Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 16, 2009

COP 15–Something’s Rotten In Denmark

The time has come
To take a stand
It’s for our Earth
It’s for our land
The time has come
A fact’s a fact
The heat is on
No turning back

That’s the chorus of the remarkable, specially rewritten Beds Are Burning video, recorded by dozens of well known artists from around the planet. It’s aimed at pressuring the world’s governments to take urgently needed action at the upcoming climate summit in Copenhagen December 7 (COP15).

These socially conscious performers are lending their artistic talent to the more prosaic--and increasingly blunt--language of climate scientists. For example, after a pre-summit negotiating session in Barcelona two weeks ago, Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said,

“I gave all the world's leaders a very grim view of what the science tells us and that is what should be motivating us all, but I'm afraid I don't see too much evidence of that at the current stage. Science has been moved aside and the space has been filled up with political myopia with every country now trying to protect its own narrow short-term interests. They are afraid to have negotiations go any further because they would have to compromise on those interests.”

The scientist’s fear was decisively confirmed Sunday as the New York Times reported,

“President Obama and other world leaders have decided to put off the difficult task of reaching a climate change agreement at a global climate conference scheduled for next month, agreeing instead to make it the mission of the Copenhagen conference to reach a less specific ‘politically binding’ agreement that would punt the most difficult issues into the future.”

This leisurely approach by the Administration has become familiar; we have seen it in health care, labor law reform, as well as climate legislation–all still unfinished. But, to be fair, this slothful pace is shared by the governments of most industrialized and developing countries. The “difficult issues” have been on the table for years, and discussed at length without resolution at nine gatherings like the one in Barcelona–which led one pundit to write about “Homage to Catatonia.”

Key to the outcome is: what are the Americans going to do? The biggest economy--and mightiest war machine--is also by far the biggest per capita carbon polluter. And much of the runaway pollution in the developing countries results from runaway production for the American market.

Americans played a big role in the adoption of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, set to expire in 2012. The point man was then Vice-President Al Gore. Kyoto committed industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a paltry 5.2 percent from the 1990 level--by 2012. It was out of this agreement that carbon offsets and cap-and-trade schemes emerged.

But while U.S. negotiators framed the agreement, and even added their ceremonial signatures, President Clinton never submitted it to the Senate for ratification. When Bush II became President (even though Gore got more votes) the new administration made clear they wanted no part of this “junk science.”

Largely through deceptive carbon offsetting and trading schemes, many European powers will claim some progress over the Kyoto period. But emissions in the USA are up more than twenty percent over 1992 levels. American capital’s offshored production in China has helped boost that country’s greenhouse pollution 150 percent over the same period. World wide, emissions went up 38 percent.

Al Gore made a valuable contribution to exposing the rapid, unchecked destruction of our biosphere with his 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth. But while Gore understands, and undoubtedly wants to do something about the climate change crisis, he too is still committed to protecting the short as well as long term interests of the class for which he not only advocates but, as a venture and agribusiness capitalist, can claim membership.

In his new book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, Gore argues for a “sustainable capitalism,” utilizing new technology, biofuels, cost effective efficiencies, and carbon taxes softened by offsets and trades.

He acknowledges a shift in his pedagogy from presenting cold and scary facts to promoting optimism–and profit making ventures--instead. He also hopes to tap the power of Faith. His Alliance for Climate Protection brought together an unlikely joint TV pitch for “taking care of the planet” by Revs. Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson. The group also has training courses equipping Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu clergy to preach the gospel of sustainable capitalism.

Other environmentalists have also retreated from harsh truth. Some groups that used to hit hard on the imminent danger of climate change now prefer to talk only about windmills, green jobs, and the flag. For example, a narrator in an Environmental Defense Fund TV spot says, “We need more renewable energy that's made in America and works for America, creating 1.7 million jobs.”

I wasn’t aware that sunshine and wind was made in America, for Americans. Perhaps some could be exported. Certainly jobs are welcome to workers. But there’s no explanation of why green jobs will be better--as opposed to say expanding coal industry jobs, or war machine jobs.

Dismissing this expedient feel good and patriotic pitch, Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona nonprofit, told the Washington Post,

“It's a lack of faith in the American public. If the scientists, the environmentalists in our country do their jobs, and explain the test of climate change, the public will come along. Instead of doing that job, we're running away from it.”

The sister is spot on. For the past several years we have tried to make our own small contribution by devoting a section of the Daily Labor News Digest to environmental developments. Often it is the biggest section. We think action on the climate crisis is an indispensable component of a working class agenda. Because of irreconcilable opposing interests, that agenda needs to reject “partnership” with the boss in the workplace, political arena–and the fight to save our biosphere.

American workers are not stupid. They can grasp, The time has come, A fact’s a fact, The heat is on, No turning back. Most know the only “sustainability” that truly interests capitalists is their bottom line profit.

Al Gore’s class has failed us on both climate change and jobs and there’s no place left to hide. The time has come, To take a stand, It’s for our Earth, It’s for our land.

It’s up to our side now. Even an inconvenient truth can help set us free. An educated working class, collaborating with the scientists, environmentalists, and artists, can figure out a way to halt the destruction of our environment while providing decent jobs for all. We won’t do it by Copenhagen but we need to start moving soon.

It’s my hope that this question can be given substantial consideration at the next Labor Notes Conference, scheduled for Detroit next April 23-25.

Looking For A Bissel Of Dignity
For a while I’ve been hearing from friends in Chicago about a bold new organizing effort by UE called
Warehouse Workers for Justice. Manufacturing isn’t what it used to be in Chicago, and the old UE bulwarks at Stewart-Warner, Honeywell, and Westinghouse are long gone. But massive, high-tech warehousing is thriving big time in this era of Globalization.

On October 29, workers at the Bissell warehouse near Joliet told their bosses they had formed a union. On November 6 they were all fired. UE is asking for support messages to be sent to Bissell, and the workers’ nominal employer, Maersk Distribution, demanding their reinstatement. The workers have also been demonstrating at the plant.

Mark Brenner at Labor Notes has a good blog entry about this fight that also explains the role these distribution centers play in today’s economy.

Off Broadway
Saturday night I splurged and took my wife Mary to an off Broadway production. Okay, it was the Just Off Broadway Theater in Kansas City and the cast was all amateur. But this reprise of Bill and Judy Clauses’ labor history musical,
1937: One Hell Of A Year, was well written and well played. It was a good blend of entertainment and introduction to some of the proudest moments in Kansas City and national working class history. The AFL-CIO Blog ran a short piece about it.. If you live in the KC area you still have a chance to see this gem this Friday or Saturday evening. Click here for details.

Short Road Trip
I’ve accepted an invitation to speak to a meeting of Missourians for Single-Payer 6:30 Thursday evening at the Ethical Society in the St Louis suburb of Clayton. This means no Friday update of the Daily Labor News Digest.

In Brief...
¶ Overlooked in all the attention given to the killing of thirteen at Ft Hood by a deranged officer was a report that there have been 133 suicides among active duty Army troops this year–including ten at Ft Hood. The rate is higher than for civilians. A separate report concluded morale has fallen sharply among U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, with repeated combat deployments taking a toll on their psychological health and marriages, according to an Army mental health survey released Friday. Problems continue for many even after discharge. A Harvard Medical School study discovered at least 2,266 veterans under the age of 65 died in 2008 because of lack of health insurance.
¶ In April, B.C. Ambulance Service paramedics went on strike. Because they are classified as an essential service they continued to work--with big red signs proclaiming “On Strike” pasted on their vehicles. The Liberal government found this embarrassing and earlier this month the B.C. legislature imposed a contract on the workers. This apparently coincided with some new mutation of swine flu because absentee rates for the ambulance workers shot up. The union says staffing shortages were not part of a concerted effort.
¶ That pesky Congressional Budget Office is at it again. According to estimates published in the Wall Street Journal, the CBO figures there are presently 54 million without health insurance in the USA. That number would go down to 18 million under the bill passed by the House; 25 million in the Senate Finance Committee plan. These numbers are considerably higher than those bandied about by the White House and Congressional leaders. There seem to be two main reasons for the discrepancy. The Dems don’t count 12 million immigrants without all the right papers as human beings while the CBO acknowledges their existence. The ruling party also counts all who are eligible for Medicaid as having access to insurance whereas the CBO only recognizes those who overcome formidable obstacles to actually get on the rolls.
¶ Still more in this morning’s New York Times:
Drug Makers Raise Prices in Face of Health Care Reform.

That’s all for this week.

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