Workers and environmentalists of the world, unite!

by Stefania Barca on June 3, 2014

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The conflict between labor and the environment is a neoliberal construct. What we need is a broad coalition that can fundamentally transform production.

Nowadays it sounds so familiar, almost natural: the mutually exclusive demands and apparently opposing agendas of labor and the environmentalist movement. But in fact, this artificial division is nothing more than a crucial neoliberal strategy to divide two of the most powerful social movements of the industrial era, whose alliance could be a dangerous liaison with the capacity to call into question the very essence of the capitalist “treadmill of production.” It is thus essential that labor and environmental/public health organizations gain a historical perspective on their current state of conflict and become aware of the revolutionary potential of a common political project.

One place where this fact has become much clearer in recent years is the Italian city of Taranto, Apulia, where a number of citizens’ organizations and “committees” emerged in response to one of the most serious occupational, environmental and public health crises of the last decade. These organizations and committees have now begun mobilizing different resources and forms of action — from cyber-activism and film-making to street demonstrations and campaigning — to fight against the occupational blackmail of a local employer. At the last May Day celebrations, they managed to gather more than 100,000 people for a self-organized, crowd-sourced mass concert, held in open competition with the one traditionally organized in Rome by the trade unions confederation and RAI, the national public television.

Liberate Taranto!

As the biggest and one of the oldest steel factories in Europe, counting about 20,000 employees in 2012 and belonging to the formerly state-owned ILVA group (now controlled by the Riva family), the Taranto plant rose to national attention in 2011. A court decision found the company guilty of outrageous violations of environmental regulations and ordered its immediate closure until a thorough technical renovation and the environmental clean-up of damaged areas would be put into place.

The company’s response consisted in arrogantly restating the incompatibility of environmental regulation with its economic plans, thus re-enacting the occupational blackmail strategy which has traditionally functioned as way to structurally block any actions against business interests. The management even went so far as to actively organize workers’ demonstrations against the court decision, gaining ample and complicit media coverage, in order to convince public opinion that there was in fact real opposition in the city of Taranto — in which ILVA is by far the largest employer — against the public prosecutors and local environmentalist organizations.

Taranto is just one striking manifestation of the unbearable contradiction forced upon people of what Allan Schnaiberg has called the “treadmill of production” (and consumption and waste): the contradiction between production and reproduction. This can be imagined as a Hydra-like monster with many heads: occupational illnesses, job accidents, environmental contamination and ecocide, public health disasters, the annihilation of possibilities for alternative/autonomous forms of local economy, and so on. For the past 50 years, this monster has provoked an unbearable concentration of cancer, malformations and other health disorders in the Taranto bay area, something rendered even more unbearable by the weakness of public health infrastructure and the lack of adequate healthcare. Like the Alien of the science-fiction movie, the Hydra-like monster has now entered the local space and people’s bodies, taking possession of them from within.

In important ways, Taranto’s May Day concert was therefore a manifestation of discontent with what the organizers (and much of the city’s inhabitants) perceive to be the politics of the main trade unions in matters of ecology: 1) they are seen to be largely complacent with corporate occupational blackmail; 2) they are insensitive to the threats to public health that come with environmental contamination; and 3) they often strongly oppose grassroots environmental mobilization at the local level.

The truth, however, is that it is simply impossible to separate or to alienate life from work — as the industrial economy and society have tried to do for so long. Another type of economy must be built; one that makes work the human activity that sustains life and that all members of a community share in its different forms across space (the city, its sea, its hinterland, and the local ecosystem), and even across species, in respect for the daily work made by non-human nature in sustaining life in the local environment.

Another type of economy is undeniably, urgently needed. All the rage, the frustration, the pain and the conflict that working-class communities of industrial areas have embodied and carried in their lives must now lead towards a new horizon of struggle, a new and better dream than those fabricated by the market and the neoliberal state, and by the unions and political parties associated with them. A dream that can finally liberate local people from the unbearable contradictions of the “treadmill of production”; of the Alien within. The slogan Taranto libera! (“liberate Taranto!”) which was screamed again and again during the concert, spoke to just that.

Instruments of liberation

But for another world to become possible, it has to be imagined first, not only by individuals or activist groups, but also at the political level. Imagining a new world becomes essential for the struggle not to close in on itself and reproduce the contradictions of the old world, but to become constructive and hopeful. Here it is that political memory becomes essential, as a project of activist knowledge-production which engages with the world’s transformation as an instrument to usher in new possibilities for politicization. By becoming aware of what has already been done by other people, past and present, with their struggles and movements, either in our own communities or elsewhere, we will immediately get a much clearer perception of the possibility of not just one but many other worlds.

Seeing those possibilities in their reality, with their dreams and their challenges, with their victories and their contradictions, will help us envision our own possibilities here and now and better organize our own struggles. This is the contribution that this article aims to give to all those who are struggling for self-liberation from the straitjacket of occupational blackmail. In the following part, I will “unearth” a few stories, in the hope that they may become (figurative) axes of war, as the Wu Ming writers’ collective would put it: instruments of liberation operating through the political imagination.

Worker/environmentalist coalitions operating on common platforms of labor and political struggle are not uncommon in the history of the post-war world. When truck drivers and eco-activists marched together in the streets of Seattle during anti-WTO demonstrations in 1999 under the banner of “Teamsters and turtles”, this was nothing new, but simply the resurgence of a political strategy that had already been successfully experimented with during the Fordist era, leading to important legislative reform in occupational and public health as well as in environmental protection. It was the active collaboration between labor, environmental, student and feminist movements that allowed the passage of the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts (1972) in the USA, strongly supported by the most powerful trade-union confederation of the time, the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW).

In Italy, the very institution of the Public Health System (Sistema Sanitario Nazionale) in 1978 was the result of a decade of intensive  struggles and two general strikes, promoted by what was known as the “environmental club” within the unions’ confederation: a coalition of labor physicians, sociologists and union leaders who had previously produced revolutionary changes in the regulation of the work environment, promoting the principle of direct workers’ control (articles 4 and 9 of the Labor Statute, passed in 1970).

Other relevant examples of such strategic coalitions can be drawn from very different places and economic sectors, such as the successful struggle against pesticide use that was conducted in the mid-1960s by the United Farm Workers union, organizing the Latino wage laborers of the orange fields and vineyards of California to obtain decent working and living conditions and the recognition of labor rights. A struggle centered on the serious health threats that agro-chemicals posed not only to the farmers and their families, but to the American consumer and environment at large.

But perhaps the most striking example of workers’ environmentalism can be found in the deep of the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, where, in the mid-1980s, a union of rubber tappers — the seringueirossuccessfully organized to defend the forest from the attack of powerful lumber companies and ranchers, while at the same time defending their right to live and work in the forest, forming cooperatives for the management of sustainable extractive activities, such as rubber and nut collection or fisheries. Despite the violent opposition raised by powerful local interests, leading to numerous assassinations of trade unionists and environmentalists, the rubber tappers’ struggle did succeed in obtaining the creation of a number of “extractive reserves”, where landless local people are legally recognized and supported by the state as the legitimate “owners” and safeguards of the forest.

What the above stories tell us is that it is indeed possible to build social struggles that are, at the same time, environmental struggles, even though they emerge from a working-class experience, and vision, of what ecology is.

More solid premises

However, the renewed alliance between labor and environmental movements must be rebuilt on more solid premises than in the past. The ideology of economic growth as a panacea for all social problems and the only way to produce social welfare must be thoroughly questioned and ultimately abandoned by the labor movement, because growth imperatives are powerful justifications for the most shameless disregard for the well-being of people and of non-human nature. The same applies to the illusion of greening the economy (i.e., capitalism) through eco-efficient technologies and market mechanisms; an illusion embraced by large parts of both the labor and the environmental movement, with support from governments and financial institutions.

The process of de-industrialization in “developed” countries in the last 20 years shows how the greening of the economy has led to the simple transmigration of industrial hazards and their death toll to less developed countries, acting through the ferocious logic of the “double standard” regime, by which multinationals can shift abroad those productions/technologies which are banned or heavily regulated in their countries of origin. This same mechanism makes working-class communities in the first world more and more vulnerable to occupational blackmail, threatening them with the shifting of industrial activities elsewhere.

Moreover, many of today’s so-called “green” technologies actually have a very negative impact on the environment, on labor conditions, and on public health as well, especially when implemented on a large scale — a fact that has been demonstrated by grassroots struggles (and engaged research) on a number of such “green economy” projects over the last decade. Windmill parks, for instance, have been strongly opposed by local communities in Greece and Spain due to the impact they have had on extended rural areas, altering local climates and landscapes, as well as heavily conditioning land use patterns.

Even greater impacts on soil, local climate and ecosystems are associated with large solar power plants — also an object of contestation and a cause of serious occupational hazard. But the most striking example comes from the biofuel business in Brazil (and elsewhere in Latin America), where extensive monoculture plantations of sugarcane have replaced millions of hectares of forest, and are often run through semi-slave laborers working in conditions of horrible toil and health risk.

Clearly, the point is not to cynically dismiss any form of alternative energy production as equally threatening to environmental and public health. There is no doubt that renewable and non-fossil energy sources must be developed as the only possible way out of the current climate crisis. But the issue of dimension and scale is of fundamental importance: alternative energy can and should be developed on the small scale, aiming at autonomous and decentralized forms of self-provision for households and local communities. Renewable energy technologies can be really sustainable only if implemented at such a de-centralized and locally-controlled level, even if this is not the scale at which huge concentrations of profit (and political power) can be made. But this would imply a thorough transformation not only of the form and structure of urban life, but of the social organization of work itself.

Breaking out of the multiple crises that afflict the world today — both in the domains of the economy and work as well as in the domain of ecology and public health — requires no lesser effort than completely abandoning the “treadmill of production”, including the politics, economics and ideology of unlimited growth. This requires an ecological revolution as theorized by Carolyn Merchant: a complete shift in the social organization of production, reproduction and consciousness. Another way of working and living, of producing and distributing wealth, rooted in non-alienated work, in respect for life and in commonality, must be the political platform on which to build this new alliance. Workers and environmentalists of the world, unite!

Stefania Barca is an environmental historian and political ecologist working at the Center for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra, Portugal. She has published extensively on the history of the commons and on working-class environmentalism.

A Better Yardstick for Measuring Inequality

 

Too Much
THIS WEEK
How many of America’s most awesomely affluent would have to come together to create a group with enough combined wealth to equal $1 trillion? Phoenix tax lawyer Bob Lord posed that question last fall. His initial answer, based on an analysis of the September 2013 Forbes list of America’s 400 richest: just 51.

Those 51 deep pockets, Lord calculated in the Arizona Republic, held 1.5 percent of America’s wealth. Back in 1982, the year the annual Forbes 400 list began, that same 1.5 percent share sat in the hands of about 1,500 rich Americans.

And what about today? Bob Lord last week updated his figures, based on the latest available billionaire data. We now need to gather together, he notes, just 37 super-rich Americans to reach the $1 trillion threshold. And to hit $1 trillion 20 years from now, if current trends continue, we’ll likely need only five.

What would have to happen for current trends not to continue? We have some statistical ideas on that score. More on them in this week‘s Too Much.

GREED AT A GLANCE
First we had primaries, contests where candidates chased after real voters. Then came what reporters dubbed the “money primary.” In an ever more unequal America, candidates were first chasing after billionaires, to raise enough cash to prove their “viability.” Now comes what the Washington Post is calling the “Sheldon primary.” The nation has become so top-heavy that candidates today need only corral one billionaire to prove their mettle. For Republicans, Sheldon Adelson, the casino king who spent over $92 million on the 2012 election, has emerged as that one. Adelson is now looking for a horse to back in 2016, and “a lengthy list” of Republican presidential contenders, says the Post, is “jockeying” to win his affections. Last week, four top GOP hopefuls joined Adelson for a VIP dinner at the Las Vegas hangar where Adelson keeps his private jet fleet . . .

Richard GonzalezAmerica’s pharmaceutical giants had a real problem a dozen years ago. Their monopoly power had raised drug prices so high that Americans couldn’t afford their prescriptions. But to the rescue came the Bush White House, with legislation that gave seniors taxpayer subsidies to pay for drugs that cost Americans as much as five times what people elsewhere in the world are paying. The latest beneficiary of this generous subsidy: Richard Gonzalez, the CEO of AbbVie, an Abbott Labs spinoff. Gonzalez took in $18.2 million last year, after hitting, says AbbVie, all his “performance targets,” including one goal of getting the firm’s 25,000 employees fired up about the new company’s mission. Hitting that target must have come easy. Nothing, after all, gets employees fired up more than working for a CEO making $18.2 million . . .

Luxury Swiss watchmakers, reports Reuters, have come up with a new way to separate the financially fortunate from tidy chunks of their fortunes. Innovators in the fine timepiece industry are now letting the uber wealthy personalize their wrist wear with just about anything from diamond stars to engraved images of their nearest and dearest. The jewelers at Buccellati, for instance, are offering “a bespoke service where the customer has a say on everything: the material, the case, the dial, the hands.” The cost for this bespoking: a minimum of 100,000 Swiss francs, about $113,000. What’s driving the new personalization push? Industry analyst Mario Ortelli has an explanation: “Customers will pay more if they feel a stronger emotional link to the product.”

Quote of the Week

“The rich can buy more of everything. More food. More cars. More houses. More vacations. More boats. But for a democracy to function properly, they should be forbidden from buying more votes.”
Leo Gerard, president, United Steelworkers, Our Plutocracy Problem, March 25, 2014

PETULANT PLUTOCRAT OF THE WEEK
Howard SchultzHoward Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, doesn’t think much of the emerging national movement to establish a $15 minimum wage, an effort that’s running particularly strong in his own Seattle backyard. Schultz told reporters earlier this month that “most companies, especially small and midsized companies, would not be able to afford” a minimum set at $15 an hour. Added the billionaire: “I wouldn’t want to see the unintended consequences of job loss as a result of going that high.” Activists at the “15 Now” campaign quickly noted that the billionaire Schultz makes $9,637 an hour. The campaign is urging the Starbucks chief to “stop hiding behind small businesses and pay your own workers 15 now!”

IMAGES OF INEQUALITY
Cook Islands

Sand, palms, breezes. None of these wonders are attracting the world’s wealthy to the Cook Islands, tiny flyspecks halfway across the Pacific. What is? The Cooks, says the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, have become “a global pioneer in offshore asset-protection trusts,” devices that can shield the assets of the rich from nasty lawsuits back home. Island officials had a Denver attorney write their nation’s trust law, and so far Americans have parked the most money in Cook Islands accounts. Among them: wealthy doctors convicted of Medicaid fraud and execs who’ve bilked employee pension funds.

Web Gem

PolicyShop/ This site, hosted by the Demos think tank, frequently features inequality-related resources, like this chart pack on how “class haunts people from womb to grave, limiting their ability to flourish and pursue the good life as they define it.”

PROGRESS AND PROMISE
Sanjay SanghoeeLawmakers love business tax credits. They hand them out all the time, ostensibly to encourage investment and innovation. Why not use tax credits instead, asks former Lazard Freres banker Sanjay Sanghoee, to rein in CEO pay? Sanghoee has spelled out one approach toward that end in the business magazine Fortune. Under his proposal, a 3,000-worker firm with a 250-to-1 CEO-worker pay ratio would get a credit that equals $1,000 multiplied by 3,000 multiplied by 1/250, the inverse of the pay ratio. Total credit: just $12,000. But if that company’s CEO-worker pay ratio dropped to 25:1, the credit would jump to $120,000, the sort of incentive that might encourage companies to moderate their CEO pay. How to pay for the credits? Start closing, says Sanghoee, the offshore corporate tax loopholes that run $150 billion a year.

Take Action
on Inequality

Tell the nation’s top lawmakers that inequality in the United States has gone “too damn high.” Sign this new petition that proposes a progressive wealth tax and more.

inequality by the numbers
Penthouse prices

Stat of the Week

Business income in the United States sits increasingly in the hands of a few. In 1979 the top 1 percent of America’s households accounted for 17 percent of the nation’s business income, notes economist Paul Krugman. By 2007: 43 percent.

IN FOCUS

A Better Yardstick for Measuring Inequality

We always get what we measure. And if we measure inequality with a yardstick that only wonks can decipher, we’ll end up with a society too confused about inequality to do anything meaningful about it.

Just 85 of the world’s billionaires, the anti-poverty group Oxfam reported earlier this year, hold as much wealth as the entire bottom half of the world’s population, 3.5 billion people in all.

Seven of every ten people on earth today, Oxfam added, live in nations where inequality has jumped since the 1980s. Our richest global 1 percent currently own a whopping 46 percent of the world’s wealth.

Corrado GiniWe can’t blame Corrado Gini for this incredibly extreme global divide. He never set out to create inequality. He just tried to measure it.

This eminent Italian sociologist once ranked as one of the world’s premiere statisticians. Almost exactly a century ago, he developed what would become the most widely accepted default statistic for measuring inequality, a yardstick now commonly known as the “Gini coefficient.”

In Gini’s formulation, a society where one person grabbed all the income would have a value of one. A society with all income shared evenly would have a value of zero.

No nation, of course, has ever had either absolute income equality or absolute income concentration. Most nations end up with Gini numbers like 0.57, the Gini rating for the United States last year, or 0.49, the Gini for Japan.

These numbers tell statisticians a great deal. A rise or fall of a mere 0.1 in Gini values can be a big deal and signify a major change in income distribution. But these abstract numbers mean nothing to the general public and, consequently, essentially do nothing at all to raise inequality’s political profile.

The Gini numbers have other problems as well. Gini ratings say a good bit about a society’s overall level of inequality, but offer no clue about what’s driving changes in that level. Are the rich grabbing more or less of the income pie? Are the poor losing ground? Or households in the middle?

On questions like these, note inequality-watchers Andy Sumner and Alex Cobham, “the Gini won’t be a great deal of help.”

Gabriel PalmaSumner, the co-director of the International Development Institute, and Codham, a Center for Global Development researcher, have been beating the drums for a new inequality yardstick based on the work of Gabriel Palma, a Chilean economist now based at Cambridge University.

In almost every society, Palma’s research shows, the income share of people who make less than the most affluent 10 percent and more than the poorest 40 percent tends to remain fairly stable. Substantial shifts in income share typically only turn up in that top 10 and bottom 40.

The “Palma ratio” addresses this volatility at the edges by defining income inequality as a ratio between the top 10 and bottom 40. In a society with a Palma ratio of 4, the top 10 percent is grabbing four times the income of the bottom 40 percent.

This simple relationship gives every Palma ratio figure a readily understandable meaning. In a society where the Palma ratio has gone from 2 to 3, households in the top 10 percent have gone from making double the income of that society’s poorest 40 percent to making triple the bottom 40′s income share.

Last March 90 noted social scientists urged a key UN economic development panel to place the Palma ratio front and center. The top 10-bottom 40 inequality that Palma stats measure, they argued, really matters. Nations with shrinking Palma ratios, as researchers have detailed, turn out to be three times better at reducing extreme poverty and hunger than nations with rising Palma ratios.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has just added to this growing push for the Palma yardstick. In a new co-authored paper, he’s asking world leaders to add a new ninth goal — eliminating extreme inequality — to the eight adopted at the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000.

Top-heavy income distributions, Stiglitz and his colleague Michael Doyle observe, “undermine both political equality and social stability” and generate chronic underinvestment in infrastructure, education, and other public goods that make for “long-term economic prosperity.”

Stiglitz and Doyle, a former UN assistant secretary-general, suggest a specific target for ending these top-heavy distributions. By the year 2030, the two analysts advise, all nations should have their top 10 percents taking in no more income than their bottom 40 percents, a Palma ratio of just 1.

Scandinavian nations already at or near this Palma ratio level, the pair adds, are benefiting from an “equality multiplier” that has left them not just more “equitable and stable” economically but more “efficient and flexible” as well.

“Sustainable development,” Stiglitz and Doyle sum up, “cannot be achieved while ignoring extreme disparities.”

And shoving Gini aside for Palma might make that ignoring all the harder.

Want to learn more about Palma ratios? Check this two-minute video.

New Wisdom
on Wealth

Ryan Cooper, Free Money for Everyone, Washington Monthly, March/April 2014. In an unequal America, the old tools for managing the economy no longer make much impact.

Doug Henwood, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, BookForum, March 25, 2014. An important review of Thomas Piketty’s new take on the long-term reign of the 1 percent.

Helaine Olen, Self Help is no help for inequality, Reuters, March 25, 2014. How the self-help industry is poisoning our politics.

Tony Atkinson and Salvatore Morelli, The chartbook of economic inequality, Vox, March 26, 2014. A new summary of changes in inequality for 25 countries over more than 100 years.

Paul Caron and James Repetti. Revitalizing the Estate Tax: Five Easy Pieces, Tax Prof, March 27, 2014. The estate tax could again make a difference.

Dan Rodricks, With Democrats like these, who needs GOP? Baltimore Sun, March 27, 2014. A Democratic-dominated legislature is throwing millions at millionaires.

Paul Krugman, America’s Taxation Tradition, New York Times, March 28, 2014. The demonization of anyone who talks about really taxing concentrated wealth reflects a misreading of both the past and the present.

Stein Ringen, Is American democracy headed to extinction? Washington Post, March 29, 2014. In Athens, democracy ended when the rich grew super rich and undermined the polity, a point the United States has now reached.

John Cassidy, Forces of Divergence: Is surging inequality endemic to capitalism? New Yorker, March 31, 2014. Another solid write-up on Piketty’s new blockbuster.

The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class cover

Now online: the full Introduction to Too Much editor Sam Pizzigati’s new history of the triumph over America’s first plutocracy.

NEW AND notable

Must Taxpayers Pay Tribute to Wall Street?

No Small Fees reportNo Small Fees: LA Spends More on Wall Street than Our Streets, A Report by the Fix LA Coalition, March 25, 2014.

Wall Street banks handed out $26.7 billion in bonuses last year, the New York state comptroller recently informed us, to some 165,200 execs and staff.

This same $26.7 billion, an Institute for Policy Studies analysis noted earlier this month, would have been “enough to more than double the pay” of all 1,085,000 Americans who work full-time at the current federal minimum wage.

And where did all those bonus billions come from? A hefty share came directly from America’s taxpayers, this clever new study makes outrageously plain.

No Small Fees drills down deep into the finances of a single city, Los Angeles. L.A. city officials, the study details, are annually passing Wall Street at least $204 million in financial fees, for everything from managing the city’s pension funds to selling the city’s bonds.

Some perspective: Last year L.A. spent only $163 million on its own streets.

The difference between what Los Angeles pays for its own streets and to Wall Street actually runs wider than these numbers suggest. The Wall Street total doesn’t include city dealings with private equity and hedge funds, exchanges, notes the Labor Institute’s Les Leopold, that don’t have to be publicly disclosed.

Nationwide, estimates Leopold, “the fees Wall Street extracts from public entities could total more than $50 billion a year — enough to provide free tuition at every public college and university in the country.”

We have, adds Leopold, distinct alternatives to Wall Street’s gouging of America’s public entities. State public banks — with modestly salaried executives — could save localities big-time on fees. North Dakota already has one.

The Federal Reserve could also “directly purchase municipal bonds from cities and states,” as the Fed is already doing with the toxic mortgage securities held by Wall Street’s largest banks. That move would save states and localities billions in fees and also “dramatically reduce municipal interest rate costs.”

Conclude the labor, religious, and community groups in the Fix LA Coalition: “City leaders have a choice: invest in our streets or Wall Street.”

Defining What We Stand For

Popular Resistance Newsletter

This week, we re-launched It’s Our Economy, a project dedicated to reporting on and assisting the growing movement for economic democracy. 

February marks the third anniversary of the 2011 revolt in Wisconsin. At that time, across the United States there were a series of protests against foreclosures, austerity and the unjust economy. It was the Wisconsin uprising, along with the Arab Spring and Indignado movement in Europe, that inspired Occupy, a revolt against an economic system – big finance capitalism – that is causing the corrupt, unfair economy; as well as against a government that serves the interests of the wealthiest before meeting the necessities of the people.

People often want to know what the movement for social and economic justice wants. Occupy Wall Street issued its Declaration of the Occupation of New York City which laid out a series of grievances. But, in addition to knowing what we oppose, we need to define what we stand for. If we do not like big finance capitalism, what would replace it?

1freedomDuring the organizing of the occupation in Washington, DC on Freedom Plaza, we developed a list of 15 core crisis issues that the country is facing and we outlined solutions to them. These solutions are supported by super-majorities of Americans who, polls show,  could rule better than the elites.

At the core of these solutions is creating an economic democracy agenda, building institutions that are controlled by and benefit communities while also protecting the planet. A democratized economy shifts political power away from concentrated capital to the public and further empowers people by meeting their basic needs for shelter , food, education, healthcare and work.

How do we get there? In her book, Getting Past Capitalism: History, Vision, Hope, Cynthia Kaufman suggests we are in a variety of struggles and rather than seeking to total replacement, we need to build healthy institutions while challenging those unhealthy ones we can defeat. Gar Alperovitz defines the transition as ‘evolutionary reconstruction,’ a way that we gradually build a better world.

Economic Democracy

1balt4We define economic democracy as:

“…premised on the idea that people should not cede power to mega-corporations, big finance, or a “professional” political class. The people have the shared knowledge to help build an economy that works to strengthen communities and build wealth for all, not just a few. We recognize the internal contradictions of big finance capitalism and we have seen the failures of state-based socialism and are seeking to create a new type of economy that is democratized, empowers people to gain control over their economic lives and encourages cooperative solutions that create wealth for ourselves and our communities….

Economic democracy also emphasizes the commonwealth.  The commons includes not only roads, land, water and resources but also the knowledge and technology developed, often with public dollars, which has been built up over  generations….

Economic democracy stands in contrast with neoliberal economics. Neoliberalism privatizes public goods and seeks to commodify everything possible to create profit-centers while cutting public services in the name of austerity.”

1hchrOne way to understand what makes healthy institutions that serve the people is to use a human rights framework. There are five human rights principles. These include:

  • Universality: Human rights must be afforded to everyone, without exception.
  • Equity: Every person is entitled to the same access to services and public goods.
  • Accountability: Mechanisms must exist to enforce the protection of human rights.
  • Transparency: Government institutions must be open and provide the public with information on the decision-making processes.
  • Participation: People need to be empowered to participate in the decision-making process.

The need for a new economy based on the goal of benefiting all people, not just the wealthiest, has become more urgent as the impact of the economic collapse and its false recovery are felt. These include high rates of Americans dropping out of the labor force, the wealth divide expanding, record poverty and lowered incomes for most people.

People Creating the New Economy in Many Ways

Political and economic leadership continues to go in the opposite direction of what people want: cutting the social safety net and doing little to invest in re-building the economy while the costs of energy, food, healthcare and other necessities rise.  People across the country are acting on their own to build an economy that will serve them.

1localThe building of the new economy, sometimes called a ‘solidarity economy,’ has been developing for many years, particularly in other areas of the world such as Latin America. As a result we can now see reports of its success. A fundamental view of economic democracy is to build from the bottom up, starting with local communities. A report this week from the Institute for Self Reliance found that communities with buy local programs have seen local businesses grow three times as fast as communities without such programs.

One key aspect of buying local is our food supply. The International Forum on Globalisation reports that “the average plate of food eaten in western industrial food-importing nations is likely to have traveled 2,000 miles from source to plate.” Around the country people are working to change that. Two programs that were in movement news this week were “Our Harvest” and “CropMobster.”

1cropmobOur Harvest comes out of a 2009 agreement between the United Steelworkers and the Mondragon Co-op to create union co-ops. Our Harvest is a produce farm and food hub for aggregation and food processing. CropMobster is a project from Petaluma, CA that seeks to redistribute food to reduce waste and to provide healthy food while growing a shared economy.

Another issue that has been in the news lately because of multiple environmental disasters is the quality of drinking water. The chemical spill in West Virginia, coal slurry spills, fracking well explosions and pipelines bursting in multiple states have been a few examples of how fresh water is now at risk. In addition, the extraction of fossil fuels and uranium are consuming tremendous amounts of water even in areas that are facing droughts. Water will be an item on the political agenda at the state and national level.  This week in Europe, 1.66 million people were able to put the issues of the right to clean water and stopping water privatization before the Parliament.

At the center of so many issues – the environment, climate, water, air, jobs – is energy. The corporate duopoly seems unable to challenge big oil, gas, coal and nuclear to put in place the carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy that is needed.

In the absence of national leadership, people are moving forward. Over 80 landowners have dedicated nearly 20,000 acres to what will become the largest wind farm in South Dakota that will increase the wind energy output in the state by 50%. As solar rapidly grows in the United States, research is now showing that more people will be employed by solar than by oil and coal combined.

1peetBig changes are also on the horizon in the labor front. There are widespread battles for raising the minimum wage to a living wage. And while many companies treat their employees as if they were disposable, in other workplaces employees are becoming owners. There is a growing movement for worker-owned cooperatives with national meetings in the United States and in Europe. An example that was in the news this week was WinCo, a growing competitor to Walmart.

Other businesses are creating a more just world by redefining corporate charters so that one of their purposes is to provide public benefits rather than profits to investors. Delaware, the home of half of US corporations and two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies, enacted a B Corp. law. This status protects corporations from lawsuits by shareholders for not maximizing profit, and even gives some shareholders the right to sue the corporation for failing to optimize its social mission.

We are in a Renaissance

The examples above just give a taste of all of the changes that are taking place to create new systems that replace the old failing ones. For more ideas, visit the “Create” section of PopularResistance.org or ItsOurEconomy.us.

1solidarityWhat is amazing is that around the world, the same ideas and values are being put forward. People are joining together to create societies that respect life and the planet and that are more horizontal and just. We are truly in a time of transformation which is made more urgent by the many crises we face.

There has been talk of global revolution, and in some areas, revolution – the changing of governments – is occurring. But we are not yet in a global revolution. In his article, “Revolution, or Digital-Age Renaissance,” Bernardo Gutierrez writes, “Ruskoff argues that the revolution has not arrived and what we are experiencing is a new renaissance. ‘Renaissances are historical instances of widespread recontextualisation. It is the rebirth of old ideas in a new context. Renaissance is a dimensional leap, when our perspective shifts so dramatically that our understanding of the oldest, most fundamental elements of existence changes. The stories we have been using no longer work.’”

Currently people are not only creating new systems, but they are questioning the stories that have been told to maintain the status quo and are recognizing that many of our restraints are artificial. People do have the ability to rethink the premises upon which we base our assumptions and to change their views and behaviors.

1capitalFor decades we have been taught to believe in capitalism and neo-liberalism. We have been told that there will always be poor people and we must accept that. We’ve been told that wealth trickles down and that we should all compete to achieve the “American Dream.” We’ve thought that in order to achieve that dream we must go into debt. And we’ve believed that the people in power should be trusted to make decisions for us, that we didn’t have the capacity to make them.

All of that is changing and being turned in its head. Awareness is growing that we can do things differently. People are actively confronting the old ways through both resistance and the creation of new ways or the re-emergence of older ways. One area is the recognition that there are alternatives to debt-based economies. This is not a new idea. There were debt jubilees in ancient history.

In the article, “Debt Refusal Essential To Rebuilding Popular Democracy,” the editor writes that “resisting debt is not only moral, it may be essential to re-envisioning a democracy built on legitimate bonds to our community.StrikeDebt, which was organized after Occupy Wall Street, teaches us thatworking together to build greater economic democracy would mean weaving a dense, creative network where our debts are to each other, not to them (read: the big banks).”StrikeDebt created a Debt Resister’s Manual and is organizing a nationwide debt resistance movement. Their new manual is due out soon.

Another area of renaissance is globalization. To date, globalization has been based on the neoliberal economic model that leaves poverty and environmental destruction in its wake. But now that we understand these consequences , it is becoming more difficult for governments to continue on this path. A case in point is the current Trans-Pacific Partnership which was negotiated for years in secret and the plan was to pass it quietly through Congress using Fast Track. That effort has stalled for now and instead civil society groups are working together to redefine what global trade should look like and how it should be governed.

1gcc2There is a call for ‘deglobalization’ which refers to orienting our communities to build local economies, to produce goods that are needed and to become more self-reliant. A detailed plan for this is outlined in the blog on systemic alternatives.

We have an opportunity right now while trade deals are stalled to redefine global governance. Collectively, the people can confront the dominant paradigms and global power structure and rebirth a world grounded in the principles of human rights and protection of the planet. Resistance is not only protest, but includes acts of creation. When you get involved in your community to build democratized economies, you are part of the global transformation.

 

A Keystone Pipeline Project Will Lead to Disaster

 


The State Department Impact Statement illustrates that the U.S. Government
is just a helpless bystander to climate calamity.

Photo Credit: Tara Lohan

The new State Department Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone Pipeline does three things. First, it signals a greater likelihood that the pipeline project will be approved later this year by the administration. Second, it vividly illustrates the depth of confusion of US climate change policy. Third, it self-portrays the US Government as a helpless bystander to climate calamity. According to the State Department report, we are trapped in the Big Oil Status Quo We Can Believe In.

The proposed pipeline will complete a pipeline network running from Alberta, Canada to the US Gulf Coast, carrying petroleum produced from Alberta’s oil sands to the Gulf refineries. The volumes will be enormous, roughly 830,000 barrels per day. The pipeline will thereby facilitate the mass extraction and use of Canada’s enormous unconventional supplies. Therein lies the problem.

The overwhelming scientific consensus is that human-induced climate change is occurring; that the world is experiencing a rapidly rising frequency of extreme climate-related events such as heat waves; and that there is much worse to come unless we change course on the use of fossil fuels. Specifically, with energy business as usual, the world is on a trajectory to raise the mean global temperature by at least 3 degrees C (5.4 degrees F) by the end of century, and possibly far more, a climate disruption that most scientists regard as catastrophic. The world’s governments have agreed to try to keep the temperature increase below 2-degrees C, yet until now they’ve done far too little to meet that target.

(Note that after decades of rapid temperature increases up to 1998, the rise in global mean temperatures slowed a bit after 1998. With the post-1998 Pacific Ocean tending towards La Nina conditions, the Pacific Ocean rather than the Earth’s land area has been absorbing much of the excess thermal energy trapped by CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Yet once the Pacific Ocean swings back to the El Nino or neutral conditions that prevailed up to 1998, rapid global warming is likely to resume. Therefore the slight recent pause in the upward ascent of temperatures is only a short respite from the ongoing long-term process of rapid global warming.)

The economic implications of the climate science are clear. Either we keep some of the world’s oil, gas, and coal reserves under the ground (rather than burning them in cars, factories, power plants, and buildings), or we wreck the planet. The atmospheric CO2 concentration is determined by the cumulative combustion of fossil fuels. We’ve already burned enough fossil fuels to raise the world’s temperatures by around 1 degree C. Burning the rest of the proved reserves would cause humanity to overshoot the 2-degree target by several degrees.

The urgent planetary need is clear. The world has to wean itself from fossil fuel dependence in the coming 20-40 years. We simply can’t go on drilling, excavating, and burning every ton of coal, oil, and gas the fossil fuel industry finds. If we do so, the basic “carbon arithmetic” of CO2 buildup spells disaster.

In the current market jargon, the world needs to strand some of its fossil fuel reserves, meaning that some must be left under the ground rather than extracted and burned. We must substitute these stranded fossil fuel reserves with low-carbon alternatives, including nuclear, solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal power. There are ample supplies of these low-carbon alternatives, but to build up the use of these alternatives will require considerable investments for several decades to come.

The most important single step is to keep most of the coal from being burned. The next is to avoid the temptation to develop every bit of “non-conventional” oil and gas that can be found. With new technologies, unconventional oil and gas like Canada’s oil sands can now be developed at today’s market prices, but at great peril for the planet.

Using climate science, it is possible to calculate the tolerable limits on total future fossil fuel use. The basic idea is the need for the world to adhere to a “carbon budget,” meaning the total amount of fossil fuels that can be burned while avoiding global warming by more than 2-degrees C. (We should note that even the 2-degree C target, which we are now overshooting by a wide mark, would cause very damaging changes to the Earth’s climate systems, and result in devastating famines, floods, heat waves, and other catastrophes.)

The Keystone pipeline is crucial to the global carbon budget. If the world deploys massive unconventional oil sources like Canada’s oil sands we will exceed the carbon budget, unless there is a simultaneous strategy to offset that excess carbon some other way. But to do so would be using Canada’s expensive, dirty, and CO2-intensive oil when cheaper, (relatively) cleaner, and lower-CO2 oil is available. Under any circumstances, to evaluate the Keystone Project properly, we need to judge it against the global carbon budget.

Herein lies the tragic, indeed fatal, flaw of the State Department review. The State Department Environmental Impact Statement doesn’t even ask the right question: How do the unconventional Canadian oil sands fit or not fit within the overall carbon budget? Instead, the State Department simply assumes, without any irony or evident self-awareness, that the oil sands will be developed and used one way or another. For the State Department, the main issue therefore seems to be whether the oil will be shipped by pipeline or by rail.The State Department doesn’t even raise the possibility that the pipeline should be stopped in order to keep a lid on the total amount of unconventional fossil fuels burned around the world.

The core assumption of the report is that the US Government has no role to play, either alone or in conjunction with Canada and other countries, to stay within an overall global carbon budget.

[A]pproval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refiners in the United States based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenarios. [ES-16]

According to the State Department, in other words, the US Government is just a passive spectator to global climate change. Either the pipeline is built or the oil will be shipped by other means. Full stop. The State Department doesn’t even broach the idea that the pipeline discussion really needs to be about the urgent need to shift from fossil fuels, including the need to keep unconventional hydrocarbon reserves under the ground.

I can hear the skeptics scoffing: What would make Canada not develop these resources? And why shouldn’t Americans profit from the oil sands? The answer should be the future survival and wellbeing of humanity, an idea admittedly of little apparent interest in Washington or Ottawa, centers of greed, cynicism, and shortsightedness. There is money to be made NOW, the future be damned.

But do not lose hope. The greed and incompetence on display in Washington and Ottawa is not a permanent reality, but a passing phase. Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and John Kennedy were able to face down gilded interests for the greater good. Many oil companies, including leading companies in Europe and also some in North America, are already on side to stay within the global carbon budget. The vast majority of Americans want safety for themselves, their children, and the rest of humanity. Our generation can still turn the tide against environmental disaster.

They Can’t Tell The Truth

Popular Resistance Newsletter

In the last week there were two high profile events that highlighted the inability of those in power to reflect reality and put forward solutions to the urgent problems faced by the United States and the world: the State of the Union and the World Economic Forum at Davos.

Obama’s false reality and inadequate solutions

In Black Agenda Report, Glen Ford called the State of the Union “a festival of lies.”  Margaret Kimberly wrote, the annual event “is used to masquerade drivel as accomplishment and reinforce the notion that a collapsing society is a thriving democracy.” Americans seem tired with this annual show as it had the lowest number of viewers since 2000.

Political comedian Lee Camp described President Obama as “Out Orwelling Orwell” from his false rosy picture of the economy to saying that fracked gas is good for the environment to his glorification of war; Obama’s State of the Union presented a false reality.

FireBrennan3Seven members of the Green Shadow Cabinet wrote responses to the State of the Union.  Ben Manski described the speech as one that could have been “given by a robot, or an actor, or a media spokesperson.” They criticized the fraudulent peace process in Syria which seemed more designed to lay the groundwork for war. Ajamu Baraka called it an “Orwellian subterfuge.”  Jackie Cabasso exposed the hypocrisy of our ten year trillion dollar commitment to upgrading U.S. nuclear weapons while opposing the (non-existent) threat of Iran developing a bomb.

Economist Jack Rasmus pointed out that President Obama and his allies have finally discovered income inequality. Of course, most of us have been acutely aware of it for decades. The wealth divide was a root cause of the revolt known as Occupy and 67% of Americans recently told Gallup they were dissatisfied with the way wealth is distributed. Kshama Sawant said in her response to Obama, during his presidency “poverty is at record-high numbers; 95% of the gains in productivity during the so-called recovery have gone to the top 1%. The president’s focus on income inequality was an admission of the failure of his policies.”

While President Obama acknowledged the wealth divide he failed to put forward policies that really address it. Political economist Gar Alperovitz describes the real state of the economy as “long-term stagnation and decay.” When that reality is faced, then totally different solutions are needed, solutions that would really challenge the present system of big finance capitalism.

Alperovitz puts forward a vision of economic democracy where people have more participation in making economic decisions and greater benefit from the economy. Journalist and noted tax writer David Cay Johnston points to structural changes needed to return to a truly progressive tax system, allow workers to create unions and reverse trade policies that favor transnational corporations.

Low wage workers in DCThe one real policy change President Obama put forward was to raise the pay of low wage workers under federal contracts. The federal government is the biggest employer of poverty workers. President Obama promised a $10.10 minimum wage.  Workers won this concession through a series of one-day strikes that targeted Obama. This promise sounds even less impressive when you get to the details. The change only affects new contracts. So, instead of two million workers getting an immediate raise, only 200,000 will.

Sam Smith of Progressive Review puts forward what a State of the Union would look like if the people ruled.  He looks at current polls and finds supermajorities of Americans would favor a very different direction for the economy and government. The people put job creation as the top priority.

The Davos Class: People Who Destroyed the Economy

The heinous wealth divide was highlighted by an Oxfam report that found: “The world’s 85 wealthiest people have as much money as the 3.5 billion poorest people on the planet – half the Earth’s population.” This forced the issue onto the agenda of the world’s wealthiest when they attended the World Economic Forum in Davos

1davosAlex Jensen, an expert on globalization and development at the International Society for Ecology and Culture urged all of us to not fall for the “glossy veneer” of Davos but recognize it is a stage “for multinational corporations, among them human rights abusers, political racketeers, property thieves and international environmental criminals.” These are not people who deserve applause but deserve “fierce resistance” as they are the cause of the economic and environmental problems the world faces.

The Transnational Institute, in conjunction with Occupy.com, issued a report “State of Power 2014” that found less than 1% of corporations control 40% of global business and that 37 of the world’s largest economies are not countries, but corporations. The “’Davos class,’” has caused financial, economic, social and ecological crises worldwide” and we must “know which elites control our wealth and resources and understand how they influence political and social processes” so we there can be “a recalibration of power.”

Not discussed at Davos was what Jerome Roos of the radical movement publication Roar Magazine describes as the “emerging market bloodbath.”  He pointed to the collapse of Argentine peso and Turkish lira, the Russian ruble and South Africa’s rand taking a nosedive to their lowest levels since 2008, and the Brazilian real falling to its lowest levels in five months, compounded by Chinese slump, the shrinking of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s Qualitative Easing program and pressures on other markets around the world. All of these point to a new phase of the economic crisis, rather than the crisis coming to an end as the Davos-types like to tell us.

The Power Elite Fears People Power

1nafThe political and economic elites are putting forth the same policies that contributed to the economic collapse. The top global example of this is the continued push for rigged corporate trade agreements.  Public Citizen points out that research has shown that falsely called “free trade” deals have been a major cause of wealth inequality by pushing down wages and providing access to cheap resources which make the wealthiest wealthier.  More rigged corporate trade will actually expand the wealth divide, not shrink it.

It is not only the facts President Obama and global trade activists ignore but the politics. The president’s political base has come out to protest controversial corporate trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And now there is opposition in the Republican activist base as well that is calling it ObamaTrade. As we write this, we are ending a ten day campaign to stop fast track for the TPP that culminated in an intercontinental day of action.

The story of the TPP and the effort to pass Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority is also one which illustrates why the power structure fears the people. Politicians and the corporate media did their best to keep people ignorant about the TPP. For the first two years of negotiations by President Obama they were effective, but in the last two years there has been a rising tide of awareness and opposition. Numerous articles have exposed the TPP in the independent media and Wikileaks leaked sections of the secret agreement. Now, a ‘movement of movements’ has come together to oppose fast track. This can be seen on the website www.StopFastTrack.org where 130 organizations have joined together in a focused effort.

1tppdelThe result – the people are defeating transnational corporations and their lackeys in elected office. The success is quite amazing as the TPP seemed unstoppable less than a year ago. But, with awareness came mobilization. Unless something changes dramatically, fast track – and the TPP look dead for now.

What does this TPP experience show?  First, the government tried to deceive the people because they knew if the people became aware and mobilized the treaty could not become law. Second, the people need to recognize we have tremendous power.  We can stop something the wealthiest corporations in the world want.  Third, people working on individual issues need to work together in a ‘movement of movements’ that supports each other and builds a mass movement that cannot be ignored. Finally, we need to be persistent because transnational corporate power will not give up. It will try again, and we need to be organized to stop them.

What you can do to challenge corporate rule

There is always a disparity between what we are told by the government and corporate media; and reality. Our job is to understand and project reality by becoming the media. An easy way to stay aware is to visit Popular Resistance and sign up for our daily news digest. This will provide you with tools that make it easy to keep your family, friends, colleagues and community informed.  If you want to do more, write about the realities you see around you or video stories and share those, comment on articles that present a false narrative and write letters to the editor. By doing any of this you are becoming a member of the new citizen’s media that will overtake the corporate media.

1whistleIf you are in the government or work for big corporate interests, you have a special opportunity. Those in power greatly fear people who leak documents that show the truth beyond any doubt. It has become safe to leak while remaining anonymous thanks to outlets like Wikileaks. The reaction to Snowden’s leaks show the power one person who tells the truth can have in a nation dominated by lies.

Another task is to mobilize. Talk to people in your community. Develop a core group of people to work with or join existing groups that are working on issues you care about. Understand the goals and strategy for success that has been developed. We can succeed and we know from past movements how to do so.

Just in the last week we have seen how people who make a difference are feared.  In Pennsylvania, Vera Scroggins, an anti-fracking activist, was barred from 312.5 sq miles under a sweeping court order granted by a local judge. It bars her from any properties owned or leased by one of the biggest drillers in Pennsylvania, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation. They barred her even though she has never been arrested, mainly because she has published hundreds of videos showing the truth about fracking and its impacts.

And, in Wisconsin 1,200 acres of land was closed to the public by the state’s Department of Natural Resources to allow mining to go forward without protests. Wisconsin calls the protesters “eco-terrorists” even though they have not done anything violent or threatened any people. What they did was to draw attention to a secret mining operation that is likely to cause serious environmental damage.

1speakThese economic and environmental problems are happening around the world. Just last week the UK government passed a gagging law to prohibit charities, NGO’s, bloggers, community groups and most attempts at organized opposition to the government in the year prior to a general election. This bizarre law shows how threatening democracy has become. How can you have an election if people are not allowed to criticize those in office?

We expect these actions to backfire as similar restrictions have backfired. Each shows the weakness and fear of those in power. This week the blowback from an anti-protest law was most evident in the Ukraine where there has been an ongoing revolt. It escalated when an anti-protest law was passed. Now the Prime Minister and other members of the cabinet have resigned and the anti-protest law has been repealed.

Chris Hedges makes the point that we are like the crew of the Pequod in Moby Dick.  They are stuck in a suicidal chase for the great white whale, Moby Dick, led by an insane Captain Ahab:

27.024000,27.024000“Yet we, like Ahab and his crew, rationalize our collective madness. All calls for prudence, for halting the march toward economic, political and environmental catastrophe, for sane limits on carbon emissions, are ignored or ridiculed. Even with the flashing red lights before us, the increased droughts, rapid melting of glaciers and Arctic ice, monster tornadoes, vast hurricanes, crop failures, floods, raging wildfires and soaring temperatures, we bow slavishly before hedonism and greed and the enticing illusion of limitless power, intelligence and prowess.”

Can we mutiny as Ahab’s crew should have done before they came to their destruction?  Our mutiny begins with resistance which at its root begins with understanding and sharing the truth around us. We cannot let the misleaders falsify reality for their own purposes. Our task is to break through, get the truth out and mobilize people so we avoid the fate of the Pequod.

Robert Reich: Fear Is Why Poor States Vote Against Their Economic Interest

Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 09:36 AM PST

 

 

by GleninCAFollow for GleninCA

 

Last week, there was a massive toxic spill in West Virginia leading to undrinkable water for hundreds of thousands of West Virginans and pictures of the disgustingly polluted water like the one above (Photo credit: @ashmarkee).For years many Democrats have wondered why poor and middle class Americans vote for conservative politicians that don’t share their economic interests, especially in our country’s poorest states like West Virginia. Is it some twisted ideology? Something to do with race or religion? It could be all of those things, but oddly enough, jobs could also be a factor. Or more specifically, the fear of losing those jobs. In a Facebook post today, Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich explains:

Last week’s massive toxic chemical spill into West Virginia Elk River illustrates another benefit to the business class of high unemployment, economic insecurity, and a safety-net shot through with holes. Not only are employees docile, eager to accept whatever crumbs they can get. The public is also quiescent and unwilling to cause trouble.The spill was the region’s third major chemical accident in five years, coming after two investigations by the federal Chemical Safety Board in the Kanawha Valley, also known as “Chemical Valley,” and repeated recommendations from federal regulators and environmental advocates that the state embrace tougher rules to better safeguard chemicals. But state and local lawmakers turned a deaf ear.

As Maya Nye, president of People Concerned About Chemical Safety, a citizen’s group formed after a 2008 explosion and fire killed workers at West Virginia’s Bayer CropScience plant in the state, told the Times: “We are so desperate for jobs in West Virginia we don’t want to do anything that pushes industry out.” Exactly.

For years political scientists have wondered why the citizens of West Virginia and other poorer states vote against their economic interests, hypothesizing it’s because economic issues have been preempted by others like guns, abortion, and race. But as wages keep sinking and economic security disappears, it’s also because people are so desperate for jobs they’ll vote whatever way industry wants them to. Bottom line: A strong and growing middle class is the best bulwark against corporate irresponsibility.

 

Originally posted to GleninCA on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 09:36 AM PST.

 

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement and Dream Menders.

Our Tasks In 2014

Popular Resistance Newsletter

Last week, we defined where today’s social-political movement is within the eight stages of successful movements. This week, we delve deeper into the tasks of the movement in this stage and apply those tasks to current issues faced today.

Our goal is to build a mass movement, which has the support of super-majorities of Americans and has mobilized up to 3.5% of the population.  Therefore, the target of our protests is not the government or a corporation, the target is the people, to educate and mobilize them. We protest the power holders to expose their actions but do not expect them to be capable of addressing our concerns adequately in this stage.

Build unity around the values of the movement

People before profitsThe foundation of the current phase is massive public education and building support in all segments of the population for the values of the movement. This is done through grassroots organizing in the local community. People will gain a greater understanding of how the problems of the present system affect them; how the present system violates their values and principles; and how it is in their own self-interest to do something about it.

This is happening in the low-wage worker movements. While workers and their allies participate in resistance actions like one-day walkouts or mass protests on key shopping days like the Black Friday’s protests at 1,500 Walmarts, members of the community are joining in solidarity. We are learning that when a corporation provides poverty-level pay to a worker, we all subsidize that policy through food stamps, Medicaid and housing subsidies. And, paying workers an inadequate wage for their labor violates our values.

Minimum wage protest for $15 an hourWhile these corporations continue to refuse to change their policies, even though they could afford to and would benefit from doing so, the power holders are responding as expected at this stage with inadequate solutions. The movement has forced 13 states to increase the minimum wage in 2014 which will affect 2.5 million people. This is not a complete victory because no state is putting in place a real living wage. And, in the one place that voted for the movement’s demand, a $15 per hour wage, it is being challenged in court. The struggle must continue. Workers will still be poverty workers, though some will have less poverty.

Whenever we push to solve current problems, the movement should also put forward a vision of a paradigm shift.  When it comes to workers, one shift is to make workers into owners and decision makers in worker-owned businesses, like cooperatives.  More existing businesses are being converted to worker-owned businesses and there is a growing worker-cooperative movement.  And it is important to link the problems of underpaid workers to the broader economic problem of the wealth divide and build support for the many solutions to that problem.

Exposing the myth and explaining the reality

An important task of the movement is to expose the difference between ‘official policies’ and ‘actual policies.’ That is, what the power holders say they are doing and what the policies actually do, which are often the complete opposite. Every government policy put forward by either of the two corporate-funded parties is designed to help their funders, not the people.

1tppbannersWe are going to be seeing myth in hyper-gear in January around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The government has worked hard, with the cooperation of the mass media, to keep the TPP secret from the public.  But, now most people in the activist community are aware of the TPP thanks to high profile protests and leaks of portions of the TPP that reveal the US is pushing an extreme corporate power grab. And more people are aware that the President is trying to circumvent a democratic process of review in Congress.

In early January some of the most pro-corporate members of Congress will put forward a bill calling for Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority. We expect to hear President Obama and corrupt senators like Max Baucus (D-MT) and members of Congress like David Camp (R-MI) telling us that these rigged trade agreements are necessary for the economy.  We just passed the 20 year anniversary of NAFTA, on which the current trade negotiations are based, and the opposite has happened. We need to explode the myth. These trade agreements are not to create jobs or raise wages or even grow the US economy, they are to make transnational corporations wealthier and increase the profits of the investor class.  They are only good for the wealthiest and are terrible for the rest of us, as a recent report found:

“A new Public Citizen report shows that not only did promises made by proponents [of NAFTA] not materialize, but many results are exactly the opposite. Such outcomes include a staggering $181 billion U.S. trade deficit with NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada, one million net U.S. jobs lost because of NAFTA, a doubling of immigration from Mexico, larger agricultural trade deficits with Mexico and Canada, and more than $360 million paid to corporations after “investor-state” tribunal attacks on, and rollbacks of, domestic public interest policies.”

1tpp2014Stopping the TPP will be job one for the movement in 2014. January will be the key month to engage in this issue because a vote on Fast Track is expected by the end of the month.  The TPP is an issue that unites the movement because it affects not just workers but the environment, regulation of finance, Internet freedom, food safety, healthcare and gives corporations control of virtually every aspect of our lives. There are many ways to organize in local communities to unite people and stop the TPP. We can stop the TPP and when we do, it will be a major victory of the people over the transnational corporations and their government allies.

Our task is to change the political environment, not succumb to it.

One of the key points in this phase of the movement is to avoid compromise. We need to refuse to accept the limits of the current political table. It is corruption that determines what is “on the table” so we need to respond that we are not limited to the corruption-defined political table. We are seeking real solutions that require a paradigm shift.

1supAn example of some advocates making the mistake of accepting compromises is the health law. Advocates know that the empirical evidence shows that the only approach that will provide quality healthcare to all and control costs is a single payer, Medicare for all, system.

Many single payer advocates bought into the ACA, which is really a big insurance scam, because they were Democratic Party-leaning organizations. These groups were given tens of millions of dollars to advocate for the ACA.  This is the classic strategy described in leaked documents from Stratfor, the private intelligence firm that works with big business and government, of how the power holders deal with political movements.

The problems with the roll out of the ACA website exposed the deeper problems, that the law is a complicated, insurance-based and for-profit approach that will consistently lead to greater costs and obstacles for patients and will weaken our public insurances. The ACA entrenches a system that treats healthcare as a commodity rather than a public good and that will make some investors very rich.This has renewed calls for single payer as people see how such a system would be superior in many ways.

Keep the moral high ground and remain a movement based in principled dissent

1or3One of the risks in this phase of the movement is becoming a member of the professional non-profit community. Moyer called these groups ‘professional opposition organizations’ or POOs. Instead we must remain what he called a principled dissent group. We must advocate for transformational change and not for inadequate reforms that do not solve the problem but merely make it look like the system is responding to our concerns.

During this time period the power structure will try to pull the movement into the system. Foundations may start to offer financial support.  Care must be taken here because money is needed to build the necessary grassroots infrastructure, but funding cannot have strings attached that compromise the goals of the movement. The kind of infrastructure that is needed is grassroots organizations that understand the goals and strategy and how the various sub-issues being worked on relate to the overall goals of the movement.

In addition to remaining true to our principles, we need to be open to expanding our demands.  During this phase, as we understand the issues we are working on, we will find that the problems run deeper than we realized. This has shown itself in debates in the environmental movement, e.g. rather than calling for no Keystone pipeline, we need to be calling for no tar sands mining.  Similarly, rather than regulating fracking for methane gas, we need to be calling for a ban on fracking. Indeed, when the overall energy situation is looked at the movement needs to be making a broad call for the end of the extraction economy and putting in place a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy.

1resistOf course, this will be ‘off the political table’ but it is the only approach that makes sense in light of the ecological destruction of extraction, the militarism caused by resource conflicts and the steps needed to combat climate change. This has led to aggressive actions by front-line environmentalists and indigenous peoples with blockades, tree-sits, mass protests and other acts of civil resistance. If the traditional groups are to remain relevant they will be pulled toward these new groups as we are beginning to see, reversing divide and rule into unite and win.

Emphasize our role as ‘change agents’

During this phase of building national consensus we need to change our roles. While we are still rebels against the current system, our primary job in this phase is to be change agents who operate not by being in the public spotlight, as we were during the Take Off phase when our rebel role dominated, but to organize, enable and nurture others to get involved as participants.

One pitfall to avoid at this point is becoming a ‘negative rebel.’ Those who do not understand the progression and tasks of a successful social movement may become discouraged by their perceived lack of progress. They may resort to violent tactics believing that previous tactics failed. This path will actually undermine the movement by giving openings for power holders to infiltrate it and be violent in response and by scaring the public.

Capitalism Isn't Working at London Stock ExchangeThe role of the change agent is to encourage conversations that are open and listening. We are not dictating that we have all the solutions, but engaging with others, providing an informed opinion and finding solutions together. And we must do more than just educate on one issue, but must show how that issue is related to other issues and the need for systemic change. This requires showing that the underlying world view of the current power structure is wrong and that a paradigm shift is needed.

The global private intelligence firm, Stratfor, has been monitoring the resistance movement and working with corporations and governments to stop it. A 2012 report said: “Governments rule by controlling key pillars of society, through which they exercise authority over the population. These pillars include security forces (police and military), the judicial system, civil services and unions.” Stratfor knows that when change agents pull people from the pillars of power to the movement, the government has a problem.

Change agents and the movement need to not only focus on our core constituencies, but also on people who are in the power structure. When we pull people from the power structure, the movement not only grows stronger, but the power holders get weaker.

1bankThere are signs that the power holders are worried about the growing people power of the social movement.  Recently leaked documents show that Bank of America has a team of 20 people who troll the Internet looking for protests against the bank. The documents also show that BoA works with the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the law enforcement Fusion Center of Homeland Security as well as local police in what they call a ‘public-private partnership.’

Another end of the year report by the Information Technology firm Gartner predicts a “much larger scale” occupy-like movement at the end of 2014 that will result in political discussions on the issues the movement is raising. Further, they warn that businesses need to avoid being seen as the culprits in the downward decline in wages and jobs or risk a “backlash in the form of buyer strikes, labor unrest and increased scrutiny of owner and executive compensation.”

Persist. This is a marathon with hurdles, not a sprint

1owdcThe current stage of movement evolution is one that could last for years, even more than a decade. Or, it could be one that moves more quickly. When we organized the occupation of Washington, DC at Freedom Plaza in 2011 we looked at where the people of the United States stood and discovered they were more radical than the corporate media was letting us know. We published an article We Stand With the Majority, then in the month before OWS began we updated it with The American People Could Rule Better than the Elites. Essentially, two-thirds of the American people were already questioning current policies and looking for alternatives. Perhaps this is why President Obama ran on “hope and change” because his polling and focus groups showed that is where the people were.

So, we may be further along than we realize.  This week someone sent us this meme – 2014 the Year Everything Changes and #RiseTogether #NoLongerIgnored.  We have no doubt 2014 is going to be an amazing year for the social-political movement that is growing daily. We are likely to see some victories, perhaps some very important ones.  There will be many victories on the road to our ultimate success. There will also be failures. We should celebrate the victories and learn from the failures.

These are exciting times to be involved with this movement. We’ve already come a long way, but the best is yet to come.

Climate change by the numbers: The worst is yet to come

 

CO2 levels went through the roof in 2013, as the world tried — and mostly failed — to slow down warming

 

 

Climate change by the numbers: The worst is yet to come
Firefighters battle the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Aug. 25, 2013. (Credit: AP/Jae C. Hong/Salon)

 

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” President Obama announced back in January at his second-term inauguration. Thus began another year of steady climate change, continued pollution of the atmosphere and half-hearted attempts at changing the world’s dire trajectory.

By many measures, 2013 wasn’t particularly extreme: it it wasn’t the hottest we’ve ever seen; its storms, by and large, weren’t the most devastating. Much of what occurred can best be seen as a sign of things to come. Droughts, believed to be exacerbated by climate change, will become more widespread. Wildfires are expected to get bigger, longer and smokier by 2050. Twelve months, after all, is but a short moment in Earth’s history. Only in the future, looking back, will we be able to recognize the true significance of many of this year’s big numbers:

7: Where 2013 ranks among the warmest years in history, according to the World Meteorological Association. Tied with 2003, the ranking is based on the year’s first nine months, during which average temperatures were 0.86°F above the 1960-1991 global average.

395.5: The average concentration levels of CO2, in parts per million (ppm), observed in the atmosphere through November.

400: The ”milestone,” in parts per million of atmospheric CO2, that was temporarily crossed in May. It was the first time carbon levels crossed that boundary in 55 years of record-keeping — and possibly in 3 million years of history on Earth.

95: Percent certainty with which IPCC scientists say climate change is caused by human activity, a confidence level up from 90 percent in 1997.



1,100: Amount by which EPA regulations proposed in September would limit emissions from new coal-fired power plants, in pounds of CO2 per hour. The average plant currently emits CO2 at a rate of 1,800 pounds per hour.

25: The factor by which the concentration of PM 2.5 — the part of air pollution most harmful to human health — exceeded the amount considered safe in the U.S. when Beijing’s first “airpocalypse” occurred in January

1,000: Air pollution levels in the Chinese city of Harbin, in micrograms per cubic meter of PM 2.5, during October’s smog emergency. According to the World Health Organization, it shouldn’t exceed 20; anything higher than 300 is considered hazardous.

8: Age of girl in Harbin who contracted lung cancer.

3.8: Percent by which Japan said it would try to reduce its emissions by 2020, down from its  previous pledge of 25 percent.

1.97 million: The annual minimum extent of Arctic sea ice, in square miles. Melting this year wasn’t as severe as it was in 2012, but the remaining area was still 17 percent below average — and the sixth lowest on record.

3.2: Current average sea level rise, in millimeters per year. Sea levels reached a record high in March.

104.6: The average country-wide temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit, on January 7 in Australia — the continent’s hottest day on record, in its hottest month on record.

121.3: The temperature reading, in degrees Fahrenheit, in the South Australian town of Moomba on January 12.

90: Percent confidence with which researchers at the University of Melbourne concluded, in July, that “human influences on the Australian atmosphere had dramatically increased the odds of extreme temperatures.”

129.2: The temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit, recorded in California’s Death Valley on June 30, setting a record for the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth for that month.

2: The weather emergency level declared by officials in China during this summer’s heat wave — a number normally reserved for typhoons and floods.

1.7 billion: The estimated cost, in USD, of New Zealand’s drought — its worst in 30 years.

10: The number of consecutive months during which over half of the contiguous U.S. experienced moderate or severe drought, which finally fell below 50 percent in mid-April 2013.

72: Percent of land area in 10 Western states in drought conditions after a record-breaking heat wave in June.

3.95: Inches of rain that fell from January to November in San Francisco. When the final numbers come in, it’s likely that California will be found to have had its driest year on record.

257,000: Acres of land burned by the California Rim Fire, the biggest wildfire in Sierra’s recorded history, which caused over $50 million in damage. It was caused by a number of factors, drought and abnormal seasons included.

5.9 – 7.9: The amount of rain, in inches, that normally falls over two and a half months and instead pummeled central Europe between May 30 and June 1. Floodwaters in Germany rose to their highest levels in over 500 years.

1.3: The width, in miles, of the tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma on May 20. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., caused controversy when he invoked the storm during a speech criticizing climate deniers. While researchers cannot be sure there was a link between climate change and the twister, they believe that a warming planet may host more frequent, stronger storms.

2.6: The width, in miles, of the tornado that struck El Reno, Oklahoma ten days later. It was the widest ever measured on Earth.

20 billion: Cost, in dollars, of plans laid out by NYC Mayor Bloomberg in June to make infrastructure improvements, including floodwalls and storm barriers, in preparation for the effects of climate change.

6,100: The most recent death count from Typhoon Haiyan, which officially became the deadliest storm in Philippines’ history. Bodies continue to be recovered.

132: The number of countries that walked out of the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw in protest over rich nations’ refusal to entertain the idea of compensation for extreme climate events

90: The number of global companies that together account for two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report in the journal Climactic Change.

7 billion: The number of “key individuals” responsible for climate change. The Onion, as always, is spot on.

Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

 

Noam Chomsky : Governments are power systems, trying to sustain power

 

Exclusive: The polymath looks back with Salon on this year’s NSA revelations and ahead to the earth’s destruction

 

 

Noam Chomsky, the Salon interview: Governments are power systems, trying to sustain powerNoam Chomsky (Credit: AP/Adel Hana)

 

In his 85th year, political theorist and linguist Noam Chomsky remains a fiercely busy polymath and dedicated activist. Indeed, his schedule is so demanding, our interview had to be booked a good number of weeks in advance and my time on the phone with the MIT professor was sandwiched between another press interview and another one of his many commitments.

Happily, though, speaking with Chomsky in late December gave occasion to look back on this year — a year of revelation and obfuscation regarding U.S. government activity.

Chomsky told Salon about his thoughts on the slew of NSA leaks, the future of the media, the neo-liberalization of the education system and the principle operations of governments. And, of course, the earth hurtling towards its own demise.

Q: This year’s revelations about the scope of surveillance-state activity are certainly not the first major leaks you’ve seen draw scrutiny on government spying. Is there something particular or unique, in your view, about the NSA revelations?

In principle it’s not an innovation; things like this have been going on for a long time. The scale and the incredibly ambitious character of the surveillance and control is something new. But it’s the kind of thing one should expect. The history goes back a long way. So, for example, if you go back a century ago, right after the U.S. invasion of the Philippines — a brutal invasion that killed a couple hundred thousand people — there was a problem for the U.S. of pacification afterwards. What do you do to control the population to prevent another nationalist uprising? There’s a very good study of this by Alfred McCoy, a Philippines scholar at University of Wisconsin, and what he shows is that the U.S. used the most sophisticated technology of the day to develop a massive system of survelliance, control, disruption to undermine any potential opposition and to impose very tight controls on the population which lasted for a long time and in many ways the Philippines is still suffering from this. But he also points out the technology was immediately transferred home. Woodrow Wilson’s administration used it in their “Red Scare” a couple years later. The British used it, too.

Q: Do you think revelations about sprawling surveillance have prompted much significant self-reflection from the American public about the workings of our state apparatus and our use of technology?



Governments are power systems. They are trying to sustain their power and domination over their populations and they will use what means are available to do this. By now the means are very sophisticated and extensive and we can expect them to increase. So for instance, if you read technology journals you learn that in robotics labs for some years there have been efforts to develop small drones, what they call “fly-sized drones,” which can intrude into a person’s home and be almost invisible and carry out constant surveillance. You can be sure that the military is very much interested in this, and the intelligence systems as well, and will soon be using it.

We’re developing technologies that will be used by our own governments and by commercial corporations and are already being used to maximize information for themselves for control and domination. That’s the way power systems work. Of course, they’ve always played the security card. But I think one should be very cautious about such claims. Every government pleads security for almost anything it’s doing, so since the plea is predictable it essentially carries no information. If after the event the power system claims security, that doesn’t mean it’s actually a functioning principle. And if you look at the record, you discover that security is generally a pre-text and security is not a high priority of governments. If By that I mean the security of the population — security of the power system itself and the domestic interests it represents, yes, that’s a concern. But security of the population is not.

Q: You’ve often highlighted flaws in mainstream media’s insidious institutional fealty during your career — notably in your book “Manufacturing Consent” [1988]. What do you think of the current state of the U.S. media? Do you have much hope for new ventures like Glenn Greenwald’s, which has already promised to aggressively take on government and corporate wrongdoing?

The availability of the Internet has offered a much easier access than before to a wide variety of information and opinion and so on. But I don’t think that is a qualitative shift. It is easier to go to the Internet than to go to the library, undoubtedly. But the shift from no libraries to the existence libraries was a much greater shift than what we’ve seen with the Internet’s development. [The Internet] gives more access — that part is good — but on the other hand, it is combined with a process of undermining independent inquiry and reporting within the media themselves. There’s plenty to criticize about the mass media but they are the source of regular information about a wide range of topics. You can’t duplicate that on blogs. And that’s declining. Local newspapers, I need not inform you, are becoming very much narrower in their global outreach, even their national outreach.  And that’s the real meat of inquiry of information gathering. We can criticize its character and the biases that enter into it, and the institutional constraints on it, but nevertheless it’s of inestimable importance. I’ve never questioned that. And that’s diminishing at the same time as accesses to a wider range of materials is increasing. The Greenwald initiative is a very promising one. He himself has had an impressive career of independent thinking, inquiry, analysis and reporting. I think there is good reason to have a good deal of trust in his judgement. Where it will go, we don’t know, it hasn’t started yet so it is just speculation.

I think that, for example,  the New York Times will remain what’s called the “newspaper of record” for the foreseeable future. I don’t see any competitor arising which has the range of resources, of overseas bureaus and so on again, I think there is plenty to criticize about it, but it is nevertheless an invaluable resource. There are many other independent developments which are quite significant of themselves so it’s valuable to have say Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now or Salon or any other independent voice. But I don’t see any indication that there is going to be some radically new form of gathering, reporting and analyzing information.

Q: As an academic and a political figure, you stand in an interesting position to observe shifting trends in the academy. How, in your view, have spiking tuition fees, sky-rocketing student debt and a corporatization of academic institution affected higher education? What’s your outlook on shifts in the education system in general in this country?

Well for me personally, it hasn’t been a change, but there are changes and developments in the higher education system and also K-12 which I think are extremely threatening and harmful. To keep it at the higher education: Over the past generation — roughly speaking the neoliberal period — there has been a substantial shift towards corporatization of the universities, towards imposing of the business model on higher education. Part of that is what you’ve mentioned, tuition rises. There has been an enormous increase in tuition. I don’t think you can give an economic argument for that. Take a look at the comparative evidence. Right to our south, Mexico, which is a relatively poor country, has a quite respectable higher education system, and it’s free. The country to that consistently ranks among the highest in educational achievement is Finland. A rich country, but education is free. Germany, education is free. France, education is free.

Take a look at the United States: Go back fifty years to the early post-war decades. It was a much poorer country than it is now, but for a large portion of the population, education was free. The GI Bill provided education for a great number of people who never would have been able to go to college otherwise. It was highly beneficial for them, and highly beneficial to the country in terms of the contributions they were able to make in terms of the economy and culture and so on. And it was essentially free. Even private universities costs were very slight by today’s standards. And that was a much poorer country than it is now. So in general I think that the economic arguments for the sharp rise in tuitions in the United States and to a lesser extent in England and a few other places, one can’t offer a persuasive economic argument for that, these are policy decisions. They are related to other changes that have taken place, so for example over the same period there has been an enormous expansion of administration in universities. The proportion of the University budget that goes to administration has skyrocketed…. This is all part of the imposition of a business model which has an effect also on curricular choices and decisions.

Similar things are happening at K-12 level with, first of all, the underfunding of schools, which is very serious as is the demeaning of teachers, the undermining of teacher’s respect and independence. The pressure to teach to tests, which is the worst possible form of education. In fact most of us have been through the school system have plenty of experience with courses we weren’t very much interested in, we had to study for an exam, you study for the exam and a couple weeks later you forget what the course was about. This is a critique that goes way back to the enlightenment, where they condemned the model of teaching as analogous as pouring water into a vessel — and a very leaky vessel, as we all know. This undermines creativity, independence, the joy of discovery, the capacity to work together with others creatively — all of the things that a decent educational system should foster. It’s going in the opposite direction, which is quite harmful. So there is a lot to reverse if we want to get back to a much healthier system of education and preservation and growth of cultural achievement.

Q: What other contemporary issues particularly concern you? Do you find sites of hope or resistance around these issues that, perhaps, you finding heartening?

Well, we can make a long list, including the things we’ve talked about, but it’s also worth remembering that, hovering over the things we discussed, are two major problems. These are issues that seriously threaten the possibility of decent human survival. One of them is the growing threat of environmental catastrophe, which we are racing towards as if we were determined to fall off a precipice, and the other is the threat of nuclear war, which has not declined, in fact it’s very serious and in many respects is growing. The second one we know, at least in principle, how to deal with it. There is a way of significantly reducing that threat; the methods are not being pursued but we know what they are. In the case of environmental catastrophe it’s not so clear that there will even be a way to control of maybe reverse it. Maybe. But, the longer we wait, the more we defer taking measures, the worse it’s going to be.

It’s quite striking to see that those in the lead of trying to do something about this catastrophe are what we call “primitive” societies. The first nations in Canada, indigenous societies in central America, aboriginals in Australia. They’ve been on the forefront of trying to prevent the disaster that we’re rushing towards. It’s beyond irony that the richest most powerful countries in the world are racing towards disaster while the so-called primitive societies are the ones in the forefront of trying to avert it.

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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