Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Naomi Klein

Let Them Drown

The Violence of Othering in a Warming World

Edward Said was no tree-hugger. Descended from traders, artisans and professionals, he once described himself as ‘an extreme case of an urban Palestinian whose relationship to the land is basically metaphorical’.[*]

In After the Last Sky, his meditation on the photographs of Jean Mohr, he explored the most intimate aspects of Palestinian lives, from hospitality to sports to home décor.

The tiniest detail – the placing of a picture frame, the defiant posture of a child – provoked a torrent of insight from Said. Yet when confronted with images of Palestinian farmers – tending their flocks, working the fields – the specificity suddenly evaporated.

Which crops were being cultivated? What was the state of the soil?

The availability of water? Nothing was forthcoming. ‘I continue to perceive a population of poor, suffering, occasionally colourful peasants, unchanging and collective,’ Said confessed. This perception was ‘mythic’, he acknowledged – yet it remained.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

Fascinating explanation of the intersectionality of settler colonialism and environmentalism through the lens of Edward Said.

If farming was another world for Said, those who devoted their lives to matters like air and water pollution appear to have inhabited another planet.

Speaking to his colleague Rob Nixon, he once described environmentalism as ‘the indulgence of spoiled tree-huggers who lack a proper cause’. But the environmental challenges of the Middle East are impossible to ignore for anyone immersed, as Said was, in its geopolitics.

This is a region intensely vulnerable to heat and water stress, to sea-level rise and to desertification.

A recent paper in Nature Climate Change predicts that, unless we radically lower emissions and lower them fast, large parts of the Middle East will likely ‘experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans’ by the end of this century.

And that’s about as blunt as climate scientists get. Yet environmental issues in the region still tend to be treated as afterthoughts, or luxury causes. The reason is not ignorance, or indifference. It’s just bandwidth.

Climate change is a grave threat but the most frightening impacts are in the medium term. And in the short term, there are always far more pressing threats to contend with: military occupation, air assault, systemic discrimination, embargo. Nothing can compete with that – nor should it attempt to try.

There are other reasons why environmentalism might have looked like a bourgeois playground to Said. The Israeli state has long coated its nation-building project in a green veneer – it was a key part of the Zionist ‘back to the land’ pioneer ethos.

And in this context trees, specifically, have been among the most potent weapons of land grabbing and occupation. It’s not only the countless olive and pistachio trees that have been uprooted to make way for settlements and Israeli-only roads.

It’s also the sprawling pine and eucalyptus forests that have been planted over those orchards, as well as over Palestinian villages, most notoriously by the Jewish National Fund, which, under its slogan ‘Turning the Desert Green’, boasts of having planted 250 million trees in Israel since 1901, many of them non-native to the region.

In publicity materials, the JNF bills itself as just another green NGO, concerned with forest and water management, parks and recreation. It also happens to be the largest private landowner in the state of Israel, and despite a number of complicated legal challenges, it still refuses to lease or sell land to non-Jews.

I grew up in a Jewish community where every occasion – births and deaths, Mother’s Day, bar mitzvahs – was marked with the proud purchase of a JNF tree in the person’s honour.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to understand that those feel-good faraway conifers, certificates for which papered the walls of my Montreal elementary school, were not benign – not just something to plant and later hug. In fact these trees are among the most glaring symbols of Israel’s system of official discrimination – the one that must be dismantled if peaceful co-existence is to become possible.

The JNF is an extreme and recent example of what some call ‘green colonialism’. But the phenomenon is hardly new, nor is it unique to Israel. There is a long and painful history in the Americas of beautiful pieces of wilderness being turned into conservation parks – and then that designation being used to prevent Indigenous people from accessing their ancestral territories to hunt and fish, or simply to live. It has happened again and again.

A contemporary version of this phenomenon is the carbon offset. Indigenous people from Brazil to Uganda are finding that some of the most aggressive land grabbing is being done by conservation organisations.

A forest is suddenly rebranded a carbon offset and is put off-limits to its traditional inhabitants. As a result, the carbon offset market has created a whole new class of ‘green’ human rights abuses, with farmers and Indigenous people being physically attacked by park rangers or private security when they try to access these lands.

Said’s comment about tree-huggers should be seen in this context.

And there is more. In the last year of Said’s life, Israel’s so-called ‘separation barrier’ was going up, seizing huge swathes of the West Bank, cutting Palestinian workers off from their jobs, farmers from their fields, patients from hospitals – and brutally dividing families. There was no shortage of reasons to oppose the wall on human rights grounds. Yet at the time, some of the loudest dissenting voices among Israeli Jews were not focused on any of that.

Yehudit Naot, Israel’s then environment minister, was more worried about a report informing her that ‘The separation fence … is harmful to the landscape, the flora and fauna, the ecological corridors and the drainage of the creeks.’ ‘I certainly don’t want to stop or delay the building of the fence,’ she said, but ‘I am disturbed by the environmental damage involved.’

As the Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti later observed, Naot’s ‘ministry and the National Parks Protection Authority mounted diligent rescue efforts to save an affected reserve of irises by moving it to an alternative reserve. They’ve also created tiny passages [through the wall] for animals.’

Perhaps this puts the cynicism about the green movement in context. People do tend to get cynical when their lives are treated as less important than flowers and reptiles. And yet there is so much of Said’s intellectual legacy that both illuminates and clarifies the underlying causes of the global ecological crisis, so much that points to ways we might respond that are far more inclusive than current campaign models: ways that don’t ask suffering people to shelve their concerns about war, poverty and systemic racism and first ‘save the world’ – but instead demonstrate how all these crises are interconnected, and how the solutions could be too.

In short, Said may have had no time for tree-huggers, but tree-huggers must urgently make time for Said – and for a great many other anti-imperialist, postcolonial thinkers – because without that knowledge, there is no way to understand how we ended up in this dangerous place, or to grasp the transformations required to get us out. So what follows are some thoughts – by no means complete – about what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world.

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He was and remains among our most achingly eloquent theorists of exile and homesickness – but Said’s homesickness, he always made clear, was for a home that had been so radically altered that it no longer really existed. His position was complex: he fiercely defended the right to return, but never claimed that home was fixed.

What mattered was the principle of respect for all human rights equally and the need for restorative justice to inform our actions and policies. This perspective is deeply relevant in our time of eroding coastlines, of nations disappearing beneath rising seas, of the coral reefs that sustain entire cultures being bleached white, of a balmy Arctic.

This is because the state of longing for a radically altered homeland – a home that may not even exist any longer – is something that is being rapidly, and tragically, globalised.

In March, two major peer-reviewed studies warned that sea-level rise could happen significantly faster than previously believed. One of the authors of the first study was James Hansen – perhaps the most respected climate scientist in the world. He warned that, on our current emissions trajectory, we face the ‘loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history’ – and not in thousands of years from now but as soon as this century. If we don’t demand radical change we are headed for a whole world of people searching for a home that no longer exists.

Said helps us imagine what that might look like as well. He helped to popularise the Arabic word sumud (‘to stay put, to hold on’): that steadfast refusal to leave one’s land despite the most desperate eviction attempts and even when surrounded by continuous danger.

It’s a word most associated with places like Hebron and Gaza, but it could be applied equally today to residents of coastal Louisiana who have raised their homes up on stilts so that they don’t have to evacuate, or to Pacific Islanders whose slogan is ‘We are not drowning. We are fighting.’ In countries like the Marshall Islands and Fiji and Tuvalu, they know that so much sea-level rise is inevitable that their countries likely have no future.

But they refuse just to concern themselves with the logistics of relocation, and wouldn’t even if there were safer countries willing to open their borders – a very big if, since climate refugees aren’t currently recognised under international law. Instead they are actively resisting: blockading Australian coal ships with traditional outrigger canoes, disrupting international climate negotiations with their inconvenient presence, demanding far more aggressive climate action. If there is anything worth celebrating in the Paris Agreement signed in April – and sadly, there isn’t enough – it has come about because of this kind of principled action: climate sumud.

But this only scratches of the surface of what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world. He was, of course, a giant in the study of ‘othering’ – what is described in Orientalism as ‘disregarding, essentialising, denuding the humanity of another culture, people or geographical region’.

And once the other has been firmly established, the ground is softened for any transgression: violent expulsion, land theft, occupation, invasion. Because the whole point of othering is that the other doesn’t have the same rights, the same humanity, as those making the distinction. What does this have to do with climate change? Perhaps everything.

We have dangerously warmed our world already, and our governments still refuse to take the actions necessary to halt the trend. There was a time when many had the right to claim ignorance. But for the past three decades, since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created and climate negotiations began, this refusal to lower emissions has been accompanied with full awareness of the dangers. And this kind of recklessness would have been functionally impossible without institutional racism, even if only latent.

It would have been impossible without Orientalism, without all the potent tools on offer that allow the powerful to discount the lives of the less powerful. These tools – of ranking the relative value of humans – are what allow the writing off of entire nations and ancient cultures. And they are what allowed for the digging up of all that carbon to begin with.

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Fossil fuels aren’t the sole driver of climate change – there is industrial agriculture, and deforestation – but they are the biggest. And the thing about fossil fuels is that they are so inherently dirty and toxic that they require sacrificial people and places: people whose lungs and bodies can be sacrificed to work in the coal mines, people whose lands and water can be sacrificed to open-pit mining and oil spills.

As recently as the 1970s, scientists advising the US government openly referred to certain parts of the country being designated ‘national sacrifice areas’. Think of the mountains of Appalachia, blasted off for coal mining – because so-called ‘mountain top removal’ coal mining is cheaper than digging holes underground.

There must be theories of othering to justify sacrificing an entire geography – theories about the people who lived there being so poor and backward that their lives and culture don’t deserve protection. After all, if you are a ‘hillbilly’, who cares about your hills? Turning all that coal into electricity required another layer of othering too: this time for the urban neighbourhoods next door to the power plants and refineries.

In North America, these are overwhelmingly communities of colour, black and Latino, forced to carry the toxic burden of our collective addiction to fossil fuels, with markedly higher rates of respiratory illnesses and cancers. It was in fights against this kind of ‘environmental racism’ that the climate justice movement was born.

Fossil fuel sacrifice zones dot the globe. Take the Niger Delta, poisoned with an Exxon Valdez-worth of spilled oil every year, a process Ken Saro-Wiwa, before he was murdered by his government, called ‘ecological genocide’. The executions of community leaders, he said, were ‘all for Shell’.

In my country, Canada, the decision to dig up the Alberta tar sands – a particularly heavy form of oil – has required the shredding of treaties with First Nations, treaties signed with the British Crown that guaranteed Indigenous peoples the right to continue to hunt, fish and live traditionally on their ancestral lands.

It required it because these rights are meaningless when the land is desecrated, when the rivers are polluted and the moose and fish are riddled with tumours. And it gets worse: Fort McMurray – the town at the centre of the tar sands boom, where many of the workers live and where much of the money is spent – is currently in an infernal blaze. It’s that hot and that dry. And this has something to do with what is being mined there.

Even without such dramatic events, this kind of resource extraction is a form of violence, because it does so much damage to the land and water that it brings about the end of a way of life, a death of cultures that are inseparable from the land. Severing Indigenous people’s connection to their culture used to be state policy in Canada – imposed through the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families to boarding schools where their language and cultural practices were banned, and where physical and sexual abuse were rampant.

A recent truth and reconciliation report called it ‘cultural genocide’. The trauma associated with these layers of forced separation – from land, from culture, from family – is directly linked to the epidemic of despair ravaging so many First Nations communities today. On a single Saturday night in April, in the community of Attawapiskat – population 2000 – 11 people tried to take their own lives.

Meanwhile, DeBeers runs a diamond mine on the community’s traditional territory; like all extractive projects, it had promised hope and opportunity. ‘Why don’t the people just leave?’, the politicians and pundits ask. But many do. And that departure is linked, in part, to the thousands of Indigenous women in Canada who have been murdered or gone missing, often in big cities.

Press reports rarely make the connection between violence against women and violence against the land – often to extract fossil fuels – but it exists. Every new government comes to power promising a new era of respect for Indigenous rights. They don’t deliver, because Indigenous rights, as defined by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, include the right to refuse extractive projects – even when those projects fuel national economic growth.

And that’s a problem because growth is our religion, our way of life. So even Canada’s hunky and charming new prime minister is bound and determined to build new tar sands pipelines, against the express wishes of Indigenous communities who don’t want to risk their water, or participate in the further destabilising of the climate.

Fossil fuels require sacrifice zones: they always have. And you can’t have a system built on sacrificial places and sacrificial people unless intellectual theories that justify their sacrifice exist and persist: from Manifest Destiny to Terra Nullius to Orientalism, from backward hillbillies to backward Indians. We often hear climate change blamed on ‘human nature’, on the inherent greed and short-sightedness of our species.

Or we are told we have altered the earth so much and on such a planetary scale that we are now living in the Anthropocene – the age of humans. These ways of explaining our current circumstances have a very specific, if unspoken meaning: that humans are a single type, that human nature can be essentialised to the traits that created this crisis. In this way, the systems that certain humans created, and other humans powerfully resisted, are completely let off the hook. Capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy – those sorts of system.

Diagnoses like this erase the very existence of human systems that organised life differently: systems that insist that humans must think 7 generations in the future; must be not only good citizens but also good ancestors; must take no more than they need and give back to the land in order to protect and augment the cycles of regeneration.

These systems existed and still exist, but they are erased every time we say that the climate crisis is a crisis of ‘human nature’ and that we are living in the ‘age of man’. And they come under very real attack when megaprojects are built, like the Gualcarque hydroelectric dams in Honduras, a project which, among other things, took the life of the land defender Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated in March.

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Some people insist that it doesn’t have to be this bad. We can clean up resource extraction, we don’t need to do it the way it’s been done in Honduras and the Niger Delta and the Alberta tar sands. Except that we are running out of cheap and easy ways to get at fossil fuels, which is why we have seen the rise of fracking and tar sands extraction in the first place.

This, in turn, is starting to challenge the original Faustian pact of the industrial age: that the heaviest risks would be outsourced, offloaded, onto the other – the periphery abroad and inside our own nations. It’s something that is becoming less and less possible.

Fracking is threatening some of the most picturesque parts of Britain as the sacrifice zone expands, swallowing up all kinds of places that imagined themselves safe. So this isn’t just about gasping at how ugly the tar sands are. It’s about acknowledging that there is no clean, safe, non-toxic way to run an economy powered by fossil fuels. There never was.

There is an avalanche of evidence that there is no peaceful way either. The trouble is structural. Fossil fuels, unlike renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar, are not widely distributed but highly concentrated in very specific locations, and those locations have a bad habit of being in other people’s countries. Particularly that most potent and precious of fossil fuels: oil.

This is why the project of Orientalism, of othering Arab and Muslim people, has been the silent partner of our oil dependence from the start – and inextricable, therefore, from the blowback that is climate change.

If nations and peoples are regarded as other – exotic, primitive, bloodthirsty, as Said documented in the 1970s – it is far easier to wage wars and stage coups when they get the crazy idea that they should control their own oil in their own interests. In 1953 it was the British-US collaboration to overthrow the democratically elected government of Muhammad Mossadegh after he nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP).

In 2003, exactly fifty years later, it was another UK-US co-production – the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. The reverberations from each intervention continue to jolt our world, as do the reverberations from the successful burning of all that oil. The Middle East is now squeezed in the pincer of violence caused by fossil fuels, on the one hand, and the impact of burning those fossil fuels on the other.

In his latest book, The Conflict Shoreline, the Israeli architect Eyal Weizman has a groundbreaking take on how these forces are intersecting.[†] The main way we’ve understood the border of the desert in the Middle East and North Africa, he explains, is the so-called ‘aridity line’, areas where there is on average 200 millimetres of rainfall a year, which has been considered the minimum for growing cereal crops on a large scale without irrigation.

These meteorological boundaries aren’t fixed: they have fluctuated for various reasons, whether it was Israel’s attempts to ‘green the desert’ pushing them in one direction or cyclical drought expanding the desert in the other. And now, with climate change, intensifying drought can have all kinds of impacts along this line.

Weizman points out that the Syrian border city of Daraa falls directly on the aridity line. Daraa is where Syria’s deepest drought on record brought huge numbers of displaced farmers in the years leading up to the outbreak of Syria’s civil war, and it’s where the Syrian uprising broke out in 2011.

Drought wasn’t the only factor in bringing tensions to a head. But the fact that 1.5 million people were internally displaced in Syria as a result of the drought clearly played a role. The connection between water and heat stress and conflict is a recurring, intensifying pattern all along the aridity line: all along it you see places marked by drought, water scarcity, scorching temperatures and military conflict – from Libya to Palestine, to some of the bloodiest battlefields in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But Weizman also discovered what he calls an ‘astounding coincidence’. When you map the targets of Western drone strikes onto the region, you see that ‘many of these attacks – from South Waziristan through northern Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Iraq, Gaza and Libya – are directly on or close to the 200 mm aridity line.’

The red dots on the map above represent some of the areas where strikes have been concentrated. To me this is the most striking attempt yet to visualise the brutal landscape of the climate crisis. All this was foreshadowed a decade ago in a US military report.

‘The Middle East,’ it observed, ‘has always been associated with two natural resources, oil (because of its abundance) and water (because of its scarcity).’ True enough.

And now certain patterns have become quite clear:

first, Western fighter jets followed that abundance of oil; now, Western drones are closely shadowing the lack of water, as drought exacerbates conflict.

*

Just as bombs follow oil, and drones follow drought, so boats follow both: boats filled with refugees fleeing homes on the aridity line ravaged by war and drought. And the same capacity for dehumanising the other that justified the bombs and drones is now being trained on these migrants, casting their need for security as a threat to ours, their desperate flight as some sort of invading army.

Tactics refined on the West Bank and in other occupation zones are now making their way to North America and Europe. In selling his wall on the border with Mexico, Donald Trump likes to say: ‘Ask Israel, the wall works.’

Camps are bulldozed in Calais, thousands of people drown in the Mediterranean, and the Australian government detains survivors of wars and despotic regimes in camps on the remote islands of Nauru and Manus.

Conditions are so desperate on Nauru that last month an Iranian migrant died after setting himself on fire to try to draw the world’s attention. Another migrant – a 21-year-old woman from Somalia – set herself on fire a few days later. Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister, warns that Australians ‘cannot be misty-eyed about this’ and ‘have to be very clear and determined in our national purpose’. It’s worth bearing Nauru in mind the next time a columnist in a Murdoch paper declares, as Katie Hopkins did last year, that it’s time for Britain ‘to get Australian. Bring on the gunships, force migrants back to their shores and burn the boats.’

In another bit of symbolism Nauru is one of the Pacific Islands very vulnerable to sea-level rise. Its residents, after seeing their homes turned into prisons for others, will very possibly have to migrate themselves. Tomorrow’s climate refugees have been recruited into service as today’s prison guards.

We need to understand that what is happening on Nauru, and what is happening to it, are expressions of the same logic. A culture that places so little value on black and brown lives that it is willing to let human beings disappear beneath the waves, or set themselves on fire in detention centres, will also be willing to let the countries where black and brown people live disappear beneath the waves, or desiccate in the arid heat.

When that happens, theories of human hierarchy – that we must take care of our own first – will be marshalled to rationalise these monstrous decisions. We are making this rationalisation already, if only implicitly. Although climate change will ultimately be an existential threat to all of humanity, in the short term we know that it does discriminate, hitting the poor first and worst, whether they are abandoned on the rooftops of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina or whether they are among the 36 million who according to the UN are facing hunger due to drought in Southern and East Africa.

*

This is an emergency, a present emergency, not a future one, but we aren’t acting like it. The Paris Agreement commits to keeping warming below 2°c. It’s a target that is beyond reckless. When it was unveiled in Copenhagen in 2009, the African delegates called it ‘a death sentence’. The slogan of several low-lying island nations is ‘1.5 to stay alive’. At the last minute, a clause was added to the Paris Agreement that says countries will pursue ‘efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°c’. Not only is this non-binding but it is a lie: we are making no such efforts.

The governments that made this promise are now pushing for more fracking and more tar sands development – which are utterly incompatible with 2°c, let alone 1.5°c. This is happening because the wealthiest people in the wealthiest countries in the world think they are going to be OK, that someone else is going to eat the biggest risks, that even when climate change turns up on their doorstep, they will be taken care of.

When they’re wrong things get even uglier. We had a vivid glimpse into that future when the floodwaters rose in England last December and January, inundating 16,000 homes. These communities weren’t only dealing with the wettest December on record.

They were also coping with the fact that the government has waged a relentless attack on the public agencies, and the local councils, that are on the front lines of flood defence. So understandably, there were many who wanted to change the subject away from that failure. Why, they asked, is Britain spending so much money on refugees and foreign aid when it should be taking care of its own? ‘Never mind foreign aid,’ we read in the Daily Mail. ‘What about national aid?’ ‘Why,’ a Telegraph editorial demanded, ‘should British taxpayers continue to pay for flood defences abroad when the money is needed here?’ I don’t know – maybe because Britain invented the coal-burning steam engine and has been burning fossil fuels on an industrial scale longer than any nation on Earth? But I digress.

The point is that this could have been a moment to understand that we are all affected by climate change, and must take action together and in solidarity with one another. It wasn’t, because climate change isn’t just about things getting hotter and wetter: under our current economic and political model, it’s about things getting meaner and uglier.

The most important lesson to take from all this is that there is no way to confront the climate crisis as a technocratic problem, in isolation. It must be seen in the context of austerity and privatisation, of colonialism and militarism, and of the various systems of othering needed to sustain them all. The connections and intersections between them are glaring, and yet so often resistance to them is highly compartmentalised.

The anti-austerity people rarely talk about climate change, the climate change people rarely talk about war or occupation. We rarely make the connection between the guns that take black lives on the streets of US cities and in police custody and the much larger forces that annihilate so many black lives on arid land and in precarious boats around the world.

Overcoming these disconnections – strengthening the threads tying together our various issues and movements – is, I would argue, the most pressing task of anyone concerned with social and economic justice. It is the only way to build a counterpower sufficiently robust to win against the forces protecting the highly profitable but increasingly untenable status quo.

Climate change acts as an accelerant to many of our social ills – inequality, wars, racism – but it can also be an accelerant for the opposite, for the forces working for economic and social justice and against militarism. Indeed the climate crisis – by presenting our species with an existential threat and putting us on a firm and unyielding science-based deadline – might just be the catalyst we need to knit together a great many powerful movements, bound together by a belief in the inherent worth and value of all people and united by a rejection of the sacrifice zone mentality, whether it applies to peoples or places.

We face so many overlapping and intersecting crises that we can’t afford to fix them one at a time. We need integrated solutions, solutions that radically bring down emissions, while creating huge numbers of good, unionised jobs and delivering meaningful justice to those who have been most abused and excluded under the current extractive economy.

Said died the year Iraq was invaded, living to see its libraries and museums looted, its oil ministry faithfully guarded. Amid these outrages, he found hope in the global anti-war movement, as well as in new forms of grassroots communication opened up by technology; he noted ‘the existence of alternative communities across the globe, informed by alternative news sources, and keenly aware of the environmental, human rights and libertarian impulses that bind us together in this tiny planet’.

His vision even had a place for tree-huggers. I was reminded of those words recently while I was reading up on England’s floods. Amid all the scapegoating and finger-pointing, I came across a post by a man called Liam Cox. He was upset by the way some in the media were using the disaster to rev up anti-foreigner sentiment, and he said so:

I live in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, one of the worst affected areas hit by the floods. It’s shit, everything has gotten really wet. However … I’m alive. I’m safe. My family are safe. We don’t live in fear. I’m free. There aren’t bullets flying about. There aren’t bombs going off. I’m not being forced to flee my home and I’m not being shunned by the richest country in the world or criticised by its residents.

All you morons vomiting your xenophobia … about how money should only be spent ‘on our own’ need to look at yourselves closely in the mirror. I request you ask yourselves a very important question … Am I a decent and honourable human being? Because home isn’t just the UK, home is everywhere on this planet.

I think that makes for a very fine last word.

Disaster capitalism: the shocking doctrine Tories can’t wait to unleash

One of the most startling aspects of the Brexit debate is the rapidity with which the Conservatives have set it behind them.

Within hours of the result David Cameron was on the steps of 10 Downing Street, describing this slim majority as “a very clear result” and proposing irrevocable steps to set it in motion.

Within days his chancellor, who had threatened a punishment budget only weeks earlier, was falling into line.

The referendum was manifestly won on the basis of misinformation, and puts the UK in an extremely dangerous situation, and there are several plausible scenarios for avoiding it. Yet among the candidates to succeed Cameron, even former remainers are now voting leave.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

” the unfolding crisis will provide countless pretexts for similar emergency measure that benefit business and roll back the state. So there will be no vote in parliament, no second referendum, no fresh elections: just the most massive legislative programme in history within the current parliament, in which the Tories command an absolute majority based on 37% of the votes cast in the last general election. So much for taking back democratic control.”

The prize is a free hand to exploit this mess and roll back the state for good
theguardian.com|By Howard Hotson

“Brexit means Brexit,” Theresa May stated on joining the race on Thursday. “There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum.” All the bloodshed in the Tory leadership contest masks an underlying consensus: they are all determined to block every exit from Brexit.

Given the enormous dangers and the mood in the public at large, this is a striking fact that demands explanation. One explanation can be found by extrapolating from a pattern evident in privatisations going back decades.

When the railways were privatized, the argument in favour was not merely that privatisation would save money but that it would transform our network by means of a state-of-the-art signalling system unlike anything the world had ever seen.

The experts said it could not be done, but the government pressed ahead anyway. The experts, it turned out, were right. But the over-optimistic argument had served its purpose: the railways were in private hands.

When university finance was privatised after 2010, the same tactic was used.

In order for a higher education market to work, consumers need reliable measures of teaching quality. Such measures, experts repeatedly pointed out, are impossible in principle, and proxies could actually damage teaching quality by distorting institutional priorities. Yet the government pressed ahead undeterred because the real objective was not to improve the universities: it was to continue the process of privatising them.

Something similar was attempted even more recently in school policy.

In the past year the government proposed to force all schools in England out of local authority control and into the hands of private consortiums. Once again, no evidence was provided, because the ostensible objective – as always, to drive up standards – was merely a foil for the underlying aim: to remove the entire school system from public authority and place it in private hands.

Many thought that the near meltdown of the global financial system would prompt a comprehensive rethink of the principles underlying global capitalism. Instead, it was exploited to de-fund social welfare provision on a grand scale, prompting much of the anger wrongly vented against migrants during the referendum.

What then about Brexit? The advocates of leaving the European Union have always claimed that it would be easy and, after a brief period of turmoil, positively productive.

A vast chorus of experts disagreed. The decision to leave therefore delivered an enormous economic and political shock to England, Scotland, the EU and the global economy. Why is the government not doing everything possible to mitigate that shock?

As Naomi Klein argued in The Shock Doctrine, disaster capitalism operates by delivering massive shocks to the system and then using the ensuing period of anarchy, fear and confusion to reassemble the pieces of what it has broken into a new configuration.

This is what was done in the aftermath of the financial crisis, and it is ultimately what is at stake in Brexit. The right wing of the Tory party has succeeded in throwing the UK’s affairs into complete confusion.

The losses may be enormous: the preservation of the United Kingdom in its present form is far from certain. The winnings may, at first sight, seem modest: £350m a week will not be available to save the NHS;

the free movement of labour will have to be conceded; and

Britain will lose its place at the EU negotiating table.

But the potential winnings for ruthless politicians are nevertheless enormous: the prize is the opportunity to rework an almost infinite range of detailed arrangements both inside and outside the UK, to redraw at breakneck speed the legal framework that will govern all aspects of our lives

“If you break it, you own it” is an adage in the United States (propagated by a country-wide pottery retail chain). The right wing of the Tory party has broken Britain’s relationship with the entire world. Its objective now is to own the process of reconstructing that relationship. (The US refused to own what it broke in Iraq)

As Andy Beckett pointed out in the Guardian on Friday, within minutes of the BBC declaring victory for Brexit, the free-market thinktank the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) revealed the plan B that has otherwise remained hidden from view. “The weakness of the Labour party and the resolution of the EU question have created a unique political opportunity to drive through a wide-ranging … revolution on a scale similar to that of the 1980s … This must include removing unnecessary regulatory burdens on businesses, such as those related to climate directives and investment fund[s].”

A week later, and this possibility is no longer merely theoretical: George Osborne has now proposed to cut corporation tax from 20% to below 15%, to staunch the haemorrhage of investment.

During coming months and years, the unfolding crisis will provide countless pretexts for similar emergency measure that benefit business and roll back the state.

So there will be no vote in parliament, no second referendum, no fresh elections: just the most massive legislative programme in history within the current parliament, in which the Tories command an absolute majority based on 37% of the votes cast in the last general election. So much for taking back democratic control.

The paramount need is for an opposition prepared to do its job: to oppose this project of tearing up existing arrangements with a view to rebuilding them in a configuration even more insufferable for ordinary working people.

If, as Michael Heseltine maintains, Brexit has provoked the “greatest constitutional crisis in modern times”, then what is really needed is a government of national unity. Failing that, we need an opposition of national unity, composed of all those who do not want to give Tory rightwingers a free hand.

Related: Margaret Thatcher didn’t cause Brexit – but Brexit will bring back Thatcherism | Andy Beckett

Related: George Osborne looks at corporation tax cut to attract overseas investors

 

Naomi Klein: Climate Change

“Not Just About Things Getting Hotter… It’s About Things Getting Meaner”

In a wide-ranging conversation, the journalist and climate activist discusses the recent Paris climate accords, the politics of global warming, climate change denial and environmental justice.

A week and a half ago, just as a blizzard was barreling up the East Coast, I traveled to my hometown, Canandaigua, NY, and before a standing-room-only audience of more than 400 at Finger Lakes Community College, had a conversation with author and climate activist Naomi Klein.

Our talk was part of the George M. Ewing Forum, named in honor of the late editor and publisher of our local newspaper. He was a worldly and informed man, dedicated to good talk and a lively exchange of ideas. The forum brings to town a variety of speakers each year, some of them from the area, others not.

The Finger Lakes region is a beautiful part of the country. As has often been said, it runs on water, and as I grew up, there was an increasing realization that what we have is an invaluable natural resource we could be in danger of losing.

Over the years, the threats have grown ever more complex with greater hazards revealed as pollution and development have encroached on the landscape.

As a result, much of our audience was composed of environmentalists and concerned citizens, including a contingent from We Are Seneca Lake, the grassroots campaign fighting against the use of crumbling salt mines under the hillsides to store fracked natural gas and liquefied petroleum gases. (One of its leaders is biologist, mother and Moyers & Company guest Sandra Steingraber.)

The conversation with Naomi Klein was billed as “Capitalism vs. The Climate: Reflections on the 2015 UN Climate Conference,” and while we certainly spoke a great deal about that recent climate agreement in Paris, our talk ranged more widely as we discussed her life and work, politics, the continuing right-wing denial of global warming, and the climate justice movement.

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist and author of the bestseller, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She’s a member of the board of directors for 350.org, the global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis.

Among many other honors, in 2015 she received The Izzy Award – named after the great writer and editor IF Stone — celebrating outstanding achievement in independent journalism and media.

Klein’s most recent book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, was shortlisted for the 2015 PEN Literary Awards in the nonfiction category. A documentary based on the book, directed by Avi Lewis, was released last fall.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

“If you have a culture that treats people like they’re disposable, that doesn’t value people, then, when you confront a crisis like climate change, those values will govern how you confront that crisis.

And making a connection between the refugee crisis where the statistic was that 15 children died just this past week off of Greece, I think more than 45 people drowned.

(The drowning frequency has increased lately: Turkey is patrolling the easiest crossing passages and letting the refugees take the more dangerous maritime accesses)

So if we live in a culture that allows people to disappear beneath the waves because we don’t value their lives enough, then it’s not that big a step to allow whole countries to disappear beneath the waves, which is what we are doing when we allow temperatures to increase by three degrees, four degrees.”

A week and a half ago, just as a blizzard was barreling up the East Coast, I traveled to my hometown, Canandaigua, NY, and before a standing-room-only audience…
billmoyers.com

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. I began with the most basic question:

Naomi Klein talks about "We Are Seneca Lake" activist organization in conversation with Michael Winship on January 29, 2016.

Naomi Klein talks about “We Are Seneca Lake” activist organization in conversation with Michael Winship on January 29, 2016. (All photos by Mark Blazey)

This changes everything — how?

Naomi Klein: So the ‘this’ in This Changes Everything is climate change. And the argument that I make in the book is that we find ourselves in this moment where there are no non-radical options left before us. Change or be changed, right? And what we mean by that is that climate change, if we don’t change course, if we don’t change our political and economic system, is going to change everything about our physical world. And that is what climate scientists are telling us when they say business as usual leads to three to four degrees Celsius of warming. That’s the road we are on. We can get off that road, but we’re now so far along it, we’ve put off the crucial policies for so long, that now we can’t do it gradually. We have to swerve, right? And swerving requires such a radical departure from the kind of political and economic system we have right now that we pretty much have to change everything.

We have to change the kind of free trade deals we sign. We would have to change the absolutely central role of frenetic consumption in our culture. We would have to change the role of money in politics and our political system. We would have to change our attitude towards regulating corporations. We would have to change our guiding ideology.

You know, since the 1980s we’ve been living in this era, really, of corporate rule, based on this idea that the role of government is to liberate the power of capital so that they can have as much economic growth as quickly as possible and then all good things will flow from that. And that is what justifies privatization, deregulation, cuts to corporate taxes offset by cuts to public services — all of this is incompatible with what we need to do in the face of the climate crisis. We need to invest massively in the public sphere to have a renewable energy system, to have good public transit and rail. That money needs to come from somewhere, so it’s going to have to come from the people who have the money.

And I actually believe it’s deeper than that, that it’s about changing the paradigm of a culture that is based on separateness from nature, that is based on the idea that we can dominate nature, that we are the boss, that we are in charge. Climate change challenges all of that. It says, you know, all this time that you’ve been living in this bubble apart from nature, that has been fueled by a substance that all the while has been accumulating in the atmosphere, and you told yourself you were the boss, you told yourself you could have a one-way relationship with the natural world, but now comes the response: “You thought you were in charge? Think again.” And we can either mourn our status as boss of the world and see it as some cosmic demotion — which is why I think the extreme right is so freaked out by climate change that they have to deny it. It isn’t just that it is a threat to their profits. It’s a threat to a whole worldview that says you have dominion over all things, and that’s extremely threatening.

Just after Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Bloomberg Business Week published a cover story and the cover said, “It’s global warming, stupid.” And now here we are, the two of us sitting here the day after a massive snowfall on the Atlantic seaboard. What’s that telling you, me and the rest of us to think?

That we’re really stupid? [laughter] I mean I do think that Sandy was a turning point. If you look at the polling around climate change in this country before Sandy, that was kind of the low point in terms of Americans believing that climate change was real and that humans were causing it. And I think that there have been so many messages, you know, whether it’s the California drought and the wildfires or the flooding that we just saw in the American South — it’s just getting harder and harder to deny that there’s something really, really strange going on.

We have a structural problem, because you can simultaneously understand the medium to long-term risks of climate change and also come to the conclusion that it is in your short-term economic interest to invest in oil and gas. Which is why, you know, anybody who tells you that the market is going to fix this on its own is lying to you.

And I’ve always been struck, too, by the military’s embrace of the reality of climate change, that they’ve been warning us for years about this. Because that’s why they’re going to have to fight a lot of the time.

Yeah. And I think that’s becoming clearer and clearer as well because — you know, I have to give credit to John Kerry in terms of the fact that he’s been out front making the connection between the civil war in Syria and climate change, that before the outbreak of civil war, Syria experienced the worst drought in its history and that led to an internal migration of between 1.5 and 2 million people, and when you have that kind of massive internal migration, it exacerbates tension in an already tense place.

In addition to that, beforehand you had the invasion of Iraq, which also had a little something to do with climate change in the sense that it was a war that had maybe a little something to do with oil [laughter], which is one of the substances causing climate change.

You also have the military burning these vast amounts of fossil fuels and yet saying global warming is a danger. But speaking of John Kerry, that brings up [the UN climate summit in] Paris. That was a month and a half ago now. Kerry described it as a victory for the planet. Michael T. Klare had said that Paris should be considered not just a climate summit but a peace conference, perhaps the most significant peace convocation in history. What do you think?

Michael said that before the summit, making the argument that if we don’t do what’s necessary in the face of the climate crisis, if we don’t radically bring down emissions and get to 100 percent renewable energy — which we can do very, very rapidly — if we don’t do that, then we’re going to be facing a world of conflict.

That became particularly relevant because two weeks ahead of the summit were those horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and then the world conversation really shifted, you know, almost as dramatically as after 9/11, where it was just like, okay, we were talking about climate change. That conversation is pretty much over and now we’re going to be talking about security all the time.

I was in Paris for three weeks in this period and it was pretty striking that the summit, even though it was in Paris, even though there were I believe 40,000 people who came to Paris for the summit, it barely made the front page of  Le Monde and Libération except for a couple of days, because the focus was so fervently on security issues.

So, you know, we need to make the connections, and it’s not — to me it’s not about saying this is more important than security, because that’s not a conversation you can win. I mean if people feel immediately threatened, that is going to trump climate change. It’s about showing the connections and saying these are not separate issues. We live in an interconnected world, in an interconnected time, and we need holistic solutions. We have a crisis of inequality and we need climate solutions that solve that crisis.

So in terms of what to make of Paris, the truth is, I think that the deal that those politicians managed to negotiate, there was all this euphoria. I’ve never seen leaders congratulate themselves so fervently. [laughter] It was truly unseemly. “We are awesome!” Yeah. [laughter]

And I have to say that the reporting was far too deferential, far too credulous. There were headlines like, you know, this agreement marks the end of the fossil fuel era. And then a couple weeks ago there was a piece interviewing executives from all the major oil companies about whether they felt that the Paris agreement was going to impact their business model and all of them [who] agreed to talk said not at all. And Exxon said, “We don’t expect it to impact any of our assets” and specifically said, “We don’t believe this will lead to a single stranded asset.” And now, since we know that the fossil fuel companies have five times more carbon in their proven reserves than is compatible with a two-degree temperature target — and what’s in the agreement is that we should actually try to keep it to 1.5 degrees warming Celsius — if they’re saying it’s not going to impact their assets, what they’re saying is, “Look, this is a nonbinding, non-legally binding, non-enforceable agreement and we’re going to continue with business as usual as long as we can.”

That said, the fact is that there is a very ambitious target in the agreement, [but] no policies to make it a reality, okay? So the agreement says that we pledge to keep temperatures below two degrees and we’ll endeavor to keep them below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Now, we have already increased temperatures to one degree Celsius, okay? So we’re already in the dangerous era of climate change. But we can’t stop now. It’s just the nature of it. You know, we’ve already locked in impacts. So 1.5 is an extremely ambitious target. We would need to be cutting our emissions by at least 10 percent a year or more in wealthy countries if we were going to take that target seriously. If you add up all the targets that governments brought to Paris — because the way it was structured is, we have a goal, but because we don’t believe in regulation or anything top down — and this is where the ideology comes in — everybody can just go home and voluntarily say what they’re going to do and then we’ll add it all up and hope it works out. And it turns out, no, it doesn’t work out. It adds up to three to four degrees of warming.

Did you feel that the fact that after the terror attacks there was a clamping down on people being able to demonstrate and protest outside the conference, did that have an effect, do you think, on the meetings?

I do think it had an effect, yeah, I do. There was a blanket ban on demonstrations during the summit. The way the government defined it under the state of emergency was “any gathering of more than three people of a political nature was banned.” And this was quite extraordinary. I pointed out that even George Bush and Dick Cheney didn’t ban protests after 9/11. There was not a blanket ban across the board. And that was what the Hollande government did. And it was a very, very fraught situation for France because regional elections happened during the summit and the Front National, which is the sort of fascist party in France, was gaining in the polls and so the summit became this tool for the Hollande government that was supposed to be a fantastic public relations moment for them and they were bound and determined to get that happy picture at the end where everyone’s cheering and going, “You’re awesome.” And they got it. And I do think that if demonstrations had been permitted, there would have been a different kind of debate, in particular around an issue like agriculture.

Because one of the things that was really striking about the summit is that it was the most corporate sponsored UN climate summit that any of us had ever seen. There had been encroaching corporate sponsorship at previous ones but in France you got the nuclear industry, you got the private water industry, which is very, very strong in France, and these huge agribusiness companies that sponsored the summit. And so they were marketing their product as climate solutions, whether it was so-called drought-resistant GMO seeds, or they call it climate-smart agriculture, which is the new way they’re marketing GMOs, or companies like [GDF Suez], water companies seeing water scarcity as a market opportunity for obvious reasons or the huge nuclear power companies marketing nuclear power as a better alternative to renewables.

So they all had a big megaphone inside the summit because they had access, they were sponsoring, they had a whole forum to themselves. We knew that was going to happen but the streets were supposed to be ours. The streets were the social movements, this was where we were going to be presenting our alternatives. And then we were just told, “No. You have to stay — you’re not allowed on the streets. So you can still have your little alternative summit in the middle of nowhere in the suburbs that nobody’s going to go to.” And that’s the way it played out. So I don’t know that it would have changed the agreement, but I think it would have changed people’s understanding of what happened. I think there would have been a million people in the streets of Paris without that ban. That’s what they were projecting.

And even within the conference center itself, a lot of countries never got to speak.

Oh, it was so tightly controlled.

Because I think that they realized that they didn’t need a consensus, they just needed a majority to get it through.

And it was ugly. There was a moment where it was almost like a test of “will you stand with France? Are you really going to screw France in their moment of need?” It was just ugly. And you’re talking about countries that are fighting for their own survival. They’ve got a lot of skin in this game. So it was a very, very tightly controlled summit. The good thing is that it played out over two weeks — I mean, these are long events — and it was kind of amazing to watch the city get its courage back, because at the beginning of the summit people were really scared and really tentative about being in the streets and really not sure about whether they were being disloyal. But by the end people were ready to take their city back, they were ready to take their streets back, they were ready to defend liberty. This thing in France about liberté, that this is what’s under attack. And the way that we’re going to defend ourselves is that we’re all going to stay home? Or go shopping? As if any of this sounds familiar? [laughter]

But it was particularly striking because it was Christmas shopping season so everything’s lit up and everybody’s shopping. You’re allowed to shop and you’re encouraged to shop and all the Christmas markets are on and all the football matches are on, you just can’t protest. And so at a certain point the Parisians just said, “Screw it, we’re doing it.” And so in the end people did take to the streets again and I felt really lucky to be part of that process of people getting their courage back. And I think it was very important.

We have less than a year now, as of today, of Barack Obama’s administration. What is your assessment of him as an environmental president?

Well, you know, he certainly, in the final year and change in office, he is showing us what leadership looks like. And to me it’s all the more frustrating, in a way, that he didn’t do much more of this starting immediately. What he has done in the last few years shows that there was actually quite a lot of executive power, which people were saying from the beginning. You know, as soon as it was clear, in Copenhagen in 2009, that the Senate was blocking Obama from introducing meaningful climate legislation, the push was for him to use executive authority, use the EPA, use the tool of federal leases, and there was just a refusal to do it. And now we’re seeing it in the final years, but it’s very vulnerable. You know, it’s vulnerable to a next administration. And I’m not just talking about Trump. I’m talking about Hillary Clinton, because [initially] Hillary Clinton was, when it came to the Keystone fight, ready to rubber stamp that pipeline from day one.

So I think he’s doing what needs to be done to be able to say that he’s got a good legacy. But it’s not enough. I always remember the moment after the cap and trade bill fell, after it collapsed, Bill McKibben wrote an article to the environmental movement going, “Look, we tried it your way. We tried the polite lobbying, closed door, not making a fuss, you know, give the guy a chance, let’s compromise route, and it delivered less than nothing. So now we’re going to try something else. We’re going to try street pressure, outside pressure, civil disobedience. We’re going to try being a royal pain in the neck and see if that gets results.”

I think we waited too long and lost some precious time. Because the thing about climate change is, you know, you hear the clock ticking so loudly, right?

There was a video you did for The Guardian last spring in which you said that sometimes capitalism gives us a gift, and that with the decline in global oil prices, the moment was rife for kicking the fossil fuel industry while it’s down. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that a little bit.

Oil has gone from $150 dollars a barrel to below $30 dollars a barrel in a period of 18 months. I mean this is incredible. Nobody predicted this. And, you know, it’s potentially a game changer. But it’s complicated, right? I mean it isn’t just, okay, well, this is going to be good for climate action, because when oil is cheap it encourages people to use oil. It encourages people to buy bigger cars, it encourages people to treat this commodity as if it is cheap, because it is cheap, and not think about the impacts. So we actually need oil to be more expensive. And that’s why this would be an excellent time to introduce a carbon tax.

But this comes back to the sort of central argument I’m trying to put out there, that we are not going to do the things that we need to do unless we engage in a battle of ideas. I don’t know, has anybody read or started reading Jane Mayer’s new book about the Koch brothers, Dark Money? I mean it’s an extraordinary book because it reminds us that we have been living, over the past 40 years, a very planned and concerted campaign to change the ideas that govern our societies. The Koch brothers set out to change the values, to change the core ideas that people believed in.

And there is no progressive equivalent of taking ideas seriously. So we’ve got lots of funding for campaigns for people working on all kinds of different areas but a metanarrative, like the Charles Koch metanarrative — and he’s said it explicitly — is that he is challenging collectivism, he is challenging the idea that when people get together they can do good. And he is putting forward the worldview that we’re all very familiar with that if you free the individual to pursue their self-interest that will actually benefit the majority. So you need to attack everything that is collective, whether it’s labor rights or whether it’s public health care or whether it’s regulatory action. All of this falls under the metanarrative of an attack on collectivism.

So what is the progressive metanarrative? Who funds it? Who is working on changing ideas that can say, “Actually, when we pool our resources, when we work together, we can do more and better than when we only act as individuals.” I don’t think we value that. So here we are in this moment when of course we should be introducing a carbon tax but it’s like almost unthinkable that we could. I mean, tax, we can’t say tax, everyone hates taxes, right?

So we can’t avoid those battles of ideas. We can’t avoid those big discussions about what our values are. Because if we don’t engage in them then we aren’t going to be able to introduce these very simple policy solutions. So yes, okay, the argument I made about the oil price shock is this creates the conditions where we could really change the game but we’re not going to be able to do it if we’re not willing to talk about an aggressive carbon tax. But to me, I think the Koch brothers are so interesting in the sense that it really does show us how much ideological ground we’ve lost. They never take their eye off it.

Charles Koch was asked recently whether he feels he has had enough influence. And his answer was revealing, he said, “Well, they haven’t nationalized us.” That’s his concern. So then you think about it, we would never, it would be so unthinkable to just talk about, well, why don’t we nationalize Koch Industries? That’s a crazy thing to say, but he’s thinking about it.

He’s also worrying about, “If I spend $900 million dollars on this election, by God, I want to get something back for my money.” And it’s frightening what he expects to get. But he’s disappointed in all the candidates, he said in that same interview.

Yes, he’s disappointed but he knows it could be worse. It’s amazing how much money they need to spend. Another way of thinking about it is it’s extraordinary how much money they have to spend and they don’t always win. That’s amazing.

And I do think it’s going to get harder for fossil fuel companies. It really is going to get scary. And they’re terrified of the Exxon investigations because if Exxon has been systematically misleading the public, if they knew, all of this is going to be coming out, then this raises huge questions about the legitimacy of their profits. And Exxon is the most profitable company in the history of the world, $42 billion dollars in profits in a single year. And here we are unable to pay for public transit, unable to pay for the kinds of infrastructure that we need to deal with the crisis that they have created.

This is a conversation that they’re going to really try to have not happen. And I know there are people here who are working on a carbon tax. And it’s great but often you’ll hear people say, “Well, it has to be revenue-neutral. It has to be fee and dividend. Don’t call it a tax.” Because we accept the Koch framework as a premise that if we’re going to take money from people we have to give it all back, all of it. That’s what fee and dividend means, it means we will tax you and we’ll give you the exact same amount back that you gave us. That leaves the government with nothing. So what are you going to use to pay for transit? What are you going to use to pay for a renewable energy grid? How are you going to get to 100 percent renewables? We have to talk about the fact that we need more money. It has come from somewhere. So I think it is really worth studying how the center was moved in that way.

The famous Overton window, moving us rightward. And the degree, just going back to what you were saying about the degree of denial, it’s just so flabbergasting and I was hoping you would tell the story that you tell about covering the annual meeting of the Heartland Institute and what happened with Oklahoma’s US Senator Jim Inhofe, which is such a great story.

So the Heartland Institute, which is a free market think tank that hosts this annual climate change denial summit, their influence is waning. They’re very interesting, because I think that somehow they managed to market themselves as somehow having some scientific credibility, but they’re not. They are a free market think tank and when we interviewed Joseph Bast, the head of the Heartland Institute, I asked him how he got interested in climate change and he said, very frankly, “Well, we realized that if the science was true that would allow liberals to justify pretty much any kind of regulation, so we took another look at the science.” [laughter] He’s very frank about this.

And in the book the name of the chapter is “The Right is Right” because they’re not right about the science but I believe that they understand the implications of the science better than most liberals in the sense that they absolutely understand that if climate change is real, it is the end of their ideological project. The entire scaffolding on which their attack on regulations, attacks on collective action rests falls apart. Because of course you need collective action, of course you need to regulate corporations, it’s over, it’s game over for them. So they have to do everything possible to deny the science. And what’s amazing to me is how many liberal think tanks devote almost no energy to talking about climate change.

So the issue is how hard it is to change people’s minds when they’re as invested in these ideas ideologically but also funding-wise. Jim Inhofe gets a lot of money from the coal industry. So he was supposed to be the keynote speaker of this particular Heartland conference. It was advertised, people were extremely excited to hear from him. And Joe Bast announced in the morning that James Inhofe was sick and he was not going to be regaling them that morning. People were very disappointed. It came out later — we didn’t know this at the time — I looked into it after, what was wrong with Jim Inhofe because I wasn’t sure, was he really sick or did he just for some reason think it wasn’t a good idea to hang out with these crazies?

And it turns out he really was sick and he was sick because — and he explained this — he’d gone swimming in a lake in Oklahoma and it was in the middle of a heatwave and there was an outbreak of blue-green algae, which is linked to climate change. He basically had a climate change illness. [laughter] And this is why he could not speak at the climate denial conference.

But this did not make him go, “Oh, maybe they have a point.” He sent a letter just saying, “I can’t be there because I’m sick,” basically from his hospital bed going, “Keep up the good work.” [laughter] So people sometimes ask me, “Well, how can I change the mind of my extremely right wing uncle who only listens to Fox News and so on?” And I tell them, “Honestly, I’m not sure that you should devote that much energy to trying to change his mind. You can if you want to but first, there’s a much larger group of people out there who are not that invested in protecting an extreme ideological worldview or protecting their own financial interests who actually probably believe that climate change is real but are scared, don’t know what they can do about it, are sort of in a state of soft denial, like most of us are in, like, ‘Oh, I can’t look at it, it’s just too awful.’ That’s a much better place for us to invest our energy than trying to convince James Inhofe, because if getting a climate change-related illness didn’t impact him in any way [laughter], I don’t think you just laying out the science is going to help.”

I want to change course a little bit — what brought you to this point? How did you become this articulate advocate of this cause? What changed you? When you say, this changes everything, what changed Naomi Klein?

 

Are Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg And Tech-Giant Supergroup Teaming Up Against Climate Change?

A dream team of tech giants – Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma from Alibaba, along with a host of international tech leaders – have announced they’re coming together to combat climate change.

Note:  After you read this propaganda piece, revert to this link of Naomi Klein to discover how these tech-giants are fooling their audience and customers on what they claim to support green climate https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2015/12/12/this-greenwashing-trend-of-big-business-and-its-effects-on-the-planet-and-our-own-bodies/

Tom Hale. November 30, 2015

The Breakthrough Energy Coalition hopes to inspire and, more importantly, fund start-up companies that are developing technology to tackle climate change.

The coalition also hopes to challenge the stagnant model of separate public versus private development and start a new paradigm where governments, businesses, and researchers can all collaborate and benefit together.

On their website, they say:

The existing system of basic research, clean energy investment, regulatory frameworks, and subsidies fails to sufficiently mobilize investment in truly transformative energy solutions for the future. We can’t wait for the system to change through normal cycles.

“Experience indicates that even the most promising ideas face daunting commercialization challenges and a nearly impassable Valley of Death between promising concept and viable product, which neither government funding nor conventional private investment can bridge.

“This collective failure can be addressed, in part, by a dramatically scaled-up public research pipeline, linked to a different kind of private investor with a long term commitment to new technologies who is willing to put truly patient flexible risk capital to work.”

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg announced the plan through a Facebook post on Sunday.

By no coincidence, the announcement coincides with the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris this week.

The group of billionaire super-geeks hope to add pressure and inspire the talks, stressing that addressing climate change can’t just come from governmental funding and law alone, but aslo through innovation, investment and business.

Note: First, these tech giants and billionaire have to desist investing in giant oil companies and decrease the plane flight that rely on degraded climate sources

Naomi Klein looking at the ‘greenwashing’ of big business and its effects – on the planet, and our own bodies

I denied climate change for longer than I care to admit. I knew it was happening, sure.

But I stayed pretty hazy on the details and only skimmed most news stories. I told myself the science was too complicated and the only environmentalists were dealing with it.

And I continued to behave as if there was nothing wrong with the shiny card in my wallet attesting to my “elite” frequent-flyer status.

A great many of us engage in this kind of denial. We look for a split second and then we look away.

Or maybe we do really look, but then we forget.

We engage in this odd form of on-again-off-again ecological amnesia for perfectly rational reasons.

We deny because we fear that letting in the full reality of this crisis will change everything.

Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein: ‘My doctor told me that my hormone levels were too low and that I’d probably miscarry, for the third time.

My mind raced back to the Gulf.’ Photograph: Anya Chibis for the Guardian Anya Chibis/Guardian

 

And we are right. If we continue on our current path of allowing emissions to rise year after year, major cities will drown, ancient cultures will be swallowed by the seas; our children will spend much of their lives fleeing and recovering from vicious storms and extreme droughts. Yet we continue all the same.

What is wrong with us?

I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things needed to cut emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have struggled to find a way out of this crisis.

We are stuck, because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and benefit the vast majority – are threatening to an elite minority with a stranglehold over our economy, political process and media.

That problem might not have been insurmountable had it presented itself at another point in our history.

But it is our collective misfortune that governments and scientists began talking seriously about radical cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in 1988 – the exact year that marked the dawning of “globalisation“.

The numbers are striking: in the 1990s, as the market integration project ramped up, global emissions were going up an average of 1% a year;

By the 2000s, with “emerging markets” such as China fully integrated into the world economy, emissions growth had sped up disastrously, reaching 3.4% a year.

That rapid growth rate has continued, interrupted only briefly, in 2009, by the world financial crisis.

What the climate needs now is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands is unfettered expansion.

Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.

What gets me most are not the scary studies about melting glaciers, the ones I used to avoid.

It’s the books I read to my two-year-old. Looking For A Moose is one of his favourites.

It’s about a bunch of kids who really want to see a moose. They search high and low – through a forest, a swamp, in brambly bushes and up a mountain. (The joke is that there are moose hiding on each page.) In the end, the animals all come out and the ecstatic kids proclaim: “We’ve never ever seen so many moose!” On about the 75th reading, it suddenly hit me: he might never see a moose.

I went to my computer and began to write about my time in northern Alberta, Canadian tar sands country, where members of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation told me how the moose had changed.

A woman killed one on a hunting trip, only to find the flesh had turned green.

I heard a lot about strange tumours, which locals assumed had to do with the animals drinking water contaminated by tar sand toxins. But mostly I heard about how the moose were simply gone.

And not just in Alberta. Rapid Climate Changes Turn North Woods into Moose Graveyard read a May 2012 headline in Scientific American.

A year and a half later, the New York Times reported that one of Minnesota’s two moose populations had declined from 4,000 in the 1990s to just 100.

Will my son ever see a moose?

In our desire to deal with climate change without questioning the logic of growth, we’ve been eager to look both to technology and the market for saviours. And the world’s celebrity billionaires have been happy to play their part.

In his autobiography/new age business manifesto Screw It, Let’s Do It, Richard Branson shared the inside story of his road to Damascus conversion to the fight against climate change. It was 2006 and Al Gore, on tour with An Inconvenient Truth, came to the billionaire’s home to impress upon him the dangers of global warming.”It was quite an experience,” Branson writes. “As I listened to Gore, I saw that we were looking at Armageddon.”

As he tells it, his first move was to summon Will Whitehorn, then Virgin Group’s corporate and brand development director.

“We took the decision to change the way Virgin operates on a corporate and global level. We called this new approach Gaia Capitalism in honour of James Lovelock and his revolutionary scientific view” (this is that the Earth is “one single enormous living organism”).

Not only would Gaia Capitalism “help Virgin to make a real difference in the next decade and not be ashamed to make money at the same time”, but Branson believed it could become “a new way of doing business on a global level”.

Before the year was out, he was ready to make his grand entrance on to the green scene (and he knows how to make an entrance – by parachute, by jetski, by kitesail with a naked model clinging to his back).

At the 2006 Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York, the highest power event on the philanthropic calendar, Branson pledged to spend $3bn over the next decade to develop biofuels as an alternative to oil and gas, and on other technologies to battle climate change. The sum alone was staggering, but the most elegant part was where the money would be coming from: Branson would divert the funds generated by Virgin’s fossil fuel-burning transportation lines.

In short, he was volunteering to do precisely what our governments have been unwilling to legislate: channel the profits earned from warming the planet into the costly transition away from these dangerous energy sources.

Bill Clinton was dazzled, calling the pledge “ground-breaking”. But Branson wasn’t finished: a year later, he was back with the Virgin Earth Challenge – a $25m prize for the first inventor to figure out how to sequester 1bn tonnes of carbon a year from the air “without countervailing harmful effects“.

And the best part, he said, is that if these competing geniuses crack the carbon code, the “‘doom and gloom’ scenario vanishes.

We can carry on living our lives in a pretty normal way – we can drive our cars, fly our planes.”

The idea that we can solve the climate crisis without having to change our lifestyles – certainly not by taking fewer Virgin flights – seemed the underlying assumption of all Branson’s initiatives.

In 2009, he launched the Carbon War Room, an industry group looking for ways that different sectors could lower their emissions voluntarily, and save money in the process. For many mainstream greens, Branson seemed a dream come true: a media darling out to show the world that fossil fuel-intensive companies can lead the way to a green future, using profit as the most potent tool.

Bill Gates and former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg have also used their philanthropy aggressively to shape climate solutions, the latter with large donations to green groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund, and with the supposedly enlightened climate policies he introduced as mayor.

But while talking a good game about carbon bubbles and stranded assets, Bloomberg has made no discernible attempt to manage his own vast wealth in a manner that reflects these concerns.

In fact, he helped set up Willett Advisors, a firm specialising in oil and gas assets, for both his personal and philanthropic holdings. Those gas assets may well have risen in value as a result of his environmental giving – what with, for example, EDF championing natural gas as a replacement for coal.

Perhaps there is no connection between his philanthropic priorities and his decision to entrust his fortune to the oil and gas sector. But these investment choices raise uncomfortable questions about his status as a climate hero, as well as his 2014 appointment as a UN special envoy for cities and climate change (questions Bloomberg has not answered, despite my repeated requests).

Gates has a similar firewall between mouth and money.

Though he professes great concern about climate change, the Gates Foundation had at least $1.2bn invested in oil giants BP and ExxonMobil as of December 2013, and those are only the start of his fossil fuel holdings. When he had his climate change epiphany, he, too, raced to the prospect of a silver-bullet techno-fix, without pausing to consider viable – if economically challenging – responses in the here and now.

In Ted talks, op-eds, interviews and in his annual letters, Gates repeats his call for governments massively to increase spending on research and development, with the goal of uncovering “energy miracles”.

By miracles, he means nuclear reactors that have yet to be invented (he is a major investor and chairman of nuclear startup TerraPower), machines to suck carbon out of the atmosphere (he is a primary investor in at least one such prototype) and direct climate manipulation (Gates has spent millions funding research into schemes to block the sun, and his name is on several hurricane-suppression patents).

At the same time, Gates has been dismissive of the potential of existing renewable technologies, writing off energy solutions such as rooftop solar as “cute” and “noneconomic” (these cute technologies already provide 25% of Germany’s electricity).

Almost a decade after Branson’s epiphany, it seems a good time to check in on the “win-win” crusade.

Let’s start with his “firm commitment” to spending $3bn over a decade developing a miracle fuel. The first tranche of money he diverted from his transport divisions launched Virgin Fuels (since replaced by private equity firm Virgin Green Fund). He began by investing in various agrofuel businesses, including making a bet of $130m on corn ethanol.

Virgin has attached its name to several biofuel pilot projects – one to derive jet fuel from eucalyptus trees, another from fermented gas waste – though it has not gone in as an investor. But Branson admits the miracle fuel “hasn’t been invented yet” and the fund has since moved its focus to a grab-bag of green-tinged products.

Diversifying his holdings to get a piece of the green market would hardly seem to merit the fanfare inspired by Branson’s original announcement, especially as the investments have been so unremarkable.

If he is to fulfil his $3bn pledge by 2016, by this point at least $2bn should have been spent. He’s not even close. According to Virgin Green Fund partner Evan Lovell, Virgin has contributed only around $100m to the pot, on top of the original ethanol investment, which brings the total Branson investment to around $230m. (Lovell confirmed that “we are the primary vehicle” for Branson’s promise.)

Branson refused to answer my direct questions about how much he had spent, writing that “it’s very hard to quantify the total amount… across the Group”.

His original “pledge” he now refers to as a “gesture”.

In 2009, he told Wired magazine, “in a sense, whether it’s $2bn, $3bn or $4bn is not particularly relevant”. When the deadline rolls around, he told me, “I suspect it will be less than $1bn right now” and blamed the shortfall on everything from high oil prices to the global financial crisis: “The world was quite different back in 2006… In the last eight years, our airlines have lost hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Given these explanations for falling short, it is worth looking at some of the things for which Branson did manage to find money.

In 2007, a year after seeing the climate light, he launched domestic airline Virgin America. From 40 flights a day to five destinations in its first year, it reached 177 flights a day to 23 destinations in 2013. At the same time, passengers on Virgin’s Australian airlines increased from 15 million in 2007 to 19 million in 2012. In 2009, Branson launched a new long-haul airline, Virgin Australia; in April 2013 came Little Red, a British domestic airline.

So this is what he has done since his climate change pledge: gone on a procurement spree that has seen his airlines’ greenhouse gas emissions soar by around 40%.

And it’s not just planes: Branson has unveiled Virgin Racing to compete in Formula One, (he claimed he had entered the sport only because he saw opportunities to make it greener, but quickly lost interest) and invested heavily in Virgin Galactic, his dream of launching commercial flights into space, for $250,000 per passenger. According to Fortune, by early 2013 Branson had spent “more than $200m” on this vanity project.

It can be argued – and some do – that Branson’s planet-saviour persona is an elaborate attempt to avoid the kind of tough regulatory action that was on the horizon when he had his green conversion.

In 2006, public concern about climate change was rising dramatically, particularly in the UK, where young activists used daring direct action to oppose new airports, as well as the proposed new runway at Heathrow.

At the same time, the UK government was considering a broad bill that would hit the airline sector; Gordon Brown, then chancellor, had tried to discourage flying with a marginal rise in air passenger duty. These measures posed a significant threat to Branson’s profit margins.

So, was Branson’s reinvention as a guilt-ridden planet-wrecker volunteering to solve the climate crisis little more than a cynical ploy?

All of a sudden, you could feel good about flying again – after all, the profits from that ticket to Barbados were going to help discover a miracle green fuel.

It was an even more effective conscience-cleaner than carbon offsets (though Virgin sold those, too).

As for regulations and taxes, who would want to hinder an airline supporting such a good cause? This was always Branson’s argument:

“If you hold industry back, we will not, as a nation, have the resources to come up with the clean-energy solutions we need.”

It is noteworthy that his green talk has been less voluble since David Cameron came to power and made it clear that fossil fuel-based businesses faced no serious threat of climate regulations.

There is a more charitable interpretation of what has gone wrong.

This would grant Branson his love of nature (whether watching tropical birds on his private island or ballooning over the Himalayas) and credit him with genuinely trying to figure out ways to reconcile running carbon-intensive businesses with a desire to help slow species extinction and avert climate chaos.

It would acknowledge, too, that he has thought up some creative mechanisms to try to channel profits into projects that could help keep the planet cool.

But if we grant him these good intentions, then the fact that all these projects have failed to yield results is all the more relevant. He set out to harness the profit motive to solve the crisis, but again and again, the demands of building a successful empire trumped the climate imperative.

The idea that only capitalism can save the world from a crisis it created is no longer an abstract theory; it’s a hypothesis that has been tested in the real world (And failed miserably).

We can now take a hard look at the results: at the green products shunted to the back of the supermarket shelves at the first signs of recession; at the venture capitalists who were meant to bankroll a parade of innovation but have come up far short; at the fraud-infested, boom-and-bust carbon market that has failed to cut emissions.

And, most of all, at the billionaires who were going to invent a new form of enlightened capitalism but decided, on second thoughts, that the old one was just too profitable to surrender.

At some point about 7 years ago, I realised I had become so convinced we were headed toward a grim ecological collapse that I was losing my capacity to enjoy my time in nature. The more beautiful the experience, the more I found myself grieving its loss – like someone unable to fall fully in love because she can’t stop imagining the inevitable heartbreak. Looking out over British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, at an ocean bay teeming with life, I would suddenly picture it barren – the eagles, herons, seals and otters all gone. It got worse after I covered the 2010 BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico: for two years after, I couldn’t look at any body of water without imagining it covered in oil.

This kind of ecological despair was a big part of why I resisted having kids until my late 30s. It was around the time that I began work on my book that my attitude started to shift. Some of it, no doubt, was standard-issue denial (what does one more kid matter?). But it was also that immersing myself in the international climate movement had helped me imagine various futures that were decidedly less bleak. And I was lucky: pregnant the first month we started trying.

But then, just as fast, my luck ran out. A miscarriage. An ovarian tumour. A cancer scare. Surgery. Month after month of disappointing single pink lines on pregnancy tests. Another miscarriage.

It just so happened that the five years it took to write my book were the same years my personal life was occupied with failed pharmaceutical and technological interventions and, ultimately, pregnancy and new motherhood. I tried, at first, to keep these parallel journeys segregated, but it didn’t always work. The worst part was the ceaseless invocation of our responsibilities to “our children”. I knew these expressions were heartfelt and not meant to be exclusionary, yet I couldn’t help feeling shut out.

But along the way, that feeling changed. It’s not that I got in touch with my inner Earth Mother; it’s that I started to notice that if the Earth is indeed our mother, then she is a mother facing a great many fertility challenges of her own.

I had no idea I was pregnant when I went to Louisiana to cover the BP spill.

A few days after I got home, though, I could tell something was off and did a pregnancy test. Two lines this time, but the second strangely faint. “You can’t be just a little bit pregnant,” the saying goes. And yet that is what I seemed to be.

After more tests, my doctor told me my hormone levels were much too low and I’d probably miscarry, for the third time. My mind raced back to the Gulf – the toxic fumes I had breathed in for days and the contaminated water I had waded in. I searched on the chemicals BP was using in huge quantities, and found reams of online chatter linking them to miscarriages. Whatever was happening, I had no doubt that it was my doing.

After a week of monitoring, the pregnancy was diagnosed as ectopic – the embryo had implanted itself outside the uterus, most likely in a fallopian tube. I was rushed to the emergency room. The somewhat creepy treatment is one or more injections of methotrexate, a drug used in chemotherapy to arrest cell development (and carrying many of the side-effects). Once foetal development has stopped, the pregnancy miscarries, but it can take weeks.

It was a tough, drawn-out loss for my husband and me. But it was also a relief to learn that the miscarriage had nothing to do with the Gulf. Knowing that did make me think a little differently about my time covering the spill, however. As I waited for the pregnancy to “resolve”, I thought in particular about a long day spent on the Flounder Pounder, a boat a group of us had chartered to look for evidence that the oil had entered the marshlands.

Our guide was Jonathan Henderson of the Gulf Restoration Network, a heroic local organisation devoted to repairing the damage done to the wetlands by the oil and gas industry. As we navigated the narrow bayous of the Mississippi Delta, Henderson leant far over the side to get a better look at the bright green grass. What concerned him most was not what we were all seeing – fish jumping in fouled water, Roseau cane coated in oil – but something much harder to detect without a microscope and sample jars.

Spring is the start of spawning season on the Gulf Coast, and Henderson knew these marshes were teeming with nearly invisible zooplankton and tiny juveniles that would develop into adult shrimp, oysters, crabs and fin fish. In these fragile weeks, the marsh grass acts as an aquatic incubator, providing nutrients and protection from predators. “Everything is born in these wetlands,” he said.

The prospects for these microscopic creatures did not look good. Each wave brought in more oil and dispersants, sending levels of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) soaring. And this was all happening at the worst possible moment in the biological calendar: not only shellfish, but also bluefin tuna, grouper, snapper, mackerel, marlin and swordfish were all spawning. Out in the open water, floating clouds of translucent proto-life were just waiting for one of the countless plumes of oil and dispersants to pass through them like an angel of death.

Unlike the oil-coated pelicans and sea turtles, these deaths would attract no media attention, just as they would go uncounted in official assessments of the spill’s damage. If a certain species of larva was in the process of being snuffed out, we would likely not find out about it for years, and then, rather than some camera-ready mass die-off, there would just be… nothing. An absence. A hole in the life cycle.

As our boat rocked in that terrible place – the sky buzzing with Black Hawk helicopters and snowy white egrets – I had the distinct feeling we were suspended not in water but in amniotic fluid, immersed in a massive multi-species miscarriage. When I learned that I, too, was in the early stages of creating an ill-fated embryo, I started to think of that time in the marsh as my miscarriage inside a miscarriage. It was then that I let go of the idea that infertility made me some sort of exile from nature, and began to feel what I can only describe as a kinship of the infertile.

A few months after I stopped going to the fertility clinic, a friend recommended a naturopathic doctor. This practitioner had her own theories about why so many women without an obvious medical reason were having trouble conceiving. Carrying a baby is one of the hardest physical tasks we can ask of ourselves, she said, and if our bodies decline the task, it is often a sign that they are facing too many other demands – high-stress work, or the physical stress of having to metabolise toxins, or just the stresses of modern life.

Most fertility clinics use drugs and technology to override this, and they work for a lot of people. But if they do not (and they often do not), women are frequently left even more stressed, their hormones more out of whack. The naturopath proposed the opposite approach: try to figure out what might be overtaxing my system, and then remove those things. After a series of tests, I was diagnosed with a whole mess of allergies I didn’t know I had, as well as adrenal insufficiency and low cortisol levels. The doctor asked me a lot of questions, including how many hours I had spent in the air over the past year. “Why?” I asked warily. “Because of the radiation. There have been some studies done with flight attendants that show it might not be good for fertility.”

I admit I was far from convinced that this approach would result in a pregnancy, or even that the science behind it was wholly sound. Then again, the worst that could happen was that I’d end up healthier. So I did it all. The yoga, the meditation, the dietary changes (the usual wars on wheat, gluten, dairy and sugar, as well as more esoteric odds and ends). I went to acupuncture and drank bitter Chinese herbs; my kitchen counter became a gallery of powders and supplements. I left Toronto and moved to rural British Columbia. This is the part of the world where my parents live, where my grandparents are buried.

Gradually, I learned to identify a half-dozen birds by sound, and sea mammals by the ripples on the water’s surface. My frequent-flyer status expired for the first time in a decade, and I was glad.

For the first few months, the hardest part of the pregnancy was believing everything was normal. No matter how many tests came back with reassuring results, I stayed braced for tragedy. What helped most was hiking, and during the final anxious weeks, I would calm my nerves by walking for as long as my sore hips would let me on a trail along a pristine creek. I kept my eyes open for silvery salmon smolts making their journey to the sea after months of incubation in shallow estuaries.

And I would picture the cohos, pinks and chums battling the rapids and falls, determined to reach the spawning grounds where they were born. This was my son’s determination, I would tell myself. He was clearly a fighter, having managed to make his way to me despite the odds; he would find a way to be born safely, too.

I don’t know why this pregnancy succeeded any more than I know why earlier pregnancies failed – and neither do my doctors. Infertility is just one of the many areas in which we humans are confronted with our oceans of ignorance. So, mostly, I feel lucky.

And I suppose a part of me is still in that oiled Louisiana marsh, floating in a sea of poisoned larvae and embryos, with my own ill-fated embryo inside me. It’s not self-pity that keeps me returning to that sad place. It’s the conviction that there is something valuable in the body-memory of slamming up against a biological limit – of running out of chances – something we all need to learn. We are built to survive, gifted with adrenaline and embedded with multiple biological redundancies that allow us the luxury of second, third and fourth chances. So are our oceans. So is the atmosphere.

But surviving is not the same as thriving, not the same as living well. For a great many species, it’s not the same as being able to nurture and produce new life. With proper care, we stretch and bend amazingly well. But we break, too – our individual bodies, as well as the communities and ecosystems that support us.

This is an edited extract from This Changes Everything: Capitalism v The Climate, by Naomi Klein, published next week by Allen Lane at £20. To order a copy for £13.50, with free UK p&p, go to theguardian.com/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846.

 

 

 

 

The Case for Sanctions Against Israel

Ebook now available for download for free.

Leading international voices argue for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

In July 2011, Israel passed legislation outlawing the public support of boycott activities against the state, corporations, and settlements, adding a crackdown on free speech to its continuing blockade of Gaza and the expansion of illegal settlements.

Nonetheless, the campaign for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) continues to grow in strength within Israel and Palestine, as well as in Europe and the US.

This essential intervention considers all sides of the movement—including detailed comparisons with the South African experience—and contains contributions from both sides of the separation wall, along with a stellar list of international commentators.

With contributions by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, Merav Amir, Hind Awwad, Mustafa Barghouthi, Omar Barghouti, Dalit Baum, Joel Beinin, John Berger, Angela Davis, Nada Elia, Marc H. Ellis, Noura Erakat, Neve Gordon, Ran Greenstein, Ronald Kasrils, Jamal Khader, Naomi Klein, Paul Laverty, Mark LeVine, David Lloyd, Ken Loach, Haneen Maikey, Rebecca O’Brien, Ilan Pappe, Jonathan Pollak, Laura Pulido, Lisa Taraki, Rebecca Vilkomerson, Michael Warschawski, and Slavoj Žižek

Is Real Change handicapped by Professional Activism?

It’s disconcerting to find so few faces in the prominent ranks of the environmental movement that reflect the realities and experiences of those bearing the brunt of climate collapse.

Estimates show that since 1990 more than 90% of natural disasters have occurred in poor countries and that, globally, communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by air, soil and water pollution.

Numbers also demonstrate that low-income households are hit the hardest by disasters, due to factors such as poor infrastructure and economic instability.

Yet those making strategic decisions are sitting in air-conditioned board rooms, hoping their conversations will pave the way for profound systemic change. Those most impacted by socioeconomic ills and environmental degradation are rarely present at those tables.

This disconnect is quite alarming. Those of us frustrated with this scenario have turned to a deeper analysis and framework over the last decade—that of climate justice. Defining “climage” justice is a work in progress; honoring and integrating it are lifelong struggles.

Henia Belalia posted on AlerNet this Oct. 29, 2013:

Is Professional Activism Getting in the Way of Real Change?   

“With budgets and voices so loud, professionals’ messages overshadow the call for uprisings coming from the trenches.

  

To tackle the root (read: radical) causes of the climate crisis, we must first acknowledge that environmental degradation exacerbates existing economic, racial and social injustices—an interconnectedness that should define our analysis and actions.

To truly win, land and justice defenders must recognize overlapping systems of oppression within this capitalist structure, and take strategic cues from the communities most impacted by colonization, militarism and poverty. That means building movements across issues and beyond divides based on race, class and gender, while elevating the voices that have been historically marginalized: indigenous peoples, communities of color, women, LGBTQ people, and the low-income population.

To do so will take a profound decolonization of minds and professional institutions.

For many in this country, resistance isn’t a choice—it’s not fashionable—it’s plain survival.

Walking through the streets of northern Philadelphia, my heart sinks. The rundown streets of a forgotten city, its gifts and peoples deemed disposable by the state’s corporate and governmental elites. Empty lots, dozens of schools shut down, despairingly long waiting-lists for access to public education, while across the invisible divide, bright lights shine and champagne glasses clink, unperturbed.

In the Far Rockaways of New York City, I come across wounds still bleeding, left open to the winds. Memories of Hurricane Sandy lie in the debris lining the sidewalks, the closed-down businesses and uneven pavements, the local hospital on the brink of closure.

The mass incarcerations of our brothers, fathers, lovers of color, stuck in vicious cycles of debt, drugs and street violence, the straight shot from a poor home to a gray prison cell. The overflowing detention centers, filled with terrified youth ripped from their families, many of them waiting to be deported to countries they haven’t set foot in since early childhood.

Indigenous nations, whose land we’re standing on, surviving 500 years of cultural and ethnic genocide, in the form of boarding schools, involuntary sterilization of their women, and broken treaties.

These are the unsung faces of the resistance. The lived experiences of the warriors and very survival should not only drive the direction of our movements, but will inevitably determine the success of our struggle for collective liberation.

Instead, within the existing mainstream culture, while organizing has shifted to career-based models, anti-oppression work has become fashionable, and even worse, fundable.

Through training, some may have learned the politically correct language to use, but much of the “anti-oppression” process has remained superficial, void of a real consideration for intersections of race, class and gender. This has resulted in a few token organizers of color hired into the ranks of respectable positions in big non-governmental organizations, with an unspoken expectation that they will be speaking for other brothers and sisters of color.

Meanwhile, for those coming from low-income households or without a college education, the doors of opportunity within the environmental and climate movement are almost always out of reach.

For a person once seduced by an organizing career and its false promises of liberation, it was a rude awakening. As a brown migrant woman, often tokenized as the “good kind of Arab,” if I wanted a meaningful voice in this movement, I was going to have to take up space for myself, much like many had done before me. That also meant taking responsibility for my own layers of privilege, like my college education and access to resources, that most in my family aren’t privy to.

The professionalization of change-making has created a non-profit industrial complex (NPIC) which hinders rather than promotes liberation movements. At Power Shift 2011, a national climate conference bringing together thousands of youth, there was a literal physical divide between the workshop spaces for the college students (mostly white middle-class) and the front-line communities (low-income, mostly youth of color). Since they were assigned different training tracks and curriculum, one of the only overlaps was during keynote speeches.

This year, at the same conference, several delegations of marginalized youth were promised funds for food and transportation that were either never or only partially delivered. These practices are counter-productive to social change, as they perpetuate the very systemic oppression we’re fighting. These practices are counter-productive to social change, as they perpetuate the very systemic oppression we’re fighting.

Meanwhile, NGOs are competing for membership and campaign victories, racing for measurable results that will prove to their funders that they deserve yet more money.

In a 9-year period, big greens received over $10 billion in funding, with only 15% of grants (between 2007-2009) allotted to marginalized communities. This discrepancy is appalling, especially given the fact that more money means more institutional costs and infrastructure, which often translates to compromises and watered-down actions.

This top-down funding strategy ignores the history of resistance—that large-scale social change stems from the grassroots and a sturdy leadership from the oppressed peoples who have a vested interest in fighting for freedom.

It’s hard to imagine a popular uprising being initiated by those relying on the comforts of paychecks and organizational stability, so those voices shouldn’t dominate the narrative. Often it’s professional activists heard shouting into megaphones, calling for escalation and taking it to the streets. As economies crash, natural disasters multiply, and countries are torn apart by war, that call rings true.

But what happens when an organization like MoveOn.org adopts Occupy’s grassroots message for the purpose of publicizing nationwide direct action trainings, but discourages trainers from promoting civil disobedience because of their organizational politics?

Or when the Natural Resources Defense Council and World Wildlife Fund work with the fossil-fuel industry, the latter quite satisfied to  buy them out and define their own opposition in the process? These examples show a disconnect and an inability to build genuine relationships with those on the ground.

With budgets and voices so loud, the professionals’ messages overshadow the call for uprisings coming from the trenches. Though those cries may not be amplified by megaphones or on the front pages of websites, they can be heard rumbling through the neighborhoods, detention centers, prisons, native reservations, homeless shelters, and broken-down apartment buildings.

So the question is, how will the mainstream respond when front-line communities take to the streets, when communities of color reclaim our power and stand our ground? Will the movement be ready and willing to demonstrate intentional and genuine solidarity?

With anti-oppression on the tip of everyone’s tongues these days, it is critical to remind ourselves that working with those who’ve been historically oppressed is not about atonement of guilt, stroking of egos, or moving personal agendas forward.

Andrea Smith refers to this in a recent piece, as an “  entire ally industrial complex   (that) has developed around the professional confession of privilege.

This practice of atonement perpetuates power imbalances by re-centralizing the voices and experiences of those carrying historical privilege, this time elevating them to the role of righteous confessors. This “anti-oppression” work Smith writes about is missing the mark entirely.

From Naomi Klein to Van Jones, from organizers of the ’99 WTO protest to blockaders of the Keystone XL pipeline in Texas, a similar message resonates: the non-profit industrial complex needs to deepen its class analysis, tackle white supremacy within its own institutions, and dump the colonialist “savior” syndrome.

Professional activists must challenge institutionalized and structural privilege within their own organizations, in terms of air time, resources, influence, and how much space they take up.

What can professional activists do to decolonize the mainstream movement?

1. Make financial resources available to those communities that need it most, rather than filling the bank accounts of multi-million-dollar organizations.

2. Open up seats at the decision-making table for the freedom fighters on the front lines, rather than inviting them for the photo op once all the strategy has been laid out.

3. Get out of the way when those whose stories must be told are speaking up, rather than writing up studies about their experience.

4. Take the time to learn and practice genuine ally-ship that doesn’t translate to condescending tokenism.

To reflect integrity, this process cannot be driven by the need for personal and organizational recognition. Challenging our own internalized -isms is a constant work in progress, one that can take a lifetime.

From the jungles of Mexico, the Zapatistas wisely remind us of the longevity of this process, that we must walk on asking questions—”preguntando caminamos.”

To those of you on the front lines, to the brothers and sisters of color wearing ancestors in our flesh, carrying in our bodies the historical traumas of a system designed to break our spirits and exterminate us, it is a testament to our resilience that we’re still here, that we’ve survived over time.

To those who still wonder when the time for a radical shift will come, it has. Our day-to-day reality won’t be getting scary somewhere down the road, in some distant future—there’s a war being waged against our communities right now!

In this day of climate crises and economic collapse, of lingering white supremacy and patriarchy, the struggle is as much about resistance as it is about community survival programs, as much about taking down the fossil fuel industry as decolonizing our own minds. This moment calls upon us to get real about what that will take from us, what the responsibilities entail, and what real solidarity looks like.

If this movement is serious about winning and shifting our current paradigm, we are going to have to give up some comforts and get out of the way when the times call for it.

Note: Hénia Belalia is on the National Coordinating Committee of Deep Roots United Front, and the former director of Peaceful Uprising. She identifies as a climate justice defender, theater director and day dreamer of collective liberation.
Her work is rooted in a constantly evolving practice of allyship to frontlines of struggle, with a focus on the intersections of environmental and social justice.

adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

November 2019
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