprawling pine and eucalyptus forests that have been planted over those orchards, as well as over Palestinian villages, most notoriously by the Jewish National Fund, which, under its slogan ‘Turning the Desert Green’, boasts of having planted 250 million trees in Israel since 1901, many of them non-native to the region. In publicity materials, the JNF bills itself as just another green NGO, concerned with forest and water management, parks and recreation. It also happens to be the largest private landowner in the state of Israel, and despite a number of complicated legal challenges, it still refuses to lease or sell land to non-Jews.

I grew up in a Jewish community where every occasion – births and deaths, Mother’s Day, bar mitzvahs – was marked with the proud purchase of a JNF tree in the person’s honour. It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to understand that those feel-good faraway conifers, certificates for which papered the walls of my Montreal elementary school, were not benign – not just something to plant and later hug. In fact these trees are among the most glaring symbols of Israel’s system of official discrimination – the one that must be dismantled if peaceful co-existence is to become possible.

The JNF is an extreme and recent example of what some call ‘green colonialism’. But the phenomenon is hardly new, nor is it unique to Israel. There is a long and painful history in the Americas of beautiful pieces of wilderness being turned into conservation parks – and then that designation being used to prevent Indigenous people from accessing their ancestral territories to hunt and fish, or simply to live. It has happened again and again. A contemporary version of this phenomenon is the carbon offset. Indigenous people from Brazil to Uganda are finding that some of the most aggressive land grabbing is being done by conservation organisations. A forest is suddenly rebranded a carbon offset and is put off-limits to its traditional inhabitants. As a result, the carbon offset market has created a whole new class of ‘green’ human rights abuses, with farmers and Indigenous people being physically attacked by park rangers or private security when they try to access these lands. Said’s comment about tree-huggers should be seen in this context.

And there is more. In the last year of Said’s life, Israel’s so-called ‘separation barrier’ was going up, seizing huge swathes of the West Bank, cutting Palestinian workers off from their jobs, farmers from their fields, patients from hospitals – and brutally dividing families. There was no shortage of reasons to oppose the wall on human rights grounds. Yet at the time, some of the loudest dissenting voices among Israeli Jews were not focused on any of that. Yehudit Naot, Israel’s then environment minister, was more worried about a report informing her that ‘The separation fence … is harmful to the landscape, the flora and fauna, the ecological corridors and the drainage of the creeks.’ ‘I certainly don’t want to stop or delay the building of the fence,’ she said, but ‘I am disturbed by the environmental damage involved.’ As the Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti later observed, Naot’s ‘ministry and the National Parks Protection Authority mounted diligent rescue efforts to save an affected reserve of irises by moving it to an alternative reserve. They’ve also created tiny passages [through the wall] for animals.’

Perhaps this puts the cynicism about the green movement in context. People do tend to get cynical when their lives are treated as less important than flowers and reptiles. And yet there is so much of Said’s intellectual legacy that both illuminates and clarifies the underlying causes of the global ecological crisis, so much that points to ways we might respond that are far more inclusive than current campaign models: ways that don’t ask suffering people to shelve their concerns about war, poverty and systemic racism and first ‘save the world’ – but instead demonstrate how all these crises are interconnected, and how the solutions could be too. In short, Said may have had no time for tree-huggers, but tree-huggers must urgently make time for Said – and for a great many other anti-imperialist, postcolonial thinkers – because without that knowledge, there is no way to understand how we ended up in this dangerous place, or to grasp the transformations required to get us out. So what follows are some thoughts – by no means complete – about what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world.

Naomi Klein: "If you can marry an economic justice agenda with climate action, people will fight for that future"

Interview by Agnès Rousseaux and Sophie Chapelle - Basta!, April 24, 2015

Given the massive inequalities generated by capitalism and the ecological urgency of climate change, "everything can change", Naomi Klein claims in a new book. Provided we do not "give in to despair", because "too many lives are at stake", and "fight for a more just economic system". The Canadian anti-globalization activist and essayist is famous for her inspired criticism of capitalism: No Logo denounced the tyranny of global brands, and The Shock Doctrine the brutality of neoliberal reforms. She now takes aim at the total impunity of major oil and gas corporations which have declared war on our planet. Interview and video.

21.000 signes

Basta! : We seem to be heading straight toward climate disaster. We know what will happen if we do nothing about climate change, yet nothing really changes. Why is it so?

Naomi Klein : It’s not that we’re doing nothing – we’re actually actively doing exactly the wrong things. We have an economic system that defines success and progress as infinite economic expansion. Any kind of expansion is deemed good. Our emissions are going up much faster than they were in the 1990s. In the past decade, we had very high oil prices, which has created huge economic incentives for fossil fuel companies to push into new, more expensive, higher-emitting forms of extraction, such as tar sands and fracking. We also have a system that allows multinationals to seek out the cheapest means of producing their products, with cheap labour and cheap energy – which has lead to the deregulated burning of coal. All this is making the problem much worse.

You say that transnational corporations such as ExxonMobil, BP and Shell have declared war on the planet...

The business model of these companies is to find new fossil fuel reserves, which is the exact opposite of what we need to do in order to fight climate change. A research from the Carbon Tracker, three years ago, showed that the global fossil fuel industry has five times more carbon in their proven reserves than is compatible with keeping temperatures below two degrees warming… That’s the target our governments agreed to in Copenhagen, and that’s a target that is already a very dangerous one for many communities. But it provides us with a global carbon budget. We know how much carbon can be burned while still giving ourselves a fifty-fifty chance or better of meeting that target, and these companies have five times more carbon in their reserves than that amount. That explains why fossil fuel companies so actively fight the very dissemination of honest, climate science, why they fund politicians and organisations that deny the science of climate change, and why they fight every serious attempt to respond to climate change, whether it is a carbon tax or whether it is support for renewable energy.

Why such impunity?

Fossil fuel companies, particularly oil companies, are the most powerful companies in the world. Wars have been waged by our governments to protect their interests. It’s in the nature of fossil fuels that they’re concentrated in specific geographical locations, very expensive to get out of the ground, to transport, and to process. And so it lends itself to concentration of wealth and power, with a fairly small number of huge players , both state-run and privately owned, and that kind of concentration of power also lends itself to political corruption, both of the legal kind and the illegal kind. Hence the impunity.

Berta Cáceres assassinated. Allies fight for the release of Gustavo Castro

By Michael O’Neil - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, March 11, 2016

A week after the assassination of Berta Cáceres, coordinator and co-founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH), devastated colleagues and allies in the global movements for indigenous people’s rights and energy democracy are demanding justice.

That justice begins with Honduran officials immediately releasing Gustavo Castro Soto, founder and director of Otros Mundos/Amigos de la Tierra México and the only witness to Berta’s murder. Gustavo was shot twice in the attack and his life is in danger.

The Center for International Environmental Law is circulating a letter to the Honduran, Mexican and embassy authorities to demand that the perpetrators – AND architects – of Berta’s murder are brought to justice.

The Trade Union Confederation of the Americas, the AFL-CIO and other unions and allies have signed an open letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry calling for pressure to produce an international, independent investigation into Berta’s murder along with meaningful safety measures for others who are still in danger. Trade unions and other organizations that would like to join as co-signers can email Angelika Albaladejo at the Latin America Working GroupThe letter is also calling on the US to “suspend all assistance and training to Honduran security forces, with the exception of investigatory and forensic assistance to the police, so long as the murders of Berta Cáceres and scores of other Honduran activists remain in impunity.”

The government has issued an alert barring Gustavo from returning to his home in Mexico for 30 days, to keep him as a “protected witness”. Meanwhile, Gustavo himself has published an open letter asserting that the scene of Berta’s murder was altered. The government has shown Gustavo photos and video in a supposed attempt to identify the assailants, but all materials are from marches organized by Berta’s own organization.

Prior to her murder, Berta faced systematic harassment and death threats from government officials, security services and others who would benefit from the Agua Zarca Dam poject, which Berta and the Lenca people have opposed. Now it appears that her horrific assassination is being used as a pretext to further target members of that struggle.

Already, the government has detained Aureliano “Lito” Molina, the number two figure in COPINH, as a “suspect” in what they preposterously claim was a crime of passion, while also maintaining it was a robbery gone violent.

TUED asks that we stand together for Berta and all those facing violence and repression in the fight for basic rights and a safe and healthy environment.

Berta Cáceres, Presente!

TUED energy and climate retreat, Cutchogue, Long Island, April 3-4, 2017, hosted by Local 3, IBEW

By Staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, February 25, 2017

A Discussion on Union Strategy and Policy in a Time of Resistance

April 3rd & 4th at Local 3 IBEW’s Education and Cultural Center in Cutchogue, Long Island, New York. Dinner and reception to follow (check out morning of April 5th).

See below for information about the purpose of the retreat and discussion topics.

Confirmed international participants:

Daniel Angelim (Trade Union Confederation of the Americas)
David Boys (Public Services International)
Daniel Chavez (Transnational Institute, Netherlands)
Hector de la Cueva (CILAC-Mexico)
Bruno Dobrusin (CTA, Argentina)
Simona Fabiani (CGIL, Italy)
Luz Gonzalez (CUT, Brazil)
Kate Lee (Union Aid Abroad /APHEDA, Australia)
Wol-san Liem (KPTU, Korea)
Maite Llanos (TUED, Geneva)
Sam Mason (PCS, UK)
Josua Mata (Sentro, Philippines)
Lance McCallum (Electrical Trades Union, Australia)
Philip Pearson (TUED, UK)
Allison Roche (UNISON, UK)
Ashim Roy (NTUI, India)
Asbjorn Wahl (NUMGE, Norway)

We are all energy unions now.

The retreat is being convened at a time when President Trump has made clear his enthusiastic support for more fracking of shale gas and shale oil, and his desire to remove regulations on fossil fuels. Executive Orders have indicated President Trump’s support for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. A number of key US unions have endorsed these actions. Meanwhile, The White House has removed all references to climate change from its website, and the President has vowed to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement and reign in the EPA.

Jobs and Climate Justice

We share a common atmosphere and all rely on the ecosystems that sustain life. All over the world unions and social movements are being drawn into struggles over the future of energy. Therefore a clear, compelling, and effective strategy for a transformative transition for energy is needed in order to meet the political challenges in the US and elsewhere.

Likely discussion questions:

  • The Trump Agenda: How can progressive labor in the US respond to the “energy superpower” argument?
  • What is the record of “labor-environmental” alliances and coalitions in the US and internationally?
  • Should we defend the Paris climate agreement?
  • Centers of resistance: What role for cities and states?
  • What is happening in key “carbon battlegrounds” countries like Australia, India, South Africa and the UK?
  • How can unions champion public renewable power and build union strength in the renewables sector?

A recent TUED Working Paper, Energy Transition: Are We Winning?, explains what is going on in the global energy system and the need for progressive and forward-looking unions internationally to work together to develop a more coherent and compelling approach to energy transition.

Pope’s encyclical sets the tone for June 29th Trade Union Climate Summit in New York

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 17, 2015

Just 11 days after Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment, New York will host a major gathering of 40 unions from 14 countries. With resistance to ‘extreme extraction,’ austerity and inequality all rising, unions see opportunities to begin to build a united global movement for fundamental change.  The Pope’s radical critique of the existing system is sure to resonate with the 100-person gathering.

More than 40 unions from 14 countries will participate in a one-day Trade Union Climate Summit in New York City on June 29th, 2015.  Hosted by 32BJ SEIU, approximately 25 unions from the US will be present, representing workers in energy, nursing and health care, public transport, food and retail, building services, as well as new organizing efforts among precarious workers in the New York City area. Roughly 30 allied organizations will also participate, including the Climate Justice Alliance, 350.org, and the Emerald Cities Collaborative. A full list of registered participants is here.

Why a summit?

The summit is being organized nine months after the massive People’s Climate March on September 21, 2014, and just 5 months before the ‘last chance’ UN climate negotiations (COP 21) in Paris in early December 2015. Unions and close allies will come together in New York determined to find ways to help better connect the rising climate movement with the growing global struggle against austerity and inequality.  Unions have been playing an important role in both movements, but in most instances fighting for climate protection (read: people protection) and building opposition to austerity, low pay and precarious work remain separate struggles. But the potential for building a new and tranformational ‘climate and class movement’ appears to be growing.

This potential seems particularly visible in Southern Europe where the left has won impressive electoral victories in recent months. Importantly, this is a left for which atmospheric and ecological degradation is not an afterthought, but a central question that reveals a basic truth: we live in a political economy that takes but does not give back. Both nature and labor are inseparable, and both are treated as a ‘resource’ from which value is extracted as needed and then dumped.

The June 29 summit in New York will hear from unions from Greece (Thessaloniki water workers) and Spain (Comisiones Obreras) as well as from Italy (CGIL) where the traditional political parties are also losing support. With an eye on the Paris climate talks, the summit will hear from two representatives from the main French trade union federation (CGT) regarding the preparations for the events around COP21.  The UN climate meetings have been the scene of large mobilizations in recent years, particularly Copenhagen in late 2009 and Durban in late 2011.

Jobs, Justice, and the Clean-Energy Future

By Jeremy Brecher - Dollars and Sense, September & October, 2016

Today, there are 400 parts per million (PPM) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, far above the 350 ppm climate scientists regard as the safe upper limit. Even in the unlikely event that all nations fulfill the greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction pledges they made at the Paris climate summit at the end of 2015, carbon in the atmosphere is predicted to increase to 670 ppm by the end of this century. The global temperature will rise an estimated 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. For comparison, a one-degree increase was enough to cause all the effects of climate change we have seen so far, from Arctic melting to intensified hurricanes to desertification.

Limiting climate catastrophe will require drastic cuts in the burning of the fossil fuels that cause climate change. But many workers and their unions fear that such cuts will lead to drastic loss in jobs and economic well-being for working people—aggravating the shortage of good jobs and the burgeoning inequality we already face. Is there a way to escape the apparent lose-lose choice between saving the climate and saving jobs?

Toward a climate insurgency

By Jay O'Hara - Waging Nonviolence, May 16, 2017

To the outward eye, the climate movement looks to be back on its heels, reeling from the ascendancy of a fossil fuel regime, the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the zombie Keystone XL and the threatened departure of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. And there’s not much I can offer, as a climate organizer, to dissuade one from that opinion. The one major effort thus far was a massive march on Washington, D.C. that was planned when most expected Hillary Clinton to be in the White House. So we’re left wondering: What the hell are we supposed to do now?

Into this breach steps Jeremy Brecher’s slim new volume “Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual.” Neither glitzy, eloquent nor subtle, Brecher methodically lays out an interlocking vision of direct action within a constitutional legal framework to build the powerful nonviolent climate insurgency necessary to turn the ship around. “Against Doom” smartly connects disparate threads of the existing climate movement and pulls them together with strategic vision. I finished the book fired up with a clearer sense of where my own work with the Climate Disobedience Center, as well as my Quaker faith community, fits into an unfolding climate insurgency. And I’m ready to get back to the pipeline valves, coal piles, construction sites, boardrooms and courtrooms where we have the opportunity to stem the tide of climate cataclysm.

Brecher puts all this in perspective right up front: Before Trump, the Paris agreements represented merely “the illusion that world leaders were fixing climate change” — with ineffectual emissions reduction targets of only 2 degrees Celsius (non-binding) and 1.5 degrees (aspirational). As such, Trump is only a refreshingly honest manifestation of the movement’s failure to muster sufficient power to achieve its ultimate aims. The illusion of the efficacy of an inside politics game somehow survived the failure of cap-and-trade among the major environmental groups, and those groups refocused on the Obama administration’s potential for executive action. At the same time, the national fight against Keystone XL and grassroots resistance by frontline communities across the country and globe have laid the groundwork for a strategy of insurgency.

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