KC Labor–Since March 8 2000, Online For Class and Climate Justice

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Feb 202019

Week In Review 2-Part Extra–‘Green New Deal’

by Bill Onasch

From Little Ice Age to Global Warming

A recent poll conducted by Yale revealedgrowing numbers (73 percent) of Americans now accept that global warming is real. While that is a small step forward, only 62 percent believe warming is driven by human activity. The fall-back position of the ruling class, who can no longer successfully promote denial, is that nothing can be done about “natural” climate change.

Natural climate change, triggered by collision with a rogue asteroid 66 million years ago, led to extinction of three quarters of species while creating the biosphere suitable for humans. We are still vulnerable to wayward asteroids. We know it is inevitable that some day the Sun will go nova and then dark—though probably not for millions of years.

There’s nothing we can do about such cosmic threats. But if we move boldly enough and soon enough we still have a chance to stop pernicious global warming that is part and parcel of global capitalism.


This is not the first time that humans have altered climate. New research offers a macabre explanation of the once puzzling Little Ice Age, from the 15th to 18th centuries. Oliver Milman writes in the Guardian, “European colonization of the Americas resulted in the killing of so many native people that it transformed the environment and caused the Earth’s climate to cool down…”

Ninety percent of the indigenous population of the Western Hemisphere were killed either through occupier violence or European diseases for which they had no immunity. There were 56 million indigenous deaths by 1600. That’s about three times the military fatalities on all sides during World War I. It took many decades of slave trade and colonization to rebuild population levels in the “New World.”

By the end of the 19th century scientists already understood that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels were collecting in what came to be called a greenhouse belt in the upper atmosphere. Heat that would normally dissipate in to Space was being trapped in the human biosphere. While the pioneer scientists understood the danger this threatened they believed it was so gradual that there was no need for urgency, that it could be tackled over generations.

Renewed Interest

Science attention to climate was diverted by two World Wars sandwiched around a global Great Depression. In the postwar period some scientists—mostly employed by fossil fuel and auto industries—took a fresh look at the greenhouse effect. The corporate scientists were muzzled by their employers—who also had considerable influence in academic science.

The first most Americans heard about global warming came in 1988 when NASA scientist James Hansen—who came to earn the honorary title of Dean of U.S. Climate Scientists—testified before a Senate committee. The energy capitalists soon hired their own scientists to denounce climate change as job-killing junk science. It has taken over three decades to overcome the anti-science of the capitalists. And much irreversible ecological damage has been done over those years.

An Inconvenient Truth

At least one Senator was able to follow Hansen’s testimony. Al Gore had done some post-grad work on the topic. After becoming Bill Clinton’s Vice-President Gore became a

the top U.S. representative on UN climate bodies and treaty negotiations.

Gore played a decisive role at the adoption of the first climate treaty—the 1997 Kyoto Protocol now folded in to the Paris Accord. Everybody recognized it was crucial to get the world’s biggest economy—and at that time the biggest greenhouse polluter—on board. Gore was granted veto power over conference proposals—but had no such authority with his boss in the White House. Even though the delegates accepted all of the U.S. demands, Clinton never submitted the treaty to the Senate.

Gore received the most votes for President in 2000 but a Republican dominated Supreme Court awarded the disputed count in Florida to Bush II giving him an edge in the Electoral College. To his credit, once Gore accepted he was never going to be President he did tackle educating the public about climate change, especially through a book and film of the same title—An Inconvenient Truth. But while a good educator on basic climate science Gore believes the Stock Markets will straighten things out.

No one expected the oilmen Bush/Cheney to do anything positive about climate change—and nobody was surprised. What is remarkable is the expectation that Bush’s successor would be a “green” President—a fallacy still maintained by most leaders of the climate/environmental movements. Let’s review just the environmental low-lights of Obama’s eight years.

> The 2009 UN climate conference in Copenhagen was the first on Obama’s watch. Negotiations appeared to be close for the first meaningful agreement since Kyoto. But then Obama, in the vicinity to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize, showed up unexpected. He insisted on starting over again as he haggled with China and others. The upshot was that nothing new was accomplished.

> Obama was the fracking President. He could brag that he made America the biggest producer of oil and gas in the world. Big release of methane, fiery train wrecks, and a few earthquakes was considered a small price to pay for leaping from energy dependent to energy exporter. Fracking more than canceled out the benefits of more use of wind and solar energy.

> Obama came up with some slight of hand tricks to boost his legacy and deliver a pledge at the Paris conference. He could claim the benefit of cheap fracked gas replacing coal in power plants, while calling on states to develop their own regional emissions quotas and carbon taxes.

> Nearly all of Obama’s piddly green reforms were done through Executive Orders. What can be decreed with a pen can be repealed with a pencil. The current climate change denier occupying the Oval Office is himself fond or exec orders and proud of his calligraphy at the bottom.

In 2016 most climate activists rallied around the campaign of Bernie Sanders who calls himself a socialist but caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate and has now announced his second attempt to be the Donkey nominee for President. Sanders delegates, with the advice of Bill McKibben, got a few green nuggets past the Clinton delegates but climate change got scant attention during the campaign.

Now, just weeks after the convening of this Congress, a Green New Deal has been introduced in both houses of Congress. Neither the concept nor the name is new. The Green Party has used both before and still has resolutions and motivation on the website. But there are some new twists in the latest Democrat offering that deserve attention. I’ll continue this narrative, doctors permitting, next week.

That’s all for this week.

Good & Welfare

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Week In Review April 17

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review April 17
Apr 172018

by Bill Onasch

This is an abbreviated WIR. Perhaps because of the weather I’m feeling a bit under it. Hopefully, next time I will have recovered my normal long wind.

A Welcome Correction

In the last WIR I reported there were 2800 attending the Labor Notes Conference. That was the last figure I had heard before we had to leave early because Amtrak put us on a bus to Kansas City due to a bridge replacement on the BNSF track. An e-mail blast from Labor Notes says 3,000 participated in the April 6-8 gathering in Chicago.

An Exchange on Nuclear Power

A supportive reader in Los Angeles and I long ago agreed to disagree about the role of nuclear power in combating global warming. He recently pointed out that an article I posted on Labor Advocate about ambitious new goals for renewable energy in New Jersey also included continuing subsidies to the state’s nuclear plants. This was the gist of my reply,

Since most of the environmental damage has either already been done—or is an inevitable threat in decommissioning—I could live with keeping existing nukes still in good condition online during the transition to renewable energy. But, if for no other reason than the fact that it takes at least a decade of planning and construction to connect new nukes to the grid, they are not an option for even “emergency” off-setting of fossil emissions as some climate scientists advocate. Solar, wind, even hydro have become quicker and cheaper to build.

The New Jersey action goes about as far as a state can go—and clearly is not enough. Conversion to renewable energy needs to be part of a planned restructuring of the economy—ultimately on a global scale. The current orientation of 350.org and other activist wings of the climate/environmental movement are doing a disservice, in my opinion, by contributing to illusions that states, divestment, and electing Democrats in the midterms, are progress. Emissions are still increasing and the planet is getting hotter. This is not going to decisively change under capitalism.

While there can be a case for keeping New Jersey’s nukes online until they can be replaced by clean renewables there is no justification for continuing to subsidize their capitalist owners who, at the end of the day, will leave behind a dangerous, costly environmental mess.

Many are hailing the effort in New Jersey, along with similar programs in California and New York, as essentially meeting their share of the goal for reduced U.S. emissions included in the Paris Climate Accords. While that may be true it’s hardly anything to brag about. That leaves 47 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico with either inadequate goals—or none at all.

And that’s not the worst of it. The collective goals of the signers of the Paris agreement fail to come close to the target of limiting warming to 1.5C and would allow our planet to grow disastrously hotter to perhaps as high as 3C.

New Jersey is also home to refineries, petrochemical plants, and one of the nation’s busiest airports. Just as states can’t socialize all energy under worker management—as advocated by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy—they don’t have the power to implement a Just Transition restructuring to put workers in to new climate-friendly jobs.

I’ll continue this topic next time.

That’s all for this week.

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