Saturday, March 17, 2018

"Green" Sunset and Blossoms

If you've never seen Sunset Magazine, picture the ultimate bougie/yuppie "lifestyle" orgy, fine wines, exotic vacations, recipes full of ingredients you'll never afford, all in a casual, attractive, relaxed celebration of the best that money can buy. But of course they have to demonstrate some environmental awareness so the latest issue (yes, I have a subscription, long story) has a piece on how the Western states are doing their bit to save us from climate change. Lots of "renewables getting cheaper" and recycling and Teslas. I especially loved the bit about turning "your next vacation into a trip that does a whole lot of good" by using travel companies that buy carbon offsets. And for every bottle of champagne you buy they will donate one to a family in Somalia. Feel better?

Over at the System Change Not Climate Change site they are clamoring for a "campaign" they can be involved in to make their title a reality. One popular suggestion is working to ban disposable plastic water bottles which to my way of thinking fits perfectly into this Green Sunset article. And in fact there are plenty of people already organized to ban the bottles. My problem with this and other such campaigns is three fold. In the first place, you quickly find radicalism and anti-capitalist critique have no place in these efforts and you will spend endless hours arguing over messaging. The second problem is becoming one of a thousand well meant reforms and finding the public thinks of them all as equivalent ( go through the list starting with food issues: GMOs, factory farms, fast food, pesticides/herbicides, packaging, move on into human rights and education and labor and guns and on and on, let a thousand campaigns blossom, each sending me a fundraising letter each month designed to pull at my liberal bleeding heart strings.) So in this sense plastic bottles and climate change and police violence all get thrown into the Great Non-Profit Blender and come out a social justice smoothie.

My third problem with single-issue campaigns is Capital loves them. They actually strengthen Capital the way resistance strengthened the Black Panther suit in the movie, absorbing the energy and storing it to throw back when needed. Yes, says capitalist ideology, you should make better consumption choices and vote with your dollars, that's how we save the planet and bring goodness: buy an aluminum bottle! Demonstrating once again how flexible and nimble capitalism is, how "green" it can be, so why on earth would you want to "change systems"? It is the same strategy they used to crush unionism; accommodation and flexibility and patience.

A Swiss Economist named Rudolf Meidner saw the whole thing play out. Sweden was a country with a powerful union movement that let their power devolve in the hands of social democratic parties, striking deals with Capital and losing the chance to achieve worker ownership. When it had all played out he said "You must have the experience of a total failure of the system. It must be clearly felt by nearly everyone that the current liberal market approach does not work."
So why prop it up?

Friday, March 9, 2018

From Potentiality to Actuality

This Changes Everything was published, with much fanfare, in 2014. Klein's thesis was that climate change presented the greatest opportunity in many decades to enact deep, structural societal change. We are now well into 2018 and the question must be asked: Has anything really changed?

Many will point to various metrics or events; the Paris Accord, the NY City divestment, the stabilization in the rate of emissions, the falling price of renewable energy, etc..and say yes,a great deal has changed. Others cite these same sources and claim they are the illusion of change, that the climate models are if anything more pessimistic now than in 2014. That, barring much more significant intervention, the over-all ecological degradation and creep toward "planetary boundaries" puts us on a catastrophic trajectory. Glass half full/ half empty? Progress or illusion?

Unfortunately the process of investigation/ interrogation of this question is itself fraught with anxiety, fetishistic attachment and emotional investment. Positions harden and are jealously guarded. Motives are questioned and the band-aids ripped off old historical wounds. Klein herself struggled to navigate these tensions, advocating a range of sometimes contradictory positions because guess what- there are no simple solutions. Electoral politics, movement building, protest, activism, theory- she is correct that EVERYTHING changes, including capitalism and Left praxis. The terms of engagement , the field of struggle, perhaps the "structure of experience" itself, all are in flux and yet at the same time the status quo has a revolutionary immutability: the more things change....

What is crucial is to map the terrain accurately enough so you can locate yourself in some sort of relation to an axis or reference points. And in order to do that you have to be able to step back and establish some distance, some critical, reflective non-attachment. And you have to do it in a time of profound urgency. Klein's critique also called out some folks (what she called Big Green) and their failed strategy. It is part of the work and requires some rigor but this is no time for snowflakes and accommodation just to spare people's feelings.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Democracy 101

There was great liberal excitement around the students speaking out for gun control following the latest school shootings. It was declared that "millenials were waking up!" and demanding action at long last. Demanding accountability from their elected representatives. Demanding sanity (following John Stewart). Surely this time, tragedy could be a catalyst for real change.

Not. The mercurial Jester Presidente deflected action by madly dancing around the issue long enough for the media to go to the next news cycle. Congress played its role by parsing terms and dissembling the issue into smaller Spectacles. The bodies are buried and the passionate students who marched and waved signs and gave emotional speeches hopefully learned a basic lesson in capitalist democracy. Because liberals wont.

The smart money invests in school security businesses.

"It's sundown for the union" wrote B Dylan some time ago but the Janus decision will be much more than that. It will be the long awaited victory dance for Capital celebrating not just Occupy and Wisconsin and Citizens United but now, at long last, Right to Work. Some on the Left are trying to spin this as the beginning of a new bottom-up union militancy and we may see more localized struggles such as the West Virginia school teachers. But the question is: what will they have learned from history? What language will they embrace now that they have little left to lose? What will the response be from the DSA? Will "progressives" begin to question their long cherished theory of change or will they drag Bill Moyers out of retirement?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Another Kind Slave Master

The indigenous people of Canada have been fighting for rights through the courts for decades. Now Canada has a Prime Minister who wants to change the narrative. But facts on the ground? Some Native leaders are not so sure.

“It’s almost easier to fight the bully government than it is the oozing ‘we love you so much’ government,” she says. “But the facts of the matter, and their actions, speak far different.”

And by "the ground" I mean mining, logging, fishing, hunting and building pipelines. I mean tar sands. Justin Trudeau is Canada's Barack Obama- talks a good game, delivers just enough piece meal reform to woo liberals, but falters on the system change level because he believes deep down that it works.

The paradox the Natives must work through, much like the Valve Turners here in the US, is claiming the system is broken while using the courts. Yes courts can provide remedy, yes there is tension between courts, government and capital, but they are also the kindness of the slave master. Many of the tribes are in desperate straits. Like they are down here. And in Latin America. They can't have their old life back- too much has changed. What does the new life look like?

The Gates Foundation saves many many lives through its global health initiative. It relieves suffering "on the ground". But with a warming planet disease will spread and thrive. A walk through the Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh will tell you why. Bill and Melinda believe the system works.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Labour's Crucible

From the New Politics site, a discussion of the latest AFL-CIO convention:

On climate change, undoubtedly the victors were a conservative bloc composed of the building trades and the extractive industrial unions. The UMW, despite its militant tradition, from spearheading the CIO to the Miners for Democracy movement, stuck by their immediate interests in defending the coal industry from environmental constraints.

Yeah, this is a big problem in terms of the traditional left or even Democratic Party coalition building. Because beyond just the guys building pipelines or mining coal there are lots of workers spread throughout the entire economy who are justifiably nervous about the coming climate disruption. Because for decades the leadership has tried to have it both ways; in solidarity with the "green turtles" when it come to globalization while also protecting their fossil fuel infrastructure jobs, now they have no allies to turn to. We can cry about a "just transition" all we want but there is no organized labor threat to back it up. It's called long term strategic thinking, something they just never got.

As for background checks and assault weapon bans, that train left the station a long time ago as well. We could put every sociopath who owns weapons under surveillance but that would be tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of citizens you would have to keep track of. There's probably twenty here in my little town, twisted, damaged bastards with arsenals just ready to go off. The NRA is right on this one; if you want to be safe in America you want to be armed.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Roller Coaster

What if the stock markets are sub-consciously reacting to climate change? There are a dozen differing explanations out there for the "sudden volatility" by a dozen different economists with degrees in economics but not a one mentions the thing that actually looms most catastrophically on the horizon. My pet theory is that traders see it, if only in their mind's eye or in their dreams, in the slip-of-the-tongue. All their arcane theories and algorythms and jargon help obscure the fact their monster has unpredictable moods and reacts to signals we mere mortals can't always perceive.

As I write this many serious scientists around the globe are working on geoengineering. They are trained to think rationally and they can see clearly that no major state or government can defy the growth imperative inherent to capitalism and that emissions will continue to rise. They can't say it loudly or they will lose their research funding but they know how this is going down and economists have that same awareness, they run in lots of the same circles, talk candidly over drinks.

The Montana Wilderness Ass. keeps calling me. They want me to go to a meeting and voice opposition to our corporate-lacky-right-wing ideologue Senator and his plan to open up public land for capitalist extraction. These same people have been doing this same thing over and over again ad nauseum but they must actually enjoy the sheer repetitiveness of it, in some perverse way they must find it comforting. They will tell of their soul-enriching experiences in the wilderness, how it is our duty to preserve the last .02% of untrammelled landscape in this lovely museum. The loggers will grouse about "multiple-use" and good paying jobs for their kids. Just re-wind the tape and play it again and again. If I was in need of abuse I would go and say wilderness is actually a dangerous symbol

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Never Had It So Good/ Bad

They were the best of times they were the worst....In the upside down world the optimists want us to see "the positive"; global economic growth, rising confidence, soaring stock market, a decrease in "extreme poverty", a decrease in over-all "violence"- the many indicators they will point to as a reason to take heart. They admit there are "problems, of course", but with increasing wealth and new technologies we should be optimistic. Many see this as the triumph of libertarian ideology, getting the administrative state out of the way so that competition can unleash innovation. They read stuff like this from "The scientific case for radical optimism

The soon-to-be-released title is the latest from renowned Harvard linguist Steven Pinker, and it's not hard to see why the book appeals so much to Gates. Lately, the billionaire-turned-philanthropist has been using his popular blog and even the pages of major magazines to argue for more optimism. The world, he insists, might seem like a total mess sometimes, but we're actually making steady progress making it a better place for all of us."

Liberals are basically in agreement although they bemoan the state of our "politics", the mean tone and demeanor; they would like to see poor people have decent shelters to go to while conservatives are fine with cardboard street houses and effective policing. Of course the non-ideological "muddling class" also celebrates economic growth and after all the years of recession, a little happy news. A tax break, maybe a raise. They focus on gains in the cultural sphere; the me-to movement, gay marriage, a DACA deal, solar panels.

Pessimists are much harder to be around. On the right you have preppers, worry over discrimination against whites and conspiracy kooks, on the left it's those with all the gloomy studies and statistics, those using C words like catastrophic and collapse and crisis and capitalism. They blame America and "The West" and think technologies all have hidden problems. They don't even like the good leaders like Obama.They read stuff like this, from David Spratt in Resilience:

"The problems posed are wickedly exquisite. The former NASA climate science chief James Hansen has long warned that 2°C is a “recipe for disaster”. It is clear that we now face an existential threat to human civilisation as the climate teeters on the edge of passing further system tipping points that would make the task of avoiding that threat tremendously difficult."