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

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one of the ‘rads shared her thoughts with me concerning the collapse of the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico:

not sure what to say about it yet, other than how fucked up and fuck these oil companies; but at the same time you see how the feds are trying to shift the blame onto the oil companies, as if the feds weren’t the ones who agreed to open up these waters to this very risk (with Obama agreeing in the last couple weeks to open new areas to more offshore drilling).

Looks like the fishing industry and the ports are gonna be dealt a serious blow if/when the oil reaches shore — both of which are vital to the economy of Louisiana. While federal law requires BP to pay for the damages & clean up, what that means in reality is that the insurance policies BP has on that rig will pay out and gas prices are gonna go up (and will probably be pushed up in part by speculators who recognize that the loss of oil production means “decreased” supply and thus increased prices).

i’m a little perplexed about what to think about this.  the anti-civilizational tendency in the ecology movement could easily use this as ammunition to attack “industrial society” as opposed to capitalist society.

there are a few points worth noting, though:

1.  BP has refused to install acoustic triggers, which could have prevented this tragedy because they cost half a million dollars to install on one oil rigg;  this is the subjective decision of capitalist firms, such as BP to sacrifice the world for profits, but it goes beyond individual “greed”

2.  for the moment capitalists have refused to shift towards a sustainable energy economy;  this is tied to the need for profits by the oil industry that operates on an infrastructure worth billions of dollars;  to sacrifice this capital would be catastrophic for the working class because so many of us would lose our jobs.  the transportation infrastructure that almost every company in the world relies upon is also implicated in this transition;  under capitalism, if a company is not profitable than the workers will be the first to suffer;  our ability to live is tied to the ability of capital to successfully compete in the market;  the question is:  can the transition to cleaner energy production under capitalism cannot occur without massive devastation for the working class?  i don’t think so.

these two article provide good coverage of the disaster:

from the World Socialist Web Site
Gulf oil spill threatens economic, environmental catastrophe

from the New York Times
BP is Criticized over Oil Spill, but US Missed Chances to Act

since Murray Bookchin passed away Brian Tokar has become a prominent voice for the Institute for Social Ecology.  for the past several years, the organization has been in the middle of restructuring itself, and in the past year Tokar has provided a number of well written and historically rich essays on the ecology movement.

below is his latest on Earth Day posted on CounterPunch.  i think it’s useful as a rough historical sketch of the movement, but there’s an uneven tension between understanding the success and cooptation of Earth Day as a matter of corruption.  instead, i wonder how the piece could be re-written to describe this history as the dialectical tension of class struggle.

40 Years of Earth Days

by Brian Tokar

The 40th anniversary of the original Earth Day is upon us, and many seasoned environmentalists are nostalgic for the heady days of the 1970s, when 20 million people hit in the streets and eventually got Richard Nixon to sign a series of ambitious environmental laws. Those laws managed to clean up waterways that were turning into sewers, saved the bald eagle from the ravages of DDT, and began to clear the air, which in the early 1960s was so polluted that people were passing out all over our cities.

While environmental awareness has clearly seeped into mainstream consciousness in the US, today’s environmental movement is floundering, even though the stakes are higher than ever. While grassroots campaigners continue to fight for endangered forests, challenge polluting companies in their communities, and confront the coal industry’s assaults on the mountains of southern Appalachia, the best known national organizations can point to precious few substantive victories of late. Most appallingly, they have utterly failed to demonstrate meaningful leadership around what climatologist James Hansen calls the “predominant moral issue of this century,” the struggle to prevent the catastrophic and irreversible warming of the planet.

As British journalist Johann Hari reported in The Nation back in March, this is partly the result of a legacy of collaboration between increasingly corporate-styled environmental NGOs and the world’s most polluting corporations.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

there has been an ongoing struggle by sanitation workers in Seattle related to contract negotiations.  the question in my head is what political and organizational linkages — in terms of real, material solidarity — could the ecology movement make here?

reposted from Socialist Worker

Taking on Waste Management in Seattle

Darrin Hoop reports on the Teamsters’ fight for a fair contract from Waste Management.
April 23, 2010

MEMBERS OF Teamsters Local 174 in the Seattle region are locked in a contract battle with Waste Management, the largest and richest sanitation and recycling company in the U.S.

After working without a contract since it expired on April 1, 450 sanitation workers began an unfair labor practices strike at 10:30 a.m. on April 21.  Mike Gonzalez, an official with Local 174, said in an interview with KOMO News:

We took our members out on an unfair labor practices strike to try and force the company back to the bargaining table…The charges we filed included bargaining in bad faith, coercing employees, threatening to retaliate against our workers, changing their working conditions. They are using all the illegal tactics that a company usually uses to force members to take a contract that they haven’t fully bargained with us.

But after only a day on the picket line, officials from Local 174 announced that the workers would be returning to their jobs–still without a contract–as of midnight on April 23.

Read the rest of this entry »

the broader ecology movement has always been composed of different shades of ‘green.’  there have been both conservatives and radicals, reformists and revolutionaries in the movement.

in light of the current crisis, many have wondered if more is possible today than what might have been for the last 40 years.  the economic, political and military hegemony of US Empire and neoliberalism have fractured for the entire world to see, and as the rulers scurry around to pick up the pieces and hold it together, we’ve begun to see sparks of autonomous movements from below.  the student and worker movement to defend public education advancing in California is probably the most well known example of activity from below independent of official society’s channels for reform.  it might finally be asked on a mass level what we can do independent of the Democratic Party, and labor and university bureaucracies.

the same might be happening within the ecology movement.  green anarchists and environmental anti-authoritarians have long worked parallel reformist environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club with, however, much criticism, but a gulf has long existed between the two.  in addition to this, ideas of independent activity from below that challenged the powers of the state and ruling parties among the rank-and-file has been either sparse or met with reticence.

while the failure at Copenhagen might be considered nothing new by many radical tendencies in the movement, the mass activity that preceded that disappointing week could be thought to have raised both the expectations and confidence of environmentalists across the world.

recently there has two items in the news that raise the question of new possibilities in the ecology movement:

Save Greenpeace
Greenpeace has long utilized radical tactics, but without theoretically questioning the role of the state or capital in the devastation of the environment.  with the appointment of the new director for the organization’s climate campaign, some in the organization are challenging the leadership’s willingness to collaborate withsome of the worst polluters.  the question is, will this be generalized to include all of the ruling class?  will some of the membership swing to the left and help build an ecology movement from below?

The Wrong Kind of Green
reflecting on Copenhagen, journalist Johan Hari has published an indictment of those environmental organizations that have begun working with some of the worst polluters, such as Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy.

(here is an interview with Hari on Democracy Now!)

in his article, Hari cites other examples, so how is this new?  is this the beginning of an accelerating trend in the ecology movement, in which more and more organizations swing to the right and lose even the veneer of maintaining “independent” environmental position?

part of this may be due to the crisis by which capital and the state have lost the ability to afford granting concessions, but if this is the beginning and the middle falls out of the ecology movement we can only expect increased polarization.  if this is the case then the left wing of the ecology movement needs to, now more than ever, organize, organize, organize!

Obama is providing loans to build the first nuclear power plant in 30 years.  this is a definite defeat for the anti-nuke movement.

the only thing i would emphasize is that it’s being touted as a (clean) jobs initiative, and that it’s taking place in the South, which is basically a safe haven for capitalist development… free from the rights of organized labor.

reposted from Socialist Worker

Obama’s nuclear power play

Elizabeth Schulte tells what the Obama White House isn’t saying about nuclear power.
February 23, 2010

PRESIDENT BARACK Obama announced on February 17 that his Energy Department had approved an $8.3 billion loan for the construction of two nuclear reactors in Georgia, opening the way for the first nuclear power plants to be built in the U.S. in three decades.

Obama couched the announcement in environmental rhetoric, counting nukes on a list of “clean” energy sources, alongside solar and wind power.

Maybe he should ask the Pennsylvania residents who lived near the Three Mile Island plant 31 years ago if they think nuclear power is “clean.” In 1979, an accident at the Three Mile Island reactor nearly ended in a catastrophic meltdown. Or he could talk to the 6 million Ukrainians–those who are still alive–who were exposed to contamination in 1986 when the Chernobyl rector released a radioactive cloud to drift over parts of Europe.

Read the rest of this entry »

keeping with the questions of possibilies (see the previous post), George Caffentiz pubished the following essay in turbulence on the implications of shifting towards a ‘green energy’ economy.

he notes that the last time there was a major shift in energy production in the US it was during Roosevelt’s presidency, but it was neither simple nor benign.  the shift towards natural gas and oil was a move to break the minor’s union, a powerful force in the CIO.  this was a defeat of working class power, and marked the accelerated development of state capitalism.

in my head the ability to shift away from an oil energy economy will depend broadly on two interrelated things: 1) conflicts over the control of oil resources between the US, Latin America (with Venezuela in the lead), and Iran along with the rest of the Middle East; and 2) the current crisis of capitalism in general, and neoliberalism in particular.  the latter is important because it governs in part the interstate and inter-imperial rivalries listed in point number one.

how will the political and economic relationship change?  what obstacles will come up preventing any smooth transition between ruling classes?  if disciplining the minors’ union in the 1930s & 40s is any indication of what is to come, what does this mean for the shifting power relationship between the rulers on the one hand, and the working class and other forces from below on the other?

but i’ll stop here and let Caffentiz take it away…

‘Everything Must Change So That Everything Can Remain the Same’: Notes on Obama’s Energy Plan

The Bush administration’s energy policy, with its evasions and invasions, has led to poverty, war and environmental destruction. But will Obama’s policy really be substantially different? Will this be change we can believe in? Turbulence asked George Caffentiz, a seasoned analyst of energy politics, to investigate.

Is President Obama’s oil/energy policy going to be different from the Bush Administration’s? My immediate answer to this question will be a firm No, followed by a more hesitant Yes. The reason for this ambivalence is simple: the failure of the Bush Administration to radically change the oil industry in its neoliberal image has made a transition from an oil-based energy regime inevitable, and the Obama Administration is responding to this inevitability. We are, consequently, in the midst of an epochal shift and so must revise our assessments of the political forces and debates of the past with some circumspection.

Before I examine both sides of this answer, we should be clear as to the two sets of oil/energy policies being discussed.

The Bush policy paradigm’s premise is all too familiar: the ‘real’ energy crisis has nothing to do with the natural limits on energy resources, but it is due to the constraints on energy production imposed by government regulation and the OPEC cartel. First, energy production must be liberalised and the corrupt, dictatorial and terrorist-friendly OPEC cartel dissolved by US-backed coups (Venezuela) and invasions (Iraq and Iran). Then, according to the Bush folk, the free market can finally impose realistic prices on the energy commodities (which ought to be about half of the present ones). This in turn will stimulate the production of adequate supplies and a new round of spectacular growth of profits and wages.

Obama’s oil/energy policy, during the campaign and after his election, has an equally familiar premise. As he presented on January 27, 2009, ‘I will reverse our dependence on foreign oil while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs… America’s dependence on oil is one of the most serious threats that our nation has faced. It bankrolls dictators, pays for nuclear proliferation and funds both sides of our struggle against terrorism.’ In the long-term, this policy includes: a ‘clean tech’ Venture Capital Plan; Cap and Trade; Clean Coal Technology development; stricter automobile gas-mileage standards; and cautious support for nuclear power electricity generation.

Read the rest of this entry »

in an exchange over at turbulence it was briefly asked how the ecological crisis can be understood as it specifically relates to the current neoliberal epoch of capitalism.  it’s an important question.  different aspects of both the capitalist and ecological crisis would have to be used to explain each other on a case by case, or issue by issue basis.

Loren Goldner offers an explanation of neoliberalism that includes an ecological dimension.  he describes the form of ecological devastation during the present era as part of the need for what he calls “looting,” or primitive accumulation.  currently, the claims to wealth by the capitalists exceed the actual amount of wealth in the world.  so, along with wages and public infrastructure, the environment is being looted to make up for that lack of real wealth.

Goldner argues that this is a contraction of social reproduction, which means that capitalism is cannibalizing its means to expand its ability to create real wealth.  instead of real wealth, the stock market and other speculative financial measures create what Goldner calls “fictitious capital.”

As of the end of 2005, there was  $33 trillion in outstanding debt (Federal, state, local, corporate, personal) in the U.S. economy, three times GDP. (No one knows how much is tied up in the international hedge funds and derivatives, and the estimated $7-8 trillion in Federal debt does not include trillions more in commitments for Social Security and Medicare.)  The state (including Federal, state and local levels) consumes 40% of GDP. The net U.S. debt abroad is between $3 and $4 trillion (at least $11 trillion held by foreigners minus $8 trillion in U.S. assets abroad) i.e. it is comparable (at 30% of GDP) to the situation of crisis-ridden Third World countries.  That amount is growing by $800 billion a year at current rates. Ominously, in late 2005, foreign income from investment in the U.S. exceeded U.S. income from overseas investment (the one remaining strong pillar of the U.S. international position) for the first time. Foreigners hold an increasing percent of U.S. government debt; the four major Asian central banks (Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan) alone hold nearly $2 trillion.  It is the Federal government’s debt, and hence these foreign loans, which make possible the reflationary actions of the Federal Reserve Bank. Since the early 1980’s, a kind of  “financial arbitrage capitalism”, in which investment in increasingly focused on different possible financial instruments instead of production, has been put in place.  Thus the old conceptualization of the role of the banking system and the Fed’s (apparent) ability to expand and contract credit availability through it,  is superseded;  increasing amounts of “virtual” credit are created by “securitized finance” independent of banks. One must also consider the government-linked entities (Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae), which backed the reflation of mortgages of the past 4 years, leading to an incredible housing bubble. This entire edifice has depended on 1) low inflation in the U.S., as higher inflation would scare off foreign lenders; 2) the willingness of U.S,  “consumers” to go more and more heavily into debt (with debt service now taking 14% of incomes, as opposed to 11% a few years ago) 3) the willingness and ability and above all the need of foreigners to go on re-lending U.S. balance-of-payments deficits back to the U.S., allowing increasingly indebted U.S. “consumers” to be the “locomotive” of the world economy […]

Accumulation is threatened because the totality of capitalist paper claims to wealth (profit, interest and ground rent), starting with the $3-4 trillion “nomad dollars” held outside the U.S.,  exceed the surplus value available for their valorization. This excess of fictitious claims is, as sketched above, the result of decades of debt pyramiding aimed at delaying a deflationary crisis, and can be maintained only by reducing the global wage and through “primitive accumulation” (non-reproduction or non-exchange) from incorporating petty producers from Third World agriculture into the global working class, the running down of capital plant and infrastructure, and the looting of nature. It is quite different from earlier, “normal” capitalist expansions in which these claims grow alongside the expanded reproduction of society. Today, capitalist paper expands and social reproduction contracts.

Read the rest of this entry »

the opening ceremonies for the 2010 winter olympics are going down tonight.

a shout out of solidarity with the indigenous peoples resisting the 2010 olympic games taking place on stolen land.

some words from the Native Youth Movement:

No 2010 Olympics on Stolen Native Land on the struggle: