Sunday, November 29, 2015

Climate Action OR Climate Justice?

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

Another World Is Possible

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 Right is Right?

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

Back to the Demonstration

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,, 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

Grow or Die

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.