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Changes in Latin America

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics on February 22, 2019 at 3:57 am

By Dave Anderson – February 21, 2019

While Venezuela’s alarming humanitarian and political crisis has
rightly grabbed our attention, another disturbing event in Latin
America has been forgotten. That event was the New Year’s Day
inauguration in Brazil of former Army captain Jair Bolsonaro as
president. His ascension marked the most drastic political change in
the country since military rule ended more than three decades ago.
Bolsonaro is a fervent supporter of the “glorious” military
dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. It was “20 years of
order and progress,” he said.

He is enthusiastic about torture and has threatened to murder and
imprison his opponents. He is known for bigoted comments about the
poor, minorities, the LGBT community and assertive women. He told a
female legislator that she was too ugly to rape. He also said he would
rather find out that his son had died in a car crash than learn that
his son is gay.

Bolsonaro told his inaugural crowd, “I come before the nation today, a
day in which the people have rid themselves of socialism, the
inversion of values, statism and political correctness.” He said
Brazil is like “a patient whose … whole body needs amputating.” He
could reverse a generation of progress instituted by the Workers’
Party.

Bolsonaro wants to open up protected indigenous territories in the
Amazon rainforest to mining, cattle ranching and farming.
Environmentalists warn that this will speed up global climate change.
But his foreign minister Ernesto Araujo has said climate change is a
“cultural Marxist” hoax created by the Chinese.

The global financial community was giddy about Bolsonaro’s election.
In an investor call, Timothy Hassinger, chief executive officer of
Lindsay Corp., the Nebraska-based farming equipment manufacturer,
referred to Bolsonaro as “strongly pro-ag,” calling his election a
“bullish opportunity for us.”

Bolsonaro’s chief economic adviser, Paulo Guedes, is a right-wing
banker, who has promised to deregulate the economy, cut the public
pension system, revise the tax code to favor business and privatize
state-owned firms. This is the cruel neo-liberal playbook used by
University of Chicago-trained economists of the Chilean dictatorship
of Augusto Pinochet. It caused a great deal of suffering for the
majority of Chileans but it was successfully carried out because
political opposition and the labor movement were crushed. Guedes is a
“Chicago boy” alumnus who taught economics in Chile during the
Pinochet era.

Bolsonaro was the keynote speaker at the World Economic Forum in Davos
in January. At this shindig for the planet’s economic elite, Reuters
reported that the Brazilian president “threw out the welcome mat for
big business and foreign investors.” He got a warm reception.

This is a big change. It was only a few years ago that progressive
governments were in power throughout Latin America. Beginning in the
1990s, there was a “Pink Tide” of self-proclaimed socialist and
democratically elected governments in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil,
Chile, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela and
Peru. They weren’t communist (or red) but a more moderate version of
the left (therefore pink).

Last October, the democratic socialist magazine Dissent hosted a
conference entitled “The Future of the Left in the Americas.”
Historian Patrick Iber writes that the “Pink Tide” governments were
quite diverse. He says, “One point of debate at the conference was how
to define the left, given that some governments that describe
themselves as on the left engage in authoritarian practices, are
overseeing large increases in poverty rates, or have incorporated
criminal enterprises into the state.”

Iber notes, “To many international observers, there seemed to be a
more radical, self-described ‘Bolivarian’ wing represented by
Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and possibly Argentina, with a
more social democratic left in Brazil, Uruguay and Chile.” He says
that division is somewhat simplistic and that it can be confusing to
categorize one of the groups as more left-wing.

“…(W)hat mattered more,” he stresses, “was that in most of the
Bolivarian countries the old party systems had collapsed, leading to
the quick creation of new hegemonic parties that used charismatic
leadership to hold coalitions together. This more confrontational
style polarized electorates. It put a primacy on loyalty, and often on
lashing out at enemies, many real and some imagined. The social
democratic countries operated within more conventional limits of
democratic politics, with all of the inevitable roadblocks and
disappointments that come with sharing power.”

All of the left-wing governments benefited from one of the biggest
commodities booms in modern times. Latin America exports primary
products and imports finished products. Iber says, “In the early
2000s, rapid growth in India and China drove up the price of primary
products, from oil to lithium to soybeans. This gave governments the
ability to spend money on social welfare and development, satisfying —
at least in part — the needs of their political bases without making
fundamental structural changes to their economies or their position in
the global system of trade.”

In 2012, the commodities boom ended, mostly due to a slowdown in the
Chinese economy. The governments had to cut social spending and had a
hard time staying in power. There was a right-wing backlash by the
economic elite. Now with the rise of far-rightists such as Bolsonaro
and Trump, Latin America faces the possi

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The No First Use Act On Nuclear Weapons Is One Sentence Long — But Its Impact Could Be Hug

In Human rights, Jefferson Parkway, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on February 13, 2019 at 1:25 am

On Jan. 30, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Adam Smith introduced a bill that was just one sentence long — but its importance shouldn’t be underestimated. Despite its length, the No First Use Act on nuclear weapons has big aims: to define, in blunt terms, the United States’ relationship to nuclear weaponry for the coming years. The sentence is 12 words long, but couldn’t be more specific: “It is the policy of the United States not to use nuclear weapons first.

“The bill was jointly introduced by Warren and Smith, who is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. According to The Washington Post, the lawmakers introduced it by explaining that the bill aimed to confirm what “most Americans already believe — that the United States should never initiate a nuclear war.”

In a joint statement on the bill, as released by Warren on her website, the lawmakers said,

Our current nuclear strategy is not just outdated–it is dangerous. By making clear that deterrence is the sole purpose of our arsenal, this bill would reduce the chances of a nuclear miscalculation and help us maintain our moral and diplomatic leadership in the world.

Though the bill is shockingly short in length, the joint statement by Warren and Smith outlined three main goals for the piece of legislation; specifically, for how the legislation would strengthen national security

First, the two legislators believe the act would “[reduce] the risk of a nuclear miscalculation by an adversary during a crisis.” Second, they maintain that it would “[strengthen] our deterrence and increasing strategic stability by clarifying our declaratory policy.” And lastly, the lawmakers asserted that it would “[preserve] the U.S. second-strike capability to retaliate against any nuclear attack on the U.S. or its allies.”

This isn’t the first time the No First Use Act has been floated for consideration in recent history. During his presidency, Obama reviewed similar legislation, but many of his cabinet advisors were openly and starkly against the bill, so he eventually decided against it.

There are multiple strains of reasoning held by opponents of the No First Use Act. One argument is that a statement like this by the United States could destabilize nuclear policy internationally, causing allies of the United States to feel nervous and enemies of the U.S. to disbelieve the compact. Vipin Narang, a professor of political science at MIT, said to Vox, “A declaration, without any attendant changes to the US’s ability to actually use nuclear weapons promptly, absent changes to the actual posture, alert levels, etc. — your adversaries won’t believe it.”

Narang continued, “There’s a real concern here that your allies might…And for our allies, at least, not declaring one way or another that we might use nuclear weapons in their defense in a conventional attack against them may help reassurance at the margins.”

The fate of the bill, for now, is unclear. In the release of its new nuclear weapons policy in early 2018, the Trump administration declared that a policy like the one Warren and Smith are proposing was unnecessary.

PERSONAL COMMENT: I support the bill, but only as a beginning. Our goal should be to abolish nuclear weapons — and war — forever. If we want humans and other life forms to re,win alive on this plant, we must end the violence. (LeRoy)

Can Elizabeth Warren and Adam Smith, Defying Trump, Persuade Americans to Get Serious About Nuclear-Arms Control?

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on February 4, 2019 at 11:05 pm

“It is the policy of the United States to not use nuclear weapons first.” This is the elegantly simple declamation of a bill, introduced on Wednesday by Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The proposed legislation would reverse the longstanding American policy of being theoretically prepared to initiate a nuclear conflict without first being subject to a nuclear attack.

Deterrence theory, which was adopted during the height of the Cold War, seemed to require that a country threaten its readiness to launch a preëmptive nuclear onslaught even before an enemy got to zero with its own countdown. Over the years, though, daylight fell between deterrence theory and strategic conduct. “No first use” became taken for granted as a matter of practice: the United States was not going to start a nuclear war. Barack Obama came close to turning that stance into policy late in his Presidency. Warned off by the national-security élite, including his own Secretaries of Defense, Energy, and State, who did not want to send softening signals to Russia and China, he declined to do so.

But the Trump Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, issued a year ago this month, went fully the other way, openly declaring that the United States would launch nuclear strikes in response to “non-nuclear strategic attacks,” a vaguely characterized category that could be interpreted to include, say, cyber assaults on the American information infrastructure. Now, a readiness to use a nuclear weapon for the first time since the attack on Nagasaki is a central part of national-security doctrine, a perfect match to the Administration’s across-the-board bluster. First use is a readymade organizing principle for Donald Trump.

Smith and Warren are now openly defying that Trump doctrine. “No first use” can be understood as a kind of mantra, a symbol of a larger purpose—to move away from the decades-old paralysis of nuclear mania. That it could inhibit even a nuclear abolitionist such as Obama shows how multifaceted the problem remains.

Smith has introduced such a bill previously, but now he is joined by a colleague who stands at the pinnacle of the nation’s interest. Warren, who has all but announced a 2020 Presidential bid, embraced “no first use” in a major foreign-policy address at American University, in November, as one of what she called “three core nuclear-security principles.” The other two were “no new nuclear weapons” and “more international arms control, not less” —both of which point away from the road that the Trump Administration has taken. In renouncing the first-use doctrine, Warren joined an eminently practical concern—“To reduce the chances of a miscalculation or an accident”—to an ethical one. “To maintain our moral and diplomatic leadership in the world, we must be clear that deterrence is the sole purpose of our arsenal,” she said.

Introducing the No First Use Act marks a major move, for Warren, from the realm of rhetoric to actual lawmaking designed, at the very least, to prompt congressional consideration of a crucial national-security question. The Republican pushback came quickly. Senator Deb Fischer, of Nebraska, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on strategic forces, said that the proposal “betrays a naïve and disturbed world view.” Such dismissal will no doubt come from many quarters.

How the initiative plays out in the push and pull of Presidential politics will say less, perhaps, about campaign competitions and media preoccupations than about the general attitude of the American electorate toward the subject. When it comes to the dangers posed by nuclear arsenals, complacency reigns, even as the Trump Administration goes steadily about the business of opening up a new nuclear age. When Trump launched his “fire and fury like the world has never seen” tirade against North Korea, in August of 2017, there was a short-lived rush of nuclear anguish, with many people of a certain age recalling incidents of Cold War Armageddon dread. But, with Trump’s irrational about-face on North Korea, which seems based on what he has called the “love” between him and Kim Jong Un, and which his own intelligence chiefs discounted earlier this week, the broad fear of nuclear war resumed its place in the deep recesses of American denial.

Warren is not taking her cues on this question from the polls. If she were, she would, like most other politicians, likely leave it alone. For two generations, Americans have not known how to think about the nation’s nuclear policy, or its arsenal, and so, for the most part, it seems, they haven’t. The twenty-first century’s stalling of arms reduction, and the withering of the U.S. commitment to the arms-reduction-treaty regime, have ranked low on the scale of the nation’s problems, as perceived from across the political spectrum. Obama’s brief emergence as a globally celebrated nuclear eliminationist, and his inexorable fade from that stance when he was actually in power, says less about a leader’s fecklessness than about the deadly lock that nuclear weapons have had on one Congress after another, on the ever-burgeoning defense industry, and on the American mind

There was an exception, which came during the fraught period of the first term of the Reagan Administration, when a burst of nuclear-war anxiety swept across much of the world. In Europe, the deployment of American cruise and Pershing II missiles ignited unprecedented grassroots protests. In this country, that anxiety inspired the Nuclear Freeze Movement—which called for a freeze on the super-powers’ nuclear arsenals at their then current levels—with municipalities, civic and professional groups, religious institutions, and cohorts of educators, physicians, and scientists all banding together against what felt like an imminent nuclear catastrophe. By March of 1982, the grassroots had sprouted a forest, and the nuclear-freeze resolution, “A Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race,” inspired a bill in Congress by sponsors that included two Massachusetts Democrats: Senator Ted Kennedy and Representative Ed Markey, who is now Warren’s colleague in the Senate. (Markey, with Representative Ted Lieu, of California, reintroduced a similar bill of his own this week) Three months later, a million anti-nuke protesters gathered in New York City. A year after that, the nuclear-freeze resolution passed in the House.

The idea of the freeze then opened into the larger idea of nuclear reduction, and, over time, to a wide embrace of the goal of nuclear abolition. Members of the Pentagon’s nuclear priesthood, including General Lee Butler and Admiral Eugene Carroll, Jr., and civilian architects of the nuclear-security state, such as Paul Nitze and William Perry, began to speak out against nukes. For a time, liberation from the grip of the absolute weapon seemed possible. Even Reagan had been preparing to move past the idea of freezing nuclear-arms levels to reducing them. Then, Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union, a historic shift occurred, and, against all predictions, the Cold War ended, not with conflagration but with negotiation. (On Friday, the Trump Administration suspended the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which came out of those negotiations, in 1987, following a long-running disagreement over Russia’s compliance.)

“No first use” is a simple idea, as the freeze was, and that is its strength. It is common-sensical, and harkens back to the informal moral consensus that America is not a nation to start a nuclear war. That consensus should be enshrined in law, but, even if all that comes of the Smith-Warren initiative is a renewed public debate, that will be more than salutary. Consideration of the No First Use Act not only in Congress but on the campaign trail can point forward to a new grappling with the unexamined set of nuclear questions, starting with Warren’s other two core principles: of no to new weapons and yes to arms control. More than her proposals for the recovery from income inequality, her effort to unbolt the nuclear lock on the American economy and culture can be historic.

Senators Introduce Bill to Prevent Nuclear Arms Race

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on February 1, 2019 at 11:03 pm
Thursday, January 31, 201
https://www.merkley.senate.gov/news/press-releases/merkley-senators-introduce-bill-to-prevent-nuclear-arms-race

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), along with Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), today announced the introduction of the Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019, legislation that would pull the United States and Russia back from the brink of a 21st Century nuclear arms race. Merkley and Markey are members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Warren and Gillibrand serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“There’s a reason that kids today don’t do duck-and-cover drills in schools and that nobody has bomb shelters in their backyards anymore. That reason is because of key agreements like the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty,” said Merkley. “This era of stability is put at great risk by President Trump’s decision to unilaterally pull out of the INF Treaty. This decision ignores all the lessons from the Cold War. There is no doubt that that Russia is violating the INF Treaty, but the right path forward is to work to bring them back into compliance, not free them to produce more nuclear weapons. Blowing up the Treaty risks the proliferation of nuclear-capable systems by Russia, threatening Europe and jeopardizing decades of bipartisan efforts to reduce nuclear dangers with Russia.”
“A nuclear arms race would endanger the entire world and threaten every single person in our country, and Congress has a responsibility to ensure that President Trump does not start one. President Trump’s imminent unilateral withdrawal from a bipartisan weapons treaty with Russia, without consulting Congress, would mean the Prevention of Arms Race Act is more important than ever,” said Gillibrand. “A reckless withdrawal would further damage our relationships with our allies, Russia would not be legally constrained from deploying larger numbers of their previously prohibited missiles, and the world would be much less safe. I urge my colleagues to support this bill to prevent a new arms race, and I will continue to do everything I can to keep all Americans safe.”
“Pulling out of the INF Treaty plays squarely into Russia’s hands while undermining America’s security and betraying our NATO allies,” Markey said. “The Trump administration needs to work more closely with our NATO allies to force Russia back into compliance. And as the chance of a confrontation between American and Chinese forces rises the Indo-Pacific, it makes little sense to add further ambiguity over whether U.S. missiles stationed around the region are nuclear-armed. This legislation will help ensure that we don’t match two major adversaries missile-for-missile, trigger a new nuclear arms race, and incur unacceptable amounts of risk in an already tenuous security environment.”
“If Donald Trump walks out of the INF Treaty, he will risk a new destabilizing and costly arms race and antagonize important allies,” said Wyden. “The administration should instead be working with European allies to pressure Russia back into compliance.”

The Senators’ legislation comes in advance of the Trump Administration’s expected action this weekend to unilaterally withdraw the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF)  treaty. The State Department set a February 2, 2019 deadline for Russia to return to compliance with the Treaty after a hasty and un-vetted declaration by President Trump in October that the United States intended to withdraw from the landmark treaty with Russia. The INF was originally signed by President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.

The United States first declared Russia to be in violation of the Treaty in 2014, and experts agree it is critical that the United States continue to work to bring Russia back into compliance and hold it accountable for its violation. A U.S. withdrawal of the INF Treaty will not eliminate Russia’s violating missile; instead it emboldens Russia to deploy greater quantities of nuclear-capable systems and without legal restriction. And withdrawal will not eliminate China’s expansive arsenal of intermediate-range missiles; rather, the collapse of the Treaty will dim future prospects of limiting or eliminating China’s inventory of these weapons.

The INF Treaty permanently led to the elimination of entire classes of U.S. and Russian nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles – 2,692 in total – supported by on-site inspections that allowed both sides to “trust but verify” compliance with the Treaty. The administration has not properly consultation with Congress – a co-equal branch of government – on its plans to pull out of INF. The move is also the latest example of the President ignoring the objections of U.S. NATO allies who have declared that the INF Treaty “has been crucial to Euro-Atlantic security.”

The Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019 prohibits funding for the procurement, flight-testing, or deployment of a  U.S. ground-launched or ballistic missile – with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers – until the Trump Administration provides a report that meets seven specific conditions. That report would be required to:

1)      Identify a U.S. ally formally willing to host such a system, and in the case of a European country, have it be the outcome of a NATO-wide decision;

2)      Detail recent diplomatic efforts to bring Russia back into compliance with the Treaty;

3)      Assess the risk to U.S. national security and that of our allies stemming from Russia being able to deploy greater numbers of intermediate range missiles;

4)     Identify what programs the United States would need to pursue to offset additional Russian capabilities and at what cost;

5)     Identify what mission requirements with respect to the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China will be met by INF-type systems;

6)      Identify the degree to which INF-compliant capabilities, such as sea and air-launched cruise missiles, can meet those same mission requirements; and

7)      Detail the costs to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the ability to maintain consensus within the NATO Alliance should the INF Treaty collapse.

The New Congress Needs to Create a Green Planet at Peace

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics on January 10, 2019 at 12:49 am

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stands for Green New Deal

By Medea Benjamin and Alice Slater, January 8, 2019

A deafening chorus of negative grumbling from the left, right, and center of the US political spectrum in response to Trump’s decision to remove US troops from Syria and halve their numbers in Afghanistan appears to have slowed down his attempt to bring our forces home. However, in this new year, demilitarizing US foreign policy should be among the top items on the agenda of the new Congress. Just as we are witnessing a rising movement for a visionary Green New Deal, so, too, the time has come for a New Peace Deal that repudiates endless war and the threat of nuclear war which, along with catastrophic climate change, poses an existential threat to our planet.

We must capitalize and act on the opportunity presented by the abrupt departure of “mad dog” Mattis and other warrior hawks. Another move toward demilitarization is the unprecedented Congressional challenge to Trump’s support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. And while the president’s disturbing proposals to walk out of established nuclear arms control treaties represents a new danger, they are also an opportunity.

Trump announced that the US is withdrawing from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty(INF),negotiated in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, and warned that he has no interest in renewing the modest new START treaty negotiated by Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev. Obama paid a heavy price to secure Congressional ratification of START, promising a one-trillion-dollar program over thirty years for two new nuclear bomb factories, and new warheads, missiles, planes and submarines to deliver their lethal payload, a program that is continuing under Trump. While the INF limited the US and Russia to physically deploying up to a maximum of 1,500 bomb-laden nuclear missiles out of their massive nuclear arsenals, it failed to make good on the 1970 US promise made in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to eliminate nuclear weapons. Even today, nearly 50 years after those NPT promises were made, the US and Russia account for a staggering 14,000 of the 15,000 nuclear bombs on the planet.

With Trump’s US military posture in seeming disarray, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fashion bold new actions for disarmament. The most promising breakthrough for nuclear disarmament is the new Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, negotiated and adopted by 122 nations at the UN in 2017. This unprecedented treaty finally bans the bomb, just as the world has done for biological and chemical weapons, and won its organizers, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the Nobel Peace Prize. The treaty now needs to be ratified by 50 nations to become binding.

Instead of supporting this new treaty, and acknowledging the US 1970 NPT promise to make “good faith”efforts for nuclear disarmament, we are getting the same stale, inadequate proposals from many in the Democratic establishment who are now taking control of the House. It is worrisome that Adam Smith, the new Chair of  the House Armed Services Committee, talks only of making cuts in our massive nuclear arsenals and putting limits on how and when a President can use nuclear weapons, without even a hint that any consideration is being given to lending US support for the ban treaty or for honoring our 1970 NPT promise to give up our nuclear weapons.

Although the US and its NATO and Pacific allies (Australia, Japan and South Korea) have thus far refused to support the ban treaty, a global effort, organized by ICAN, has already received signatures from 69 nations, and ratifications in 19 parliaments of the 50 nations needed in order for the prohibition against the possession, use, or threat to use nuclear weapons, to become legally binding. In December, Australia’s Labor Party pledged to sign and ratify the ban treaty if it wins in the upcoming elections, even though Australia is presently a member of the US nuclear alliance. And similar efforts are happening in Spain, a member of the NATO alliance.

A burgeoning number of cities, states, and parliamentarians around the world have been enrolled in the campaign to call on their governments to support the new treaty. In the US Congress, however, so far only four representatives—Eleanor Holmes Norton, Betty McCollum, Jim McGovern, and Barbara Lee—have signed the ICAN pledge to secure US support to ban the bomb.

Just as the Democratic establishment is ignoring the groundbreaking new opportunity to finally rid the world of the nuclear scourge, it is now undercutting the extraordinary campaign for a Green New Deal to fully power the United States with sustainable energy sources in ten years, led by the inspiring Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected proposals from masses of young demonstrators who petitioned her office to establish a Select Committee for the Green New Deal. Instead, Pelosi established a Select Committee on Climate Crisis, lacking subpoena powers and chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor, who refused a Green Deal Campaign demand to ban any members from serving on the Committee who took donations from fossil fuel corporations.

A New Peace Deal should make similar requests of the members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. How can we expect the chairs of these committees, Democratic Congressman Adam Smith or Republican Senator James Inhofe, to be honest brokers for peace when they have received contributions of over $250,000 from the weapons industry? A coalition called Divest from the War Machine is urging all members of congress to refuse money from the weapons industry, since they vote every year on a Pentagon budget that allocates hundreds of billions of dollars for new weapons. This commitment is particularly critical for members of the Armed Services Committees. No one who has been funded with substantial contributions from arms manufacturers should be serving on those committees, particularly when Congress should be examining, with urgency, the scandalous report of the Pentagon’s inability to pass an audit last year and its statements that it has no ability to ever do so!

We cannot tolerate a new Democratic-controlled Congress continuing to do business as usual, with a military budget of over $700 billion and a trillion dollars projected for new nuclear weapons over the next ten years, while struggling to find funds to address the climate crisis. With the extraordinary upheavals created by President Trump’s withdrawal from both the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal, we must urgently mobilize to save our earth from the two existential threats: catastrophic climate destruction and the looming possibility of nuclear annihilation. It’s time to leave the nuclear age and divest from the war machine, freeing up trillions of wasted dollars over the next decade. We must transform our lethal energy system to one that sustains us, while creating genuine national and international security at peace with all of nature and humanity.

 

~~~~~~~~~

Medea Benjamin is codirector of CODEPINK for Peace and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic.  

Alice Slater serves on the Coordinating Committee of World Beyond War and is the UN Representative of the  Nuclear Age Peace Foundation,

Trump and Climate Catastrophe

In Climate change, Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Politics, Public Health on January 7, 2019 at 4:34 am

by John Bellamy Foster

John Bellamy Foster is the editor of MR and a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. He is coauthor, with Paul Burkett, of Marx and the Earth (Haymarket, 2017)
 
.
“This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice.”

—Donald Trump, January 2, 20141

The alarm bells are ringing. The climate-change denialism of the Trump administration, coupled with its goal of maximizing fossil-fuel extraction and consumption at all costs, constitutes, in the words of Noam Chomsky, “almost a death knell for the human species.” As noted climatologist Michael E. Mann has declared, “I fear that this may be game over for the climate.”2

The effects of the failure to mitigate global warming will not of course come all at once, and will not affect all regions and populations equally. But just a few years of inaction in the immediate future could lock in dangerous climate change that would be irreversible for the next ten thousand years.3 It is feared that once the climatic point of no return—usually seen as a 2°C increase in global average temperatures—is reached, positive-feedback mechanisms will set in, accelerating warming trends and leading, in the words of James Hansen, former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the foremost U.S. climate scientist, to “a dynamic situation that is out of [human] control,” propelling the world toward the 4°C (or even higher) future that is thought by scientists to portend the end of civilization, in the sense of organized human society.4

Although the United States currently contributes only about 15 percent of global carbon-dioxide emissions, a failure on its part to act to reduce emissions would push the world more decisively toward the 2°C tipping point.5 Moreover, in the apparently likely event that the principal per-capita global emitter and the hegemonic global power chooses to bow out, any worldwide effort to reduce carbon emissions will be severely jeopardized. For this reason, climate scientists are increasingly turning from the United States to China as the main hope for leadership in combating climate change.6

At this critical moment in history, three questions need to be answered: What does the latest scientific evidence tell us about the approach of climate catastrophe? How is today’s monopoly-finance capitalism—with Donald Trump as its authentic representative—contributing to this impending planetary catastrophe? And what possibilities remain for humanity to avert an Earth-system calamity?

Toward a “Fatal Imbalance”

The latest evidence on climate change is jaw-dropping. On November 8, 2016, the day of the U.S. election, the World Meteorological Organization reported that global average temperatures have risen to about 1.2°C above preindustrial levels (dangerously close to the initial 1.5°C boundary set by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement), with 2016 the hottest year on record, surpassing 2015 and 2014, both of which were themselves record-breaking years.7

The annual Arctic Report Card of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, released in December 2016, showed that Arctic temperatures are rising at rates twice the global average, with an average increase of 3.5°C since the beginning of the twentieth century. Arctic sea ice is critical for climate stability because of the albedo effect, in which white ice reflects the sun’s rays. The disappearance of sea ice and its replacement with a heat-absorbing “dark ocean” thus represents a major climate feedback. In September 2016, Arctic sea ice dropped to its second lowest level ever recorded. The Greenland ice sheet, meanwhile, continues its rapid loss of mass, further contributing to sea level rise. The Arctic Resilience Report, published in November 2016 by the Stockholm Environment Institute, emphasized that Arctic temperatures had peaked at around 20°C warmer than normal for that time of year, and warned of nineteen impending tipping points affecting the stability of the Arctic region, some of which could “tip” the entire global climate, including much higher releases of methane—a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide—due to the thawing of the tundra.8

Over the last two years, the scientific community has nearly doubled its projections for sea level rise during the course of this century. Already it has increased 8 inches, threatening island communities and low-lying coastal areas throughout the world. The ocean could rise by close to two meters (more than six feet) by 2100, while, over a couple of centuries, the increase could reach six meters (twenty feet). By 2500, according to one study in Nature, sea level rise could be as much as 15 meters (over 49 feet).9

Trillionthtonne.org, a climate-tracking website associated with scientists at the University of Oxford, currently indicates that if present trends continue unchecked, the world will hit the trillionth-metric-ton mark in total carbon emissions—that is, the amount of total carbon emissions thought to generate 450 ppm in global carbon concentration, and a 2°C increase in global temperatures—in just over twenty years. Over 600 gigatons (billions of metric tons) of carbon have been emitted into the atmosphere so far. The closer the world gets to the trillionth metric ton, the more drastic the effort needed to avoid breaking the planetary carbon budget. At present, this would require planet-wide carbon-emissions reductions of around 3 percent a year, and as much as three times that number in rich, high per-capita carbon-emitting nations, who account for more than a quarter of the world’s present emissions as well as the vast majority of its historic emissions—and whose wealth offers them ample material means to address the problem.10

As Mann, best known for developing the famous “hockey-stick” chart showing the sharp rise in global average temperatures, concisely explains in his 2016 book The Madhouse Effect:

A tipping point is, of course, a point of no return. In the context of climate change, it would mean that we have warmed the planet enough to set in motion an unstoppable process. In reality, there is no single tipping point in the climate system; there are many. And the farther we go down the fossil fuel highway, the more tipping points we will cross. Many observers have argued that a warming of the planet of 3.6°F (2°C) relative to preindustrial levels (something that will likely happen if we allow CO2 levels to climb to just 450 ppm) would almost certainly create dangerous, potentially irreversible changes in our climate. As a reminder, we have already warmed around 1.5°F (1°C), and another 0.9°F (0.5°C) is likely in the pipeline. Another decade of business-as-usual fossil fuel emissions could commit us to that 3.6°F (2°C) “dangerous warming” threshold….

At the current rate of 30 gigatons a year, we’ll burn through our [carbon] budget in about three decades. To remain within the budget, we have to reduce emissions by several percent a year, to bring them down to 33 percent of current levels within twenty years. That’s an average worldwide carbon footprint similar to what prevails in the developing world. By midcentury, emissions must approach zero. That’s the black double-diamond slope.

One recent analysis determined that achieving these reductions would require that 33 percent of all proven reserves of oil, 50 percent of all natural gas, and 80 percent of all coal reserves must remain in the ground. That means we have to phase out coal and leave most if not all of the Canadian tar sands in the ground (that is, no Keystone XL pipeline).11

The issue before us, as Mann emphasizes, is therefore not a minor one. It is a matter of a “fatal imbalance” in the human relation to the planet: the crisis of the Anthropocene.12

Capitalism versus the Climate

If natural science has taught us that the rapid pace of anthropogenic climate change threatens to destroy the planet as a home for humanity, then we must turn to social science to understand the actual social causes of climate change, and the necessary solutions. However, as a rule, the social sciences are compromised from the start. As shown in particular by the discipline of economics, they are ideologically compelled to answer all concrete issues in terms set by capitalism, excluding any perspective that seriously challenges that system or its boundaries. Social scientists are thus discouraged from questioning—or indeed even naming—the fundamental structures and workings of the historical system in which we live.

It follows that the social-scientific contributions most relevant to our understanding of the causes and imperatives of climate change have originated outside the mainstream of academic social science, in critical analyses of capitalism.13 At issue, as decades of research have demonstrated, is the disjuncture between, on the one hand, the increasing demands put on the environment by a process of ever-expanding capital accumulation, rooted in class, competition, and inequality, and on the other, the capacity of the environment to withstand this assault.14 The growing pressure on the climate, moreover, is currently taking an especially acute form, due to the system’s heavy reliance on fossil-fuel production as a proven engine of capital accumulation worldwide—together with the vested interests of wealth and power that block any transition to renewable forms of energy.

In logical-historical terms, capitalism is a system of capital accumulation, a juggernaut in which each new level of economic growth becomes the mere means to further growth, ad infinitum. In the course of its history, capital has been able to “shift” the rifts that it has created in the natural metabolism, displacing them elsewhere, often by imposing such externalities on the most vulnerable populations. The capital-accumulation system, however, has now expanded its operations to encompass the entire planet, disrupting the biogeochemical processes of the Earth system itself, most dramatically in the form of climate change. Even though a conversion to renewable energy is hypothetically conceivable within the system, capital’s demand for short-term profits, its competitive drive, its vested interests, and its inability to plan for long-term needs all militate against rational energy solutions.15

The imperatives of capital accumulation, as analyzed in radical social-science research over the last century and half (beginning in 1867 with the publication of Karl Marx’s Capital), are further complicated by the advent, near the end of the last century, of monopoly-finance capital. In this phase the system is characterized by higher levels of global economic concentration, an accumulation regime dominated by financial-asset accumulation and the globalization of production, and a neoliberal political order—giving rise, in some cases, to neo-fascism. Structurally related to this, as an underlying cause, is the stagnation of accumulation in the advanced capitalist economies, and the world economy as a whole.16 Under this new financialized capitalism, neoliberal policies have sought to remove all regulations on the free flow and amassing of wealth, siphoning more and more of total income into the financial sector, and creating a system of global labor arbitrage or worldwide unequal exchange, the latest phase of imperialism.17

All of this is connected in the present historical conjuncture to the declining hegemony of the United States, the rise of China, and attempts to maintain imperial control via the triad of the United States, Europe, and Japan. Elements of the U.S. ruling class—garishly personified by Trump and his advisers—and of the triad as a whole are striving in these circumstances to resurrect national and imperial power through fossil fuels (and nuclear power), military buildups, financial control, and the repression of immigrants and racially defined “others”—enlisting in this new but retrograde imperial project parts of a downwardly mobile and demoralized white working class.

This countervailing reaction of a system in peril shows the limits of reform in the epochal crisis—both economic and ecological—in which the world is now entrapped. Reform is only ever viable under the regime of capital to the extent that it does not come close to threatening the fundamental conditions that govern accumulation as a whole—and well before that point is reached, vested interests normally intervene to stop substantive reforms.18 The social transformations demanded today by the reality of climate change (as well as economic stagnation) are of such a scale and significance that large sections of these entrenched interests perceive such necessary changes as a danger not only to the immediate prospects for accumulation, and to their own positions of power, but also to the very existence of capitalism—whose importance, in their accounting, outweighs that of the climate itself.19

Under these conditions, environmental reforms tend to be too limited to achieve their goals, and even then face unrelenting opposition from fossil-fuel companies and their investors and allies—a category that covers much of the global ruling class. Meanwhile, the almost total failure of centrist-liberal parties and governments, along with their counterparts in the academy, to remove their self-imposed blinders and perceive the reality of capitalism’s war on the earth reflects a major moral and ideological default of establishment social science. The result is climate policies that have proven substantially ineffective, and whose implementation represents little more than a loss of precious time amid a rapidly worsening planetary emergency.

It is in the face of this failure of centrist climate policy that Naomi Klein, issuing a wake-up call for the left, famously declared that, at least on this crucial issue, “the right is right.” That is, the right is correct in believing that this is a case of “capitalism versus the climate”—though wrong in choosing the former over the latter. So far, in its war on the climate, Klein acknowledges, “capitalism is winning.”20 The system shows no sign of applying the brakes as the runaway train of the profit system hurtles toward the climate precipice. The world’s people in these circumstances are mere hostages—unless they should choose to mutiny.

The Failure of Carbon Reform

Over the last few decades, the chief aim of establishment climate-change policy has been the ecological modernization of capitalism—but only within limits that remain conducive to capital accumulation. This approach is represented at the international level by the Paris Climate Agreement, in which 193 nations came together to sign onto a “plan” to address climate change that, when measured against the present global emergency, is hardly worth the paper on which it is written. The commitments made by individual nations are entirely voluntary and nonbinding, and thus unlikely to be fulfilled, given that there is no overall mechanism for implementation and no worldwide sanctions—and even then, if implemented, these independent national commitments would push the climate well beyond the 2°C barrier, into a world condemned to as much as a 3.7°C increase in global average temperature.21

The centerpiece of the Obama administration’s climate policy, which formed the basis of the U.S. contribution to the Paris Agreement, was the Clean Power Plan (CPP). Though the plan is currently locked up in the courts, its proponents claim that it is designed to reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 26–28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. The CPP consists chiefly of a set of executive orders extending the Clean Air Act to the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions in electrical power plants, to be implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Whatever its ambitions, Obama’s climate initiative falls far short of the emission reductions that wealthy states would need to have introduced if humanity were to maintain a safe and secure relation to the climate. The year 2005 was chosen as the baseline for emission reductions precisely because it represented the peak level of U.S. carbon emissions. As Mark Hertsgaard has pointed out in the Nation, the stipulated cuts in U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions, although ostensibly exceeding 25 percent according to the 2005 baseline by 2025, would nonetheless be only 7 percent if measured against the original 1990 baseline of the Kyoto Protocol. The latter agreement mandated that U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions should drop by 7 percent by 2012. This original reduction target, which the United States was supposed to have put in place under the Kyoto Protocol but ended up abandoning, was initially conceived in the 1990s as merely a first step in reducing carbon emissions. The CPP’s seemingly large projected emissions reductions are thus primarily an outcome of moving the goal posts, with the result that the actual cuts in emissions would still be at a level grossly inadequate to protect humanity from catastrophic climate change, with time fast running out. Further, these prospective reductions would rely primarily on market-friendly carbon-trading schemes that have previously proven ineffective.22

The weakness of Obama’s centrist-capitalist approach is thrown into stark relief in the Economic Report of the President for 2017, where one finds such statements as: “The economic literature suggests that some impacts of climate change, particularly the rise in extreme temperatures, will likely be partly offset by increased private investment in air conditioning, and that movement to avoid temperature extremes, either spending more time indoors in the short run, or relocating in the long run, could also reduce climate impacts on health.” Such “Let Them Buy Air Conditioners, Let Them Stay Indoors, and Let Them Move” stances can hardly be considered serious—or ethical—responses to climate change.23

Already in 2015, Hansen declared that because the actions outlined in the CPP would “do nothing to attack the fundamental problem,” they were “like the fellow who walks to work instead of driving, and thinks he is saving the world.” Such measures, he stressed, were “practically worthless.” Instead, steps must be taken both nationally and globally to ratchet up the price of carbon and to keep it in the ground. “As long as fossil fuels are allowed to (appear to be) the cheapest energy,” and no intervention is made to increase their cost, he continued, “someone will burn them.”24 Ironically, measures that are designed simply to reduce the demand for carbon in one locale tend only to lower fossil-fuel prices elsewhere (assuming a constant supply of such fuels) thereby ensuring that they will find a market somewhere in the global economy.25

It is therefore highly significant that even the meager efforts represented by the Paris Climate Agreement and Obama’s Clean Power Plan—which have avoided addressing the fundamental problem, and can scarcely be said to pose, at this level, a threat to the system as a whole—have nonetheless provoked enormous resistance from the vested interests of fossil-fuel capitalism. Not only did Obama have to circumvent Congress to enact the CPP (and to sign the Paris Agreement, which was possible without congressional approval only because it contained no binding requirements), the whole climate initiative was immediately blocked in court, since the twenty-four states closest to the fossil-fuel industry launched a lawsuit—aided by the U.S. Supreme Court’s order that the EPA suspend enforcement of the CPP until a lower court could arrive at a decision. Even this may all be a dead letter, however, since the Trump administration has vowed to rescind or otherwise dismantle the CPP and to withdraw from the Paris accords.26

Trump, in a version of the “big lie,” has repeatedly called climate change a “hoax.”27 Accordingly, he has filled the ranks of his transition team and cabinet with climate science denialists and fossil-fuel industry shills. Myron Ebell, director of energy and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a leading climate contrarian, headed up Trump’s transition team. He publicly accused the respected scientist Kevin Trenberth, a senior climate researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (famous for accounting for the apparent hiatus in global-warming acceleration, using evidence of increased below-surface-level ocean heating) of being “part of a gang” guilty of “cooking the data” on the climate. Financier Anthony Scaramucci, a Trump adviser and an executive member of his transition team, compared the notion of anthropogenic climate change to geocentrism, the belief that the sun revolves around the earth. In Scaramucci’s own words: “I’m saying people have gotten things wrong throughout the 5,500-year history of our planet” (italics added). David Schnare, who left the EPA to start an oil-industry-funded non-profit that specialized in suits against the EPA and attacks on climate science, was named to the transition team and charged with revamping the EPA. Schnare gained special notoriety as the attorney who, while working for the right-wing American Tradition Institute (now the Environmental and Energy Legal Institute), targeted both Hansen and Mann, along with other climate scientists, seeking to force them to release private documents and emails. Thomas Pyle, head of the American Energy Alliance, a group with strong links to the oil industry—including Koch Industries, for which he worked as a lobbyist—was chosen to lead the transition team for the Department of Energy. A leaked memo by Pyle lists the immediate goals of the Trump administration’s climate policy: (1) withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, (2) dismantling the Clean Power Plan, and (3) expediting approval of pipeline projects.

Trump’s choices of nominees for major cabinet posts follow the same pattern. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, his pick to lead the EPA, is still another lawyer who has fought the EPA on behalf of the fossil-fuel industry, and is also an outspoken climate-change denier, who wrote in 2016 that the debate on climate change was “far from settled.” Ignoring the 97 percent consensus among scientists on the anthropogenic sources of climate change, Pruitt claimed that “scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Energy—a department that, as a Republican presidential contender, Perry promised to eliminate altogether—is a stalwart ally of the fossil-fuel industry. He went so far as to declare in his 2010 book that “we have been experiencing a cooling trend.” His administration in Texas deliberately removed all references to climate change in a report addressing rising sea levels. Congressman Ryan Zinke, from coal-producing Montana, Trump’s nominee for secretary of the interior, likewise asserts that climate change has no firm scientific basis. Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions has repeatedly insisted, against all evidence, that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.

Ironically, Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, stands out in the new administration for his acknowledgement of the reality of climate change. However, as recently as 2013, Tillerson declared that any alternative-energy movement was doomed to fail, and predicted that renewables such as “wind, solar, biofuels,” would supply only 1 percent of total energy in 2040. Faced with the demands of environmentalists and protests against the Keystone XL Pipeline, Tillerson simply stated his capitalist creed: “My philosophy is to make money.” ExxonMobil under his leadership not only funded climate denialism, but fought to remove all obstacles whatsoever to the increased extraction and burning of fossil fuels.28

Most alarming for climate scientists in the first weeks of the Trump transition was a 74-question survey issued in early December to employees in the Energy Department, designed to determine which scientists and officials had been most involved in advancing Obama’s Clean Power Plan and other measures to contain climate change. This was widely regarded as the warning shot of a new McCarthyite inquisition against climate scientists, prompting a frantic effort by scientists across the country to archive their data, placing it on widely accessible nongovernmental data bases, lest climate data in government hands be disappeared under Trump. The incoming administration soon disavowed the questionnaire, but the damage was done.29

In addition to singling out scientists who advanced Obama’s climate initiatives, the questionnaire had a more specific target: the social cost of carbon (SCC), currently estimated at $40 per metric ton of carbon, a category used by the Obama administration to quantify the economic impact of climate change and thus to justify the regulation of carbon emissions in cost-benefit terms. The SCC is by now part of established case law and cannot simply be undone. The Trump administration, however, has made it clear that it will alter basic premises used to calculate the SCC, such as the discount rate that relates present dollars to future dollars, thereby shrinking the calculation of the costs. Employing a higher discount rate could make the economic costs of climate change appear to vanish, even turn negative—so that climate change appears not only economically benign, but beneficial. In this way the numbers can be manipulated so that any restrictions on greenhouse-gas emissions fail the economic cost-benefit test required by law.30

In a parallel development, Trump aerospace policy adviser Bob Walker, a former congressman from Pennsylvania (a coal state), informed the Guardian that the new administration would seek to defund NASA’s Earth-system research, the most important single source of global climate data, compelling the agency to focus instead on deep-space exploration. Walker accused NASA of engaging in “politically correct environmental research” in its climate-change investigations. “The models that the scientists have used on global warming,” he declared, “have been extremely flawed.”31

As Hansen usefully pointed out a decade ago, the problem is not the climate denialists as such—since such contrarians, in or out of government, are mere “court jesters” whom no one in the end will take seriously. The problem is “the court” itself—that is, capital:

the captains of industry, CEOs in fossil fuel companies such as Exxon/Mobil, automobile manufacturers, utilities, all of the leaders who have placed short-term profit above the fate of the planet and the well-being of our children. The court jesters are their jesters, occasionally paid for services, and more substantively supported by the captains’ disinformation campaigns…. The captains of industry are smarter than their jesters. They cannot pretend that they are unaware of climate change dangers and consequences for future generations.32

In the new Trump administration, however, fossil-fuel courtiers like Tillerson and their court jesters are now in power, sitting side by side.

It would be wrong, then, to see this administration as simply a cabal of ignoramuses, beginning with the climate-change-denier-in-chief himself. Rather, these efforts to undermine even modest regulations and to discredit sound science are necessary parts of an attempt by carbon capital to proceed undeterred with burning of fossil fuels, as if this did not constitute a dire threat to the human species. The motive here is quite simply the institutionalized drive for ever more, at virtually any cost to society as a whole. It is analogous, but on a much larger scale, to the decades-long campaign of misinformation by tobacco companies claiming that their products were not killing their customers—even though their own internal scientific research, which they kept hidden, showed the opposite.33

Not surprisingly, it is fossil-fuel capital that has already benefitted most from Trump’s election. The stocks of oil and gas companies spiked the moment the 2016 election results were announced. Peabody Energy, the leading U.S. coal company, was pulled from the brink of bankruptcy by an immediate 70 percent increase in the value of its shares. Harold Hamm, the billionaire fracking mogul and Trump adviser, expects Trump to slash oil and gas drilling regulations: “Every time we can’t drill a well in America,” Hamm threatens, “terrorism is being funded.” For the alt-right website Breitbart News, whose chairman, Stephen Bannon, masterminded the later stages of the Trump 2016 presidential campaign, there is no global warming, only global cooling. Breitbart greeted Trump’s election with the headline: “The Left Just Lost the War on Climate Change.”34

Significantly, Trump’s promise to “build a wall” along the border with Mexico to block “illegal immigration” can be read at least in part as a reaction to climate change, even as the latter is being denied—just as sea walls are hypocritically being proposed by climate deniers in parts of the South as a means to protect coastal real estate. The Trump plan for a more militarized border involves the building of a thousand-mile wall (most of which already exists, in the form of security fences), with the rest of the nearly two-thousand-mile border largely impassable due to natural barriers. The wall would be tightly guarded, monitored by a fleet of aircraft and drones. Here it is impossible not to be reminded of a 2003 Defense Department report, An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security—written for the Pentagon by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall of the Global Business Network—which argued that the catastrophic effects of abrupt climate change would compel wealthy nations like the United States and Australia to construct “defensive fortresses” along their perimeters to shut out climate refugees. “Military confrontation,” the report warned, “may be triggered by a desperate need [particularly in the global South] for natural resources such as energy, food and water,” creating new national security threats to which the “have” nations would need to respond—militarily.35

The Fire This Time

“Revolution,” in the words of Malcolm X, “is like a forest fire. It burns everything in its path. The people who are involved in a revolution don’t become a part of the system—they destroy the system, they change the system. The genuine word for a revolution is Umwälzung which means a complete overturning and a complete change…. The only way to stop a forest fire from burning down your house is to ignite a fire that you control and use it against the fire that is burning out of control.”36 This controlled backfire is the meaning of counterrevolution. Today virulent anti-environmentalism, tied to a broader neo-fascist politics linked to white supremacy, is the backfire being ignited against both efforts to combat climate change and the larger movement for social and environmental justice.

The urgent task before us in these dire circumstances was explained by Eric S. Godoy and Aaron Jaffe in an op-ed piece for theNewYorkTimes in October 2016, headlined “We Don’t Need a ‘War’ on Climate Change, We Need a Revolution.” “Following Marx, contemporary [radical ecological] theorists,” Godoy and Jaffe note, are investigating “our changing and dangerously unstable metabolic relationship with nature. Humans are a unique species in that we form complex relationships to regulate this metabolism as we produce our food, water, shelter and more robust needs.” But the larger reality of class and social inequality identified with capitalism, means that “the affluent can afford an increase in food prices, ship in bottled water during droughts and relocate businesses and homes when the seas rise, while those without access to such privileges have fewer options and disproportionately suffer.” The same logic applies to access to basic technologies and other means of environmental defense. For these and other reasons, climate change endangers the oppressed and underprivileged first—both within nations and globally.

The only conceivable answer today to cascading planetary catastrophe is a broad-based ecological and social revolution, in which the population mobilizes to protect the future of humanity: a revolutionary war for the planet. For Godoy and Jaffe, the “crucial” goal in this respect “is gaining social control over the private, exploitative and even irresponsible direction of the human-nature metabolism,” which has generated a metabolic rift in society’s relation the planet. Overcoming this rift requires a majoritarian revolt on a global scale, the like of which the world has never seen. A “green revolution,” they argue, “would center the human-nature metabolism over and against the drive for profits.” The goal would be to “transform the relationships that regulate our metabolism with nature, relationships that now allow some to profit by denying this right to others.” From this perspective, “Exxon and its climate science obfuscation is not so much an enemy as a paradigmatic symptom of the worst kinds of behavior generated by profit-driven systems. The enemy is the violence perpetrated by [the] racial, gendered, political, juridical and existing economic metabolisms with nature.”37

Godoy and Jaffe’s stance aligns closely with Klein’s argument in This Changes Everything. Behind the right’s climate denial is the economic reality that seriously combatting capitalism’s war on the planet, requires the defeat of the system. Thus the only alternative for the right and its until-death-do-us-part defenders of capitalism is to invert reality and abandon science. Like Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, the right “vomits up reason,” rejecting “the laws of nature” and “two times two is four.”38

The right must deny science and reason precisely because they point to the need for radical social, economic, and ecological transformation. Klein quotes leading British climate scientist Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Institute for Climate Change Research, who writes that, “today, after two decades of bluff and lies, the remaining 2°C budget demands revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony.” As Klein argues, “revolutionary levels of transformation to the market system” are “now our best hope of avoiding climate chaos.”39

A world climate movement aimed at countering climate change, Klein states, can be a “galvanizing force for humanity,” a “People’s Shock, a blow from below,” compelling us to create at last the world of social and economic equality that is so much needed in the world today. She rightly stresses the radical groundswell itself, placing her faith in the leading edge of climate activism, in the form of what she and others call “Blockadia”—a “roving transnational conflict zone” in which climate and environmental-justice activists, indigenous peoples, workers, socialists, and other groups throw up barriers to resist the system.40

An example of Blockadia in this sense is the courageous struggle of Native American “water protectors” and their allies—including two thousand military veterans who arrived in the final days to provide a “human shield”—at Standing Rock in North Dakota in the summer and fall of 2016. The Standing Rock water protectors endured weeks of state violence in the form of water cannons in freezing temperatures, non-lethal bullets, and tear gas, and succeeded in stopping, at least for the time being, the construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, intended to stretch over a thousand miles from the Bakken and Three Forks production areas in North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa, and into Illinois, with the aim of transporting up to 570,000 barrels of oil a day. The pipeline required drillng under the Missouri River, threatening water supplies due to possible pipeline leakages. The drilling permit was rejected in early December by the Army Corps of Engineers, but the battle will likely soon erupt again, since the Trump administration has made no secret of its determination to see the pipeline completed.41

A Two-Stage Ecological Revolution

The primary efforts of radical climate activists in the present historical conjuncture have focused on blocking coal and unconventional fossil fuels, such as oil sands, tight oil, shale gas, oil shale, and oil from ultra-deep-sea wells.42 This approach is based on a complex climate-change exit strategy articulated most definitively by Hansen, who has argued that in order to limit the consumption of fossil fuels in today’s society while promoting the switch to non-fossil-fuel energy sources, it is necessary to increase the price of fossil fuels substantially through a carbon-fee-and-dividend system. Under such a plan, a fee on carbon, imposed and ratcheted up in stages, would be levied at the mine shaft, wellhead, or point of import, and 100 percent of the funds collected would be redistributed as dividends to families on a per capita basis. The result would be that the vast majority of individuals, with lower carbon footprints at lower income levels, would come out ahead, even under the assumption that the corporations would pass on the full cost of the fees—since the costs net of dividends would fall on those with higher carbon footprints and higher income levels. The beauty of Hansen’s scheme is that it would help mobilize humanity as a whole on a class basis with regard to carbon footprints.

However, a higher price for carbon, Hansen insists, is not itself sufficient. It is also necessary to focus on the more dangerous carbon fuels, proscribing their use. Hansen has argued that a key to any exit strategy has to prioritize direct action aimed at shutting down existing coal plants, as well as a moratorium on any new coal plants, and the blocking of the Alberta tar sands—since coal and tar sands oil represent the dirtiest fossil fuels, which could quickly break the global carbon budget. True to his strategy, Hansen has put himself on the line and has been arrested in protests against both coal and tar sands oil.43

Nevertheless, the Hansen exit strategy, though influential within the movement—particularly in its call for direct action to block coal and unconventionals—is weakened by its overemphasis on carbon prices. Anderson has argued that the affluent, who have the highest carbon footprints, can always afford to pay higher carbon prices. More effective would be direct governmental intervention to establish stringent maximum-emissions standards for high-energy consuming devices. This is not a technological problem, he points out, because the energy-saving and alternative-energy technologies already exist, and in many cases can be immediately substituted at little long-term cost to society as a whole. It does mean, however, confronting the “political and economic hegemony” of the system, including neoclassical economics, which is subservient to the capitalist order.44

All of this reflects a narrowing of the options for humanity and the earth. In the current climate conjuncture, the historically necessary ecological and social revolution, in which humanity as a whole would seek to once again take history in its hands, this time to stave off the impending catastrophes of an irrational system, would have to take part in two stages. The first would involve the formation of a broad alliance, modeled after the Popular Front against fascism in the 1930s and ’40s. Today’s Popular Front would need to be aimed principally at confronting the fossil-fuel-financial complex and its avid right-wing supporters. In this first stage of the struggle, manifold demands could be made and broadly agreed on within the existing system—ways of eliminating carbon emissions and economic waste while also promoting social and environmental needs—which, although inimical to the logic of capital, and particularly to the fossil-fuel industry, would not call into immediate question the existence of the capitalist system itself.45

However, in the long run, capitalism’s threat to planetary boundaries cannot be solved by stopgap reforms, however radical, that leave the system’s fundamental features intact while simply transcending its relation to fossil fuels. The danger to the planetary environment posed by the accumulation of capital is all-encompassing.46 This means that the ecological revolution will have to extend eventually to the roots of production itself, and will have to assume the form of a system of substantive equality for all: racial freedom, gender and LGBTQ equality, a classless society, an end to imperialism, and the protection of the earth for future generations.

In the long run, the struggle is therefore synonymous with the movement towards socialism. The more revolutionary the struggle, the more it is likely to emanate from those whose needs are greatest, and thus from the global South. It is in the periphery of the system, rather than in the center, that humanity is most likely to mutiny against the existing order. Hope today therefore lies first and foremost in the revolt of “the wretched of the earth,” opening up fissures at the center of the system itself.

But even if all of this were to fail, and our present hopes were to go unrealized, with the world pushed to the planetary turning point, it would remain true, then as now, that the only answer is ecological and social revolution. There is no next time. It is the fire this time.47

Notes

  1. Donald J. Trump, Twitter post, January 1, 2014, 5:39 p.m., http://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump.
  2. Leo Benedictus, “Noam Chomsky on Donald Trump: ‘Almost a Death Knell for the Human Species,’Guardian, May 20, 2016; statements by Michael E. Mann quoted in “US Election: Climate Scientists React to Donald Trump’s Victory,” CarbonBrief, November 9, 2016, http://carbonbrief.org. Mann, in his statement, is quoting James Hansen, who several years earlier had used the phrase “game over for the climate” in calling for immediate action to address climate change. See James Hansen, “Game Over for the Climate,”New York Times, May 12, 2012.
  3. Shaun Marcott quoted in “Climate Scientists React to Donald Trump’s Victory.”
  4. James Hansen,Storms of My Grandchildren (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009), 269; Kevin Anderson, “Climate Change Going Beyond Dangerous—Brutal Numbers and Tenuous Hope,” What Next Forum, September 12, http://whatnext.org; Heidi Cullen,The Weather of the Future (New York: Harper, 2011), 261–71.
  5. Scott Waldman, “Rise in Global Carbon Emissions Slows,”Scientific American, November 14, 2016.
  6. See James Hansen, “China and the Barbarians: Part I,” November 24, 2010, http://columbia.edu; Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles,The Madhouse Effect (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 139–40; Jean Chemnick, “China Takes the Climate Spotlight as U.S. Heads for Exit,”Scientific American, November 18, 2016; Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway,The Collapse of Western Civilization(New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).
  7. World Meteorological Organization, “The Global Climate 2011–2015: Heat Records and High Impact Weather,” November 8, 2016, http://public.wmo.int; “Provisional WMO Statement on the Status of the Global Climate in 2016,” November 14, 2016, http://public.wmo.int.
  8. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Executive Summary,”Arctic Report Card (Washington, D.C.: NOAA, 2016), http://arctic.noaa.gov; Henry Fountain and John Schwartz, “Spiking Temperatures in the Arctic Startle Scientists,”New York Times, December 13, 2016.
  9. Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney, “Scientists Nearly Double Sea Level Rise Projections for 2100, Because of Antarctica,”Washington Post, March 30, 2016 (updated December 17, 2016); Michael Oppenheimer and Richard B. Alley, “How High Will the Seas Rise?”Science 354, no. 6318 (2016): 1375–76; Julia Rosen, “Sea Level Rise Accelerating Faster than Thought,”Science news blog, http://sciencemag.org; May 11, 2015; Robert M. DeConto and David Pollard, “Contribution of Antarctic to Past and Future Sea-Level Rise,”Nature 531 (2016): 591–97; Jeff Tollefson, “Antarctic Model Raises Prospect of Unstoppable Ice Collapse,” Nature, March 30, 2016, http://nature.com; Brian Kahn, “Sea Level Could Rise at Least 6 Meters,”Scientific American, July 9, 2015.
  10. Kevin Anderson, “Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change Demands De-growth Strategies from Wealthier Nations,” November 25, 2013, http://kevinanderson.info/blog; JOs G, J, Olivier et al., Trends in Global CO2 Emissions, 2016 Report (The Hague: PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, 2016), 13, http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu. The Netherlands Environmental Agency statistics include carbon from both fossil fuels and cement manufacture.
    Hansen further calculates that in order to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, as current models minimally require, would necessitate an approximately 5 percent annual decline in emissions (on an exponential, or constant percentage rate basis). If a 6 percent annual reduction were to be achieved beginning in 2020, the world could get back down to the necessary 350 ppm of carbon in the atmosphere—if it were additionally to suck 150 gigatonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by means of improved forestry and agricultural practices. The rich, high per-capita emissions countries are those most able to achieve steep initial reductions in carbon emissions, because it is there that the “low-hanging fruit” are primarily to be found. James Hansen, “Rolling Stones,” January 11, 2017, http://columbia.edu.
  11. Mann and Toles,The Madhouse Effect, 28, 132.
  12. Mann and Toles, The Madhouse Effect, 10–11, 150; Ian Angus, Facing the Anthropocene (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016).
  13. The severity of the Anthropocene crisis prompted some major environmental thinkers to shift from mainstream to more radical views critical of capitalism. See, for example, James Gustave Speth,The Bridge at the Edge of the Time (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008).
  14. See Paul M. Sweezy and Harry Magdoff, “Capitalism and the Environment,”Monthly Review 41, no. 2 (June 1989): 1–10; John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York, The Ecological Rift (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010); Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg,Climate Change, Capitalism, and Corporations (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
  15. The sociologist Max Weber was perhaps the first major thinker to argue that historical capitalism was inextricably intertwined with the fossil-fuel regime. See John Bellamy Foster and Hannah Holleman, “Weber and the Environment,”American Journal of Sociology 117, no. 6 (2012): 1646–60.
  16. For analyses of these global trends of monopoly, finance, stagnation, and imperialism, see Samir Amin, The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013); John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, The Endless Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012); Costas Lapavitsas,Profiting Without Producing (London: Verso, 2014); Utsa Patnaik and Prabhat Patnaik,A Theory of Imperialism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017); and John Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016). The shift to financial-wealth accumulation over production and income generation is also captured, from a non-Marxian viewpoint, in Thomas Piketty,Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).
  17. See Foster and McChesney,The Endless Crisis, 44–45, 125–54; Amin,The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism.
  18. Paul M. Sweezy,The Theory of Capitalist Development (New York: Oxford University Press, 1942), 348–52; “Capitalism and the Environment,” 8–9.
  19. The alt-right, riding high since Trump’s election, has been defined byNational Review as a movement of “white nationalists and wanna-be fascists.” Unfortunately, the “wanna-be” seems less and less warranted. David French, “The Race-Obsessed Left Has Released a Monster It Can’t Control,”National Review, January 26, 2016. French tries to blame the rise of the alt-right and Trump on the left, rather than on the right’s own “white identity politics.”
  20. Naomi Klein,This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014), 22, 38–39.
  21. See Oscar Reyes, “Seven Wrinkles in the Paris Climate Deal,” Foreign Policy in Focus, December 14, 2015, http://fpif.org; Kelly Levin and Taryn Fransen, “Why Are INDC Studies Reaching Different Temperature Estimates?” World Resources Institute, November 9, 2015, http://wri.org/blog.
  22. U.S. carbon emissions had already fallen by 13 percent between 2005 and 2013, largely due to the shift away from coal during to the fracking boom, making Obama’s plan even less ambitious than it appeared. See the 2017 Economic Report of the President (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Publishing Office), 423­–82; Mark Hertsgaard, “Climate Change,”Nation, January 2 and 9, 2017, 72; Brad Plumer, “A Guide to Obama’s New Rules to Cut Carbon Emissions from Power Plants,” Vox, June 1, 2014, http://vox.com; David Biello, “How Far Does Obama’s Clean Power Plan Go in Slowing Climate Change?” Scientific American, August 6, 2015.
  23. 2017 Economic Report, 448, 472, 483. On the debate on the left over Obama’s CCP and more radical strategies, see Christian Parenti, “Climate Change: What Role for Reform?” and the Editors, “A Reply to Parenti,”Monthly Review 65, no. 11 (April 2014): 49–55.
  24. Tony Dokoupil, “Obama’s Climate Policy is ‘Practically Worthless,’ Says Expert,” MSNBC, August 4, 2015.
  25. This is the thesis advanced in Hans-Werner Sinn,The Green Paradox (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012).
  26. Henry Fountain and Erica Goode, “Trump Has Options for Undoing Obama’s Climate Legacy,”New York Times, November 25, 2016.
  27. Ewan Palmer, “50 Other Times Donald Trump Denied Climate Change and Global Warming,” International Business Times, September 27, 2016, http://ibtimes.co.uk.
  28. Henry Fountain, “Trump’s Climate Contrarian: Myron Ebell Takes on the EPA,”New York Times, November 11, 2016; Matt Shuham, “Trump Adviser: Global Warming Could Be Disproven Just Like Flat Earth Theory,” Talking Points Memo, December 14, 2016, http://talkingpointsmemo.com; Mazin Sidahmed, “Climate Change Denial in the Trump Cabinet: Where Do Nominees Stand?Guardian, December 15, 2016; Tim Murphy, “Rick Perry’s War on Science,”Mother Jones, December 13, 2016; Lee Fang, “He Waged Intimidation Campaigns Against Climate Scientists; Now He’s Helping Trump Remake the EPA,” The Intercept, December 9, 2016, http://theintercept.com; Dan Vergano, “Trump Transition Lawyer Has Spent Years Suing for Climate Emails,” Buzzfeed, December 13, 2016, http://buzzfeed.com; Michael E. Mann,The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 367–68; Nick Surgey, “Revealed: The Trump Administration’s Energy Plan,” PR Watch, December 4, 2016, http://prwatch.org; Steven Mufson, “Trump’s Energy Policy Team Includes Climate Change Skeptic, Free-Market Advocate,”Washington Post, November 29, 2016; Scott Pruitt and Luther Strange, “The Climate-Change Gang,”National Review, May 17, 2016; John Cook, “Yes, There Really is Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 13, 2016, http://thebulletin.org; Charlie Rose, “Charlie Rose Talks to ExxonMobil’s Rex Tillerson,” Bloomberg, March 7, 2013, http://bloomberg.com.
  29. Coral Davenport, “Climate Change Conversations are Targeted in Questionnaire to Energy Department,”New York Times, December 9, 2016; Chris Mooney and Juliet Eilperin, “Trump Transition Says Request for Names of Climate Scientists Was ‘Not Authorized,’Washington Post, December 14, 2016.
  30. Matthew Philips, Mark Drajem, and Jennifer A. Dlouhy, “How Climate Rules Might Fade Away,” Bloomberg, December 15, 2016; Mufson, “Trump’s Energy Policy Team Includes Climate Change Skeptic.”
  31. Dana Nuccitelli, “Trump and the GOP May Be Trying to Kneecap Climate Research,”Guardian, November 30, 2016.
  32. James Hansen, “The Real Deal: Usufruct and the Gorilla,” DeSmogBlog, August 16, 2007, http://desmogblog.com; Mark Bowen,Censoring Science (New York: Penguin, 2008), 303–04.
  33. Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway,Merchants of Doubt (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011).
  34. Thomas Heath, “How a Trump Presidency Will Affect 15 Industries,”Washington Post, November 12, 2016; Michelle Conlin, “Exclusive: Trump Considering Fracking Mogul Harold Hamm as Energy Secretary,” Reuters, July 21, 2016; James Delingpole, “Trump: The Left Just Lost the War on Climate Change,” Breitbart, November 9, 2016, http://breitbart.com.
  35. Peter Andreas, “Yes, Trump Will Build His Border Wall. Most of It is Already Built,”Washington Post Monkey Cage blog, November 21, 2016; Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall, An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security (Pasadena, CA: California Institute of Technology, 2003); John Bellamy Foster, The Ecological Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009), 107–20.
  36. A. B. Spellman, “Interview with Malcolm X,”Monthly Review 16, no. 1 (May 1964): 23.
  37. Eric S. Godoy and Aaron Jaffe, “We Don’t Need a ‘War’ on Climate Change, We Need a Revolution,”New York Times, October 31, 2016.
  38. Fyodor Dostoevsky,Notes from Underground (New York: Vintage, 1993), 13; Paul A. Baran, The Longer View (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969), 104. The phrase “vomits up reason” is taken from Baran’s interpretation of the Underground Man’s rejection of the “laws of nature”: and “two times two is four.”
  39. Klein,This Changes Everything, 56, 449; Kevin Anderson, “Why Carbon Prices Can’t Deliver the 2°C Target,” August 13, 2013, http://kevinanderson.info/blog.
  40. Klein,This Changes Everything, 7–10, 294.
  41. Lauren Regan, “Water Protectors File Class Action Suit for Retaliation and Excessive Force Against Brutal Police,” Civil Liberties Defense Center, November 28, 2016, http://cldc.org; “News Timeline of Standing Rock Water Protectors’ Resistance to Dakota Access Pipeline,” Daily Kos, October 11, 2016, http://dailykos.com; Wes Enzinna, “Crude Awakening,”Mother Jones (January–February 2017): 32–37; Jack Healy, “As North Dakota Pipeline Is Blocked, Veterans at Standing Rock Cheer,”New York Times, December 5, 2016.
  42. Unconventional fossil fuels are often dirtier, as in the cases of oilsands and oil shale. In other instances, they represent such a great expansion of fossil-fuel availability—as in tight oil and shale gas (via fracking), and ultra-deep oil wells, particularly in the Arctic, now opening up to oil exploration—that they put an end to any expectation of any “peaking” of fossil fuels in time to alleviate the pressure on the climate. Fracking is also associated with methane leaks, which further exacerbate climate change. It should be noted that Hansen himself sees fourth-generation nuclear energy (still not fully developed) as a possible alternative, non-carbon energy source, and thus part of the answer to global warming. However, this would be a Faustian bargain, raising a host of concerns for humanity and the environment.
  43. John Bellamy Foster, “James Hansen and the Climate Change Exit Strategy,”Monthly Review 64, no. 9 (February 2013): 1–18; Foster, “The Fossil Fuels War,”Monthly Review 65, no. 4 (September 2013): 4–5; Bowen,Censoring Science, 305.
  44. Anderson, “Why Carbon Prices Can’t Deliver.”
  45. See Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster, What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011), 124–31; Angus,Facing the Anthropocene, 189–223.
  46. See, for example, the multifaceted threat that capitalism poses toward oceans and marine life, as depicted in Stefano B. Longo, Rebecca Clausen, and Brett Clark,The Tragedy of the Commodity: Oceans, Fisheries, and Aquaculture(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015).
  47. “If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: ‘God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time.’” James Baldwin,The Fire Next Time (New York: Dial, 1963), 105–06.

 

Democrats Just Blocked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Push for a Green New Deal Committee

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Politics, Public Health on December 22, 2018 at 11:14 pm
Instead, Democrats are sticking to their original plan, and channeled Exxon Mobil in an announcement refusing to bar members who take fossil fuel money.

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Democratic leaders on Thursday tapped Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) to head a revived U.S. House panel on climate change, all but ending a dramatic monthlong effort to establish a select committee on a Green New Deal.

Castor’s appointment came as a surprise to proponents of a Green New Deal. The move also kicked off a controversy as the six-term congresswoman dismissed calls to bar members who accept money from fossil fuel companies from serving on the committee, arguing it would violate free speech rights.

Despite weeks of protests demanding House Democrats focus efforts next year on drafting a Green New Deal, the sort of sweeping economic policy that scientists say matches the scale of the climate crisis, Castor told E&E News the plan was “not going to be our sole focus.”

She then suggested that barring members who have accepted donations from the oil, gas and coal industries from serving on the committee could be unconstitutional.

“I don’t think you can do that under the First Amendment, really,” she said.

That reasoning echoed arguments Exxon Mobil Corp. made in court as recently as this year to defend its funding of right-wing think tanks that deliberately produced misinformation about climate science to stymie government action on global warming.

Soon after the remarks were published, Castor walked back the statement in an interview with HuffPost, calling it an “inartful answer.”

But she said she did not know whether, as chairperson, she could bar members on the committee from serving if they accepted fossil fuel donations.

“Maybe that’s a discussion we need to have in the caucus,” Castor said.

It’s a stunning upset, essentially returning Democrats to the original plan leaders laid out before the protests began in November. The announcement comes as a loss for Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Her meteoric rise and devoted base made it seem as if she were poised to win the burgeoning cadre of leftist Democrats a beachhead in a select committee that, even with limited capacity, would have demonstrated tangible power in Washington.

But, if it’s defeat, it’s bittersweet. The campaign, seemingly quixotic at first, shifted the stagnant climate policy debate not just to the left but, for the first time, in the direction of policies that could make a dent in surging global emissions and curb soaring income inequality. Coupled with back-to-back United Nations and federal reports that showed climate change already rapidly worsening, the effort established a new litmus test for lawmakers, breaking the binary of whether or not a politicians “believes” in the science of human-caused warming.

The movement gained stunning support in just a few weeks. A poll released Monday found 81 percent of registered voters supported the policies outlined under the Green New Deal resolution ― including 64 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of self-described conservative Republicans. Last Friday, more than 300 state and local officials voiced support for a Green New Deal in an open letter. 

“We don’t have time to sit on our hands as our planet burns,” Ocasio-Cortez said Thursday in a tweet. “For young people, climate change is bigger than election or re-election. It’s life or death.”

It’s unclear whether Ocasio-Cortez will even get a seat on the select committee.

Asked if she accepted money from fossil fuel companies, Castor said, “I cannot think of a contribution from an oil company or fossil fuel company, but I cannot say without going back and with a fine-toothed comb that there wasn’t something in the past.”

According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Castor accepted more than $73,000 from the energy and natural resources sector over her 12-year tenure in Congress, including $60,000 from corporate political action committees. The League of Conservation Voters gave Castor an 86 percent score last year on its ranking, which is based on her voting record. She had a 93 percent lifetime score.

She said she would consider taking the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, a vow overseen by a handful of progressive groups including proponents of a Green New Deal. Asked what the decision hinged on, Castor said, “I don’t know.”

“We’re at year-end with a possible shutdown and I think the important thing is looking at folks for the committee who are ready to serve,” she said.

The restoration of the select committee on climate change puts an end to a month-long effort to replace it with a panel focused specifically on crafting a Green New Deal, an umbrella term for a suite of policies that would include shifting the United States to 100 percent renewable energy over the next decade and guaranteeing high-wage, federally backed jobs to workers in outmoded industries.

The proposal stormed into mainstream political debate over the past month after protesters from the progressive groups Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats held sit-ins in Pelosi’s office. The demonstrations came in response to what they saw as plans for a tepid response to the climate crisis when the party takes control of the House next month.

Ocasio-Cortez, a left-wing firebrand with a powerful online following, joined the protests and proposed swapping Pelosi’s plan to restore the climate select committee with a plan for a panel devoted to the Green New Deal.

For a few weeks, it seemed likely to happen. More than 40 incoming or sitting House Democrats pledged to support the resolution, and nearly half a dozen senators announced their support for the effort, including at least three likely 2020 presidential contenders.

But the proposal ruffled feathers in Washington. Incoming chairmen of committees that traditionally oversee energy and environmental policy complained that a Green New Deal select committee would strip them of legislative power. And Beltway veterans privately expressed frustration that a cadre of insurgent freshmen, some of whom toppled long-time allies in primaries, were using their grassroots popularity to call shots.Democratic leaders responded in kind, declining to contact activists or Ocasio-Cortez before announcing plans to ignore the resolution and restore the previous climate select committee instead.

Representatives from Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats confirmed they were not told of the decision until they read about it on E&E News. Castor said she “chatted with Rep.-elect Ocasio-Cortez, but not specifically on this.”

In a statement, Sunrise Movement said a select committee “that makes a plan for implementing a Green New Deal is an opportunity for Democrats in the House.”

“Without a mandate to create a plan and a requirement that its members don’t take fossil fuel money, we are deeply concerned that this committee will be just another of the many committees we’ve seen failing our generation our entire lives,” Varshini Prakash, the Sunrise Movement’s co-founder, said in a statement.

Later Thursday evening, Sunrise political director Evan Weber said the group would continue the fight.

“Nancy Pelosi has the power to determine whether or not the Select Committee for a Green New Deal lives or dies,” Weber said. “Sunrise Movement’s position is and will continue to be that it’s not over until she makes it clear that it’s over.”

But, earlier this week, Democratic leaders announced that a Green New Deal select committee would lack subpoena power, seemingly sounding the death knell for the resolution.

Castor said the select committee she agreed to chair would likely have subpoena power, but not legislative power. She said she did not know yet which individuals or companies she would use that power to investigate.

“I honestly thought the Democratic Party leaders would see this opportunity,” said Waleed Shahid, the communications director for Justice Democrats, a left-wing group championing the Green New Deal proposal. “It’s infuriating to see a fellow Democrat basically parrot the talking points of the Koch Brothers when it comes to the very common-sense idea that any politician who accepts donations from the fossil-fuel corporations should not be allowed to legislate on climate change.”

But Castor’s appointment won praise from establishment environmental groups.

“Rep. Kathy Castor is an outstanding choice to help lead the House’s renewed focus on climate change,” John Bowman, senior director for federal affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “As a longtime environmental champion, few are better suited to help shine a bright light on the threats Americans face from the climate crisis and advance the solutions we urgently need.”

Alexander Kaufman is a climate and environment reporter at HuffPost, based in New York. Email him at alexander.kaufman@huffpost.com. Direct message him on Twitter @AlexCKaufman for his phone number on the encrypted messaging app Signal.

Russia’s Putin: nothing to stop us adding other states to nuclear pact

In Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 19, 2018 at 11:49 pm
Reuters
MOSCOW, Dec 18 (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that there was nothing to stop Russia and the United States agreeing that other countries could join the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by Washington and Moscow during the Cold War.

The United States has accused Russia of flouting the nuclear pact, allegations Moscow denies, and has threatened to pull out. Other countries are able to develop missiles banned under the treaty because they are not signatories.

“What stops (us) starting talks on them joining the current agreement or starting to discuss parameters for a new accord?” Putin asked. (Reporting by Polina Ivanova and Andrew Osborn; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Julian Assange and the Defense of Democracy

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Peace, Politics on December 19, 2018 at 7:11 am

By Tom Mayer

Effective democracy requires well informed citizens.  One of the greatest threats to effective democracy in modern capitalist societies is government secrecy.  This prevents citizens from knowing about and attempting to control the actions of their own government.  Mainstream media, owned by giant corporations and often in cahoots with the state, regularly fail to penetrate the secrecy shrouding crucial government actions.

No organization has done more to make critical political information available to the public than WikiLeaks.  Founded in 2006 by Julian Assange, an Australian computer programmer, WikiLeaks has published more than twelve million documents that governments around the world tried to keep secret.  WikiLeaks became famous in 2010 when it published several hundred thousand documents provided by Chelsea Manning.   This information revealed (among other things) cruel and illegal activities by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as associated diplomatic cover-ups.

Julian Assange, who functioned as editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks until September 2018, has won numerous awards for investigative journalism.  In 2009 he won the Amnesty International UK Media Award, and in 2010 he was honored by retired CIA officers with the Sam Adams Award.   In 2011 Assange received the Martha Gellhorn Journalism Prize, and in 2015 he was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize.  The eminent critical journalist John Pilger writes:

“No investigative journalism in my lifetime can equal the importance of what WikiLeaks has done in calling rapacious power to account. It is as if a one-way moral screen has been pushed back to expose the imperialism of liberal democracies: the commitment to endless warfare and the division and degradation of “unworthy” lives: from Grenfell Tower to Gaza.”  [http://johnpilger.com/articles/the-urgency-of-bringing-julian-assange-home]

After WikiLeaks published the Chelsea Manning documents, the U.S. government mounted an intensive campaign to smear Julian Assange and thereby discredit WikiLeaks.  The U.S. campaign attacked Assange in three different ways: (1) he engages in political espionage, (2) he is an agent of the Russian government, and (3) he is a rapist.  All three of these charges have been decisively refuted.

WikiLeaks does not steal documents or engage in illegal hacking.  It merely publishes information provided by others.  If this constitutes espionage, then the New York Times and Washington Post are also guilty.  WikiLeaks has circulated numerous documents that make the Russian government look bad.  Strange behavior for an agent of the Russian government.  And here is what Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff, leaders of Women Against Rape, say about the rape charges against Assange:

“The allegations against [Assange] are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder and destruction… The authorities care so little about violence against women that they manipulate rape allegations at will.”

The governments of Sweden and the UK, strongly prodded by Washington, soon joined the assault upon Julian Assange.  If convicted in either of these countries, Assange would be deported to the United States, where he faced a possible death sentence for espionage.  Fortunately, the progressive government of Ecuador granted Assange political asylum in August 2012.  Since that time he has been confined to Ecuador’s embassy in London.

But Washington has exerted unrelenting pressure on Ecuador to abrogate Assange’s asylum and expel him from the London embassy.  In March 2018 a more conservative government took power in Ecuador.  The new government has steadily eroded the normal rights of political asylum.  Harsh restrictions have been placed upon Assange.   He cannot have visitors, receive phone calls, or get electronic communications of any kind.  His health is deteriorating, but he is prevented from getting necessary medical treatment.

Julian Assange has rendered yeoman service to effective democracy.  He should be liberated from his increasingly oppressive internment in the Ecuadorian embassy and allowed to continue his invaluable journalistic activity.  Anyone who cares about freedom of the press and genuine democracy (as opposed to our current plutocratic oligarchy) should favor freedom for Julian Assange.

Military | Pollution M.I.C. Green New Deal Advocates Shouldn’t Overlook Militarism

In Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 17, 2018 at 11:48 pm

In the spirit of a new year and a new Congress, 2019 may well be our best and last opportunity to steer our ship of state away from the twin planetary perils of environmental chaos and militarism, charting a course toward an earth-affirming 21st century.

The environmental crisis was laid bare by the sobering December report of the UN Climate panel: If the world fails to mobilize within the next 12 years on the level of a moon shot, and gear up to change our energy usage from toxic fossil, nuclear and industrial biomass fuels to the already known solutions for employing solar, wind, hydro, geothermal energy and efficiency, we will destroy all life on earth as we know it. The existential question is whether our elected officials, with the reins of power, are going to sit by helplessly as our planet experiences more devastating fires, floods, droughts, and rising seas or will they seize this moment and take monumental action as we did when the United States abolished slavery, gave women the vote, ended the great depression, and eliminated legal segregation.

Some members of Congress are already showing their historic mettle by supporting a Green New Deal. This would not only start to reverse the damage we have inflicted on our collective home, but it would create hundreds of thousands of good jobs that cannot be shipped overseas to low-wage countries.

Even those congresspeople who want to seriously address the climate crisis, however, fail to grapple with the simultaneous crisis of militarism. The war on terror unleashed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack has led to almost two decades of unchecked militarism. We are spending more money on our military than at any time in history. Endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere are still raging, costing us trillions of dollars and creating humanitarian disasters. Old treaties to control nuclear arms are unraveling at the same time that conflicts with the major powers of Russia and China are heating up.

Where is the call for the New Peace Deal that would free up hundreds of billions from the overblown military budget to invest in green infrastructure? Where is the call to close a majority of our nation’s 800-plus military bases overseas, bases that are relics of World War II and are basically useless for military purposes? Where is the call for seriously addressing the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons?

With the crumbling phenomenon of outdated nuclear arms control treaties, it is unconscionable not to support the recently negotiated UN treaty, signed by 122 nations, to prohibit and ban nuclear weapons just as the world has done for chemical and biological weapons. The U.S. Congress should not be authorizing the expenditures of $1 trillion for new nuclear weapons, bowing to corporate paymasters who seek a larger arms race with Russia and other nuclear-armed countries to the detriment of our own people and the rest of the world. Instead, Congress should take the lead in supporting this treaty and promoting it among the other nuclear weapons states.

Environmentalists need to contest the Pentagon’s staggering global footprint. The U.S. military is the world’s largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels and the largest source of greenhouse gases, contributing about 5 percent of global warming emissions. Almost 900 of the EPA’s 1,300 Superfund sites are abandoned military bases, weapons-production facilities or weapons-testing sites. The former Hanford nuclear weapons facility in Washington state alone will cost over $100 billion to clean up. The U.S. military has also spread toxic chemical contaminants in and around bases worldwide, sickening millions.

If climate change is not addressed rapidly by a Green New Deal, global militarism will ramp up in response to increases in climate refugees and civil destabilization, which will feed climate change and seal a vicious cycle fed by the twin evils of militarism and climate disruption. That’s why a New Peace Deal and a Green New Deal should go hand in hand. We cannot afford to waste our time, resources and intellectual capital on weapons and war when climate change is barreling down on all of humankind. If the nuclear weapons don’t destroy us, then the pressing urgency of catastrophic climate will.

Moving from an economic system that relies on fossil fuels and violence would enable us to make a just transition to a clean, green, life-supporting energy economy. This would be the quickest and most positive way to deal a death knell to the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned about so many years ago.

Top photo | Spent shell casings from firing practice litter the desert on the grounds of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., April 4, 2008. Reed Saxon | AP

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of CODEPINK and author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection. Her new book is Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic.

Alice Slater, author, and nuclear disarmament advocate is a member of the Coordinating Committee of World BEYOND War and UN NGO Representative of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.