Al Gore’s Hypocrisy: The Climate Crusader Profits from Fossil Fuels

By Robert Rapier | Wed, 06 February 2013 23:20 | 12

Oil Money is Bad Money, Except When…

Al Gore has just released a new book — The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change  — and is on a media tour to promote it. But he has had to face some very uncomfortable questions involving a charge that has been around for a while: That Al Gore is a hypocrite.

The hypocrisy charge has been raised against Gore over the years. Until now, the most infamous incident of apparent hypocrisy took place in 2007 when it was widely reported that Al Gore’s mansion had a utility bill about 20 times more than the average family home. (See Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenient Truth’? — A $30,000 Utility Bill). I found the news troubling; after all Gore was the Conservationist-in-Chief but he certainly didn’t appear to be walking his talk.

But I also wrote that if he was running a staff out of his home, then the higher electric bills were more understandable. I also learned at the time just how rabidly partisan people can be when discussing Gore. Some on the left would not tolerate criticism of Gore, and I was vilified for saying that I was disappointed in his behavior.

But, I really wanted to like Al Gore. I thought of him as someone who was making a positive impact by calling attention to a serious problem, and getting people to conserve. I defended him when people noted that Gore traveled around the world in fossil-fueled jets. After all, I argued, if he traveled halfway around the world but convinced 500 people in a foreign country to become involved and take action, then the net impact could easily be lower carbon emissions as a result of his travels.

I even have an award on my desk signed by Gore. In 1996 I traveled to the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. and received the 1996 Green Chemistry Challenge Award as part of Professor Mark Holtzapple’s research team at Texas A&M. The award was presented by Carol Browner, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and it was autographed by Vice President Al Gore. I imagined at the time that some day Gore would become president, and I would show that award with pride to visitors.

I say all of this, because I want to make it clear that I didn’t set out to dislike Al Gore. But I have come to the conclusion that he is in fact one of the worst hypocrites I have ever seen.

Hypocrisy: When a Climate Change Crusader Sells Out to Fossil Fuels

Gore has vilified fossil fuel usage for decades. In his new book, he writes “Virtually every news and political commentary program on television is sponsored in part by oil, coal and gas companies — not just during campaign seasons, but all the time, year in and year out — with messages designed to soothe and reassure the audience that everything is fine, the global environment is not threatened.”

But what did Gore turn around and do? He sold his Current TV network to Al Jazeera for $500 million. Gore reportedly pocketed $100 million, and in another widely reported story he is alleged to have pushed to get the transaction completed before higher tax rates kicked in on January 1 of this year.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that Al Jazeera is funded by Qatar, which receives the bulk of its wealth from fossil fuels. Gore was grilled over this apparent hypocrisy, first by Matt Lauer:

Lauer challenged him on the fact that he had criticized the influence of fossil fuel money in television, but then got very wealthy selling his network to another network that exists because of fossil fuel money. Al Jazeera had the money to pay Gore $500 million because of fossil fuels. Lauer asked Gore if he saw a contradiction in his position. While Gore said he understands the criticism, he disagrees with it because Al Jazeera is a great network and has won major awards.

Now, someone can correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t ever recall Gore saying that it was OK to take fossil fuel money in television as long as the network is a good network or is one that has won awards. He is engaging in the logical fallacy of special pleading, which is where someone applies a special exemption to their rules when those rules contradict their actions. For example:

Al Gore: “You should never run a red light.”

Me: “But you just ran a red light.”

Al Gore: “Yes, but I was in a hurry.”

I can apply the same special pleading to any oil company and justify consuming their oil since they make charitable contributions and invest in renewables.

Gore was also grilled on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show (one of the only TV programs I regularly watch). Jon was polite with the questions, but he went after Gore several times over the apparent hypocrisy:

Here is an excerpt of their exchange:

Jon Stewart: “You had an opportunity to make a statement, probably, about your principles, and some people would feel, and for me as well, I thought it was an odd move. Not because of some of the other things, but because it is backed by fossil fuel money.”

Al Gore: “I get it. I get it. I get it. But it was an easy choice after doing the diligence on the network itself.”

Jon Stewart: “Can you see how people at home might think — but he’s asking me in my life to make choices about light bulbs and a cost-benefit analysis for the purpose of sustainability when I just want to see my book. That’s the issue.”

Al Gore: “I’m very, very comfortable with it. I completely get the criticism, but this was a good choice and the net benefit for the U.S. is going to be very positive.”

Yes, Al Gore appears to be very comfortable in selling out his principles for a $100 million profit. And at least he “gets” the criticism. He disagrees that it is hypocrisy, apparently on the basis that he doesn’t like the word hypocrisy.

Stewart highlighted the fact that Gore could have made a statement about his principles, but at the end of the day Gore determined that the cost-benefit analysis benefited him enough to be comfortable with taking fossil fuel money.

Cost-Benefit — For Whom?

What Gore doesn’t seem to understand is that this is the same cost-benefit analysis that results in the world’s rising use of fossil fuels. He is like many environmentalists who don’t seem to understand the real reasons we are dependent upon fossil fuels. They would rather blame the fossil fuel companies and their various lobbying and subsidies than blame the real culprit — the desire of consumers to have affordable and reliable energy.

Poor people across the developing world determine that their contribution to climate change is insignificant relative to the benefit they will receive from introducing heat and electricity into their homes. Every day millions of people around the world determine that the benefit of them filling up with gasoline and driving to work outweighs the cost of their fossil fuel consumption. Everyone — Mr. Gore — can argue that the cost-benefit analysis favors their usage of fossil fuels. People from all walks of life — including staunch environmentalists — use fossil fuels every day and justify it based on the cost-benefit to themselves. Even Bill McKibben once admitted that he was a hypocrite, but like you he rationalized his hypocrisy.

And that, in a nutshell, is why the world is so dependent (and becoming more dependent) upon fossil fuels. People determine that the benefits of using fossil fuels outweigh the cost. You aren’t special Mr. Gore. You did what others do every day. The only difference is that you have used a bully pulpit for years to urge people to sacrifice and make different choices. Yet when faced with the same cost-benefit analysis, you proved to the world that you are the hypocrite many always believed you to be.

Al Gore’s “activism” has been a money maker on a tremendous scale. He has made a mint selling indulgences — er, I mean “carbon offsets” — and in some cases even sold them to himself in order to claim that his (very high) carbon footprint was neutral. So while he’s busy taking the high road telling people what to do, he himself not only goes and profits off of that (creates network, sells it) but his profit comes from the very same people/industry he built his reputation on by vilifying and imploring people to avoid.

I realize that Saint Al can do no wrong in some people’s eyes, and some will (wrongly) conclude that this is a partisan attack. It is nothing of the sort. But I will never attempt to defend Gore again. I also hope to never hear his voice again. It grates on my nerves now, because all I hear now are the ramblings of a hypocritical windbag.

By Robert Rapier



Golden Dawn leader arrested in dubious crackdown

by Jerome Roos on September 28, 2013

Post image for Golden Dawn leader arrested in dubious crackdown

Greek state cracks down on neo-Nazi movement, but questions remain about how willing and able it truly is to stamp out the fascist threat it created.

It’s quite incredible what difference two weeks can make. Just 10 days ago, government officials and members of Greece’s ruling centrist coalition were openly discussing the possibilities of a future government with the outspokenly neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. Then, a group of Golden Dawn thugs shamelessly murdered antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas, and suddenly everything seemed to change. As tens of thousands of antifascist protesters took to the streets, government officials and mainstream media for the first time openly denounced the party as a “criminal organization”. Investigations were launched, senior police officers suspended and Golden Dawn collapsed in the polls.

Today, the sudden state crackdown on the violent extremists took a dramatic turn with the arrest of the party’s undisputed leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, by the national anti-terrorism unit. Three other MPs, a party leader from the Athenian suburb of Nikaia and 12 more party members were also arrested, while further arrest warrants have been issued for several MPs and party members. In an indication of the government’s resolve to finally sweep away the institutional basis of the neo-Nazi movement, today’s crackdown marks the first time since the fall of the military junta in 1974 that sitting MPs — let alone an official party leader — have been arrested.

Unfortunately, the institutional crackdown and criminal charges are long overdue, as the government (with Europe’s blessing) willingly tolerated the proliferation of neo-Nazi violence against immigrants and leftists for years. There are thus good reasons to remain profoundly skeptical of the government’s actual intentions and the broader implications of the arrests for the future of the antifascist struggle. While arresting its leaders will undoubtedly cripple Golden Dawn’s hierarchical organization and may temporarily paralyze the party’s official actions, it does not eradicate the penetration of fascism into the very fabric of the Greek state and society. Most importantly, a very large amount of Greek police officers and key elements of the country’s armed forces still support and adhere to Golden Dawn’s violent and openly racist ideology.

This fact was underlined when, just a few days ago, a group of special force reservists publicly demanded the government to resign and openly called for a military coup should it fail to do so. Since Golden Dawn claims up to 60 percent support from the country’s police force, and since most of its MPs and thugs have so far escaped imprisonment thanks to the right-wing inclinations of the judicial system, it is also unclear how effective the legal crackdown can really be. The current charges may set in motion the criminalization of the party, but it remains unclear how far state institutions are really willing and able to go in their efforts to stamp out the specter of neo-fascism.

These institutional limitations are compounded by the fact that Golden Dawn has traditionally been supported by a powerful sub-section of Greece’s oligarchic capitalist elite, whose financial interests have been neatly served by Golden Dawn’s anti-immigrant narrative and its violent attacks on anarchist and communist organizers. Already a while back, investigations by the Financial Crimes Unit revealed that Golden Dawn is funded by a group of wealthy businessmen, shipowners and orthodox priests (the latter are among the richest landowners in Greece). These are the same people who control the Greek government and media, and the same who are likely to be pulling the strings behind the “sacrificial” moves currently being taken against Golden Dawn.

So why did these corporate and political elites suddenly swing their weight against the neo-Nazi party that they previously turned a blind eye to, or even actively supported? Basically, the Greek elite always had only two diametrically opposed options to stay in power: either it tried to co-opt Golden Dawn by coaxing its leadership into “politics as usual”, or it repressed the party in an attempt to steal back its voters. The coldblooded murder of Pavlos — which appears to have been ordered by the party leader himself — and the powerful popular backlash this triggered, simply made the former position untenable. And so the elite shifted its strategy 180 degrees and dumped the neo-Nazi group that had previously been so beneficial to its interests.

For this reason, it remains crucial to remember that Golden Dawn is far from the only expression of fascism roiling Greek society today. As I argued in a previous piece, Greece’s centrist parties have been setting the political parameters of fascist policymaking for decades, and many current and former government ministers have openly expressed their support for the fascist cause. In a tough interview on BBC Hardtalk yesterday, health minister Adonis Georgidadis was faced with some difficult questions about his own political past as a member of the ultra-nationalist LAOS party, whose leader is widely known for his raging anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant tirades. Former PASOK health minister Andreas Loverdos once referred to Golden Dawn as the country’s “first authentic movement born after the dictatorship”.





“Joseph Stromberg reports at the Smithsonian that if there’s one group has an obvious and immediate financial stake in climate change, it’s the insurance industry and in recent years, insurance industry researchers who attempt to determine the annual odds of catastrophic weather-related disasters say they’re seeing something new. ‘Our business depends on us being neutral. We simply try to make the best possible assessment of risk today, with no vested interest,’ says Robert Muir-Wood, the chief scientist of Risk Management Solutions (RMS), a company that creates software models to allow insurance companies to calculate risk. Most insurers, including the reinsurance companies that bear much of the ultimate risk in the industry,have little time for the arguments heard in some right-wing circles that climate change isn’t happening, and are quite comfortable with the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the main culprit of global warming. ‘Insurance is heavily dependent on scientific thought,’ says Frank Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America. ‘It is not as amenable to politicized scientific thought.’ A pronounced shift can be seen in extreme rainfall events, heat waves and wind storms and the underlying reason is climate change, says Muir-Wood, driven by rising greenhouse gas emissions. ‘The first model in which we changed our perspective is on U.S. Atlantic hurricanes. Basically, after the 2004 and 2005 seasons, we determined that it was unsafe to simply assume that historical averages still applied,’ he says. ‘We’ve since seen that today’s activity has changed in other particular areas as well—with extreme rainfall events, such as the recent flooding in Boulder, Colorado, and with heat waves in certain parts of the world.’ Muir-Wood puts his money where his mouth is. ‘I personally wouldn’t invest in beachfront property anymore,’ he says, noting the steady increase in sea level we’re expecting to see worldwide in the coming century, on top of more extreme storms. ‘And if you’re thinking about it, I’d calculate quite carefully how far back you’d have to be in the event of a hurricane.'”



How the Government Subsidizes Inequality

Flickr: Sean Mulgrew

Americans are coming to face the hard reality that they live in a new Gilded Age, with inequality at levels not seen since before the Great Depression. Even worse: Uncle Sam is subsidizing this lopsided economy.

The federal government is, indirectly, the largest low-wage employer in the country. While it has relatively few of the working poor on its payroll, the government hires thousands of private contractors that pay poverty wages to their workers, and hundreds of thousands of dollars to their executives.

A coalition of progressive groups are urging the Obama administration to issue an executive order requiring contractors to pay their workers a living wage — defined as the minimum required to meet one’s basic needs.

According to a new study by the think tank Demos, this could be achieved without increasing taxes by flattening the wage structure of federal contractors. As the report’s authors, Robert Hiltonsmith and Amy Traub explain:

The federal government spends an estimated $23.9 billion a year paying private contractors for the compensation of top executives. If taxpayer-funded payouts for these executives were capped at $230,700 — the salary of the US vice president — the pay of hundreds of thousands of low-wage federal contract workers could be raised by as much as $6.69 per hour or $13,902 per year for a full-time worker, without costing taxpayers an additional dime.

Current law dictates that the federal government must reimburse or price into contracts up to $763,039 in compensation for any one employee — an amount pegged to the salaries of the most highly-paid private sector executives. This maximum, which has risen by 48 percent (adjusted for inflation) since 2004, is set to rise to more than $950,000 later this year if no action is taken to change the formula.

Here we consider the savings if the cap were lowered to the amount of the US vice president’s salary, $230,700 per year, which matches the proposal in the bipartisan Commonsense Contractor Compensation Act of 2013. This amount also represents the maximum that most civilian employees directly employed by the federal government can make in a given year. Firms with federal contracts could continue to pay their executives amounts far exceeding this cap, but taxpayers would no longer reimburse or price these costs into contracts with the affected companies for any amount in excess of $230,700. We estimate that by lowering the cap for all contracting firms to $230,700 annually, the government would save $6.97 to $7.65 billion per year.

To address the problem of poverty-wage jobs on federal contracts, we then calculate the raise that could be given to lower-paid contract employees with these savings. We find that if the savings from a lower public recognition of executive pay were hypothetically used to give a raise to low-paid contract employees — the 560,000 contractors who earn $12 per hour or less — it could pay for a raise of $13,902 per year, or $6.68 per hour assuming a full-time workload. If we instead used the savings to give raises to all 2.15 million contractors who earn less than $230,700, we could give them each a raise of $3,624 per year, or $1.74 per hour. Cutting the taxpayer subsidy of millionaires’ salaries while raising the wages of ordinary workers would not only be efficient, but would set an example of fairer compensation.

You can read the whole paper here. Demos also has a petition urging Congress to cap contractors’ executive pay and give their workers a raise, which you can sign here.

Walter White’s sickness mirrors America


“Breaking Bad” strikes such a nerve because Walt’s ills of body and soul are also those of our country

  • Walter White's sickness mirrors AmericaBryan Cranston as Walter White in “Breaking Bad” (Credit: AMC/Frank Ockenfels 3)


It is safe to say that as “Breaking Bad” comes to a close, Vince Gilligan’s series is the moment’s Best Show In the History of Television. Incredibly, the show isn’t even over yet, and it is already a cult classic, with all the attendant prop fetishization and tourism industries that come with such a designation. But as we approach the final episode, there’s an unanswered question: What makes the show so historically important?

Critics have rightly lauded the series for, among other things, its cinematography, its dialogue, its character development and its carefully constructed plot twists. Yet, in this much-vaunted new Golden Age of TV, there are plenty of programs with great visuals, terrific conversations, nuanced personalities and enticing stories — but most never achieve the same notoriety as the life of Walter White. Similarly, “Breaking Bad” is part crime drama, part satire of the legal system and part commentary on family dysfunction — but those narrative vectors are hardly unexplored territory in television. So what makes the story of Walter White so special?

Here’s a theory: Maybe “Breaking Bad” has ascended to the cult firmament because it so perfectly captures the specific pressures and ideologies that make America exceptional at the very moment the country is itself breaking bad.

The most obvious way to see that is to look at how Walter White’s move into the drug trade was first prompted, in part, by his family’s fear that he would die prematurely for lack of adequate health care. It is the kind of fear most people in the industrialized world have no personal connection to — but that many American television watchers no doubt do. That’s because unlike other countries, Walter White’s country is exceptional for being a place where 45,000 deaths a year are related to a lack of comprehensive health insurance coverage. That’s about ten 9/11′s worth of death each year because of our exceptional position as the only industrialized nation without a universal public health care system (and, sadly, Obamacare will not fix that).

Walter’s fear of bankrupting his family is also familiar. The kind of medical bills Walter faced are hardly rare in America — they are, in fact, the country’s single largest cause of bankruptcy. And again, this makes America exceptional because, alas, medical bankruptcies basically do not exist in the rest of the industrialized world.

Walter’s economic desperation is almost certainly fueled by his knowledge that a medical bankruptcy has particularly extreme consequences for an American family. He knows, for instance, that he lives in a country where his son and daughter’s academic success and his wife’s retirement security will be based primarily on the size of the family’s bank account. He also knows that the possibility of his family getting caught in crushing poverty is particularly acute in an America with a comparatively meager social safety net. And so he becomes obsessed with coming up with a way to give his family barrel loads of cash.

If this was where the narrative arc of “Breaking Bad” ended, it might be a 21st century version of “Falling Down” — but not much more. Walter, though, is far more than just a disgruntled government employee. He is the personification of the whole theory that America’s exceptional form of safety-net-free capitalism — and the desperation it breeds — truly does breed innovation and entrepreneurship. Think about it: Through his alter ego, Heisenberg, Walter’s desperation leads him to build a business from scratch that creatively destroys sclerotic monopolies and that ultimately delivers a superior product to consumers all over the world.

Heisenberg, in other words, reminds us that America’s unique brand of capitalism delivers exceptional productivity – but not necessarily in ways that we might want.

Still, economic desperation cannot fully explain Walter’s process of breaking bad. After all, while he does have cancer, he faces no more economic stress than most people in his economic situation who also face the illness — and most middle-class cancer victims don’t opt to cook meth. So what sets him apart and makes his story so representative of this moment’s zeitgeist? The answer is his total embrace of the most pernicious aspects of the American Dream mythology.

Unlike so many Americans, Walter White actually has a safety net. As a public school teacher, he actually has decent health insurance (even though as noted above, it may not be completely adequate for his illness, and may not prevent a medical bankruptcy). That is more than millions of his fellow countrymen can say. Also unlike most Americans, he has friends from his past who are willing to pay to get him the world’s most cutting-edge cancer treatments. But even with all that, Walter still chooses what he calls “the empire business” in an effort to live out the dominant mythology. More specifically, he rejects his friends’ offer of help and embarks on a flamboyant journey to live out the archetypal up-from-the-bootstraps story — the American Dream narrative on which our society bases its very definition of manhood. In the process, he also tries to live out the Aggrieved American White Guy Fantasy of thwarting his dark-skinned foreign competitors and claiming a market that he believes to be rightfully his.

Ultimately, all of these themes converge to raise the most harrowing questions of all — the taboo questions about whether we should really cherish the desperation, the greed and the every-man-for-himself ideologies that drive Walter White and that make American the industrialized world’s exception. It is the kind of question “Wall Street” asked back in 1987 when a badly broken Bud Fox dared to ask Gordon “Greed is Good” Gekko: “How much is enough?” It is the same question that “Breaking Bad’s” psychopathic murderer Todd recently posed to his neo-Nazi uncle when he asked: “No matter how much you got, how do you turn your back on more?”

In America, our culture too often offers up the same response as Gekko and Heisenberg. We too often say there is no such thing as “enough” and therefore you don’t ever turn your back on more.

Unlike any other television show before it, “Breaking Bad” dares to explore how such exceptional answers are at the root of so many of our problems. That alone makes the show more than just Important Television and more than merely exceptional. It makes it altogether unique.

David Sirota David Sirota is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and the best-selling author of the books “Hostile Takeover,” “The Uprising” and “Back to Our Future.” E-mail him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at

Henry Giroux on the Militarization of Public Pedagogy


Weekend Edition September 27-29, 2013
Critique is Not Enough


As a counterpoint to the current hand-wringing over public education in the U.S., it may be helpful to remember that we will spend a comparatively small amount of time during our lives as students in the classroom.  That the focus thus far has been on teachers and tests should not surprise us, however.  These are tangible, and measurable, aspects of education.  It happens to be much harder to reform – or even to keep track of – the educational force of culture.  What does that force look like?  As C. Wright Mills put it in his famous BBC address, “The Cultural Apparatus,” we base our understanding of the world around us not only on schools but also on “the observation posts, the interpretation centers” and “presentation depots” of the mass media and entertainment industry (Mills 406).  “Taken as a whole,” Mills continued, “the cultural apparatus is the lens of mankind through which men see; the medium by which they interpret and report what they see” (Mills 406).  The media’s overpowering influence in our lives and the fact that we never actually confront pristine reality (only a mediated version thereof), raises the question: Could the cultural apparatus be the most influential teacher we ever have?

Mills, of course, was speaking more than half-a-century ago.  In search of a more contemporary take on the matter, I spoke with Henry Giroux, a former professor at Penn State and currently the Global Television Network Chair of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.  Professor Giroux is author or co-author of more than 50 books, including The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex (Paradigm, 2007) and his newest work, Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future (Paradigm, 2013).  Professor Giroux calls the educational influence of mass culture “public pedagogy” and has over the years used the examples of Disney films and popular television shows like Mad Men to expose and critique the embedded pedagogy of popular culture.  As he remarked in our interview, “The most powerful educational force in the US is not the schools, it’s outside the schools.”

I talked with Henry last February about public pedagogy, the promotion of pro-military values in schools, and organized efforts by students themselves to resist these trends.

SK: I just got back from San Diego, where my colleague and I spoke with young people who had been student activists in their high school.  These kids and their peers had become radicalized after their principal cut back on their college-prep curriculum to make way for a JROTC unit.[1]  These students – many of whom were Latino and from economically disadvantaged backgrounds – could no longer take AP Spanish, but they could learn marksmanship on the campus’s JROTC firing range. 

HG: This is an important issue and symptomatic of a much larger problem. Public schools are not simply being corporatized, they are also subjected increasingly to a militarizing logic that disciplines the bodies of young people, especially low income and poor minorities, and shapes their desires and identities in the service of military values and social relations.  For a lot of these young people, there are only a few choices here: you can be unemployed and hopefully be able to participate in some way in the social safety net, you can take a low-income job, you can end up in prison or you can go into the military.  And it seems to me that increasingly the military is becoming the best option of all of those.  So you have a whole generation which – by virtue of this massive inequality – really has very limited choices.  But also you have these institutions that are basically there to socialize kids, telling them the only way to succeed is to join the military-industrial complex, and that there really are no other options, at least for them. Moreover, as these young people are subject to the warring logics of a militarized society, a society in which life itself is increasingly absorbed into a war machine, it becomes difficult for them to imagine a social order that can be otherwise, one that is organized around democratic values.

SK: Like this program I’ve been following: it’s called STARBASE.  This is a Defense Department program that every year reaches around 70,000 students in over one-thousand schools – the majority of them in fifth grade.  Pitched as a way to supplement school curriculum in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, there’s an insidious element of military marketing at work: soldiers “mentor” students enrolled in this program and most of the instruction takes place at military installations.  As part of the program students are given plenty of time to horse around on “cool” military hardware. 

HG: It’s mind-blowing.  I think what we often forget – and this is something that you and others like yourself are trying to make clear – is that when you talk about the militarization of American society you’re not just talking about increasing the military budget or arming the police with military-style weapons and so forth.  You’re also talking about the militarization of a culture in which military values and relationships permeate every aspect of what C. Wright Mills called the cultural apparatus – schools, fashion, movies and screen culture.  Violence becomes the only shared relationship that we have to each other, the only mediating form through which people can now solve problems. More insidiously, it defines our sense of identity and personal liberation through violence both as a mediating force and as a source of pleasure and entertainment. It’s one of the reasons why the majority of people in the U.S. support state-sanctioned torture.  How do you explain that?  It’s really a culture that’s become so saturated in this military/violent mindset that it has lost any sense of critical thought and ethical responsibility and has little understanding of what a democratic society might look like.

SK: Militarism in the schools is of course just one aspect of a larger culture of militarism in the U.S. And this gets at your notion of public pedagogy, doesn’t it?    

HG: I may be terribly wrong but I think the central issue here is that first of all you have to realize that the educational force of the culture represents the most important pedagogical force at work in the United States, Canada, and in many other countries.  This is not to suggest that schools are not involved in the process of teaching and learning.  But I think we commit a grave mistake when we assume that schools are the only place where learning goes on.  I would be willing to argue – and I have argued – that the most powerful educational force in the US is not the schools, it’s outside the schools. Young people are awash in a public pedagogy that is distributed across numerous sites that extend from movies and the Internet, readily amplified through a range of digital apparatuses that include cell phones, computers and other electronic registers of the new and expanded cultural flows.   When schools fail to make a connection between knowledge and everyday life – between knowledge and these ever expanding cultural apparatuses – they fail to understand, interrogate, and question the educational forces that are having an enormous influence on children.  The ongoing commercial carpet-bombing of kids through a range of ever expanding technologies–that make possible new social networks and information flows–is aggressively commodifying every aspect of their lives.  Not to address this and make it pedagogically problematic, not to interrogate the massive violence kids are exposed to through screen culture  and the new digital technologies is to do an enormous disservice to the way in which young people are being educated by the wider culture.

SK: But young people are resisting, in various ways.  You were obviously inspired to write your latest book because you believe youth have a role to play in fighting and changing the system. 

HG: As someone from the generation of the ‘60s, I’m enormously inspired by what they’re doing.  Right now they may be the only chance that we have.  Consider their courage: the bravery of these young kids in Occupy Wall Street fighting against state-sanctioned violence in the form of police pepper spray, police dragging them off to jail and arresting them en masse.  They’ve become a model for what it is to stand up to this one percent that has turned the US into an authoritarian society.  I think that what these kids are doing is not only producing a new language to talk about inequality and power relations in the US but they’re actually trying to create public spaces where new forms of social relationships inspired by democratic and cooperative values are really becoming meaningful. These young people are rethinking the very nature of politics and asking serious questions about what democracy is and why it no longer exists in many capitalist countries across the globe. They have been written out of the discourses of justice, equality, and democracy and are not only resisting how neoliberalism has made them expendable, but they are also arguing for a collective future very different from the one that is on display in the current political and economic systems in which they feel trapped.  That’s important.

But they face enormous challenges.  They don’t have access to the dominant media.  They’re trying to use new media to create new modes of communication. They’re trying to understand what democratic processes might mean in terms of sustaining collective struggles, and all of this takes time.  I think that rather than saying that Occupy Wall Street has died, we can say that they’re in the process of understanding what the long march through alternative institutions might mean.

As conditions get worse in the U.S. this movement will grow and take on an international significance.  Hopefully they’ll join with young people in other countries to figure out how to address the biggest problem that the global community faces – politics is local and power is global.  Nation-states can’t control the flow of capital; it’s outside the boundaries of nation-states.  So, we need a politics that’s global to be able to deal with that.

SK: In reflecting on my own research I’ve seen examples of school administrators treating student activists in two distinctly different ways.  In my area, Western Massachusetts, for example, there are high school students who are very heavily involved in organizing around issues of ecology and sustainability.  They lobby for locally grown foods to be served in the cafeteria, install small garden plots for community members, school officials give them land on school property to grow vegetables, and so on.  But then you have the students in San Diego that I mentioned before.  Because they were fighting against the military presence in their schools they were seen as agitators.  School administrators and police would conduct video surveillance of the students’ marches, and one of their leaders was prevented from taking part in the graduation ceremony with the rest of his class.  What might explain the differential response here? 

HG: As long as these modes of resistance don’t challenge relations of power, that’s fine with school officials and others in a position of authority.  As long as they’re focused on students finding a happy spot in themselves, positive thinking, that’s fine.  But as soon as they start talking about power, militarization, inequality, racism – all those things that point to deep structural problems—student resistance and dissent is viewed as exceeding its possibilities and limits.  Just look at what happened in places like Arizona, where these racist educators and politicians succeeded in banning ethnic studies. When young people protested against their history, culture, and forms of witnessing being excluded from the curriculum, they were labeled as criminals, communists, and agitators.

What is most important in terms of these youth movements is that you have a lot of young people making connections, saying “Look you can’t talk about the rise in tuition unless you talk about the attack on the social state and social protections.  You can’t talk about what’s happening in education unless you talk about the rise of the punishing state.”  In a place like California where more is spent on prisons than on education clearly those connections are what give force to a generation of students who are simply refusing to isolate these issues.  It no longer makes sense to say that these are spoiled kids who don’t want to spend much for their education.  These young people are developing a conversation about society at large, calling into question its most fundamentally oppressive economic, political, and educational structures.

Also, young people are recognizing that they’re not going to find their voice in the Democratic Party or in the existing labor unions.  What they really need to fight for are new mass and collective organizations that can call the entirety of society into question and mobilize so as to develop the policies and institutions that make a new and radically democratic society possible.

SK: Here’s a paradox for you: How do you teach social change or resistance to authority within public schools – institutions that many have criticized for being authoritarian and resistant to change? 

HG: You can’t do it if you believe these institutions are so authoritarian that there’s simply no room for resistance.  That’s a mistake.  Power is never so overwhelming that there’s no room for resistance. Power and the forms it takes are always contradictory in different ways and there is always some room for resistance. What needs to be understood is the intensity of dominant power in different contexts and how it can be named, understood, and fought.   The issue here is to seize upon the contradictions at work in these institutions and to develop them in ways that make a difference. During the sixties, the term for this was the long march through institutions and the reference had little to do with reform but with massive restructuring of the instruments of democracy.

And we also need to impose a certain kind of responsibility upon adults in the schools – whether they be social workers, university professors, or high school teachers.  Clearly it’s not enough to say they operate under terrible burdens that make them voiceless.  I understand those structural conditions but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t resist either.  That means they not only have to promote particular kinds of pedagogies in their classrooms but they also have to join social movements that give them the force of a collective voice that can bear down on these problems and create change.

The greatest battle that we’re facing in the U.S. today is around the question of consciousness.   If people don’t have an understanding of the nature of the problems they face they’re going to succumb to the right-wing educational populist machine.  This is a challenge that the Left has never taken seriously because it really doesn’t understand that at the center of politics is the question of pedagogy.  Pedagogy is not marginal, it is not something that can be reduced to a method,  limited to what happens in high schools, or to what college professors say in their classes. Pedagogy is fundamental not only to the struggle over culture but also, if not more importantly, the struggle over meaning and identity. It’s a struggle for consciousness, a struggle over the gist of agency, if not the future itself – a struggle to convince people that society is more than what it is, that the future doesn’t simply have to mimic the present.

SK: What would this look like in practice? One encouraging experiment I had the privilege of observing up close is taking place at the Emiliano Zapata Street Academy in Oakland.  There, in an “alternative high school” within the Oakland Unified School District, student interns working with a group called BAY-Peace lead youth in interactive workshops on topics relevant to their lives: street violence, the school-to-prison pipeline, military recruiters in their schools, and so on. 

HG: I think two things have to go on here, and you just mentioned one of them.  We’ve got to talk about alternative institutions.  There has to be some way to build institutions that provide a different model of education.  On the Left, we had this in the ‘20s and ‘30s:  socialists had Sunday schools, they had camps; they found alternative ways to educate a generation of young people to give them a different understanding of history, of struggle.  We need to reclaim that legacy, update it for the twenty-first century, and join the fight over the creation of new modes of thinking, acting, and engaging ourselves and our relations to others.

On the second level is what Rudi Dutschke called what I referred to earlier as the “long march through the institutions.”  It’s a model that makes a tactical claim to having one foot in and one foot out.  You can’t turn these established institutions over to the Right.  You can’t simply dismiss them by saying they’re nothing more than hegemonic institutions that oppress people.  That’s a retreat from politics.  You have to fight within these institutions.  Not only that, you have to create new public spheres.

SK: Henry, we’ve covered a lot of territory.  Is there anything we haven’t addressed that you would like to bring up before closing? 

HG: We need both a language of critique and a language of hope.  Critique is essential to what we do but it can never become so overwhelming that all we become are critics and nothing else. It is counterproductive for the left to engage in declarations of powerlessness, without creating as Jacques Rancière argues “new objects, forms, and spaces that thwart official expectations.” What we need to do is theorize, understand and fight for a society that is very different from the one in which we now live.  That means taking seriously the question of pedagogy as central to any notion of viable progressive politics; it means working collectively with others to build social movements that address a broader language of our society – questions of inequality and power (basically the two most important issues we can talk about now.)  And I think that we need to find ways to support young people because the most damage that’s going to be done is going to be heaped upon the next generations.  So what we’re really fighting for is not just democracy; we’re fighting for the future.  And so critique is not enough; we need a language of critique and we need a language of possibility to be able to go forward with this.

Seth Kershner is a reference and instruction librarian at Northwestern Connecticut Community College.

Works Cited

Harding, Scott, and Seth Kershner. “Students Against Militarism: Youth Organizing in the

Counter-Recruitment Movement.” Left Behind in the Race to the Top: Realities of School

Reform. Eds. Julie Gorlewski & Brad Porfilio. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2013, 257-273. Print.

Lagotte, Brian W. “Gunning for School Space: Student Activists, the Military, and Education

Policy.” Be the Change: Teacher, Activist, Global Citizen. Ed. R. Verma. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2010. 183-214. Print.

Mills, C. Wright. “The Cultural Apparatus.” Power, Politics, and People: The Collected Essays

            of C. Wright Mills. Ed. Louis Horowitz. New York: Oxford, UP, 1963. 405-423. Print.



[1] [1] The Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program (JROTC) is now present in more than 3,000 high schools across the country, enrolling more than 400,000 14- to -18-year-old “cadets.”  Students enrolled in JROTC – which the Pentagon describes as a citizenship training program, not a recruiting operation – receive classroom instruction in citizenship, history and “military science” from retired military personnel; practice military drill formation; and attend school in uniform once a week.  Some JROTC units even have firing ranges on campus so that cadets can train to be … well … good citizens.  For more on student-led resistance to JROTC, see Harding & Kershner and Lagotte.

15 Things You Should Know About the Major New Report on Climate Science



The world’s top experts have spent years weighing all the evidence — here’s what you need to know about their findings.

People scream outside the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Stockholm to demand immediate political action on the climate on September 27, 2013
Photo Credit: AFP

The IPCC, or the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, just released its latest scientific  report that looks at what the world’s top experts understand about climate change. The review takes years to complete, and will be used for years as a vital resource for climate science.

During a  briefing on the report Friday morning organized by The Climate Group, three of the lead authors offered blunt summaries of their work:

“Warming is unequivocal.” — Dennis Hartmann, one of the report’s  coordinating lead authors, focusing on observations

“From all of these lines of evidence, we conclude that humans are the dominant cause of changes in the climate system.” — Nathaniel Bindoff, a coordinating lead author, focusing on attribution of climate change

“The oceans are still taking up heat,” even though warming has recently hit a speed bump at the surface — Jochem Marotzke a coordinating author, focusing on evaluating climate models

Beyond that, what does the average person need to know about what’s in the report?

  1. It’s happening and we’re doing it: This report concludes that the earth is unequivocally changing, and the evidence is clear that humans have a large role in how it has changed over the last 60 years.
  2. 95-100 percent certain: Each of the IPCC’s last five big reports found that climate science has gotten increasingly certain that the planet is warming, and humans are the main cause. Scientists have a 95-100 percent certainty (“extremely likely”) that humans are causing temperatures to rise. Directly from the report: “It is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.” The report in 2001 was 66 percent certain, and the 2007 report was 90 percent certain. Scientific conclusions that cigarettes are deadly and that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old have  similar levels of certainty.
  3. Warmest 30 years: The globe has already warmed 0.85°C from 1880 to 2012. 0.6°C of that warming happened since 1950, and “1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years.”
  4. Pause? What pause?: The report itself does not mention the word “pause,” but does describe the long term and short term increase in temperature. Since 1880, the  nine warmest years have happened since 1998. 1998 was a very warm year partially because a warm ocean caused by El Nino did not take up as much heat as normal, which made the atmosphere warmer. Without 1998′s anomaly, there is no “slowdown,” “plateau,” “pause,” or “speedbump.”
  5. Acidifying oceans: The lower the pH, the more acidic something is. The pH levels of the ocean surface dropped by 0.1 since the start of the industrial era, “corresponding to a 26% increase in hydrogen ion concentration.” There’s been that big of an increase with a change of 0.1 because the scale is logarithmic.
  6. Global pollution ceiling: For the first time, the world’s leading climate scientists officially called for an absolute upper limit on greenhouse gas emissions to limit warming. To have a 66 percent chance of limiting warming to 2°C, the world can’t emit more than 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide, total. Or 800 gigatons when accounting for methane emissions and land use changes. For context, by 2011, humans had already emitted 531 gigatons of CO2. Known fossil fuel reserves represent  2,795 gigatons, meaning burning more than 10 percent of them pushes the world over 2° of warming.
  7. Seas rising and warming:Oceans, shallow and deep, are where most of the increases in heat energy goes, “accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010.” Sea level has risen 19 centimeters since 1901, and “The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia.”
  8. One of the most scrutinized documents on the planet: More than  2,000 scientists worked on this report, which has been reviewed by government, industry, and environmental groups. It is one of the most scrutinized documents on the planet.
  9. Massive amounts of data: The report’s authors analyzed “9,200 peer-reviewed studies, undergirded by a staggering two million gigabytes of numerical data,”  according to Jeff Nesbit.
  10. Summary for policymakers: 110 nations joined the review process leading up to the release of the report, which is officially known as the “Fifth IPCC Working Group Report on the Physical Science Basis of Climate Change.” This report is a summary for policymakers, whereas the full report will be over 1,000 pages. The final 5th Assessment will be released in 2014, along with other reports on vulnerability and mitigation.
  11. ‘Yet another wakeup call’: Secretary of State John Kerry  said of the report: “This is yet another wakeup call: Those who deny the science or choose excuses over action are playing with fire.” He concluded that, “the response must be all hands on deck. It’s not about one country making a demand of another. It’s the science itself, demanding action from all of us.”
  12. Most comprehensive ever: President Obama’s top science adviser, John Holdren,  said the report “represents the most comprehensive and authoritative synthesis of scientific knowledge about global climate change ever generated.”
  13. Senators should pay attention: U.S. Senator Ed Markey, co-chair of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, said “If Senators truly followed the science in this report, we’d have more than 95 votes for action to match the more than 95 percent certainty that we are altering our planet for the worse.”
  14. Deniers can’t pick a response: As Penn State’s Distinguished Professor of Meteorology Michael Mann  points out, climate deniers haven’t settled on a specific narrative to attack the report. Some think the report shows a smaller threat and less certainty, some think the report is too mild to mention, while some think that consensus is a bad thing. Yet the report contains more certainty, contains a seriously unmild set of predictions, and after analyzing large streams of data, has a robust consensus on a complex issue.
  15. Blistering pace: To put the report’s findings in perspective, Stanford scientists Noah Diffenbaugh and Chris Field  found that the current pace of warming is happening 10 times faster than any time over the last 65 million years.