by Bill Onasch
It’s always hard to decide what not to write about in these weekly reviews. An anti-Semitic motivated murder of three in my home town by a founder of the White Patriot Party certainly stirs outrage and will warrant further comment as more facts become available. Thousands of workers marched in Europe against austerity and in Las Vegas demanding a new culinary contract, over the weekend. UPS backed down and reinstated 250 Teamsters they had fired in New York over a job action protesting the unjust discharge of a driver. The Kansas legislature outlawed tenure for teachers. The news stories posted on our companion Labor Advocate news blog are overflowing. But I finally chose climate change as the focus of this WIR.
We Can’t Afford Not to Be All In
Only a few weeks after a second of three parts of a UN benchmark report on climate change was approved in Yokohama, the final installment of the trilogy has been released in Berlin. Justin Gillis writes in the New York Times,
“The countries of the world have dragged their feet so long on global warming that the situation is now critical, experts appointed by the United Nations reported Sunday, and only an intensive worldwide push over the next 15 years can stave off potentially disastrous climatic changes later in the century.”
Some governments fought hard to pull some of its punches, with partial success. Says Gillis,
“Some developing countries insisted on stripping charts from the report’s executive summary that could be read as requiring greater effort from them, while rich countries — including the United States — struck out language implying that they needed to write big checks to the developing countries. Both points survived in the full version of the report, but were deleted from a synopsis meant to inform the world’s top political leaders.”
The economies of “developing” countries are increasingly intertwined with a global capitalist economy still very much dominated by the ruling class in the historical “rich” countries. China leads today’s climate wreckers spewing fully one quarter of the world’s carbon emissions–and much of the result of that production is to be found bearing American brand names on the shelves of North American retail outlets. The USA is runner up in current volume with seventeen percent. India (6.6 percent), Russia (5.1 percent) and Japan (3.7 percent) round out the present top five.
However, as an AP story notes,
“If you count back to when the Industrial Revolution started in the 18th century, the U.S. is the undisputed No. 1, accounting for nearly 28 percent of the world’s cumulative emissions from energy and industry. China’s share is 9.9 percent, Russia’s 6.9 percent, Britain’s 5.9 percent and Germany’s 5.6 percent. Western countries rank high because they have been burning coal and oil for much longer than the rest of the world.”
In terms of today’s per capita emissions it’s a tight three-way race between Australia, Canada, and the USA.
Clearly we cannot give the “developing” countries a free pass on greenhouse gases. But it seems a just demand to refund some of the wealth amassed from fossil fuel use, that both created the crisis and made rich countries richer, to assist the rest of the world to advance beyond carbon.
The climate science of this concluding report is the strongest and plainest yet. But it was not prepared for an academy of their peers. In a diplomatic gesture to the world’s Power Elite, the report offers various options–some very dubious–but no mandates for governmental action to rapidly reduce carbon emissions.
Among those acknowledged to be “unproven” are sucking carbon out of the atmosphere, carbon capture/containment (the pipe dream of “clean coal”), and expansion of nuclear power with guaranteed safe disposal of waste (no one has a clue of how to do that.) They acknowledged biofuels at best marginally reduce emissions while creating other environmental problems and driving up the cost of food. With a tip of the hat to gas-rich superpowers, even the natural gas fossil fuel was seen as a possible downsizing of carbon pollution though it too regrettably would have to be ultimately eliminated as well. There is still talk of carbon tax market measures–the failed central strategy imposed by Al Gore on the expiring Kyoto Protocols.
There are, of course, proven clean, renewable energy alternatives to fossil and nuclear–solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, tidal and others–already in place in many parts of the world. The new report correctly emphasizes the need to embrace and expand these sustainable alternatives.
But the defenders of this indispensable energy restructuring felt compelled to appease the Establishment mantra of Austerity in all things other than corporate profits and CEO compensation. Because of declining costs of renewables they seek to sell them as “affordable.” They present arguments showing that expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars on moving away from carbon dependency would only result in a slight slowing of world economic growth.
I have several problems with this approach.
First, how does one determine whether or not we leave a sustainable biosphere for our grandchildren is “affordable?” Is it a matter of priorities? What trumps the continuity of human civilization? Is it availability of resources? Along with accumulation of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere the Industrial Revolution has also produced enormous wealth in our world–largely controlled by a few hundred families. Our planet is not cash poor even if most of its seven billion plus residents are.
When competition for markets and resources led the rulers of Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor there was no debate about whether the USA could afford to go to war. Nor did the Pentagon patiently wait for an unregulated free market to hopefully decide to tool up for producing enormous quantities of planes, ships and tanks urgently needed for war on six continents and all oceans.
Instead the U.S. government took control of virtually the entire American economy and directed it according to a plan–dictating product lines and production quotas, imposing rationing of most items, establishing wage and price controls, deciding where people would work or fight–all while running up an enormous budget deficit and debt. It was the biggest and most successful economic mobilization in world history. Postwar economic activity generated more than enough tax revenue to quickly retire the debt.
I recognize this is an imperfect analogy for the present climate crisis. We don’t want war nor do we want war profiteers that are still draining our national budget. But the urgent priority, need for centralized planning, and conscription of needed resources that were key to winning a war are relevant and essential to stopping climate change short of irreversible disaster.
It’s going to take more than a few hundred billion bucks to overcome two centuries of deferred maintenance of our fragile home world living space. Crisis resolution will be more than a hiccup in steady economic growth. We have to change the way we work and live. If we act soon enough, through an intelligent planned restructuring of energy, transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, along with reversal of urban sprawl to reclaim forests, wetlands, and farm land destroyed by irrational “development,” we can keep a quality standard of living in the “rich” countries while raising the standards of the billions of destitute around the world. We collectively have the science, technology and material resources to do that.
It won’t be easy and it won’t be cheap. But the main challenge is not convincing people to return to urban living and riding public transit, as most working people once did. The countryside can prosper with a shift to more human nurturing through organic methods rather than chemical pollution. Workers displaced from climate wrecking occupations can have greater job satisfaction and security in a sustainable economy.
The most formidable obstacle to such an acceptable outcome is the class that has grown richer than Midas as their golden touch destroys the ecological balance we humans need to thrive. It’s not just the Koch brothers and others in the energy industries that cling to fossil like a barnacle to hull. Those corporations big and small building, selling, maintaining and insuring cars and trucks see a vested interest in the status quo. So do the construction companies still spreading urban sprawl through housing and commercial development and the roads delivering residents and customers. And the chemical industry would undergo far-reaching transformation. Society can and should guarantee a Just Transition for displaced workers in these industries as they prepare for suitable new jobs–but not the mega-profits of the Fortune 500.
This class has never been hailed for its long term vision and they are more focused than ever on the current bottom line and low hanging fruit. Tempted by deregulation to cut corners they sell millions of defective cars, and millions of tons of tainted food to consumers. Presently running the governments and economies of the world, they are not changing their climate wrecking ways either despite the dire warnings of science. We have no reason to believe they will do so in time to make a difference. If these bosses, bankers and brass hats are allowed to continue to call the shots then future generations will be vulnerable to an unnatural selection leading to reverse evolution of our species.
There’s only one force that has the power and interest to oust this greedy class as crazy and indifferent as the emperor Nero was purported to be–the working class majority. The economy doesn’t require owners–usually seldom seen–to function but nothing gets done without workers.
The ruling class in the USA has done as effective job as the dreaded Heartbleed virus in stealing the class identity of American workers. This has allowed them to ride roughshod over us in many ways. On the climate front, in too many cases they have enlisted workers and their unions to promote ecological destruction for a promise of jobs. Just this past week, the mis-leaders of the Laborers’ union threatened to work for the electoral defeat of any congressional candidate that does not support the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to transport the dirtiest of all fuels from the Alberta tar-sands.
Attacks on wages, working conditions, and job security can be reversed through union and other struggles. But we have just this one biosphere and if it’s lost it will be forever. 2014 is the eightieth anniversary of the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strikes, a battle fought and led by class conscious workers, that has been called Labor’s Turning Point. We have a dual task of educating, agitating, and organizing to reclaim our class identity–and launch a working class climate movement that can win an even more crucial turning point in human history.
Are you in?
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