The political and economic establishment in the United States has finally woken up to the threats posed by climate change.
In a new report, appropriately entitled Risky Business, members of the business and policy-making establishment sound the alarm call about the potentially cataclysmic impact of climate change on the US economy.
Published by an economic modeling firm that normally works for the fossil fuel industry, Risky Business predicts starkly apocalyptic scenarios over the coming two centuries: more than a million homes and businesses along the nation’s coasts could flood repeatedly before ultimately being destroyed; agriculture will become impossible in Midwest, the nation’s grain belt; heat and humidity will become so intense that spending time outside will become impossible in much of the eastern half of the United States.
What does the group propose should be done about this dire situation? According to the summary article in the New York Times, many of the power brokers involved in the report are in favor of imposing a tax on carbon emissions.
A step in the right direction, but adequate to the horrifying scenarios depicted in the report? Not half likely! What we clearly need is a wholesale reorganization of the economy away from the cardinal principle of headlong, heedless growth. Not much about that in Risky Business.
Austerity doesn’t work, according to an article in today’s New York Times. The article focuses on the fact that the middle class in the US is falling behind its peers in other developed countries.
What is particularly interesting about the article is buried in the graph reproduced here. The nations – like the US, Britain, and Greece – where harsh austerity measures were introduced following the financial crash of 2008 all demonstrate a sharp downturn in the economic status of their middle classes, while those that did not implement such measures have continuously rising curves of middle class affluence.
The central assumptions behind the article are that growth is essential to maintaining middle class status. Seen from an environmental angle, the economic downturn has actually been a beneficial phenomenon since it has put the brakes on the developed world’s headlong expansion. But this is not much of a salve to the situation of struggling people in places like the US. And elites have continued to expand their grossly large incomes by investing in developing countries, meaning that carbon emissions have continued their inexorable, suicidal rise.
We clearly need an alternative economic system, one that benefits average people while not wrecking the planet’s ecosystems.
My friends at the Superstorm Research Lab have just released an amazing white paper on the impact of Hurricane Sandy. Titled A Tale of Two Sandys, the report focuses on the uneven impact of the storm on NYC.
In the words of the report,
On one hand, the crisis was seen as an extreme weather event that created physical and economic damage, and temporarily moved New York City away from its status quo. On the other hand, Hurricane Sandy exacerbated crises which existed before the storm, including poverty, lack of affordable housing, precarious or low employment, and unequal access to resources generally. A Tale of Two Sandys describes these two understandings of disaster and discuss their implications for response, recovery, and justice in New York City.
The paper, along with many of the other resources gathered on the SRL site, is must reading. The SRL project is an incredible example of militant collaborative research.
As heads of state from around the world descend on South Africa to memorialize Nelson Mandela and the struggle against apartheid, it’s worth asking how free we are today to challenge state power, as Madiba did.
In an excellent article in the Guardian, Jeff Sparrow points out that many of the same leaders who are waxing eloquent in South Africa about Mandela’s struggle for social justice are currently making it virtually impossible to engage in any form of public protest in their countries.
Sparrow’s article offers up some important historical memories about the virtually complete condemnation of Mandela by the political establishment in the UK and US. But it also itemizes the many special laws invented since 9/11 to justify the suppression of public protest.
This trend towards militarization of police forces, evacuation of political protest from public spaces, and silencing of dissent is something that ought to be fought on every level. Such struggles truly honor the memory of Madiba.
The celebrations of Nelson Mandela’s life have been both fortifying and frustrating. They are a testimony to the long road traveled, as well as the whitewashing and historical elisions that take place as we look to the past.
On the one hand, it’s amazing to hear such universal acclaim for a man that politicians like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher once condemned as a terrorist.
On the other hand, the veneration of Madiba ignores the fact that he was only one person – a peculiarly determined and charismatic one, granted – in a much broader movement against apartheid. When one speaks to South Africans who lived through the apartheid era, one immediately finds that struggle and sacrifice (as well as silent complicity or outright racism) were universal. It is a country scarred by brutal history, but ennobled by tremendous bravery and sacrifice that was nearly universal.
In addition, there are many questions about Mandela’s years in power and the legacy he left. Patrick Bond’s commemorative article offers a judicious account of the deals struck by the ANC once Mandela achieved power in the country’s first democratic elections in 1994. This involved, in Bond’s words, an “intra-elite economic deal that, for most people, worsened poverty, unemployment, inequality and ecological degradation, while also exacerbating many racial, gender and geographical differences.”
The democracy Mandela brought to South Africa was a flawed and compromised one, although it was still seemingly miraculous given many people’s fears that the country would descend into civil war and racist bloodletting. His heroism through the many years of captivity and his generosity towards his former captors was exemplary. Yet Mandela’s legacy is one that we must both celebrate and lament.
La lucha continua!
Filed under class war, race
UNFCCC’s COP19 in Warsaw, Poland is the most corrupt climate meeting yet. This is saying a lot. As I recorded when attending COP17 in Durban, previous COPs have see wholesale backtracking from the Kyoto Accord, the only international agreement mandating reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. But COP19 sets a new record for corporate influence.
Perhaps most egregiously, the Warsaw Climate Summit is scheduled in tandem with the World Coal Association’s Coal and Climate Summit. Coal, of course, is the most polluting form of fossil fuel. All burning of coal should cease immediately if greenhouse gas emissions are to be mitigated.
This overlap between the Climate Summit and the Coal Summit is no accident. The confluence was actually organized by the Polish government, which obtains around 80% of its power from coal.
In addition, as Pascoe Sabido of the European Corporate Observatory explains in today’s episode of Democracy Now, COP19 was explicitly sponsored by a bevvy of polluting corporate behemoths, from auto manufacturer BMW to Emirates Airlines.
These corporate-funded meetings will never be a venue for climate justice. Makes me wanna holler!
What might revolutionary grace look like? How can we snatch radical egalitarianism from the jaws of authoritarianism? In what visions of the past can we find the resources to make a just future?
These seemingly abstract questions could not be more important for our present. We live at a moment when purblind elites are driving the world over the brink of environmental destruction. We need alternative visions of social justice.
As we struggle to come up with a revolutionary subject adequate to the challenges we confront, we are likely to find that the radical social movements of the past offer important inspiration. I was reminded of this recently when I came across Democracia’s amazing Ser Y Durar at the Hirshhorn Museum during a trip to Washington DC. Looking for more info online, I found that the exhibit had in fact been expurgated of some of its more radical political content.
The show features a team of traceurs (practitioners of the street sport parkour). This sport originated in Paris in the 1980s and quickly spread to become a global urban subculture phenomenon. The term comes from the French for “course,” and the movements derive from military drills designed to train soldiers to navigate over and around architectural barriers.
The traceurs have appropriated this military acrobatics and redeployed it in Almudena civil cemetery, built in Madrid in the 1880s for those forbidden internment in Catholic burial grounds, including prominent political progressives, intellectuals, founders of the country’s democratic society in the pre-Franco era, Socialists, Communists, atheists, Jews, and others.
The motto of traceurs, “never stop and never give up,” is echoed by the continuous camera movement, which pauses only briefly on various headstones. Inscriptions such as “Love, freedom, and Socialism;” “Freedom and reason will make you stronger;” “After death there is nothing;” and “To be and to last” connect those resting in peace to the bodies in motion.
A video version of the film that I found online makes some of the radical references more clear: