Monthly Archives: December 2011

Architecture of Fear

During the colonial era, Africa was represented as the land that time left behind. European colonial powers justified their rule over many parts of the globe, and over Africa above all, by arguing that other parts of the planet were evolutionary backwaters. Europe was held to be the most evolved culture on the planet, the model to which all other cultures were supposed to aspire.

This temporal narrative was sutured onto space. To travel from Europe to Africa was thus not just to travel away from the center of global culture, technology, and civilization in general, it was also to travel backward in time. These racist notions were incredibly pervasive in European colonial culture, shaping the ideas even of critics of imperial brutality such as Joseph Conrad, whose Heart of Darkness retains many of the tropes of Africa as a prehistorical space.

The whole framework of development during the postcolonial era was predicated on retaining these temporal tropes. Africa and other parts of the world that succeeded in liberating themselves from colonial oppression were nevertheless expected to “develop” or catch up to the West by integrating themselves into the global economy. This meant accepting the capitalist rule book, including elements such as intensive fossil-fuel driven agriculture. As we know now, these notions of development, along with the loans that accompanied them, did not in fact help most African nations “catch up” to the West. Instead, they saddled most of these nations with forms of exorbitant debt that shattered their infrastructure and consigned them to a form of permanent indentured labor for the global economy.

Nonetheless, today Africa is no longer seen as a space that lags in temporal terms. Quite the contrary. Africa is now seen as the future the rest of the planet will one day catch up to. Its extreme inequalities, mass surplus population, tremendous pools of informal labor, immiserated millions in mega-cities like Lagos and Nairobi – all of these components make critics of both the Right and the Left, from Mike Davis to Robert Kaplan, see Africa as a bell-wether.

South Africa is perhaps the most extreme case of such extremes. It offers nearly unparalleled wealth cheek by jowl with stark poverty. Walking around the affluent neighborhoods near the university where I’ve been staying during COP17, the architectural implications of this polarized society are highly evident.

At night, the streets are totally abandoned, except for the occasional prostitute. The affluent suburbanites of this area – the vast majority of whom are white – don’t even leave their cars on the street for fear of burglary, so the streets are almost as blank as those of a traditional Arab medina.

During the day, the multifarious architecture of security is discretely apparent. Here are some images I snapped while walking the streets (the only white man on foot, of course). High walls, razor wire, ferocious dogs, private armed response units, and, above all, ubiquitous electrified wire (rather hard to see in some of these photos because it’s so thin and hence discrete). The temptation to touch some of this wire to see how much of a jolt one would get was strong, particularly since it was so delicate, but I refrained since I suppose there must be enough juice in there to kill a man.

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All of this offers a powerful metaphor for the world of climate apartheid created by elites over the last two weeks here in Durban. It’s not so surprising that people see Africa as prefigurative.

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Climate Apartheid

Here is the final press statement from the Climate Justice Now! Campaign on the events in Durban:

 COP17 succumbs to Climate Apartheid

Antidote is Cochabamba Peoples’ Agreement

Durban, S. Africa –Decisions resulting from the UN COP17 climate summit in Durban constitute a crime against humanity, according to Climate Justice Now! a broad coalition of social movements and civil society. Here in South Africa, where the world was inspired by the liberation struggle of the country’s black majority, the richest nations have cynically created a new regime of climate apartheid

“Delaying real action until 2020 is a crime of global proportions,” said Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International. “An increase in global temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius, permitted under this plan, is a death sentence for Africa, Small Island States, and the poor and vulnerable worldwide. This summit has amplified climate apartheid, whereby the richest 1% of the world have decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice the 99%.”

According to Pablo Solón, former lead negotiator for the Plurinational State of Bolivia, “It is false to say that a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol has been adopted in Durban. The actual decision has merely been postponed to the next COP, with no commitments for emission reductions from rich countries. This means that the Kyoto Protocol will be on life support until it is replaced by a new agreement that will be even weaker.”

The world’s polluters have blocked real action and have once again chosen to bail out investors and banks by expanding the now-crashing carbon markets – which like all financial market activities these days, appear to mainly enrich a select few.

“What some see as inaction is in fact a demonstration of the palpable failure of our current economic system to address economic, social or environmental crises,” said Janet Redman, of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies. “Banks that caused the financial crisis are now making bonanza profits speculating on our planet’s future. The financial sector, driven into a corner, is seeking a way out by developing ever newer commodities to prop up a failing system.”

Despite talk of a “roadmap” offered up by the EU, the failure in Durban shows that this is a cul-de-sac,  a road to nowhere. Spokespeople for Climate Justice Now! call on the world community to remember that a real climate program, based on planetary needs identified by scientists as well as by a mandate of popular movements, emerged at the World People’s Summit on Climate Change and Mother Earth in Bolivia in 2010. The Cochabamba People’s Agreement, brought before the UN but erased from the negotiating text, offers a just and effective way forward that is desperately needed.


On technology

“The technology discussions have been hijacked by industrialized countries speaking on behalf of their transnational corporations,” said Silvia Ribeiro from the international organization ETC Group.

Critique of monopoly patents on technologies, and the environmental, social and cultural evaluation of technologies have been taken out of the Durban outcome. Without addressing these fundamental concerns, the new technology mechanism will merely be a global marketing arm to increase the profit of transnational corporations by selling dangerous technologies to countries of the South, such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology or geoengineering technologies.”

On agriculture

“The only way forward for agriculture is to support agro-ecological solutions, and to keep agriculture out of the carbon market,” said Alberto Gomez, North American Coordinator for La Via Campesina, the world’s largest movement of peasant farmers.

“Corporate Agribusiness, through its social, economic, and cultural model of production, is one of the principal causes of climate change and increased hunger. We therefore reject Free Trade Agreements, Association Agreements, and all forms of the application of Intellectual Property Rights to life, current technological packages (agrochemicals, genetic modification) and those that offer false solutions (biofuels, nanotechnology, and climate smart agriculture) that only exacerbate the current crisis.”

On REDD + and forest carbon projects
“REDD+ threatens the survival of Indigenous Peoples and forest-dependent communities. Mounting evidence shows that Indigenous Peoples are being subjected to violations of their rights as a result of the implementation of REDD+-type programs and policies,” declared The Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities against REDD and for Life.

Their statement, released during the first week of COP17, declares that “REDD+ and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) promote the privatization and commodification of forests, trees and air through carbon markets and offsets from forests, soils, agriculture and could even include the oceans. We denounce carbon markets as a hypocrisy that will not stop global warming.”

On the World Bank and the Global Climate Fund

“The World Bank is a villain of the failed neoliberal economy,” says Teresa Almaguer of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance in the U.S.

“We need a climate fund managed by participatory governance, not by an anti-democratic institution that is responsible for much of the climate disruption and poverty in the world.” “The Green Climate Fund has been turned into the Greedy Corporate Fund,” said Lidy Nacpil, of Jubilee South. “The fund has been hijacked by the rich countries, on their terms, and set up to provide more profits to the private sector”

On the Green Economy

“We need a climate fund that provides finance for peoples of developing countries that is fully independent from undemocratic institutions like the World Bank. The Bank has a long track record of financing projects that exacerbate climate disruption and poverty” said Lidy Nacpil, of Jubilee South. “The fund is being hijacked by the rich countries, setting up the World Bank as interim trustee and providing direct access to money meant for developing countries to the private sector.  It should be called the Greedy Corporate Fund!”

Climate policy is making a radical shift towards the so-called “green economy,” dangerously reducing ethical commitments and historical responsibility to an economic calculation on cost-effectiveness, trade and investment opportunities. Mitigation and adaption should not be treated as a business nor have its financing conditioned by private sector and profit-oriented logic. Life is not for sale.

On climate debt

“Industrialized northern countries are morally and legally obligated to repay their climate debt,” said Janet Redman, Co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies. “Developed countries grew rich at the expense of the planet and the future all people by exploiting cheap coal and oil. They must pay for the resulting loss and damages, dramatically reduce emissions now, and financially support developing countries to shift to clean energy pathways.”

Developed countries, in assuming their historical responsibility, must honor their climate debt in all its dimensions as the basis for a just, effective, and scientific solution. The focus must not be only on financial compensation, but also on restorative justice, understood as the restitution of integrity to our Mother Earth and all its beings. We call on developed countries to commit themselves to action. Only this could perhaps rebuild the trust that has been broken and enable the process to move forward.

On real solutions

“The only real solution to climate change is to leave the oil in the soil, coal in the hole and tar sands in the land. “ Ivonne Yanez, Acción Ecologica, Ecuador

Compare this scathing language with the official press release from the UNFCCC today:

Durban conference delivers breakthrough in international community’s
response to climate change

(Durban, 11 December 2011) – Countries meeting in Durban, South Africa,
have delivered a breakthrough on the future of the international
community’s response to climate change, whilst recognizing the urgent need
to raise their collective level of ambition to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions to keep the average global temperature rise below two degrees

“We have taken crucial steps forward for the common good and the global
citizenry today. I believe that what we have achieved in Durban will play a
central role in saving tomorrow, today,” said Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South
African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation and President
of the Durban UN Climate Change Conference (COP17/CMP7).

“I salute the countries who made this agreement. They have all laid aside
some cherished objectives of their own to meet a common purpose – a
long-term solution to climate change. I sincerely thank the South African
Presidency who steered through a long and intense conference to a historic
agreement that has met all major issues,” said Christiana Figueres,
Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate
Change (UNFCCC).

In Durban, governments decided to adopt a universal legal agreement on
climate change as soon as possible, but not later than 2015. Work will
begin on this immediately under a new group called the Ad Hoc Working Group
on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.

Governments, including 38 industrialised countries, agreed a second
commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol from January 1, 2013. To achieve
rapid clarity, Parties to this second period will turn their economy-wide
targets into quantified emission limitation or reduction objectives and
submit them for review by May 1, 2012.

“This is highly significant because the Kyoto Protocol’s accounting rules,
mechanisms and markets all remain in action as effective tools to leverage
global climate action and as models to inform future agreements,” Ms.
Figueres said.

A significantly advanced framework for the reporting of emission reductions
for both developed and developing countries was also agreed, taking into
consideration the common but differentiated responsibilities  of different

In addition to charting the way forward on reducing greenhouse gases in the
global context, governments meeting in South Africa agreed the full
implementation of the package to support developing nations, agreed last
year in Cancun, Mexico.

“This means that urgent support for the developing world, especially for
the poorest and most vulnerable to adapt to climate change, will also be
launched on time,” said Ms Figueres.

The package includes the Green Climate Fund, an Adaptation Committee
designed to improve the coordination of adaptation actions on a global
scale, and a Technology Mechanism, which are to become fully operational in
2012 (see below for details).

Whilst pledging to make progress in a number of areas, governments
acknowledged the urgent concern that the current sum of pledges to cut
emissions both from developed and developing countries is not high enough
to keep the global average temperature rise below two degrees Celsius.

They therefore decided that the UN Climate Change process shall increase
ambition to act and will be led by the climate science in the IPCC’s Fifth
Assessment Report and the global Review from 2013-2015.

“While it is clear that these deadlines must be met, countries, citizens
and businesses who have been behind the rising global wave of climate
action can now push ahead confidently, knowing that Durban has lit up a
broader highway to a low-emission, climate resilient future,” said the
UNFCCC Executive Secretary.

The next major UNFCCC Climate Change Conference, COP 18/ CMP 8, is to take
place 26 November to 7 December 2012 in Qatar, in close cooperation with
the Republic of Korea.

Details of key decisions that emerged from COP17 in Durban

Green Climate Fund

•       Countries have already started to pledge to contribute to start-up
costs of the fund, meaning it can be made ready in 2012, and at the same
time    can help developing countries get ready to access the fund, boosting
their efforts to establish their own clean energy futures and adapt to
existing        climate change.

•       A Standing Committee is to keep an overview of climate finance in the
context of the UNFCCC and to assist the Conference of the Parties. It will
comprise 20 members, represented equally between the developed and
developing world.

•       A focussed work programme on long-term finance was agreed, which will
contribute to the scaling up of climate change finance going forward    and
will analyse options for the mobilisation of resources from a variety of


•       The  Adaptation Committee, composed of 16 members, will report to the
COP on its efforts to improve the coordination of adaptation actions at a
global scale.

•       The adaptive capacities above all of the poorest and most vulnerable
countries are to be strengthened. National Adaptation Plans will allow
developing countries to assess and reduce their vulnerability to climate

•       The most vulnerable are to receive better protection against loss and
damage caused by extreme weather events related to climate change.


•       The Technology Mechanism will become fully operational in 2012.

•       The full terms of reference for the operational arm of the Mechanism
– the Climate Technology Centre and Network – are agreed, along with a
clear procedure to select the host. The UNFCCC secretariat will issue a
call for proposals for hosts on 16 January 2012.

Support of developing country action

•       Governments agreed a registry to record developing country mitigation
actions that seek financial support and to match these with support. The
registry will be a flexible, dynamic, web-based platform.

Other key decisions

•       A forum and work programme on unintended consequences of climate
change actions and policies were established.

•       Under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, governments
adopted procedures to allow carbon-capture and storage projects.        These
guidelines will be reviewed every five years to ensure environmental

•       Governments agreed to develop a new market-based mechanism to assist
developed countries in meeting part of their targets or commitments
under the Convention. Details of this will be taken forward in 2012.

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Behind the scenes

A couple of films by my friend Rebecca Sommer, plus a clip of an impassioned statement from a young Climate Justice activist:

In the first, former Bolivian ambassador to the UN Pablo Solon explains the negotiating documents to Guardian environmental correspondent John Vidal:

In the second, civil society protesters use the People’s Mike to disrupt the negotiations:

Here’s what the youth are saying:

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I think today must go down in history as the moment when humanity collectively failed to secure its own future. It also has to be seen as one of the greatest crimes of the rich and powerful of the world against the vast majority of humanity that has ever been committed.

Although I won’t hear the full skinny on final negotiations inside the COP17 conference until later in the day, it’s already clear that the news is not going to be good.

Here’s what former Bolivian ambassador to the UN Pablo Solon had to say in a hasty email sent out while negotiators sprinted towards the finish line last night:

A few moments ago we found out the decisions that they have been cooking behind the scenes. In Durban they won’t approve a second period of commitments of the Kyoto Protocol. This will happen at the end of next year: in COP18. In Durban they will only take note of the draft amendments and the “intention” of rich countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol will lose its heart. The promises of reductions by rich countries will be incredibly low until 2020 and will lead to a temperature increase of more than 4 degrees C. The Kyoto Protocol will turn into a Zombie without a global figure for reduction of emissions by industrialised countries, and will carry on walking until 2020 just so that carbon markets don’t disappear. In 2020 it will enter into effect in “a new legal framework appliable to everyone”. By everyone, they mean diluting the difference between developed and developing countries, between countries responsible for climate change and those who victims. The US managed to eliminate any mention of a “binding” agreement. That means the “new legal framework” will be an empty gesture without any effect. This will become known as the lost decade of the fight against climate change. Genocide and ecocide will reach proportions that we have not yet seen. The Great Escape by the Rich has turned into the Great Swindle.

Solon does not toss around terms like genocide and ecocide carelessly. The failure to agree to a just and binding replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, the only climate agreement that humanity has ever reached that had any real teeth, signals the inability of humanity in general, and the rich nations in particular, to agree on a course of action that goes beyond competitive, short term interests. We’re essentially looking at a world in which inter-imperial tensions are being ratcheted up, leaving the rulers of powerful nations thinking only about their defensive interests. The killing irony is that this behavior will only ensure greater hostility and competition.

If one looks at the geologic record, it’s clear that human beings have enjoyed a period of extraordinary environmental stability over the last 10,000 years. It is likely that this stability would have ended one way or another at some point, but, with the failure of negotiations at COP17 to achieve any of the goals that the climate justice movement has been pushing for, we have ourselves ensured that this window of stability will close quickly and ferociously.

It’s hard not to think that we’re not all that different from other primates. Despite our vaunted claims to self-consciousness, historical awareness, and collective rationality, at the end of the day we seem to be ruled by the basest of our passions.

Today we have ensured that we will be unable to take our fate into our own hands. And it is the poor and weak, people like the rural farm women I’ve met over the last two weeks during my stay in South Africa, who will be the first to be devoured by the holocaust we are unleashing.

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People’s Alternatives

This is the final session in a two-day workshop organized by the Transnational Institute, a group that bills itself as “a worldwide fellowship of scholar activists.” The overarching theme of the workshop was Defying Dystopia: Struggle Against Climate Change, Security States, and Disaster Industries.

Hilary Wainwright, “Climate Justice, Climate Capitalism, and Social Movements”

This paper is inspired by the work of Ruth First, an exemplary scholar-activist and committed journalist.

All the social movements are challenging the logic of capital today, but there’s something specific about labor in that confrontation. This paper explores the emergence of networks of solidarity between labor and environmental activists, focusing in particular on the million climate jobs campaign. What I and Jacky are interested in exploring is the associative power of labor. We’re interested in a reclaiming of the social after decades of neoliberal appropriation of the ideas of individualism that emerged from social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. We’re interested in reclaiming the social, including social individualism, to establish a notion of collectivity which isn’t the collective over and above the individual, but of networks of solidarity between people.

We’re thinking of a notion of labor in the broadest possible, feminist sense, understanding labor in terms of self-employment, domestic labor (outside the waged economy) and unemployed labor, which plays such a key role in the capitalist economy. We’re also thinking of free labor, such as that involved in the open software movement, and the labor involved in consumption.

The one million climate jobs campaign is a response to the convergence of climate change and unemployment, particularly in South Africa, where 3 million young people, 40% of the population, are unemployed. The aim of this campaign is to organize in the townships and to forge alliances between trade unions and environmental groups. And then there’s also the building of organization among self-employed groups such as the Waste Pickers. They’re interesting because they’re not organizing simply to improve the price of their labor, but organizing to gain control over the waste management systems in order to use their knowledge of waste to push for genuine recycling, such as compost. So they’re directly hitting at the logic of capital.

Traditional unions in high carbon industries are also beginning to think about how they can use their knowledge and power to convert their industries to more sustainable footing. I remember in the late 1970s, there were massive rationalizations of industries in the UK. Lucas Aerospace workers were top level designers of latest destructive technologies of the time; they realized that they didn’t want to just organize for better wages, but wanted to do something else that didn’t involve the military-industrial complex (many of them were involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). They had sense that their skills could be producing totally different things, including environmental machines. They produced an alternative plan for their firm and for the UK, a model which had a significant influence on radical politics in that period.

Some contemporary industries need a planned decline – mining, for example. But some, such as the automotive industry, for example, have tremendous potential for transitioning to sustainable production. NUMSA (National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa), whom I met recently, has set up worker teams in each area that can be converted into new alternative industries.

In all these spheres, there’s a sense that the financial crisis and the crisis of neoliberalism has begun to have an impact on how labor is organizing. It’s important, in other words, not to think – oh hell, now there’s the climate crisis, what do we do? – but rather to think about what existing forms of organization we can use.

Admittedly, we have to recognize how difficult things are, how precarious all the positive things I’m pointing to are. There’s a trend towards autonomist politics that’s influencing the labor movement. Yesterday I was with an organizer of Streetnet, an international organization of street vendors that developed when street vendors were faced with being banned from public space during the run-up to the World Cup, and when municipal workers refused to “clean them up.”

In most countries, the labor movement abrogated politics to social democratic parties and saw themselves simply as fighting for narrow wage issues. But as the parties have given up on oppositional politics, trade unions have sometimes developed into vibrant political organizations. So this paper is about realistic things that can be done to stop climate change.

I’d like to try to systematize discussion of different sectors:

  • One area, like mining, needs to be shut down
  • Then there are others that need to be converted, like car manufacturing and waste processing
  • Finally, there are unions moving into new green technologies
  • new jobs, including in the public sector and the solidarity economy

NUMSA teams are working with communities to see what technologies are useful to people, and then using their bargaining power to push for production in these areas. This might be a way of occupying the claim of green capitalism.

The one million jobs campaign doesn’t just focus on jobs, but also on exposing the inequalities behind climate change and structural economic inequalities.

Throughout the whole neoliberal period, we’ve seen a weakening of democracy and a hollowing out of the legitimacy of the whole political system. This is one of the driving factors behind criminalization; democracy was a legitimizing process. That’s been breaking down, and a gap opening up between the political class and the people. But the other side is the search for meaningful alternatives. That’s the significance of the Occupy movement, and why it won’t go away. It’s now clear that the political system is not worth entering.

These political spaces are not formed yet. In developing a green economy, we’ve got to refine our understanding of capitalism. We need to understand the anti-market character of capitalism. The spaces created by the Occupy movement are growing. That’s why we’re going to see new convergences around new forms of political power.

Susan George, “People’s Security on a Protected Planet”

What are people already doing about military-industrial-security complex? I don’t really see what people can do outside what Hilary has just described happenign in the labor movement. That is, broadening alliances, making networks, etc. I see no hope other than these strategies in the face of the groups we’re confronted with, who are really deciding who is going to be allowed to live and who will be left to die.

Who is this book for and who is it against? We can’t use academic jargon or we’ll put people off immediately. But we’ve also got to be subtle and factual. Some of the papers given in this workshop would be accessible enough, but some aren’t.

I’m also troubled by our basic premise. Are we really going to say that there’s no hope left of reducing and stopping climate change. I don’t use this line with audiences. I say, yes, change your behavior. But don’t think that this is going to be enough to change the world. It’s not the right scale and scope, even if you can be an example. But we can’t give the impression that we’re giving up, that we’re going to the 4 degree, which will become the 9 degree, world.  I’ve got four grandchildren and I’m just not really willing to go there.

We want to convey success stories – you could be part of something really big, the biggest social movement in history. But we don’t want to sugarcoat things since we need to convey the odds we’re up against.

So we want to talk about the major actors. One is clearly the military-industrial-security complex. Should we be happy when the Navy starts running jets on vegetable oil, should we be happy? No, clearly we shouldn’t. In a way, the European military are worse than the Pentagon in this context. We need to define these actors more systematically and explain their impacts. But also, what are the strengths and weaknesses in these actors? What are their Achilles heels?

Second actor: business, in a general way. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development is here. They invented corporate self-regulation in the area of sustainable development. The business lobbies are really eating away at individual security, particularly everywhere where there’s an austerity program. In this area, the neoliberals have won. In 2008, we might have thought that everyone would see how bankrupt the system was, but now they’ve won: they feel much freer to take us back to the 19th century. The Indignados and the Occupiers are great, but they’re not at the same level of command and control. If you have a chance, look at the FT issue of the 500 largest companies. The top 10 are all oil and banks, followed by mining, arms companies. Its the same in the UK, US, and China. It really is like the 19th century, which continues to spew out carbon.

Another ambiguity: finance. There’s a report from 260 odd corporations that manage other people’s funds which together control $15 trillion. They are saying to the US government that they want guidelines for investing in green technology and industry. But they don’t invest because they don’t get guidelines from the US. Should we support those people? I don’t want to give venture capitalists a longer lease on life, but I don’t want the planet to become Venus. What do we do?

Other actors: governments. Land grabs, geoengineering, competitivity, all this is government. Can we change these governments and make them take better positions?

The intergovernmental organizations, like the WTO, which continues to fuel fossil fuels, and supports patent laws.

The UN. Should we all go to Qatar to influence the next UN meeting? The IPCC – shouldn’t we have a closer relation with them? Couldn’t they benefit from learning about some of the topics we’ve discussed in this workshop?

The planet itself: the biological systems of the Earth. Nature is striking back. Despite the technophilia of other actors, Nature always wins. IF you try to fight biophysical systems, you lose. “Exceptional events” like storms, droughts, etc already killed 350,000 people last year, according to estimates. Everyone now agrees because of IPCC special report that the intensity of these phenomena are going to increase. Even earthquakes, we now know, are caused by climate change. So Nature is striking back.

Final actor: the people. Here we have the numbers, and we have the ideas. We’re developing the language to talk about these issues, we’re developing the language. If we want to develop alliances today, we need to keep in mind that knowledge and politics are interconnected.

We need to give the poor – who know what’s wrong with their lives – better knowledge of their enemies, the rich.

We also need to do more study of organizational techniques. Hilary has given good examples of what labor can do, but there are many cases in which labor does not consider women’s work, informal work, etc as part of their remit. There are lots of other allies: the environmental movements, the social movements, pensioners, etc. We have to work hard on who might be the potential allies and then go to talk to them. The peace movement, for example, doesn’t seem to be a part of this movement. That’s one big area of people who are good-hearted but don’t have the detailed knowledge that we do of these issues. We need to organize them into the kind of coalition that Johan Galtung has done.

My last point: let’s use democracy, or what we’ve got left of it, while we still can. We can still use freedom of information acts, for example, and we should.


We’re facing the question of two main paths in relation to labor: one is to provide more green services, the other is degrowth. The latter is very promising, but difficult for the unions to accept.

We’re seeing a rising movement that has more systemic analyses, but these movements – Arab Spring, Indignados – aren’t associated in the public mind with environmentalism. This is an issue we have to tackle.

What happened to the Climate Justice Movement? It was something cobbled together from a bit of the global justice movement, the peace movement, etc. But that seemed fine for Copenhagen because there was a huge crescendo of public expectation, with the notion that we wanted a fair and binding treaty. Once we began to get into the details, there was a fragmentation: would India and China just get to keep developing along capitalist lines? Elites get to maintain their hegemony simply by doing nothing, leaving us always responding to their agenda. The challenge we have is on alliances; how can we find common ground between labor movement and green capitalists.

The people’s movements in the global South and North are creating so many vibrant forms and are so filled with good ideas. We really need to include some of these positive developments so that the book that comes out of these workshops isn’t too depressing and negative.

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Global Corporate Influence on Energy and Climate Policy

Jacqui Patterson, Director, NAACP Environment and Climate Justice Program

I’m going to be talking about the impact of coal corporations on policy making in the US. I’ll describe the disproportionate exposure of certain communities to coal and then discuss what affected communities are doing.

71% of African-Americans live in communities with exposure to coal-fired power plants such as the River Rouge plant to the left. It’s not just about class: an African-American family making $55,000 per year is more likely to live in close proximity to a power plant than a white family earning $15,000.

Disproportionate health impact of these power plants on communities of color include respiratory diseases; heart disease; attention deficit issues. African-Americans are twice as likely to die from an asthma attack as whites in the US.

When you tie these issues to problems such as education and emphasis in the US on building up the prison system rather than the education system, you see the disproportionate impact of coal-fired power plants and climate change on communities.

Coal Glutted: Putting Profits Before People report from NAACP details impact of coal in the US.  Owner of three of the top 12 EJ offender plans, Edison International, earned billions of dollars. Their CEO earns $9.5 million dollars per year – gleaned from the AFL CEO database. Average CEO pay was $9 million dollars, while average worker’s pay was $30,000. Total lobbying in 2010 by Edison International was $13 million, going towards arguing against all forms of environmental protection. They also spend millions lobbying against renewable energy such as Renewable Portfolio Standards, which would require utilities to purchase 15% of their power from renewable energy sources.

Our strategy: educate and organize our communities; create a compatible policy landscape; advance just transition policies. More information is available at the Environmental Justice Resource Center.

Other campaigns: go after banks that fund big coal companies and cut the purse strings.

Beverly Wright of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard College in New Orleans

I’m going to talk to you about environmental justice issues in the city of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The work I’ve done and attention I’ve gotten has been because of where I live. These issues have become personal to me because of where I live. All my life we’ve experienced explosions from refineries. When Ronald Reagan was elected, he withdrew money from inspectors, leading to far more explosions.

New Orleans is 69% black, and yet we still lived as a whole closer to toxic facilities than white folks. That’s also try in majority white areas. We find almost identical conditions in Cancer Alley in Louisiana and in Durban, where communities of color are disproportionately located near power plants, refineries, and other polluting sites. Pictures we took in both sites show children playing in front of refineries in parks donated by polluting chemical plants.

In Louisiana, coastal land loss is a serious issue. The levees that were built are not dependable; subsidence is an increasing problem; storm surges can overwhelm levees; oil and gas drilling and infrastructure destroys wet lands.

Almost everyone knows about Hurricane Katrina, but most people aren’t aware that the storm never really hit the city. It was storm surge that flooded the city. With wetlands removed, the city was vulnerable and the surge overtopped the levees. We still have over 100,000 people who have not been able to return, mostly for political and economic reasons.

This takes us to corporate influence in the US. As a result of this influence, we have no disaster prevention or mitigation. Toxic facilities are given permits to pollute communities of color, erode coast lines, and build substandard levees. It was hard for me to to understand that this permit process legitimated the killing of our communities. We’re trying to find loopholes in the permitting paperwork. When polluting facilities were shut down in NJ because of legislation, they came to New Orleans, which was so corrupt that people could move into Chemical Corridor, which emits 700 million pounds of pollutants per year.

In addition, we seem to have no right to recover from a disaster. We found out after Katrina that only projects that were in place were for rich, white communities in New Orleans (downtown and uptown). Monique Harden, who’s in the audience, explained to me that the US has international treaties to protect refugees abroad, but we have no such treaties for the US.

The year of the BP oil spill in the Gulf, the company spent $7.5 million dollars on lobbying and made $16 billion on lobbying. There are 27,000 abandoned oil wells in US coastal well, and 79 “deep water” drilling wells in the Gulf of Mexico. We only have 62 inspectors responsible for all US oil wells. The BP disaster shows that this isn’t working. I remember the spill happening, and thinking “they’re killing us.” Oil industry is able to win people ovly with promise of new forms of jobs. Massive damage to other marine life, including by dispersants released to dampen down public alarm.

BP directs government response to disaster.  This was terribly frustrating. Huge fights broke out, for example, because BP doesn’t want people to wear adequate protective gear because it’ll make for bad public relations.

Where did waste tat was collected go? Majority of waste goes to other states. All landfills were in African-American communities.

BP restricts photographs of wildlife that are affected, afraid that this will make for bad publicity.

Corporations control politics in Louisiana, just like they do here at COP17. We live in a capitalist system, what I call “cowboy capitalism,” because it’s out of control.  Why don’t we all get on board? Some people seem to believe that, as bad as it gets, they’ll be able to buy their way out of the problems. In Louisiana, we’ve been doing this dance for many years.

Augustine Njamnshi of Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance. My colleague from Nigeria was supposed to present here, but at the last minute he backed out. I think that this shows how afraid some people are to challenge big corporations. For us here in Africa, this is a life or death issue.

The issue of African independence came up last year when most of the countries of Africa were celebrating their 50th anniversary of independence. Are we truly free? One form of colonialism was replaced with another. Our leaders cannot take decisions because of the impact of corporate power. I come from Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has some of the richest resources on the planet, but the people who live there are condemned to poverty. Why so? Because there is a business mafia that one cannot talk about.

We need to let the communities speak for themselves. And we need to make sure that negotiators at COP17 are working for them not for corporate interests.

Mohamet Lamine Ndlaye of Oxfam Africa. This struggle is not just about countries, but also a class fight. We need to understand the complexity of the different powers within our countries.

We’re critical of the unfolding wave of land grabs. Many don’t like to use this term, since it’s so polemical. The World Bank report says that 227 million hectares of land have been bought between 2001-2010 in developing countries, a space the size of Western Europe. Most of this has been in Africa: Mali, Somalia, Ethiopian, and Sudan. When companies want to buy land, they look for countries where governance is weak. They want to grow biofuels for their cars on this land, and represent the land as unpopulated. But when they take over the land, they dispossess pastoralists who have been using this land for many years.

In 2008 there were food riots throughout Africa, where people spend 70% of their income on average on food. They’re so close to the edge that they’re ready to explode.

The other reason we’ve had land grabs is because of hedge funds, which engage in speculation by buying land.

There is less and less land, while demand for land is increasing. In rural areas, women produce most of the food, accounting for 80% of farm work in Africa.

Land rights are human rights. You cannot take away land without full free prior informed consent; rights holders must have access to remedies if their rights are violated; contracts must be transparent.

In Uganda, more than 20,000 people were evicted without compensation to make way for timber plantations run by UK-based New Forests Company. NFC claims that it is sustainable and socially responsible, and that the evictions were the responsibility of the Ugandan National Forestry Authority, and that everyone left peacefully and voluntarily. People on the ground, however, say that they were violently evicted.

Climate change is not only an environmental issue. It is a human rights issue.

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Damming the Third Pole

Woeburn Tenzin presented on Tibet as the third pole of the world because of all of the glaciers there. She is a member of the organization Tibet Third Pole.

She showed photographs of the retreat of glaciers in Tibet as a result of climate change. The result is the formation of huge glacier lakes.

She also showed charts of temperature rises in Llahsa, resulting in shorter seasons. There’s also a rise in permafrost temperatures. As a result, deserts are taking over the grasslands that formerly were sustained by water in the permafrost.

The most terrifying factor she underlined was the fact that glaciers in Tibet contribute to the following rivers: Indus, Brahmaputra, Yellow, Mekong, Yangtse. Basically, the rivers that provide drinking water for a very significant portion of humanity. The Mekong River, for example, supports 70 million people from Tibet to Vietnam. Here’s a useful article that summarizes the seriousness of the impact on rivers.

China is reacting by building dams on many of these rivers to harness hydro-electric power. Hundreds of dams. But when you build dams, you displace people and add to water evaporation.

Construction of the Three Gorges Dam displaced up to a million people, for example. China has bigger dams in mind.

What impact will all of these dams have on the nations downstream?

Woebum then screened a brief film called Meltdown in Tibet that provides narration and images for some of the problems she described. Behind frantic dam building, 70% of China’s lakes are polluted. Its dream is to divert water from Tibetan plateau to provide for its water-starved cities. This is the largest dam-building engineering project ever undertaking.

After Woebum Tenzin’s presentation, Payal Parekh, an expert on climate change and dams, spoke. She drew on research done by the organization International Rivers. There are a host of problems with dams, she argued:

  • displacement of communities: estimates are that approximately 40 million people around the world have been displaced by dams
  • reduced water quality and quantity
  • loss of habitat: dams have major impacts on wildlife habitat, often leading to widespread extinctin

Why is China building so many dams?:

  • Energy for mining and prospecting
  • infrastructure development
  • power for urban China – China is plagued by major energy shortages
  • promotion of rapid development in Tibet (although this isn’t to benefit Tibetans)
  • diversion of water

Dams are based on historical data about river flow, but climate change means that such predictions are not reliable. More extreme weather events are expected.

Someone in the audience explained that China is not the only country building dams: India is planning on building nearly 160 dams, trying to preemptively get access to the water that China is trying to access.

Better solutions exist that diversify and decentralize energy production. These solutions aren’t easy, but they are better than the massive amount of dam building contemplated around Tibet. Unfortunately, though, dams are being brought back by elites as a solution to the climate crisis. We need to struggle against this on international level and on local level.

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