Saturday, December 26, 2015
There are a number of stories that capitalism tells itself which assume the form of ideology. A current one is that we have entered a new (neo) era of liberal political-economy. This is supposedly a resurgence of market fundamentalism taking its theoretical cues from von Hayek and the Austrians and Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman etc, as a backlash or counter-force to the preceding era of strong labor and the welfare state. This makes a good story and there is a whole cultural apparatus built up to reinforce it, the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times and textbook- writing economics professors (Mankiw)and then lower orders of popular media(Fox News, NPR) and pundits and think tanks and politicians. All of which filters down to the average Jane/Joe as a few key catch phrases like "get government off my back" or "market driven innovation". The other thoroughly normalized meme is that we live in a time of "austerity". That due to the reckless accumulation of debt, both public and private, it is necessary for everyone to tighten their belts and be responsible and live within our means. In other words,relinquishing frills like public services and social provision, all the things the government has (mis)managed with its extravagance and waste and nanny-state coddling (true and false, war and Pell Grants). But then, if you look into something like subsidies for the fossil fuel energy industries, you see how totally absurd this narrative is. Take something specific like the coal industry and this whole push to find technologies to capture and sequester CO2 from power plant smokestacks. All the climate modelling being used to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius has an input of CO2 capture (CCS)built into them, a technology which doesn't exist but which our "oh-so-austere" governments are pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into. Yes, the evil public sector, the (capitalist) State, the government which Ronald Reagan told us never to trust( true and false), is miraculously finding billions for research into "clean coal". The money they never seem to find if you are looking for housing or tuition or healthcare or food for poor people. Or investing in renewable energy. Renewable energy, we are told, will become available "when the market" makes the price competitive. Right. My point is, this whole con is precisely where tragedy becomes farce. There is no "market fundamentalism" in reality, no austerity when you pull back the curtain. It is just a giant mafia, like Mexico and drug cartels. Only on a global scale. And with an awesome PR department. Ted Cruz and John Tester pass the exact same spending bills for Big Ag and clean coal and more fracking. They just have to use different lies to sell it to their constituents. Whew.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
Well, something definitely happened. An agreement was reached. So depending on your expectations going in and your politics and your theory of social change you could be "celebrating...a major leap"(NPR) or downplaying the degree of "ambitiousness". I have been doing a wide survey of websites and find quite bit of cautious optimism expressed by progressives who look to "movements" to push "leaders" into deeper change. Gradually. Incrementally. Juan Cole encapsulates the "techno-fix"/Market fetish one finds in NGO's and Big Green groups: "The more likely salvation will come from technological innovation such that renewables fall in price so low that even with installation and new-grid costs they are cheaper than continuing with coal. Solar panels have fallen incredibly in price in the past 3 years, and there is no reason to think that won’t continue. Greater efficiencies are also technically and economically feasible." It turns out a great deal of carbon capture and sequester is built into the mitigation models, a technology both untested and "expensive", but as I have droned on about at some length, this market terminology (cheap, expensive, economical, etc) is itself a huge part of the problem. I think Desmog Blog gets it right- advising we watch how investors treat fossil fuel stocks next week, especially coal. Peabody is precarious and Arch totally bottomed out. We'll see what happens to Tar Sands stocks and elite opinion as they react; seismic shift or bothersome blip?, money talks, right?.If,as many believe, a "strong signal" has been sent to capital that certain assets may be stranded, like trillions, one could expect a certain level of panic in the old markets.While some claim the agreement "signals the death knell for fossil fuels", Exxon-Mobile has gone all in with its Clean Natural Gas Will Save the Planet campaign. As a huge methane leak at Porter Ranch in California continues to spew. Bernie Sanders and James Hansen want to see an actual price put on carbon, rather than a set of non-binding pledges. The US Congress is digging in its heels, vowing to fight any action to reduce emissions.Developing countries wanted to see language about funding for past "loss and damage" (justice) but Obama nixed that from the outset. Somewhere I saw the quote that the proposed goals were "a powerful symbol, but you have to start somewhere". I agree that much of this struggle is precisely in the symbolic register. Time to widen the cracks.
Friday, December 11, 2015
"Paranoia strikes a beat- Into your life it will creep" Buffalo Springfield Everybody is afraid of something it seems. Causing them to draw inward, reducing experience to its most instinctual, least analytical expressions; "a change in the structure of experience", the texture and meaning and even temperature- a little rougher, a little colder. Course, it ain't the first time. I was raised under the very real threat of nuclear annihilation and believe the effects of that still linger deep in the psyche. Lot of folks live through violent conflict as war or just daily life. So there is that. My other big theory about (post)modernity (copied from a dozen myths and sources) is that culture lags behind technology and the gap is expressed as alienation, dissociation, cognitive dissonance and yes, fear, paranoia and "Trump". Scare quotes because I think it valuable to think of him as a meme in the symbolic sphere. Think of him as Whiteness (supremacy as backlash), as Patriarchy (backlash to feminism), as Father/Leader (backlash to Liberalism) think of him not as an Event but as a long process and think of him as an actor in a good cop/bad cop strategy designed to push the discourse towards, what else, more profit and power for the few. As the project of liberal democratic capitalism begins to break into pieces, there is a lot to worry about. The void is the opposite of the womb. People didn't want to be in global competition. People didn't want to leave the land all at once and move to cities. People didn't want the "freedom" that capitalist democracy promised. The problem is they don't have any poetry or music or literature or art to express their "no". Certainly no politics. So it comes out shrill and reactionary and nationalist and racist or religious or any weird shard of identity they still cling to like a raft out on a very rough sea. Yes, yes, "The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned. The best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity" But as Mao said "Everything under Heaven is chaos; the situation is excellent."
Thursday, December 10, 2015
Either leaders of the global climate movement are reading this blog( doubtful) or we are all tapped into the zeitgeist. Two days after publishing our call for mass civil disobedience ( actually we've been advocating this for two years) I read this on Desmog Blog this morning: The “Break Free From Fossil Fuels” campaign, online at BreakFree2016.org, will involve acts of civil disobedience including forming human chains to block oil exports, interfering with coal mine operations and marching on the corporate headquarters of fossil fuel companies. Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, described the strategy as launching “a billion acts of courage” and “intensifying new forms of resistance and struggle.” “Enough is enough, and no more. We are prepared to put our lives on the line, to go to prison if necessary,” in order to block new fossil fuel expansion projects around the globe, Naidoo said. In a separate article, authors Christopher Wright (U of Sydney) and Daniel Nyberg (U. of Newcastle) talk about the false promise of "green capitalism", very much on display in Paris at the moment.: "Such is the supremacy of our current capitalist imagery that it exacts a powerful grip on our thinking and actions. It is a grip strengthened by the promotion of every new “green” product, a grip tightened through the establishment of sustainability functions in business and government, a grip defended with every “offset” we purchase for a flight to a holiday destination. Ultimately, the “success” or otherwise of the Paris climate talks appears unlikely to challenge the fundamental dynamics underlying the climate crisis. Dramatic decarbonisation based around limits upon consumption, economic growth, and corporate influence are not open for discussion" Everyone from John Kerry to the Bob Inglis dude from my last post are promoting the pain-free common sense solution of continued consumption and growth and corporate control but with fewer emissions. Or as Rising Tide puts it, a world of "solar powered sweatshops". I went to a showing of This Changes Everything and stuck arounf for the discussion afterwards. I was pleasantly surprised at how many of the young activists have an anti-capitalist critique to compliment their environmentalism. Good news for the struggle ahead. My comrade Will asked last night how the move to mass civil disobedience affects the move from a quantitative to qualitative change, from a mere escalation to a shift or rupture? Stay tuned for theory on hegemony or the move from particular to universal.
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
SO what if ten thousand climate activists gathered in one symbolically potent location to commit a mass act of non-violent civil disobedience? Basically the opposite of the annual School of the Americas protest, where thousands of people show up to wave signs and listen to speeches, while only two or three get arrested. The rest applaud themselves, go home for another year and nothing changes. In other words, the "old playbook" that Occupy "co-organizer" (as he never fails to remind us) Micah White rightly questions in his new book The End of Protest. Deeming Occupy Wall Street "a failure" he asks lots of good questions. Unfortunately his answers reflect the same "ideological rubble" that many of us found so incredibly frustrating at Occupy General Assemblies. But the real point here is The Playbook. We can't deny that an effective climate movement has been built and has made some gains; but as with the anti-globalization movement before it, the question is: how can this disparate "movement of movements" build the kind of mass support needed to stop fossil fuel production in time? We have the intersectional Flood the System, the Divestment Campaign, Shell No and No Coal Export, RAN, Friends of the Earth,and Earth First along with 350.org and other mainstream environmental groups, all running separate campaigns under the banner of de-centralized, localized autonomy. Yes there are cross-organizational alliances and sporadic coordination, but nothing like the coordination behind the Fossil Fuel Giants we are challenging.If we are honest with ourselves we can see that all the direct action organized by scattered local groups in the run up to COP 21 have fallen short in terms of capacity building and movement growth. That is, there will need to be some intense scaling upward for the climate movement to prevent emissions from crossing scientifically established "red lines". Going back to Micah White,one of his more pointed criticisms is aimed at the 2003 gathering of millions of people around the globe to prevent the invasion of Iraq. He correctly highlights this example of protest failure, but then extrapolates to claim that therefore ALL mass protest is now obsolete. But what if the failure was tactical, was a failure of imagination and expectations? Suppose the organizers had asked all those gathered to demonstrate their commitment by risking arrest? Estimates vary but I was on the Mall in Washington DC with between 3 and 5 hundred thousand people. How might the peaceful arrest of even one tenth of those protesters changed the equation? Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter has written that social processes are driven by our thresholds- defined as the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them. His study focused on the dynamics of riots but can be applied to other mass social phenomena. It is my belief, borne out by my experience as an activist for many decades, that US society has reached a point where the threshold for joining mass dissent, especially acts of non-violent civil disobedience, is very high. But the threshold none-the-less exists. I also believe that society loves a good spectacle on a grand scale and many good people wish to be part of something big, something collective and something historical. If they can find participation an antidote to modern "spectating", to the estrangement and alienation and cynicism and apathy which capitalist culture excels in re-producing, then the project of the Left can be re-vitalized and extended to goals beyond emission reduction. Wouldn't this type of project require a huge amount of effort and resources and dedication? Doesn't it risk putting all of one's eggs in one's basket, so to speak? Yes, precisely.
Sunday, December 6, 2015
I was heartened to see all the media attention on the Paris climate talks, even if much of it was focused on post-terrorist-attack crowd control. Then came the California attack and the big attention shift so that now we get vague reports from closed door sessions inhabited by delegates and representatives (of governments and industries). There is a draft. It is "somewhat ambitious". We don't know how to be optimistic. We don't want to sound naive. We wait to praise and/or criticize. The big puppets and banner waving never did much good anyway. Meanwhile, the US Congress declares its selective sovereignty (you never hear dissension when the global elite meets in Davos!)and intellectual isolation by rejecting in advance ANY deal that is made. This is actually a good thing to the degree it de-legitimizes these clowns. The issue of compromise and coalition building and "not letting the perfect get in the way of the good" is perfectly illustrated by a Bozeman climate group's promotion of Rep. Bob Inglis, a Republican hoping to bring conservatives out of denialism and into solution building. The Bozeman folks believe in the need for "bi-partisan" support for a Tax and Dividend plan devised by climate scientist James Hansen. Bob Inglis says that to do this, there is certain "language you must use". Here we enter the realm of ideology and the symbolic props which support it: sure it looks and smells and walks like a skunk (taxes, regulation, nanny-state, etc) but if we call it a striped cat (free enterprise, competition, self-interest, etc) conservatives will let it sit on their lap AS IF it were a feline. The wink and nod may be (sub)conscious, but does it really matter if it helps the climate? Yes, it totally matters. Bob Inglis knows "the invisible hand" has failed spectacularly. (Who remembers Allen Greenspan being forced into this same admission?)But he hopes to salvage his sacred market ideology by finessing an arcane argument around externaities,ie "setting a price that best approximates the marginal harm by CO2 emissions". Plenty of liberals want to go this route as well,by the way. It is precisely this ideology (equating "freedom" and abundance" and "care for the poor" with market efficiency and rationality) that Naomi Klein and Fredrick Jameson tell us must be swept into the dust bin of history. And this is the moment to do it, to seize Shock Doctrine style, if you will. Bob Inglis is in no position to wring a concession out of the climate movement. The skunk is a skunk, "externalities" is where regulation and planning and collective state decisions pre-empt the failed market because those "negative externalities" ( costs to parties not included in price negotiations, for instance, htose generations of the future) can never be fully "recognized" nor calculated. Leading to distorted pricing and perverse incentives. Bob is just going to have to figure out how to explain this to "conservatives". Sorry.
Sunday, November 29, 2015
As the action starts to heat up around COP 21 in Paris, some crucial distinctions between activist groups are coming into sharper relief. This piece by South African activist Patrick Bond goes into detail but basically, on one side stand those willing to support any measurable steps taken by the assembled countries to reduce emissions. On the other stand those who wish to use the grassroots climate movement to construct a new order. Those trusting that incremental steps can avert climate crisis ask that more radical forces "not let the perfect be the enemy of the good". Those who believe that unless capitalism itself is addressed no just transition can be achieved say you must attack the disease and not just the symptoms. Till now, there has been a detente of sorts around this question of climate justice. To think about it broadly requires that the notion of re-distribution be entertained as well as the question of climate debt. Those who hope to build support by promising continued economic growth have to willfully blind themselves to the fact that major economies are not going to reduce their standard of living. Nor will these economies allow themselves to be penalized by some international body for failing to meet some goal. No capitalist state can go down that road. This is a competitive system, based on winning, not sharing. The polarization of climate groups can be seen in their slogans and strategies. The clicktivist groups want us to encourage elites to devise carbon markets and trading schemes, to build a greener capitalism, the radical forces say don't get your hopes up, look beyond Paris, even "Shut it down", Seattle style. We know Obama is "a market kind of guy" (his own words) and has no intention of disrupting the economy of the US. And yet the Disruption is just a matter of when, not if.(this first degree celsius is the easy one) And global elites are gonna have a lot of splainin to do when shit hits fan.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
While the Left struggles to convince the cynical, bored youth of post-modern bourgeois "democracies" that Another World is Possible, Jihadists manage to radicalize Muslim youth like there is no tomorrow (pun intended). Young people have an instinctual desire for agency, to be historical actors, but today's liberal/"humanist" capitalist technocracies offer little in the way of Grand Projects to inspire. And all the Left can offer in this context is a vague "resistance" on the margins, maybe some organic gardening and a community credit union. Meanwhile radical imams unapologetically present a vision of a new global Caliphate and lookout SuperPowers, that is, secular governments tied to he old Nation/State and borders, cause they have figured out how to fill power vacuums and dominate the spectacular news cycle endlessly. Even liberals who insist it is not a "clash of civilizations" and that The West cannot bomb its way to victory, inevitably fail to examine the economic world order and its effect on the world view and values of these jihadist revolutionaries. You can see this as a counter-cultural movement opposed to our "bedrock principles" but what has the Enlightenment or liberal democratic capitalism done for the people of Yemen lately? Or those from the Levant to the Maghreb? Besides manipulate and humiliate them at every turn, that is? Fund and arm them when we seek some advantage, then turn around and abandon or invade them when they begin to assert a little too much autonomy. And sanctions and drone strikes and Abu-Ghraib and on and on. As the chaos spins farther and farther out of control expect sage advice from Henry Kissinger, expect the Best and the Brightest global security strategists to deny their culpability and insist this time they know exactly what they are doing. We can, as Susan Sontag put it during a previous horrific intervention, "grow stupid together." As climate action is set back, expect beligerent, xenophobic reaction (and war profiteering) to hold sway. Sorry, it's the only economic engine that guarantees quick results.
Friday, November 20, 2015
The heading for this post comes from the first chapter of Naomi Klein's book This changes Everything. The point she makes is that the Free Market Right understands the implications of climate change and how it directly challenges their ideological assumptions. They therefore go into denial/ obfuscation mode as a logical response. She contends it is liberal environmentalists who are fooling themselves, believing that with a few Green tweaks, capitalism can be harnessed to get us out of this mess. This dynamic seems to be playing out in the state's reaction to the Obama Clean Power Plan. Industry is saying the economy is screwed if we abandon coal. Renewable advocates are saying no, the transition will be painless. To make their point, Northwest Energy hired the U of M Business School to do a "study" showing projected job losses, tax losses,and negative impacts more generally. Critics are saying it doesn't account for potential gains if we plan ahead and invest now and mobilize political forces and harness the power of markets and stay optimistic.But that isn't the record of "democratic" capitalism to date. History shows capitalism lurching from crisis to crisis precisely because it reacts only to short term stimulus and maximizing shareholder profit and corrupting the political process. Just like we knew about the effects of tobacco, we have known about climate change and the effects of burning coal for four decades. There have been 20 UN summits, countless reports and studies, but the tyranny of the Market (telling us fossil fuels are "cheap") holds sway. Right now the coal industry is in collapse mode but the good people of Colstrip Mt. believe their lives can somehow remain unchanged. They will not plan ahead. They will not invest in the future. They will deny reality and then act shocked when it bites them in the ass.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
The loose coalition known as Flood the System organized another protest this week, this time with a specific, local target in mind. Washington Companies is headquartered in Missoula Mt and its founder and owner Dennis Washington is a native son. They make money in lots of ways but shipping coal by rail to points west is a big one and as our rally took place a mile long train loaded with the dirty fuel chugged beneath the overpass we stood on. Some believe this makes Dennis a climate criminal. I prefer profiteer. A difference without a distinction? I don't think so. The loose coalition I mentioned consists of Rising Tide, a national organization with a quite radical critique ( see earlier post Sept.23 2015). They developed the Flood meme. There were also local groups Blue Skies, 350.org, campus divestment, Transition Town, and others I am probably missing. Each with a different comfort zone around the anti-capitalist critique, so that the language employed in signs, speeches and demands becomes a terrain of internal struggle. Even within the organizing circle there were differences over strategy and tactics in the effort to stop the extraction, shipping and burning of fossil fuels. For instance; is it possible to start with a slogan such as Washington Needs a Green Business Model! and generalize it into a more radical critique with structural implications? We are told we must "meet people where they are" and often this means folks new to the climate movement, folks who have not been exposed to language around white supremacy, patriarchy, or eco-esocialism and who might find it threatening. But if we don't get to the roots of injustice, if we don't challenge hegemonic narratives and ideologies, we may serve as tools to legitimize and perpetuate the very systems we oppose. We may simply end up, as Rising Tide puts it, with "solar powered sweatshops". There is no easy solution here. So as we call Dennis a "profiteer" we call into question the larger question of profit itself. If we can interject the notion of "externalities" we can call into question the rationality of energy markets. If all we do is get more wind and solar in the state's energy mix, Dennis can buy himself another yacht and we buy ourselves a little more time. This also raises the question of how "we" "interject" anything; the mainstream media only covers the superficial aspects and a national "dialogue" or "conversation" is a convenient fiction. Social media? Larger spectacles? Waiting for another "super-storm" so we can shout at the top of our lungs?
Sunday, November 8, 2015
The "third-way" corporate democrats that designed policy for Bill Clinton and Tony Blair are nervous about the rhetoric they are hearing in the campaigns: “There is no question that the prevailing temper of the Democratic party is populist: strongly sceptical of what we like to call capitalism and angry about the perceived power of the monied elite in politics,” said PPI president and founder Will Marshall. “But inequality is not the biggest problem we face: it is symptomatic of the biggest problem we face, which is slow growth.” Growth is an imperative of "what we like to call capitalism" but unfortunately for the New Democrats of the Progressive Policy Institute, growth is also causing eco-cide. As far back as the Club of Rome's report from 1972, many ecologists and thinkers have recognized the incommensurable relation between the ever-growing profit system and sustainability. More recently we have seen no-growth and low-growth systems developed and promoted. With awareness around climate change beginning to build, many centrist Democrats with corporate sponsors are finding their backs against the wall, forcing them to "greenwash" their way out with platitudes about "transitioning" incrementally. A perfect example is the Democrat Senator and Governor from Montana, both of whom expressed dismay at the recent decision to not approve Keystone. Lacking vision and cajones, they both pander with rhetoric about lost jobs (growth) and fail to acknowledge the 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere (and climbing). There are no jobs on a dead planet is a slightly overheated slogan, the planet will live in some form, but it makes an important point about growth. As for inequality, it is a necessary feature of capitalism at all levels, and Picketty, as well as many others, have shown it to be independent, not "symptomatic", of growth. Corporate dems refuse to hear it.
Friday, November 6, 2015
An article in the New Internationalist (hat tip to memengineering) ends by saying "Paris is going to be an emotional rollercoaster". To my mind, things are already moving so fast that is hard to present analysis, as opposed to reaction. I am heartened by the fact that elites and mainstream media seem to see Paris as an Event, (following Badiou) with both real and symbolic import. As someone often discouraged by the apathy of a general populous buried in "ideological rubble", I can take heart that our upcoming local climate actions will have added resonance due to this conjuncture with Paris COP 21. As for elites and media, the NY Times is reporting that Obama is poised to reject Keystone XL. Of course economic factors are primarily responsible, and the fact that a good jobs report takes union heat off Obama, but still, activists can celebrate a victory and deserve to. Few, including me, believed we would see this day. I hope the "peak oil" crowd re-thinks their strategy going forward! Leave it in the Ground is a revolutionary meme, it means leave those assets stranded, something you never hear. There is also news that an investigation underway of Exxon/Mobile execs for "climate crimes", knowing (as did tobacco execs) that their product was harmful but hiding evidence and denying the facts. And I see where Michael Bloomberg (ex-mayor of NYC) is doing a public media shaming campaign of state Attorneys general who are attempting to block the Clean Power Plan. So a lot of nervous elites going into Paris and a struggle at the top over fears of climate change affecting the global economy. There will be plenty of reactionary spin in response but if climate stays in the headlines, it's all good.
Saturday, October 31, 2015
National Geographic has taken up the cause of confronting climate change and the latest "special" issue is devoted entirely to the subject. This is commendable and probably risky from a profit stand-point. Unfortunately they have partnered with Shell Oil and so their "solutions" are all market based techno-fixes and quite a bit of ink is spilt on mitigation techniques, including geo-engineering. What strikes me right away is the window into the "less-developed" nations that the magazine provides (and always has) , stark evidence that capitalism as a global system is brutally unjust and that uneven development is an intrinsic aspect of its logic. Although much of the rhetoric in the "Special Climate Issue" promotes the familiar "lift-all-boats" developmentalist theory, one can't help but be struck by the disparity, after two hundred years of industrialization and fabulous wealth production in the global North, that still exists in those regions where dark-skinned people live. The grinding poverty and lack of basic human necessities in one sphere and the obscene opulence and waste in the other. And the burden that women in these grim places disproportionally bear. And of course climate change highlights and exacerbates this gross injustice, as those who have done the least to cause the problem, those in the "periphery", suffer the most. And they will continue to feel the brunt, despite National Geographic/ Shell's heartwarming stories of innovation and charity and plucky native resilience and ingenuity. Here in the West, we are able to purchase our salvation with every cup of Starbucks frappacino, knowing a few cents goes to help the "less fortunate". Thank our Lucky Stars! (and the military, and World Bank, and IMF and WTO)
Saturday, October 24, 2015
The state of Montana, backed by fossil fuel companies and the Crow Indian tribe, has joined a lawsuit challenging the Clean Power Plan rules. Along with 23 other states, our Attorney General and Governor ( a Democrat) make the case that it is "federal over-reach" and that the states can make their own plans, very similar to the latest decision over sage-grouse listing. This is made more pertinent as the US heads into the latest round of climate negotiations in Paris this December (COP 21) because this Plan is the only emission cutting proposal the US has come up with. The Crow Indians have a great deal of coal under their land, they are very poor, and they see the export of this coal to China and south Asia as their only economic opportunity, or to use an economic term, their only "comparative advantage". It is symbolic of the whole global economy under capitalism whereby scarcity, in this case atmospheric space in which to dump CO2, becomes a valuable commodity, incentivizing a rush to destroy the ecosystem. As author Naomi Klein puts it : "Ours is a culture of disavowal, of knowing and not-knowing." In this psychological sense, we are dealing with a sub-conscious ability to repress what we "know". I'm sure the Indians know how horrifically tragic their position is, given the history, but they can repress it and use terms like "self-sufficiency" or "economic development" because like all of us, they are locked into a Market ideology and discourse that limits not only options but imagination. The word "tragic" cannot be applied to the Governor in the same way. The word coward would be better because, in his privilege, he has far more opportunity/power to break the Knows/Not-Knows deadlock and act with agency. This is the counter-vailing movement of history, the one of courage and refusal.It is in short supply at the moment.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Saw the new Klein/Lewis film This Changes Everything last night which was followed by a discussion at the local coffee shop. The group that gathered was mostly my comrades but there were a few other "progressives" and as usual the tension rose when the subject of capitalism came up. One gal who is involved with Transition Towns tried her hardest to divert our attention to their project of small, local, incremental "real things we could do" and away from the more radical notion of struggle which the film promotes. Another gal from the faith community pointed to an oil sands worker quoted in the film as being for clean energy but also a gradual transition away from tar sands extraction. The other liberals were excited by this emphasis on slow transition and were clearly nervous about our talk of system change. They can only stretch as far as Bernie Sanders social democracy and even there they warned us to be cautious with our language, to avoid "ideology" because " for most people capitalism is a religion". But of course religion is ideology par excellence and the film we had all just viewed stressed the fact that ideology is a main field of struggle. This was so reminiscent of our Occupy Missoula experience that I feared a psychotic episode. The nations gathered in Bonn for climate talks have so far agreed to emissions cuts that leave global temperature rise at 3.5C, which means the "transition" we can plan for is a quick one and leads to eco-cide and crisis. But the fear to dream, to "go deep" as Naomi Klein puts it, is a crisis in it's own right.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
For a real glimpse into industrial propaganda machine you can try the American Coal Council and it's organ American Coal Magazine. They find people with academic credentials and set up some fancy sounding organization for them to represent like the "Property and Environment Research Center" or the "Free market Law Clinic". They then have these stooges write articles blending libertarian economics, patriotism and pseudo-populist techno-faith in service to coal corporation profits. What is striking, when you start to dig deeper, is just how many of these industry front groups there are, Councils and associations and Institutes all lobbying and think-tanking and spinning away as they defend the American Way of Life from enviros and liberals and other subversive types. In each article they make the same arguments based on "cost" and "price", insisting coal is "cheap" and soon, with future technological breakthroughs, clean. Well, coal is not cheap if we consider the cost to the earths ecosystems, a cost not represented by the price. The future technology argument ranges from the nutball to the prosaic. Remember Foster "chemtrail" Gamble and his free energy machine which would allow us all to Thrive! (He is still around!) Then there is ex-Montana governor Brian Schweitzer, out selling the promise of next generation batteries and the benefits of Keystone XL. We are just waiting for the Market to determine they are "cheaper". Some of these types are hucksters, some ideologues. But some are trained academics prostituting themselves by cherry picking data, creating specious, deceptive arguments, all while stirring up a dangerous nationalist/populist resentment. For these devils I have no sympathy.
Saturday, October 10, 2015
This manifesto by a diverse group of intellectuals is a perfect example of the Faustian drive toward development, modernity and progress based on a an exuberant belief, dare I say faith, in technology. What it lacks is Goethe's nuanced realization that development has a flip side, a tragic side filled with tension, duality, and ambiguity. The authors of this document ask us to embrace a form of "moral reasoning" ,intoning that a "good anthropocene means "intensifying many human activities- particularly farming, energy extraction, forestry and settlement- so that they use less land and interfere less with the natural world,(this) is the key to de-coupling human development from environmental impacts." In a sort of anti-perma-culture approach they hope to separate, rather than harmonize, the human, mostly urban world, from the "natural world". Enamored with the Promethian promise of nuclear power and industrial food production, I wonder what they would think of this Cuban model, as explained by the University of British Colombia?: "In 2006, the WWF declared Cuba to be the only sustainable nation based on ecological footprint and human development index. The majority of food grown in Cuba is produced without chemicals. Good bugs fight bad bugs in the fields. Their soils – like their communities – are teeming with life….Today, Cuba’s agricultural cooperatives provide 80 percent of the food produced in Cuba and her system of urban agriculture is a model for the world." These "modernists" of the Breakthrough Institute see a world held back only by technical issues, they don't see class conflict, alienation, or injustice and their view of history is a simple rising arc of progress and development. In other words, what they miss entirely is the sphere of the Political. In this sense they are more post-modern. What they might want to consider is the technical prowess of Nazi Germany as it industrialized mass slaughter. Technology might be neutral, but human culture is not.
Friday, October 9, 2015
Anyone perusing the comments thread of an article on global warming/climate change will discover that the hard-core denier crowd has not diminished, despite the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community around AGW (anthropogenic global warming). In fact the fierce, heroic intensity of the deniers only grows in proportion to their increasing isolation. In the first chapter of her book, This Changes Everything, author Naomi Klein speaks to the motivations behind ideologues such as those at the Heartland Institute and identifies the free market/ libertarian fundamentalism which drives most of this effort. For them, the political-economic ramifications of climate change are so terrifying that they can rationalize a fantastic conspiracy of left-wing scientists using this "Trojan horse" to bring about their socialist utopia. One strategy of the deniers is to adopt a "skeptical" attitude towards the modeling, the data, the analysis etc..and cite Galileo, imagining themselves as valiant outliers. Another, as I mentioned in my post about the Great Falls demonstration, is to simply deny that science has any value as a source of explanation about the natural world. What I find fascinating is the ability of the human psyche to repress trauma and have it manifest as cognitive dissonance. Too often, when the human discovers her/himself to be wrong, the strategy is to double-down, to then insist even more forcefully that no, we are correct and have always been correct. The classic example is German society, convinced of it's genetic superiority.But how many people do you know who have been wrong about virtually everything; inter-racial mixing, weapons of mass destruction, the domino theory, Obamacare, three-strikes-you're-out, etc,etc, still have supreme confidence in their ability to form valid opinions?
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
This talk by Jeff Purdy titled After Nature; Living in the Anthropocene delves into our relationship to the culturally constructed concept of "(N)ature", primarily in the spheres of politics and law, but the mention of economics is noticeable by its absence. He talks about "food systems" but not the profit motive which drives industrial agriculture, he talks mountain top removal but not commodification or competitive markets. Meanwhile South Carolina just received 14 inches of rain in what many are calling an unprecedented deluge. Clarencetown Long Island in the Bahamas, my old bonefishing stomping ground, is "obliterated" according to some reports. How will the energy Market respond? Why, by ignoring the storm damage, that's how. Those costs are external to the price of fossil fuels. Most South Carolinians will see it as an act of God. Insurance companies will raise rates We camped this weekend on the banks of the Clark Fork river with lots of old friends, enjoying a picturesque version of Montana "Nature", while every few hours a half-mile long train loaded with coal or oil roared by. Our world is one of such disconnect and cognitive dissonance that the only real conversation was how to get some sleep amid the noise!
A group calling itself the Citizens Climate Lobby proposes a mechanism termed "tax and dividend" to sell carbon pricing to a more general audience, including conservatives. Under this scheme, a steadily increasing tax (starting at $15 per ton CO2 emitted)is placed on carbon production at the source and the "rebates" distributed equally back to consumers rather than the State. This can be sold as a "free market" solution which "unleashes entrepreneurs and investors" a particular fetish among conservatives, enabling it to gain backing from classical economists like Nordhaus and Mankiw and a few moderate Republicans in the Senate. The takeaway message here is: Don't be spooked by radicals like Naomi Klein or the Pope, there is no cataclysmic Market failure or critique of capitalism, just a few incremental tweaks and Market Magic will fix everything and everything will be fine. Of course true free market fundamentalists will see the price controls and tariffs and scream Trojan Horse! Beware! But the problem I have with this scheme is it leads to exactly what Rising Tide warns us of; "solar heated sweat shops". In other words, it leaves in place a system which by its very nature produces inequality and class conflict, imperialism and exploitation and a commodified lifestyle devoid of meaning or meaningful social relations. It does nothing to change the destructive relationship between humanity and nature and pushes off the agenda a real opportunity to change society in a profound, and much better, way. Still, it might be the only possible approach with a chance to slow climate chaos.
Friday, October 2, 2015
Eight climate activists gathered in front of the Calumet Refinery in Great Falls Montana last weekend as part of the Flood the System escalation. Calumet refines Alberta tar sands "bitumen", and the signs held by the protesters demanded "clean energy jobs" and a recognition that climate change was a threat to our collective future. The good citizens of Great Falls that drove by our intersection mostly appeared...anxious. They generally avoided meeting our eyes or rolled theirs and snickered, half embarrassed at such a public display and half put out at being "confronted" by something political. There were a noticeable number of older cars and hard looking people, the kind who have worked their lives away and scraped by in a harsh, windy environment. The only person who actually engaged me in conversation was a security guard who didn't know what "tar sands" were and confused weather with climate (believed in was "cyclical") When I said there was consensus among climate scientists that warming was real he said "if you believe scientists, you would have to believe in evolution." End of conversation, but at least he was curious. To affect public opinion on this issue is to go head to head with many dominant ideological narratives, such as religion, nationalism and "democratic capitalism". On a less abstract level, one also goes up against well funded trade lobbies, "free market" councils, foundations, and associations including the Chambers of Commerce. Then there are the libertarian "think tanks" and the corporate media. All quite aware of the threat climate change poses to their carefully constructed cultural apparatus. But hey, no one said it was going to be easy! It will require strategy and smarts and IMO this means giving up on small street-corners in the outlying periphery and concentrating/consolidating in places where direct action can have a real, movement-building impact.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
I am actively involved with the climate justice organization Rising Tide. Of all the groups fighting climate change it appeals to me because of its radical critique, recognizing that the roots of the climate crisis go to the basic institutions and structures of western "democratic" capitalism. I believe it to be fairly unique in its unapologetic denunciation of patriarchy, white supremacy and colonialism as they apply to climate justice and though this language is challenging to mainstream organizations we see it gaining traction thanks to the efforts of people as diverse as Naomi Klein and Pope Francis. Naomi sits on the board of 350.org and the Pope doesn't care who he makes uncomfortable. Of course an established center of capitalist ideology such as the Democratic Party will try to harness this energy for its own purposes and blunt any effects that might harm its privileged position (or Wall Street donors). A great example of this is the legislation sponsored by Maria Cantwell (as reported in Mon. Sept.21 NYT) which would call for a "2% per year reduction in carbon emissions through 2025". In classic Democrat fashion it fails to call for any concrete measures to obtain the goal (taxes, carbon price, regulation etc)..still.... A shift is beginning and elites are scrambling to stake out positions. Some of the pressure comes from the impending COP 21 to be held in Paris this Dec. Some of the pressure comes from chaotic energy markets resulting from gas fracking boom, some from economic stagnation (Europe, now China)and some from Big Insurance which has to underwrite coastal cities and blazing homes in California. The question now is, how to drive a stake through the heart of Dirty Energy while it is off balance? Rising Tide North America is escalating with a campaign called Flood The System and I think it is a great metaphor.
Monday, September 21, 2015
My nickname and photo nearly say it all. I am an old radical fishing guide/writer devoted to (fly)fishing and Left-left politics. I have erratically maintained a blog called Thoughtstreaming for many years now where I voiced strong opinions on political-economy, modernity, philosophy and current events. The majority of my few followers were trolls (rude and dimwitted) but I have generally enjoyed the process of blogging and believe it has made me a better writer. The purpose of starting this new blog is to create a forum for discussion in a narrower range, focusing on the crisis which is climate change and its particular relationship to the workings of capital. I live in a small community in a beautiful valley in western Montana, out on the periphery as they say, or the isolated margins of American power. Yet in terms of climate and dirty energy we are a major Center. The eastern part of the state is connected geographically/geologically to the Powder River coal seams and Baaken shale oil fields, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would run right down our state and much of these fossil fuels are transported (mostly east to west) through the state with a massive expansion of that network being proposed or developed already. So the fight is on. While I believe this crisis must be attacked at the roots and that only a complete overhaul of the political/economic/ideological system known as capitalism can prevent climate chaos, the work to get there will take place on many levels and on differing terrain. Join me in exploring the possibilities. Truly effective action action must be guided by solid theory and that theory can only be developed collectively.