Week In Review September 27

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Sep 272015
 

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

On Course for Best Case Disaster
Renee Lewis wrote on the Aljazeera America site,

“Most leaders and scientists have agreed that limiting the global average temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius over the next century could yet ward off the worst effects of climate change. But the world remains on a trajectory to experience an increase of 3 C —even if the national emission reduction pledges to be codified in the Paris treaty are implemented— said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.” AJA spoke with more scientists about what could be expected in a 3C+ world.

“The most recent era in which the Earth was believed to have experienced temperatures of 3 C above pre-Industrial levels was the Pliocene Epoch— around 3 million years ago — according to Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. ‘At that time, there was almost no ice anywhere. The sea level was 20 meters (65 feet) or so higher, and forests went to the edge of the Arctic Ocean where there is now tundra,’ Schmidt said.”

According to Ray Pierrehumbert, a physics professor at the University of Oxford, “A world 3 C warmer would see a significant drop in food production, an increase in urban heat waves akin to the one that killed thousands of people this year in India, and more droughts and wildfires.”

Mind you, these scenarios take place with the assumption that the world’s present governments will not only adopt but implement their climate goals submitted to the COP21 climate summit in Paris just two months away. Belief in even such inadequate accomplishment requires more faith than the visiting Pope Francis could muster.

Just over the past week, two embarrassing breaches in present pollution controls were exposed, one presumably through serious miscalculation—the other through corporate fraud. An AP dispatch reported,

“For years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency relied on estimates to determine how much trash was being sent to landfills. But in 2010, the agency required most municipal landfills to measure and report how much trash was heading into the dumps, as part of an effort to lower heat-trapping methane emissions. Researchers at Yale University looked at the records for more than 1,200 landfills and calculated amounts, predominantly based on weights. They figured it was 289 million tons in 2012, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. For the same year, EPA estimated the figure to be 135 million tons.”

In other words, methane emissions from dumps were likely twice the amount assumed by the EPA. Methane doesn’t hang around nearly as long as carbon dioxide but while it does it’s a much more potent greenhouse gas.

Of course, everyone has heard by now how the world’s biggest car company rigged software to grossly understate the amount of pollution from eleven million greenwashed Volkswagen diesel vehicles in Europe and North America. It’s now estimated that this scam illegally released an additional one million metric tons of pollution—roughly equivalent to all of Britain’s power plants.

If the Paris COP21 turns out to be a total flop, as have other previous gatherings, things could get a lot hotter fast—and ultimately higher than 3C. For a good blend of scientific explanation and political alternatives I highly recommend the article When Did the Anthropocene Begin…And Why Does It Matter? by Canadian ecosocialist Ian Angus, who edits the useful Climate & Capitalism blog.

A year ago, on the eve of last year’s annual UN General Assembly, there were mass demonstrations around the world, including a New York City march of 400,000, calling for “meaningful action” by the UN on climate change. That got the attention of the movers and shakers of global capitalism. They all drew up plans. The last WIR took a close look at the American plan. We now have a good idea of what the climate wreckers consider meaningful action. If we’re lucky, it’s on track to return our planet to conditions that prevailed millions of years ago–before humans could develop.

Retrogression to the conditions of the Pliocene Epoch would take a very long time and certainly will not be completed in my life time or yours. But that doesn’t mean there’s a lot of time left to solve the climate change crisis short of such a disastrous outcome. We’re not going to catch any breaks.

The carbon dioxide released at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is still in the atmosphere. The Earth’s temperature has risen 0.8C since 1880 and big changes are already palpable. We’ve reached a point where quantitative change is also qualitative. Each incremental increase will have exponential impact—and will be irreparable, at least for millennia. Some scientists think temperatures could rise far more than 4C by the end of this century if we don’t soon change our ways. Civilization would not be sustainable in such a world and it’s possible humans might join a long list of extinct species.

Theories about global warming caused by carbon emissions were postulated during the late nineteenth century. Using computers, scientists employed by oil companies recognized by the 1980s the theory was being confirmed by a growing greenhouse effect—but their employers suppressed their findings and to this day promote denial. NASA scientist James Hansen warned the U.S. Congress about the growing danger thirty years ago. And in a 1997 interview in the Scientific American the late eminent biologist Barry Commoner was crystal clear,

“The environmental crisis arises from a fundamental fault: our systems of production—in industry, agriculture, energy and transportation—essential as they are, make people sick and die. What is needed now is a transformation of the major systems of production more profound than even the sweeping post–World War II changes in production technology. Restoring environmental quality means substituting solar sources of energy for fossil and nuclear fuels; substituting electric motors for the internal-combustion engine; substituting organic farming for chemical agriculture; expanding the use of durable, renewable and recyclable materials—metals, glass, wood, paper—in place of the petrochemical products that have massively displaced them.”

About the same time as Commoner’s plain spoken remarks the Kyoto Accords were adopted and UN scientists went to work on an impressive series of studies and recommendations. But they have been largely ignored—and our planet has continued to get hotter.

Ian Angus quotes a briefing of the British Parliament by climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larking,

“Only if emissions from industrialized nations reduce immediately and at unparalleled rates and only then if less well-off nations begin a rapid transition to low-carbon development with emissions declining from 2025, is there any reasonable probability of not exceeding the 2°C ‘guard-rail’.”

In her excellent book This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein comments,

“What Anderson and Bows-Larkin are really saying is that there is still time to avoid catastrophic warming, but not within the ruIes of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which is surely the best argument there has ever been for changing those rules.”

It was indeed the Golden Rule of Capital—those who rule get the gold–that created the climate crisis as an unintended consequence of amassing the greatest accumulation of wealth in human history. Most capitalists are as indifferent to the fate of future generations as they are to the workers of all countries they exploit today.

The capitalist class that rules nearly every land is not very amenable to needed rule change. In the homeland of Wall Street this tiny minority in a country professing democracy from birth prefers to manipulate the consent of the majority to govern through control of the two official parties. They sometimes yield reforms in the face of public opinion, especially when backed by mass action. They have plenty of reserves to play with before they start feeling real discomfort. They don’t even appear unduly concerned about a socialist promoting “political revolution” in their currently governing party. The second richest man in America recently had some kind words for Senator Sanders–though Mr Buffet still prefers Hillary.

But they will not surrender their rich climate wrecking profit centers at the very core of global capitalism in response to polls, science, rational arguments, prayer, pleading or terrorism. They must be removed from their control of government and the economy and replaced by the only potential challenger with the power and interest to do so–the working class majority and our allies.

In World War II the government took complete charge of the U.S. economy. It turned out to be far more effective than the Free Market in rapidly converting the economy from production for consumption to mobilization for war.

A workers government could use similar powers and planning methods not for death and destruction but to pursue the objectives outlined in the Barry Commoner quote. And instead of rewarding the capitalists with obscene war profits it would socialize not only the energy sector to begin substituting clean renewables for fossil and nuclear power as quickly as possible but also transportation, finance, mining, construction, AgriBusiness, chemical and manufacturing industries for a planned conversion to an ecologically sustainable economy. It would assist farmers in switching to organic agriculture. It would reverse urban sprawl, restoring wetlands, forests, and farm land blighted by irrational “development” while renovating, rebuilding, and repopulating our urban cores made safe and “green.”

Scientists and environmentalists would join economists and trade unionists to lead the overall planning while management in the workplace would be elected by the workers. Union contracts would be honored and union organizing would not be opposed. And all this rearrangement of work would be subject to Just Transition—any worker who loses their job due to the new planned economy will be paid their regular wages until they can be retrained and/or relocated for suitable new work, of which there will be an abundance. No worker will be left behind.

Because worker solidarity knows no borders a workers government in the USA would share material resources and expertise to assist developing countries to obtain acceptable living standards through sustainable methods.

In my opinion, nothing less than this approach can stop climate change short of climate disaster while still providing a good lifestyle—in fact, much improved for many.

Of course, we are no where near accomplishing the goal of such a transformation that only a workers government could lead. The American working class has not yet built a mass party that we can call our own. But beginning with the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline, important union forces have started participating in what is shaping up to be a mass climate action movement. Bridging the two movements, the Labor Network for Sustainability is doing some good work.

The motto of the KC Labor website has long been For Class and Climate Justice. Those who share that perspective belong in the international actions now beginning under the theme The Road Through Paris, coordinated in the USA by 350.org. There will be appropriate occasions during these actions before, during, and following the COP21 summit, to patiently explain ideas for a working class led restructuring to save our biosphere. Expect more on this topic in coming editions of the WIR.

In Brief…
* As this edition is written UAW members are voting on a tentative deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobile. It has been more difficult than usual to get hard information about the contents of this 420 page deal and there have been some shocking revelations almost every day. I’ve seen enough to conclude it’s bad news, an opinion shared by friends at Chrysler. I hope to give it thorough treatment in the next WIR.
* Planned Parenthood has been under vicious and slanderous attack by the theocratic Right. The latest is the University of Missouri withdrawal of hospital privileges for a physician providing services to the nonprofit women’s health group. The law in this state requires such hospital access for abortions. If the University’s attack sticks, women in the campus dominated town of Columbia would have to travel 125 miles to either the Kansas City or St Louis metro areas for abortions. Planned Parenthood is organizing protest rallies in Columbia and Kansas City Tuesday.

That’s all for this week.
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Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Week In Review September 14

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review September 14
Sep 142015
 

onaschoutsmallby Bill Onasch

Trouble Top to Bottom
Whether your pole of attraction is in the Arctic or Antarctic it is in big trouble. Both are stressed out by that unwelcome, unintended consequence of the Industrial Revolution—global warming. Of course, so is the rest of the planet in between. But the long frigid areas associated with the poles have been particularly vulnerable to the inexorable rise in average global temperatures—July was the hottest month in recorded history.

In turn both regions have an enormous impact on the world’s weather, water temperatures and currents; as PermaFrost thaws the most potent of all greenhouse gas, methane, is released; melting sea and shore ice in the Arctic and Southern Oceans and receding once giant ice shelves in Greenland and Antarctica, contribute to rising sea levels.

These forces were the perfect backdrop for President Obama’s recent visit to the 49th state to pitch the re-launch of his “climate action plan.” The educational theater of the President’s journey to Alaska was commendable—but his plan not so much.

The very structure of the President’s plan is shaky. It’s legal authority relying on executive order is already being challenged and in any case could be reversed with the stroke of a pen by the next, or any future President, short of its objectives. It is restricted to reducing carbon emissions only in the electrical power industry. It relies on cooperation of states in determining and implementing quotas—much like the Affordable Care Act.

The goals of this American plan, submitted to the COP21 Climate Summit meeting in Paris in November, aren’t much to write home about either. It does not begin with the benchmark of the expiring 1997 Kyoto Accord that the Clinton-Gore administration helped shape—but never submitted to Congress for ratification. It instead projects a 32 percent reduction in power plant emissions by 2030 from the much higher starting point of 2005.

This past decade has, of course, been marked by an astounding conversion of power plants from coal to gas-fired. Gas belches only about half the carbon emissions of coal. The motive of the utilities has not been a desire to go green. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) methods produced a glut of gas that became cheaper than coal—at least for now. It is this low hanging fruit that makes the 32 percent reduction credible. In fact, a number of states have already met their 2030 target.

Fracking is a process that itself generates substantial emissions and a host of other environmental problems. But since the plan is restricted to what goes up the stack at power plants fracking of gas and oil is ignored.

So is the President’s authorization of new offshore oil and gas drilling. Especially egregious is the permit granted to Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the fragile marine environment of—Alaska. This has provoked just outrage by indigenous peoples in the area and mass demonstrations and civil disobedience at Shell’s bases in Seattle and Portland.

Adam Itzkowitz blogging on the Better World Club site wrote,

“James Hansen, a climate researcher who headed NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies for over 30 years and first warned Congress of global warming in 1988, said of the new plan: ‘The actions are practically worthless….They do nothing to attack the fundamental problem.’ A recent study published by Hansen and 16 of his colleagues concludes that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10 times faster than the IPCC [UN science body] estimates, resulting in sea level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years. If true, coastal cities like New York and New Orleans have but a few decades of habitability left.”

In 2009 a UN goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees centigrade (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels was adopted. Many nations objected that was too high. Even 2C will cause serious localized irreparable damage. Above 2 will be widespread disaster. Right now we are on a path leading to well over 3C by the end of the century. No one is confident that the binding agreements, if any, adopted in Paris will be sufficient to achieve the 2C target.

350.org has devised a program around a theme of Through Paris, projecting actions before, during, and beyond COP21. Next time I’ll take a look at this and other needed projects that must involve the working class to save our biosphere.

Your Choice—Shape the Future
An odd thing happened after the drubbing of the British Labor Party in last May’s General Election. You might expect there would be mass defections from the hapless losers. Instead there was a surge of tens of thousands of eager new members signing up. It soon became clear they were not yuppies seeking to make the New Labor project launched by Tony Blair twenty years ago even more respectable—and acceptable to the British ruling class. Quite the opposite. They seemed determined to restore the party’s working class, antiwar, socialist heritage that peaked before most of them were born.

In the Your Choice—Shape the Future contest to select a new party leader they rallied around a veteran backbench Member of Parliament. Jeremy Corbyn is a left wing socialist, national chair of the Stop the War Coalition, and a protege of the late Tony Benn. On Saturday the results of the four-person race were announced. Corbyn won an astonishing 59 percent first ballot victory—greater than Tony Blair’s 1995 triumph.

Corbyn wasted no time in setting the pace and tone of the new sheriff in town. Shortly after giving a victory statement Corbyn joined a mass rally in Parliament Square, in solidarity with the refugees from wars in the Middle East and Africa seeking asylum in Europe, where he also made some brief remarks. He was immediately followed by Billy Bragg singing the Red Flag.

Of course, Corbyn is now only the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, not the Prime Minister. But that’s not chopped tofu. He will be confronting the Tory PM in the few holds barred Questions period in the House of Commons. Unlike his tip-toeing predecessor Corbyn can be expected to hit hard on questions of war, austerity, and immigration. He is also likely to continue his support to struggles outside parliament such as strikes and demonstrations. The BBC put together a good summary of Corbyn’s views on 24 important questions, worth reading.

Some are trying to compare Corbyn’s success to what Senator Bernie Sanders is trying to do in the Democrats. They just don’t get it. Though both call themselves socialists as they appeal especially to young people Corbyn is not leading them in to the boss Liberal party. He has devoted his life to a real labor party, not a phony one. To be sure, New Labor in Britain looked a lot like the old American Democrats. Corbyn’s victory signals the old working class party is not dead.

Is this a flash in the pan or a sustainable revival? We will want to eat a lot of pudding in search of proof one way or another. But we should also keep in mind another proverb—strike while the iron is hot. That will be especially applicable for the British working class. But the upsurge there can put some wind in the sails of class aware workers in North America as well.

That’s urgently needed in the USA where we desperately need a mass party of our own.

That’s all for this week.
————————————————-
Subscription options for the WIR include:
RSS Google Groups Yahoo Groups

You can follow Bill Onasch on Google+

Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member