Nebraska drowns. New York is entombed in ice. Florida cities are flattened. California burns. An unspoken but very real current of fear spreads. Who will be hit next? Today’s Washington Post sums it up:
“In 2018, it is estimated that natural disasters cost the nation almost $100 billion and took nearly 250 lives. It turns out there is nowhere in the United States that is particularly insulated from everything. … declarations that the communities will bounce back stronger than ever are made. Hashtags like #houstonstrong spread on social media. But for some smaller towns, the question is not when they will rebuild — but whether they will rebuild at all.”
From corporate board rooms to Air Force bases to Black and poor neighborhoods to college campuses to the reeking-of-liquor back rooms of our politicians, this Climate Change stuff is for real. It is no longer the jabber of middle-class tree-huggers. The movement is concentrated in Europe, especially England, and it is spreading. Awareness grows that something needs to be done.
Americans ask, won’t the next disaster probably miss me? I don’t live in Florida. The year 2030, that’s a long ways off, isn’t it? 2050? I’ll be dead by then. But what about my children? More importantly to business moguls, is there a way I can make money off this stuff? Politicians ask if it can get me some votes in the next election? And for more and more people there is rage. In the words of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old from Sweden who started a “climate strike” outside Sweden’s parliament last year:
“You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in solutions that will enable you to carry on like before!”
Climate Change is making headlines, even in the United States, as a worldwide mass movement is taking hold. The term “Climate Desperation” is making the rounds. In London, tens of thousands of supporters of Extinction Rebellion (XR) have been taking to the streets, blocking key intersections and bridges, even gluing themselves — quite literally — to financial institutions. They focus on three core demands:
1) Tell the truth
The government must tell the truth about the scale of the ecological crisis by declaring a climate emergency, “working with other groups and institutions to communicate the urgent need for change”.
2) Zero emissions by 2025
The UK must drastically cut its greenhouse gas emissions, hitting net zero by 2025.
3) Citizens’ assembly
The government must create a citizens’ assembly to hear evidence and devise policy to tackle the Climate Crisis.
XR in the U.S. adds a fourth demand:
4) Social justice, including Reparations
They demand a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty; establishes reparations and remediation led by and for Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and poor communities for years of environmental injustice.
- In not-so-merry Old England, the staid British Guardian has a large daily Climate Change section which you might call the “Extinction Rebellion Daily.” 36% of the British public supports XR’s tactics, despite the inconveniences they cause.
- Labour Party head Jeremy Corbyn supports the protests and has denounced the British government’s failure to spend its £100 million fund allocated in 2015 to support clean air projects.
- Activists who took part in the XR protests, calling themselves the Climate Emergency Independents, have announced they will run nine candidates in the upcoming May 23 parliamentary elections.
- XR is spreading worldwide (the Middle East, Africa, Australia) and growing fast in the United States on the Coasts, with over 40 locals including Miami, Tampa Bay, Gainesville and Orlando, in Florida.
- In France, the gilets jaunes who shook France last year in the cause of social justice have begun to pose “a fundamental question for humanity about the link between social justice and ecological justice.”
Even Politico Europe grumbles, “The climate change activists have proposals that are worth considering.”
Says British Petroleum:
“We’re predicting a bright future for solar. At BP, we see possibilities in this fast-growing energy source, from solar farms that float on water to beer brewed using energy captured from the sun. And, whatever the weather, our cleaner-burning natural gas provides the perfect partner to renewables for those days when the wind drops and the sun fails to shine.”
One can drown in the Mainstream.
The National Basketball Association has announced a hashtag #greenNBA, and says it is going to be planting some trees. Florida has “Gone Green”! Saint Petersburg, Florida, has passed the “Integrated Sustainability Action Plan” — a call to achieve 100% green energy use. Energy behemoth Duke Energy proclaims, “Clean energy solutions for businesses are improving the environment — and your bottom line.”
Citizens for Energy Choices are gathering signatures in Florida for the “Florida Changes to Energy Market Initiative,” which would allow consumers to choose their electricity providers. Most importantly, it would allow homeowners to install their own solar panels and sell excess electricity to their neighbors, striking a strong blow against the energy monopolies.
Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has embraced the Green New Deal. Progressive Democrats of America is holding Green New Deal Town Halls. Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Peter Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Andrew Yang, Amy Klobuchar, and Kristin Gillibrand are among its supporters with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Resolutions are getting passed left and right by local governments. GreenBiz calls on small business to begin girding their loins for battle against big business forces that would try to freeze them out of the future profits.
Duke Energy says that by combining nuclear, renewables and hydroelectric power, about 40% of Duke Energy’s electric generation puts out no greenhouse emissions. (They call nuclear “renewable.”)
It would seem that we have Green days ahead. But here are some sobering numbers. According to the April 22, 2019 New York Times:
“Hydropower, wind and solar contribute about 22% of the total, and their share grows yearly. But the net amount of energy generated by hydrocarbons is growing yearly, too. It’s all rising because demand is rising. Global hydrocarbon producers, meanwhile, have so much product in reserve that burning even half of it would leave us with slightly worse than heads-or-tails odds of staying under the two-degree-Celsius threshold that, according to climate models, could bring mass famine, drought, flooding and fires.”
To pose the question simply, it is great that action is being taken at so many levels of society. But action has to be taken on a certain scale — a gigantic scale — if catastrophe is to be averted. The same Times article continues:
“Absent a coherent strategy, opportunists can step in and benefit in wily ways from the shifting landscape. Tax-supported renewables in Texas take coal plants offline, but they also support oil extraction. Technology advances, but not the system underneath. Faced with this volatile and chaotic situation, the system does what it does best: It searches out profits in the short term.”
Opportunism and criminality apply at both the corporate level, and on the political scene. Resolutions may pass, tax breaks for solar panels may be allowed. But uprooting the entire auto-based transportation system to replace it with a rail system? The Green New Deal calls for bold measures. But the Ocasio-Cortez resolution centers on legislation. Can our legislatures even keep up the pace of replacing our bridges and sewers as they break down? They all know better.
Will the people step up?
Nor is the resistance going to come from bankers and politicians. As the Guardian explains:
“The idea that we can change the whole basis of our planetary economy without pain and inconvenience for the global middle classes is simply false. The enormous political challenge is to ensure that the pain of adjustment towards a carbon-neutral economy is fairly distributed. At the moment the pain is concentrated on those least able to bear it … [This] is also true within the rich countries which consume more than they sustainably can. In the west it is the poor who will be hit worst by rising prices for food and fuel.”
The Ocasio-Cortez Green New Deal acknowledges this. On paper, they advocate protecting the poor and People of Color, and in fact mobilizing them as leaders of the whole process. But they are trapped within the confines of the Democratic Party. They know that defeating the Climate Crisis means overturning the entire political structure whose largesse they are completely dependent on. So making just incremental changes leaves us “with slightly worse than heads-or-tails odds of staying under the two-degree-Celsius threshold that, according to climate models, could bring mass famine, drought, flooding and fires.”
More left forces are trying to engage this. Even DSA and PDA are aware. Thus a gathering of Sierra Club and DSA members stoutly shut down an attempt to remove “New Deal” from their Green New Deal group, insisting that its Jobs, Healthcare, Housing aspects must not be shoved aside.
As noted above, XR is becoming a force, largely eschewing electoral politics in favor of direct action in the streets. It is growing fast.
The Green New Deal in its current form was first developed by the Green Party. It was written by Howie Hawkins, who won 5% in his 2020 run for New York governor. Its call for an Economic Bill of Rights laid the foundation for Green New Deal Social Justice platforms put forward by others since then. It includes:
- The right to employment through a Full Employment Program.
- Worker’s rights including the right to a living wage.
- The right to quality health care (Medicare for All).
- The right to a tuition-free … public education.
- The right to decent affordable housing.
- The right to accessible and affordable utilities.
The Green Party pursues an electoral strategy and expects to make the Green New Deal its leading issue in its 2020 presidential run.
Then there is System Change, an “ecosocialist” organization whose Points of Unity begin:
- The current ecological crisis results from the capitalist system, which values profits for a global ruling elite over people and the planet. It must therefore be confronted through an international mass movement of working people around the world.
- We are for building a multi-racial, multi-ethnic left united against the ecological destruction spawned by capitalism. Movements for sustainability and against ecological degradation must be led, to the fullest extent possible, by those who are most directly affected and who therefore have the highest stake in the outcome of the struggles we engage in.
They have a dozen chapters formed or forming in the United States and Canada, predominantly on the. West Coast.
The Environmental movement has its roots in the Middle Class. As such, it long remained alienated from working class people who feared more for their jobs than a seemingly “distant” issue. That has profoundly changed. But within the current movement, the struggle goes on.
It’s not simply that people need to be brought to understand the connections between all these issues in the abstract. That’s the easy part. But we are up against the most powerful forces on the planet, who have trillions invested in in wringing the last drop of profit from the authoritarian system they already have, from fossil fuels to a gas-guzzling highway system. In addition, a thoroughly democratic, de-centralized system built on renewables threatens a system that economically depends on things NOT being renewable.
These forces will give ground on strictly environmental reforms, and are already scrambling to turn the “environmental craze” into corporate profit. But they will go to the mat in opposing things like paying a living wage or housing and feeding our people.
One vulnerability of mass movements is that as movements, they are pushed and pulled by the forces around them. Without organized leadership, they are thus very vulnerable to circumstance. Winning the Green New Deal in any meaningful form entails a struggle for power, and cannot depend on the spontaneous forces in play.
The Green New Deal with its Economic Bill of Rights, its steadfast call for a full slate of social reforms going beyond the boundaries of narrow environmentalism, and its symbiotic relationship with eco-socialism, will require a fully-developed political strategy to gain the support from the vast majority of people who will be required for Climate Change to be engaged.
Consider a simple scenario. Multiply it 1,000 times over. A million times. A key point of our struggle is that a culture built around cars and highways must be replaced by a comprehensive system of mass transportation. A neighborhood must be plowed under to make way for a major fast rail depot. You live in that neighborhood, don’t have the money to move, don’t have a place to move to. If the bulldozers simply move in and destroy your home, you and your family will end up starving in a wretched disease-ridden refugee camp.
Yes, building the depot is necessary, but will you and your neighbors be willing to be sacrificed for a cause years down the road? Or will you fight with your last breath — right now — for yourself and the lives of your children? The battle against Climate Change is such that people will only join in if they have a full role in making the hard decisions that will be required, and their basic human needs are met. That will require fighting for power — people’s power — and an Economic Bill of Rights.
Otherwise, the alternative is global civil war, the living hell of “Mad Max the Road Warrior.” And Reparations must be a key part of that strategy or we also face the descent into race war and genocide.
So “Climate Desperation” is joining our vocabulary. That phrase recognizes that incrementalism, the hallmark of American liberalism — which has been the order of the day for decades and centuries — will no longer do. Now, the people have to win, and win fast, in order to survive. That changes everything.
— Jeff Roby
May 2, 2019