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this is probably one of the most comprehensive summations of Copenhagen that i have read.

Climate politics after Copenhagen

Jonathan Neale

The global economic crisis of the last two years has transformed the nature of climate politics in two ways. The turning point was Copenhagen.

First, the economic crisis has changed the nature of climate politics at the top. From 2005 to 2008 the most influential position on climate among world leaders was that greenhouse gas emissions must be slowly reduced by 60 to 80 percent over the next 40 years. This was to be achieved within the limits of the “free market”. With the economic crisis the pressure of competition between the different corporations and national blocks of capital became severe. The dominant position at the top became that in the next decade the different blocks of capital could not afford the cost of beginning those reductions. The result in Copenhagen was that the US, assisted by China, effectively wrecked the process of international negotiation towards slow but deep cuts in emissions.

But something else has happened as well. There has been a global movement for climate action for some time. The central thrust of that movement has been to lobby governments. That shifted in Copenhagen. The left and the social movements joined climate politics. We saw a mass demonstration, and then a coming together of the more radical NGO activists with anti-capitalists in direct action that not only challenged the police lines but demonstrated inside the corridors of power.

After Copenhagen that movement faces both a crisis and a great opportunity. The crisis occurs because much, but not all, of the leadership of the big NGOs has bent to the new “reality” and is moving away from serious engagement with climate politics. Among much wider layers of activists there is a debate raging between demoralisation and engagement with a more militant movement, which could unite radical environmentalists with the social movements.

The economic crisis has also transformed the political space for this new movement. Fast, effective reductions in greenhouse gas emissions require an enormous investment. On a global scale this requires something in the region of 100 to 200 million new jobs. Even two years ago this would have appeared visionary. But the economic crisis has discredited neoliberalism, making it clear that governments can intervene with enormous sums when they want to. Also mass unemployment has returned. It is now possible to campaign seriously in the unions and among workers for massive government intervention to create climate jobs and save the planet. This creates the possibility of averting catastrophic climate change in this generation.

In this new situation what the left does globally and in each country is suddenly critical. The left cannot effect these changes on its own. But we can mobilise old and new activists to take the argument for climate action into the unions and the working class. And the working class can change everything.

To do that we have to build a climate movement that does not argue for sacrifice but for decent living standards, jobs and growth of a very particular kind towards a sustainable planet. We have to persuade that movement that the main fault line is not between rich countries and poor, but between capitalism and workers in every country, north and south.

Read the rest over at the International Socialism Journal


the World People’s Conference on Climate Change (CMPCC) in Cochabamba, Bolivia has received much attention and fanfare, and is considered the corrective to what many had hoped for in Copenhagen.  the summit stands to challenge the continuation of US Empire and the resulting ecological devastation that has taken place in the process.

with this in mind, the participation of Bolivian president Evo Morales should come as no surprise.  along with Hugo Chavez, Morales and other Third World heads of state have been a vocal opponent to the past 40 years of almost uncontested global hegemony by US Empire.

but the nature of Venezuela and Bolivia has definitely not been uncontested.  they have received support, criticism and opposition by the Left.  are they something qualitatively different from capitalism?  do their claims of “Socialism for the 21st Century” or Idigenismo (coopted by the Morales government to purportedly represent the indigenous people of Bolivia) mark a shift away from capitalism?

as many revolutionaries have identified capitalism to be at the root of the ecological crisis, the CMPCC and the nature of the programs that are put forward by Morales pose strategic questions for the ecology movement.  the long term strategy of the CMPCC to present resolutions to the UN may provide us with a clue to the conference’s limitations.

the best analysis i’ve read that describes the class nature of the Bolivian state and the Morales government, though dated, is published by Solidarity:

Bolivia After the Referendum by Jeffery R Webber

below, Democracy Now! covers a working group that is discussing issues that have been banned from the official CMPCC agenda.  called Mesa 18 (working group 18), the discussions center around ecological devastation that has been caused by development plans of the Morales government.

the email hack at the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia University has caused somewhat of a stir for the climate change movement, and its opponents.  these emails purportedly point to a conspiracy on the part of climate scientists who have put forward arguments, research and papers as proponents of the theory of global warming.  many of the scientists and researchers alluded to and involved in the hacked email exchanges have produced research that have been used as sources for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports on climate change.  these IPCC reports are cited by nearly all sectors of the climate movement.  in response, right wing pundits and climate change deniers have seized on these emails as evidence that climate change is a hoax.

the following video undercuts the claims by these skeptics, addressing some of the specific emails that are being used as ammunition by these climate change deniers.

in his weekly editorial in the Guardian, George Monbiot notes a couple other facets of the “scandal”. criticizing the questionable behavior of Phil Jones, the now former-head of the CRU at the center of this “scandal,” the crux of Monbiot’s piece is that scientists need to hold to the highest ethical standards in their research.  there are, however, a few other points, which Manbiot raises, that deserve extra emphasis.

Monbiot argues that this editorial policy of Jones et al. should be understood within the broader history of the climate movement.  climate scientists have been in a defensive posture for some 20 years now, as various sectors of capital — particularly the energy industry — have been funded campaigns and research with the sole purpose of either disproving or casting doubt onto the idea of global warming.

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the text in the picture says, "i don't know why"

by most accounts the climate talks that are supposed to take place in Copenhagen this December can already be pronounced a dismal failure.

big surprise.

in addition to the popular recognition that the climate bill now in the Senate is as much a steaming, GHG-producing pile of shit as its predecessor in the House, and that the accomplishments of the protests at the G-20 talks in Pittsburgh are anybody’s guess,  it can be fair to expect many of the Left and those in the ecology movements will continue to follow the developments of the talks, some pleading, some protesting, but in the end all disappointed.

the question now facing the ecology and climate movements: what next?

the crisis facing the ecology movement is not only social, biological or humanitarian; it’s not just that many will suffer, that many will die, and that eco-systems will be ripped to shreds.  the crisis in the ecology movement is one of our own organization and actions.

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a friend of mine recently reminded me how great the PBS news series Frontline is.  i started combing through their archives looking for what coverage they’ve done on the ecology movement.  so far i’ve watched the 2007 program entitled “Hot Politics” which covers the climate debate going on within the US ruling classes since 1988.  i’m still working my through the 2008 program entitled “Heat”.

in a recent post in which i shared my congealing thoughts on the ecology movement as it relates to the broader political climate i detailed how i see the current climate talks as part of the broader crisis facing the US ruling class.  “Hot Politics” has confirmed these inklings.  it really helps me understand something if i can trace its historical development, and “Hot Politics” does just that.  there is a lot of energy surrounding the UN climate talks in Copenhagen this December, but these COP (Congress of Party) talks have been going on since 1995, beginning in Madrid.  again and again in Rio, Madrid, Kyoto, Trieste, and Bali US rulers have given a big F-you to the rest of the world when it came to addressing climate change.  and as Frontline points out each of these times US rulers refused to sacrifice economic growth.

so as i asked before, why now?

i believe that one of the main factors in this willingness to negotiate is the recession. US capital is contracting, and if they’re going to face limitations to growth, they are trying to make sure that other national capitals are facing the same obstacles.  the climate talks give US rulers the opportunity to not only place limitations to capitalist growth for other nations, but it also gives them chance to set the terms of those limitations.  the problem of course, is that other ruling classes know the US is coming from a position of weakness.  Obama’s multilateralism is one indicator of this, and so the usual carrot and stick isn’t working.

what got me thinking about this is how the era of neoliberalism has been partially charaterized by an increasingly authoritarian state that continues to buck, dismantle and attack previous gains made by the working class and even the minimal standards of bourgeois democracy.  the declawing of the EPA is just one example.  it raises some important questions for what the US working class and ecology movement can accomplish during this time.

the terrain is really different for, say the Chinese working class who have been involved in a series of skirmishes with Chinese state security forces over the health effects of rampant ecological devastation.  (i’ll try to have more on these soon.)  Chinese capital, in contrast to the US, is expanding.  for the working class and ecology movements in China this means that the Chinese ruling classes have the ability to grant concessions and draw sections of those movements within the sphere of ruling class legitimacy and state intitutions.  these concessions by the US rulers are becoming less and less likely and possible.

in the US, the willingness of the US ruling classes to negotiate speaks to their weaknesses.  in China, we are only beginning to see how far Chinese capital has yet to go before they completely commoditize China — socially, geographically and ecologically.  there are vast cracks and gaps amongst the world wide ruling classes.  as one interviewee said, “this century is up for grabs.”  the working class and oppressed can accomplish so much.

i posted the following on Gathering Forces.  i haven’t posted anything in a while and i just wanted to get something up.  the piece is more or less my thoughts – a few scattered puzzle pieces, really – on the connection between the issues and questions facing the ecology movement as it relates to the broader political climate.

Gathering Forces, by the way, is a project i work on with a number of other folks.  it takes up broader political issues and questions of revolutionary organization.

There has been a lot of excitement by the left and the ecology movement lately, particularly around the G20 protests in Pittsburgh, the climate bill proposed by the House and recently amended by the Senate, and finally around the upcoming UN climate talks in Copenhagen.  But it’s worth noting how the broader political terrain today forms the hot topics of the ecology movement if we’re to effectively plan our campaigns and strategies.

This past spring, despite the hopes of environmentalists that lined up behind Obama’s presidential campaign, the EPA okayed over 40 mountain-top removal coal-mining projects without scrutiny. This form of coal mining is one of the more the ecologically destructive methods of coal mining.  The process dumps tons of chemicals and unwanted material down the sides of the mountain. burying wildlife and vegetation on the sides, and contaminating local water supplies.  It also allows mining companies to lay-off workers and cut labor costs because less people are needed than traditional forms of mining.

But just before labor day the EPA released a letter that indicates that the Obama administration and the EPA are seeking to block one of the largest mountain top mining permits issued, citing violations of the Clean Water Act.

Around the same time, the NYTimes began a series on water pollution noting violations of the Clean Water Act by coal mining companies.  The piece sites the lack of oversight and enforcement as a major problem, with companies dumping as much as 1000% of the allowed chemical concentration into local water systems in W Virginia.

So why the about-face?  Is Obama finally fulfilling his campaign promises to the environmental movement?

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