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Socialist Strategy for Environmental Movement

Published On March 9, 2014 | By Jess Spear | Environment

This is the introduction to an upcoming pamphlet Fight Environmental and Economic Destruction – A Socialist Strategy to be published soon by Socialist Alternative.

By Jess Spear

History can be viewed from two sides: it can be divided into the history of nature and that of humanity. The two sides, however, are not to be seen as independent entities. As long as humanity has existed, nature and humanity have affected each other.

-Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology

We are living in one of the most tumultuous periods of economic upheaval and environmental disturbance in history. The rapid growth in industry and technology over the past 150-200 years has drastically altered the face of the Earth and our atmosphere. Rainforests are burned to access fertile soil for farming. Millions of gallons of water and thousands of chemicals are injected into the ground to crack open the rock and release “natural gas.” The coal, oil, and gas extracted for fuel and raw materials for manufacturing are permeating into our environment daily, poisoning our water, acidifying our oceans, and pushing us closer to climate catastrophe. Mountain glaciers are receding globally; many have melted away completely. The North Pole is expected to be largely ice-free in the summer by 2050, 50 years earlier than predicted.1 Recognizing the gargantuan impact of industrial activity on the planet, scientists have recently proposed adding a new geologic time period (like the Cretaceous or Jurassic periods) to the official Geologic Time Scale. The new epoch would be called the Anthropocene (anthropo = human, cene = new), and it would begin in the late 18th century2 and continue through today.

What we choose to do, whether we fight to stop the environmental destruction that ultimately affects us all, and what strategy we follow will determine the future. History is full of examples of ordinary people working through the power of solidarity and united action to end slavery, win better working conditions, stop war, and halt environmental destruction.

Twenty million people participated in the first Earth Day in 1970. The late ’60s and early ’70s saw the passage of major environmental reforms – the National Environmental Policy Act (1969), the Clean Air Act (1970), the Clean Water Act (1972), and the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (1970) – saving countless lives and raising the bar for environmental standards worldwide. Similar to the achievements won by the Civil Rights Movement during the same period, these reforms were won by decades-long organizing work that began in the 1950s.

Earth_Day_NY_Times

The torch of the environmental movement is carried today by dozens of environmental organizations – like Greenpeace, 350.org, the World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth, the Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club, and Avaaz – that work to inform and organize millions of people to campaign against environmental destruction and global warming. Through the work of these organizations and many others, the construction of 166 new coal-fired plants was halted,3 new regulations have been passed restricting toxic emissions – such as of lead, mercury, and sulfur – that will save 11,000 lives and greatly reduce the disbursement of toxins in the environment, and federal standards on vehicle fuel efficiency were recently doubled. Both the Democratic and Republican parties included “protecting the environment” in their 2012 platforms, showing the movement has made it politically unviable to completely ignore the environmental concerns of the population.

Numerically there are more people informed and radicalized around environmental issues today than in the ’60s and ’70s, yet 55% of lakes, streams, and rivers in the U.S. are classified as in “poor condition,”4 20,000 people die prematurely every year in the U.S. alone from air pollution,5 and entire mountaintops are being blasted away to cheaply unearth coal reserves. Nearly 70% of Americans think global warming is a problem – an increase of over 20% in just three years6 - yet carbon emissions rise year after year. We may have stopped 166 coal plants from being constructed in the U.S., but the U.S. is still the number one polluter per capita in the world. If there are more environmental activists today than 40 years ago, and if there is such widespread concern about environmental destruction and global warming, why has this not resulted in serious political and economic action? Why are regulations won by previous generations rolled back and corporations allowed to write the rules?

The looming threat of catastrophic climate change and the fact that world leaders have been kicking the can down the road for 30 years is forcing some in the environmental movement to consider a different, more militant strategy to effect change. The Sierra Club announced in early 2013 that they will engage in nonviolent civil disobedience for the first time in their 120-year history to stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Other environmentalists have thrown in the towel, becoming “eco-pragmatists” that accept environmental destruction as part and parcel of “reconciling the needs of people with the needs of nature.”7 But do we have to accept environmental destruction in order to meet the needs of people? Should we accept pollution and climate change as inevitable even though the technology to power the entire global society on renewable energy exists?8

Dual Crisis of Capitalism

Despite the looming possibility of environmental catastrophe, the immediate threat most families face is not environmental in character. That the atmosphere reached a milestone of 400 parts per million in 2013 – a level not seen in probably the last three million years9 - does not register in the minds of millions of people who are out of work, living in poverty, unsure from where their next meal will come, and struggling to make ends meet.

After five years of economic crisis, millions of people are still without work or are stuck in low-wage service sector jobs with no benefits and no job security. Current college graduates have record-level student loan debt to pay back, with slim prospects of finding a job that enables them to do so.

The economic upheaval we are living through is just the latest manifestation of many economic crises working people have faced since the introduction of our economic system of capitalism. Periodic recessions or depressions, where workers are thrown out of work and factories lie idle, are intrinsic to this economic model where production is driven by the need to maximize profits for the owners of capital, the class that possesses money, factories, and land.

Our health, education, transit, energy, and food systems all need investment and more people working in them. Yet business leaders and their trusted agents in government will not invest the vast resources currently available. There is somewhere between $20-30 trillion dollars hoarded in offshore tax havens,10 collecting dust while teachers are laid off, art and music departments are cut, whole cities go bankrupt, and government refuses to invest in a large-scale public plan to transition our energy supply to renewables.

Working people, students, and the elderly are facing two ugly heads of the giant monster of capitalism: climate change and the global economic recession. They both arise out the economic system of capitalism that incentivizes short-term profits. As this monstrous system has grown to encompass the entire planet, it has devoured both nature and humanity, producing wealth and prosperity for a tiny minority at the expense of human life and our environment.

Climate Change = Disasters

What we’re seeing really is a window into what global warming really looks like. It looks like heat. It looks like fires.

-Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton University geosciences and international affairs professor

Since 1750, industrial activity has unearthed and burned approximately 500 billion tons of fossil fuels. The addition of this carbon – mostly in the form of carbon dioxide – to the atmosphere has caused the average global temperature to increase 0.8 degree Celsius (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit). Scientists are now projecting a global temperature rise of 4 degrees Celsius (about 7 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.11

To most people, this seems a rather small increase in temperature to fuss over. We experience far larger increases and decreases in temperature every season and, in many places, every day. Part of the intrigue and skepticism over global warming stems from the seemingly small magnitude of change predicted. A recent dramatic increase in drought, floods, intense storms, wildfires, heat waves, and blizzards, however, is blasting away the skepticism people once had and forcing the public to accept that climate change is not the future.  Climate is changing right now.

Hurricane Sandy, following Hurricane Katrina, brutally shook the American people awake to the effects of climate change. These massively destructive storms are predicted to increase in frequency – once-a-century events could become once-a-decade or once-every-three-years events – if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current pace. Imagine having New York City blasted every three years with Category 4 or 5 hurricanes.

Scientists have been hesitant to link a single weather event to global warming. However, recent studies reveal the potential for global warming to modify air currents12 and the global water cycle,13 increasing the probability for intense storms. This means that as the world gets warmer, we can expect more extreme weather.

In addition to intense rainfall from storms, a warmer planet produces more heat waves, which can cause wildfires, heat-related deaths, and drought. In the last 30 years, heat waves have become more widespread, covering 10% of the planet. The U.S. experienced the worst drought conditions in 50 years in 2012, an expansion of the 2011 record-breaking drought, with more than 2,000 counties designated disaster areas and 80% of the U.S. (not including Alaska and Hawaii) in abnormally dry conditions.  Farmland was particularly affected, with half of the 2012 crops harvested in “poor or very poor condition.” Decreased food production will lead to increased food prices globally, hitting low-income and poor families the worst.

Rising Seas

Scientists are now predicting global temperature will increase a further three degrees – for four degrees total – by the end of the century. The last time the Earth experienced a four-degree shift in global temperature was over a 10,000-year period after the last Ice Age ended, roughly 20,000 years ago. This global shift in temperature melted massive ice sheets in North America and Europe, returning enough water to the ocean to raise global sea levels by about 400 feet.

The 0.8 degree Celsius rise in global temperature has already caused the major ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica to melt at accelerated rates and glaciers worldwide to retreat or completely melt away. Since 80% of the world’s population relies on freshwater from glaciers, the decline in glacier mass is expected to cause a shortage of drinking water, with the potential to provoke regional water wars.

Arctic sea ice reached a record low in 2012, 18% lower than the last minimum recorded in 2007.  Less sea ice to reflect sunlight means more heat will be absorbed by the dark ocean. This heat can influence air currents, producing prolonged hot or cold conditions in certain regions and affecting the trajectory of storms.

Another consideration is that the relatively slow pace of change14 may not necessarily continue into the future. Melting of the permafrost in the Arctic could unleash vast reserves of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, and rapidly increase the rate of warming. Thermal expansion from warmer water temperatures, along with meltwater from mountain glaciers and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, have already caused sea level to rise by half a foot.

Abrupt melting of the major ice sheets could increase the sea level rise from a few millimeters to tens of centimeters per year. This would immediately create a crisis for hundreds of millions of people inhabiting low-lying coastal areas and small island nations. Some predictions suggest sea levels will rise by as much as six feet by 2100!15 Small island nations like Kiribati are now looking to purchase land in other areas to move their population of just over 100,000 people. However, is it feasible for hundreds of millions of inhabitants from low-lying countries to purchase private land and move to escape the rising sea?

All of this – increased heat, drought, flooding, intense storms, and rising seas – makes life harder for ordinary working people and their families. In fact, environmental damage and climate change hits the poor and workers around the world hardest. The rich can often afford to buy their way out of problems. Poor people can’t afford to move from the path of floods and storms –witness Katrina and Sandy. If these overwhelming effects have taken place with only a 0.8 degree increase in global temperature, what will a further three degrees of warming bring?

The only way to prevent further global warming and all the devastating effects predicted is to begin to rapidly phase out fossil fuels. World leaders know the facts outlined above. If we are to move the debate forward and begin laying the groundwork for an urgent transition of society away from fossil fuels, we must answer the question why world leaders choose to stall taking serious action.

If we accept that global warming is the biggest threat facing humanity and we have a brief window of opportunity to avoid climate catastrophe, then we have to admit that the strategy put forward by environmental organizations thus far is not going to get the job done. The strategy of increased awareness coupled with policy reform advocacy takes too long to work, if it works at all.

Technological innovation has already provided the possibility of retooling our economy and our societies with clean, renewable energy from the sun, wind, and water. There is no need for new breakthroughs to achieve this. Yet further breakthroughs continue. Just this past summer, a Turkish teenager invented a method to make plastic from banana peels,16 and researchers at the University of Washington recently developed a cheaper, more effective solar panel.17

In 2009, Stanford Professor of Engineering Mark Z. Jacobson and UC Davis Institute for Transportation Studies scientist Mark A. Delucchi published a plan to power society on 100% renewables by 2030. The implications of this research are discussed further in “Technically Possible – A Sustainable World.” However, it’s worth noting that the only criticisms this plan has garnered are costs, the adverse affects of NIMBYism (Not In My BackYard),18 and the lack of infrastructure: all man-made obstacles that can be smashed by a powerful movement.

But that begs the question: how to build the movement?

Build a Movement of Millions

On February 17, 2013, nearly 50,000 people turned out for the largest climate action rally in American history. The sheer size of the crowd shows the level of concern within the population. However, 50,000 is far less than what is necessary to force the government to stop dragging its feet. In comparison, nearly 200,000 people showed up to Jon Stewart’s Rally for Sanity in 2010 – similar to the number of people who rallied for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. If the aim is to grow the environmental movement to a comparable size and beyond, the movement must change its strategy and widen its demands to include human well-being.

Forward_on_Climate_Rally_1

The major concern of Americans – and of the 99% globally – is the lack of jobs and, in particular, jobs that offer a decent standard of living, access to quality health care, and increased education on the job. This is illustrated in the recent poll showing a solid 66% support for the Keystone XL pipeline while 69% agree global warming is real and a threat.19 To grow the movement and begin the fight to replace the fossil fuel infrastructure, we have to first do a better job at connecting fossil fuel projects like the Keystone XL pipeline to the severe weather caused by global warming. But we also have to understand the need to put forward policies that offer living-wage jobs.

Since current economic growth – increasing manufacturing and production, which also increases jobs – comes at the expense of the environment, many in the environmental movement fear supporting growth in any form. However, to refuse to offer the possibility of growth means we cannot offer an alternative that solves the economic problems overwhelming the majority of the population. Therefore, we should ask ourselves: is it growth per se that threatens the environment? And is it really impossible to raise living standards without destroying nature?

Under capitalism, no value is placed on nature or human life. Production, therefore, is driven by short-term profit interests – and powered by “cheap,” polluting carbon-based energy – with no consideration of the damage inflicted on the environment and human lives. The environmental destruction caused by this system sparked the environmental movement, which demanded that governments control and mitigate the inherently destructive and unsustainable character of the system.

Humans must interact with nature.20 However, the interaction between humans and nature – production of food, extraction of raw material, waste disposal, pollution, etc. – can be and needs to be better managed to allow mutual prosperity. By shifting towards a cleaner and more sustainable approach, this is entirely possible. For example, quality food production does not inherently require stripping the soil of nutrients and then clear-cutting rainforests to find more fertile soil. No new technology or ideas are required to grow enough food to feed humanity while preserving the soil (and the rainforests) for future generations. We already know how to do that.  The only thing standing in the way is big business and the elite 1% who refuse to apply this knowledge. By promoting green technology and sustainable practices, environmental activists can link the concerns of the majority of the population for living-wage jobs to the need to address environmental destruction and global warming. By linking these struggles, we can win over the majority to defending the environment.

The protests against the Keystone XL pipeline, and the civil disobedience taking place to stop the construction of the pipeline’s southern portion, are highlighting a key demand from concerned people: Keep the fossil fuels in the ground. Activists know that allowing the pipeline to be built is a huge setback to stopping climate change. On the West Coast, environmental activists are mobilizing communities to reject the proposal to build the largest export terminal in North America in Bellingham Bay, Washington.

Utah_Tar_Sands_Resistance

Stopping these large-scale projects are key battles in the war against global warming. However, they only address one industry: energy production. Ultimately, only by acknowledging that the entire global economic system is infused with fossil fuels – from powering production, to transportation, to the raw materials used in manufacturing new products – will we fully understand the Everest-sized mountain we must climb to turn it all around. The ruling elite, who are tied to the logic of the capitalist system that puts short-term profit before long-term need, are attached to the existing fossil fuel infrastructure. The Stern Report, a 700-page report released for the British government on October 30, 2006, and one of the largest studies of climate change and the economy, argues that the costs of not acting on climate change are greater than the costs of action. By refusing to implement green technology to seriously address global warming, the ruling elite – and the capitalist system they support – have demonstrated that they are clearly the biggest obstacles to stopping global warming.

System Change, Not Climate Change

I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change.

-Barack Obama, 2013 State of the Union Speech

All world leaders of the advanced industrialized countries, including Obama, advocate a market-based solution to climate change. As far as they are concerned, large-scale public solutions are out of the question. Instead, solutions must come from the private sector, where companies are primarily concerned with profits rather than with the best solutions to global warming. Under capitalism, solutions to global warming must be “profitable.” The needs of super-wealthy shareholders, a tiny minority of society, are more important than the needs of humanity or the environment. But requiring “profitability” from renewable energy projects at a time when fossil fuels have a 150-year head-start is like saying a human must run in the same race as a car. Renewable energy is still competing with fossil fuels for investment dollars despite the fact that fossil fuel companies are ridiculously profitable, even without the billions of dollars in subsidies they get from governments.

With the real and growing damage from global warming, why not start an immediate switch to renewable energy? Because, under capitalism, decisions about what is produced and how it is produced are based on the prerequisite of increasing profits for the owners of corporations and their shareholders. Since the entire global economy primarily runs on fossil fuels, the profits from fossil fuel production are extremely high. Billions of dollars were invested in this profit-making infrastructure, and corporations want to continue to reap the rewards from that.

Transitioning to renewables, in contrast, requires massive investment to build a new infrastructure based on green energy; the development of mass production plants to create, distribute, and integrate these new technologies; and new energy sources integrated into all key aspects of our economy. Under capitalism, there are at present no plausible incentives to force industry and governments to dramatically shift to clean and sustainable alternatives.

Industry and government understand the impacts of continued carbon emissions, and yet the human and environmental costs of global warming are not “incentive” enough to force them to make the necessary transition, unless capitalism can make a profit from it. The above-mentioned Stern Report stated that climate change is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen. Stern is no radical. The overwhelming facts led him to recognize this failure of the market. Still, Obama says that the solution must be “market-based.”

By limiting the range of acceptable solutions to those that are market-based – meaning “profitable” – the president and other world leaders are putting a straightjacket on the fight against global warming. In fact, all of the solutions offered so far – cap and trade, carbon taxes, and lifestyle changes such as buying local produce or an electric car – are market-based solutions that fit within the framework of the existing capitalist system, and all have failed to stop carbon emissions from rising year after year.

The top U.S. corporations, and the government that ultimately works for them, demand laws that allow them to be profitable. In fact, the number of corporations responsible for the bulk of the emissions has been calculated at just 90! Around 2/3 of all carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution can be attributed to these companies, the heads of which “could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two.”21 Massively taxing these corporations to pay for renewable energy projects and subjecting them to strict pollution standards is required to mitigate the biggest threat facing humanity. But that will also dramatically cut into their profits. This explains why those in Washington, D.C., who first serve the interests of the major corporations, refuse to go along with any legally binding agreement to cut emissions. Consider the remarks of Secretary of State John Kerry as he explained that the role of the State Department is to gain access to world markets “without [which] the U.S. cannot grow and prosper.”22

The incessant quest for profits at the expense of climate stability, the wider environment, and human well-being and life, serves only those who collect the profits: the major multinational corporations and the super-wealthy. Five years into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, capitalism is unable to restart growth, and an estimated 200 million people globally are without jobs.  In reality, the 99% do not benefit from an economic model that deems it necessary to force millions of people out of work in addition to continuing down a path toward climate catastrophe – all for the sake of profits for the 1%. Capitalism can solve neither the current economic crisis nor global warming. Not a single solution that satisfies the market will turn the ship around fast enough to avoid the iceberg.

The depth of the capitalist crisis has provoked a growing mood of struggles. Unemployment, financial ruin, and homelessness forced on working people through no fault of their own have spawned growing criticism of this economic system, which unapologetically favors the very wealthy.

Portugal

Egypt

Greece

Mass protests (from top to bottom): Portugal 09/12, Egypt 07/13, Greece 05/11, Wisconsin 02/11.

Mass protests (from top to bottom): Portugal 09/12, Egypt 07/13, Greece 05/11, Wisconsin 02/11.

Massive working-class struggles have developed in Europe against the capitalist elite’s policies of austerity – budget cuts to programs that help workers and the poor. Revolutionary movements emerged in Tunisia and Egypt. Millions have been in the streets of Brazil. In the U.S., mass struggles developed in 2011, in Wisconsin followed by the Occupy Wall Street mobilizations. All these struggles won broad support among the public.

By linking up with struggles on economic and social issues and struggling against capitalism, the environmental movement can develop the power and strength it needs to change the corporate environmental policies pushed by both parties in Washington. In essence, it will be the strength of the movement of the 99% against the pro-capitalist policies of the elite 1% that will determine whether humanity and the environment can be rescued from the twin scourge of global warming and capitalist decay.

Leaders who discuss the need to focus on jobs before tackling climate change are driving a wedge between labor and environmental activists. See the article “Stop the Huge Coal Port in Washington State! – Demand Green Union Jobs Instead” for an example of how to build unity between environmentalists and labor. Obama recently remarked on the jobs versus the environment argument, saying, “[I]f the message is somehow [that] we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that. I won’t go for that.”23

The false dichotomy between jobs and the environment must be rejected. A massive green jobs program  could put millions of people back to work and kick-start a global transition away from fossil fuels. Environmentalists need to address the concerns of workers who might be displaced by this transition. We should demand that all workers laid off in closing polluting industries are supported and retrained in this transition and provided jobs in new, green technologies with equivalent pay and benefits.

Traditional fossil fuel industries like coal, oil, and gas extraction are some of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Environmentalists should support workers’ efforts to make working conditions in these sectors as safe as possible. A recent study showed the “occupational health risks” could be greatly reduced by transitioning workers from fossil fuel industries to renewable energy sectors. One of the authors of the study recently remarked that the “transition to renewable energy generation utilizing sources such as wind and solar could potentially eliminate 1300 worker deaths over the coming decade.”24

Action to halt carbon emissions needs to start now, not 10-, 20-, or 50-plus years from now, as capitalism demands. Yet world leaders met in Durban, South Africa late in 2011 and decided to wait until 2015 before drafting a Kyoto Protocol replacement, that wouldn’t take effect until 2020! Ultimately, environmental activists must recognize that capitalism is at the root of global warming and is the biggest barrier to stopping it. Recognizing what we are against is an important step in the right direction. The next step is formulating what we are for. If capitalism cannot meet human and environmental needs, what can?

A democratic socialist economic system of production and distribution of goods and services, publicly owned and democratically run by workers, is needed to replace capitalism. Economic decisions would then be focused on meeting the needs of humanity, including environmental health and climate stability, not profits. Input by the majority of the public would not be restricted to deciding which millionaire candidate they support for president each four years. Instead, day-to-day decisions that affect our lives would be made democratically by the majority of the public based on democratic discussion and informed decision-making.

No longer would we need to rely on the dinosaur technology that pollutes our water, air, and land because “the market” deems it the cheapest. Instead of constructing coal export terminals, deep-sea drilling rigs, and oil pipelines, we could build solar panels, windmills, and a new electric grid. A massive expansion of transit and high-speed rail could be built to drastically reduce the need for personal vehicles. Energy and resource use under socialist planning would be substantially more efficient than the current trash-pile-creating system of capitalism, with its reliance on planned obsolescence, a profit scheme of manufacturing products designed to be consumed, thrown away, and then replaced. Products would be manufactured to be durable, not disposable.

Under democratic socialism, instead of the world being a market for exploitation by a handful of huge multinational corporations, it would be organized to unite the resources and skills of workers to improve the conditions of people around the world. We could finally attain the international cooperation necessary to deal with global problems like global warming, and begin to reverse the environmental catastrophe.

Stop Supporting the Democratic Party

For decades, environmentalists blamed the Republican Party for inaction on climate change. This was especially apparent during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration. However, environmental activists need to take a sober look at the bleak reality of the Obama administration’s environmental record: the largest increase in domestic drilling in a generation, opening up the Arctic for oil drilling, opening the East Coast for seismic studies and eventual drilling, the first loan guarantees for nuclear energy in 30 years, and promotion of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking).

More recently, Obama gave a major speech on climate change, putting forth his Climate Action Plan.25 While many environmental activists and organizations cheered and thanked the president for his remarks, others were quite skeptical.

“Rather than celebrating Obama’s renewed ‘commitment’ to environmental action, we should recognize it for what it is: After five years of doing all he can to promote fossil fuel production, it’s the first timid, grudging response of the U.S. state to the growing environmental movement against Obama and all that he represents: the economic, political and military priorities of U.S. imperial power,” remarked Chris Williams, Chair of the Science Department at Packer  Collegiate Institute and longtime environmental activist.26

A look at just a few of the proposals will show just how unserious this plan really is.

 “We’re building the first nuclear power plants in more than three decades in Georgia and South Carolina.”  

Translation: build new nuclear power plants.  Never mind the radioactive waste that must be securely stored for 100,000 years for which we currently have no feasible plan.  All nuclear waste is stored on site indefinitely.  Also problematic is the wasted resources27 used to build nuclear energy plants that could have been used for safe renewable energy projects.

 “For the first time in 18 years, America is poised to produce more of our own oil than we buy from other nations.”

Translation: I am proud to announce that we are producing a lot more oil.

“[W]e’re also producing more cleaner-burning natural gas than any other country on Earth.  And, again, sometimes there are disputes about natural gas, but let me say this:  We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer…”

Translation: massively increase the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract more “natural” gas even though it is linked to contaminating water supplies, causes mini-earthquakes, and leaks methane to the atmosphere (a more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide).  In addition, scientists have already shown that increasing the use of natural gas does not slow global warming, rather it speeds it up!28

Obama even had the audacity to say “[a]llowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest.  And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”  We already know the answer to that.  It does.

Obama gives speech welcoming the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Obama gives speech welcoming the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Environmental organizations must take a stand against the president and the Democratic Party and stop making excuses for them. The illusion that the Democratic Party is an ally in the fight against climate change is a barrier to actually doing something about it.

For far too long, environmental organizations have given the Democratic Party a pass, excusing lax regulations and snail-speed reforms. No one can blame them for wanting to keep out the Republicans, whose big-business policies and deregulation of industry would be a disaster for the environment and working people. However, at this point, with arguably little time left to act, what does the fight to stop global warming gain by supporting the Democrats? While the Democrats admit that global warming is happening and occasionally discuss the need to seriously address it, their actions do not match their rhetoric. (And let us not forget that the Obama 2012 campaign did not mention climate change once.) Solutions proposed by the Democrats are always within the framework of what works best for business, not what is urgently necessary to solve the “the biggest threat facing humanity.”

If Obama and the Democrats were as progressive as their supporters hope and believe they are, the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline would not have been “welcomed” by the White House mere months after the project was postponed following tens of thousands of protesters encircling the White House and demanding its rejection.

New Program for Fighting Global Warming Is Needed

After Hurricane Sandy, the percentage of Americans polled who agree that global warming is a serious issue is 68%, an increase of over 20% in just three years. This isn’t surprising considering that Hurricane Sandy followed a persistent drought in the Midwest, wildfires, and rare winter tornadoes. In all, there have been 11 extreme weather events in 2012, which followed 14 extreme weather events in 2011. Extreme weather is now becoming normal, forcing people to pay attention and connect the dots between global warming and the freak weather they experience. This is why we say:

  • No new fossil fuel projects – stop the Keystone XL pipeline and the West Coast coal export terminals. No to fracking! No to drilling in the Arctic! No to opening up public land for exploitation!
  • A major expansion of good quality public transportation, both within cities and as long haul for freight and passengers, to provide low-fare, high-speed, and accessible mass transit.
  • A major investment in making buildings energy efficient with insulation and passive cooling.
  • Massive investment in wind power, sun, and geothermal heating and, in the longer term, wave power and other potential sources, together with a necessary renovation of the electricity grid.
  • A massive retraining program to ensure those who work in polluting industries are able to find jobs of similar quality in new green industries.
  • Tax the profits of fossil fuel companies and use the revenue to fund renewable energy projects.
  • Support a target to reduce emissions by at least 50% in 2020, with the aim of reducing emissions by at least 90% or coming as close to zero emissions as possible by 2050.
  • Stop global warming and end unemployment: Create a massive green jobs program to provide living-wage jobs retooling our infrastructure to the unemployed and underemployed.
  • Cut the military budget and retrain military and civilian personnel to work in socially beneficial jobs. Rehire scientists and engineers to address the damage done to the environment by climate change, and jump-start development and production of new green technologies.
  • Public ownership of the big energy companies to break the power of the big oil CEOs and to redirect these resources toward green energy projects. All workers in polluting industries should be guaranteed retraining and new living-wage jobs in socially useful green production.
  • Support and assist workers, small farmers, and climate fighters in the developing countries in their struggle for energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, and protection against the consequences of climate change such as mass poverty and diseases, flooding, drought and desertification, the destruction of ecological systems, and deforestation. For sustainable and sufficient food production, more ecological methods in agriculture, and replanting of forests.
  • The mobilization and uniting of the daily struggles for jobs, welfare, and climate with concrete steps to build a new, socialist, environmentally conscious political party of the 99%.
  • For a global struggle against the root cause of environmental destruction: capitalism. For its replacement by a global socialist system that can provide living-wage jobs for the world’s population as part of establishing a global plan of production drawn up by the peoples of the world, based on green technology to protect the planet from further environmental destruction.

Although more people are informed and ready to fight back, as outlined above the strategy used by the environmental organizations acts as a dam holding back the movement. To combat global warming, we need an overall effective program to fight back, one that demands investment in renewable energy infrastructure and employs tactics to win.

Socialist Alternative believes that global warming, war, poverty, racism, and oppression are the result of the global economic system of capitalism that puts profits before the needs of humanity. Only by overthrowing this system and replacing it with one where decisions are democratically made by workers and the community will global warming be stopped and the future of human progress secured.

Footnotes:

1. The new IPCC climate report, RealClimate.org, 9/27/2013.

2. There is debate on the start date of the proposed time period.  Some argue that the Anthropocene should start as early as 10,000 years ago.

3. Hertsgaard, Mark. “How a Grassroots Rebellion Won the Nation’s Biggest Climate Victory,” Mother Jones, 4/2/2012.

4. “EPA Survey Finds More Than Half of the Nation’s River and Stream Miles in Poor Condition,” EPA.gov, 3/26/2013.

5. Wald, Matthew.  “Fossil Fuels’ Hidden Cost Is in Billions, Study Says,” NY Times, 10/19/2009.

6. Horowitz, Alana. Global Warming Poll: Climate Change a ‘Serious Problem’ to 68% of Americans,” The Huffington Post, 11/12/2012.

7. Kloor, Keith. “The Great Schism in the Environmental Movement,” Slate.com, 12/12/2012.

8. For example, see Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucci, “A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables,”  Scientific American, November, 2009.

9. Kunzig, Robert.  “Climate Milestone: Earth’s CO2 Level Passes 400 ppm,” National Geographic, 5/9/2013.

10. Vellacott, Chris.  “Super-Rich Hold Up to $32 Trillion in Offshore Havens: Report,” The Huffington Post, 7/2//2012.

11. Plumer, Brad.  “We’re on Pace for 4°C of Global Warming. Here’s Why That Terrifies the World Bank,” The Washington Post, 9/19/2012.

12. Petoukhova et al. “Quasiresonant Amplification of Planetary Waves and Recent Northern Hemisphere Weather Extremes,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 1/16/2013.

13. Durack, et al.  “Ocean Salinities Reveal Strong Global Water Cycle Intensification During 1950 to 2000,” Science, 3/27/2012.

14. The pace of climate change is slow relative to human thinking and experience, which is on the order of days and months. In geologic time, current global warming is occurring at a rate faster than any time in the last several thousand years. Carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is rising faster and is higher than any time in the previous 800,000 years.

15. The extinction rate of plant and animal species is similar to past major extinction events.  “Sea-Level Rise: Where We Stand at the Start of 2013,” RealClimate.org, 1/9/2013.

16. Laskow, Sarah. “16-Year-Old Has Finally Succeeded in Making Plastic Out of Banana Peels,” Grist.com, 7/2/2013.

17. Stritcherz, Vince. “Regulating Electron ‘Spin’ May Be Key to Making Organic Solar Cells Competitive,” University of Washington, 8/7/2013.

18. An example of NIMBYism is the wind farm proposed off the coast of Cape Cod, MA, where wealthy owners  of beachfront property did not want the giant wind turbines to “ruin the view.”

19. Leader, Jessica. “Keystone XL Pipeline Poll Shows Two-Thirds of Americans Support Controversial Project,” The Huffington Post, 4/3/2013.

20. “Man lives from nature, i.e. nature is his body, and he must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if he is not to die. To say that man’s physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.” -Karl Marx, from Marx’s Ecology by John Bellamy Foster

21. Goldenberg, Suzanne. “Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions,” The Guardian, 11/20/2013.

22. Kerry, John. “Address at the University of Virginia,” 2/20/2013.

23. Oremus, Will. “Obama Makes It Clear That He Isn’t Willing to Fight for Action on Climate Change,” Slate.com, 11/14/2012.

24. “Renewable Energies Will Benefit U.S. Workers’ Health, Expert Predicts,” ScienceDaily.com, 8/19/2009.

25. Remarks by the President on climate change, WhiteHouse.gov, 6/25/2013.

26. Williams, Chris. “Mass Protest, Not a Speech, Is Needed to Address Climate Change,” CommonDreams.org, 6/27/2013.

27. The Obama administration has offered $8.5 billion in loan guarantees to assist the private construction of nuclear power plants, NY Times 2/17/2010.

28. Switching from Coal to Natural Gas Would Do Little for Global Climate, Study Indicates, ScienceDaily, 9/8/2011.

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