Feb 122018

  by Bill Onasch

Can We Fight Climate Change Without Washington?

The most prominent leader of the American climate action movement thinks we can and should. In a Guardian opinion piece Bill McKibben says,

…since global warming is an immediate battle with enormous consequences, we dare not wait for Washington to return to sanity. And happily, we don’t have to. The strategy that’s been evolving for US climate action – and for action in many other parts of the planet – bypasses the central governments as much as possible.”

McKibben doesn’t specify the last time sanity was evident in the nation’s capital. The founder of 350.org shuffled between criticism and praise for Trump’s predecessor. Two years ago, he was a supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders in his quest for the Democrat presidential nomination and McKibben was the principal author of the Berniecrat climate platform language in negotiations with the victorious Clintonites. But, of course, the Electoral College made all that no importa.

Certainly the Trump regime is the most reactionary, as well as bungling, in living memory but McKibben also notes the Democrats didn’t even mention climate change in their rebuttal to the recent State of the Union. While I agree we shouldn’t wait for the Washington two-party cartel to do the right thing on climate, or anything else, neither is there is a bypass around them to a promised land.

McKibben touts 350’s Fossil Free U.S. campaign and identifies its three main components:

* “The first – joining in work pioneered by groups like the Sierra Club – is to persuade towns, cities, counties, and states to pledge to make the transition to 100% renewable energy.”

* “Job two is to block new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

* “And third is to cut off the money that fuels this industry – by divestment…”

While there’s nothing inherently unprincipled about such “resistance” measures, in my opinion McKibben greatly exaggerates their impact and potential. Rather than a flanking action in the battle it’s a retreat from the class positions popularized by Naomi Klein’s landmark 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.

The same ruling class Establishment that dominates Washington also calls the shots on state, county, and municipal levels as well. Experience has shown pledges by most of these lesser governments are no more adequate or reliable than those of national ones who signed on to the ineffective Paris Accords. And not a single fossil fuel project has been canceled because of lack of capital due to divestment.

A number of states led by California, along with a few corporations and NGOs, sent an unofficial delegation to the November UN climate gathering in Bonn proclaiming they were “Still In.” They hope to salvage Obama’s executive order—being dismantled by Trump—that enabled the very modest American goals accepted in Paris.

Obama’s Clean Power Plan was based on abundant fracked natural gas, that emits a bit less carbon dioxide, becoming cheaper than coal. It was a profitable market measure used to claim the modest reduction in carbon emissions in Obama’s Paris pledge. While a considerable amount of metallurgical and low sulfur coal is still being mined much of it is being exported to become someone else’s emission problem.

The same fracking process was also, of course, perfected for oil. A great deal of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, is released during extraction–and also remains in the oil, making it highly volatile and dangerous to transport. This surge of oil allowed cheaper gasoline for consumers who have been burning even more of the stuff. As a result, transportation emissions now exceed those in electricity production.

Millions of American jobs depend not only on fossil fuel extraction and refining, and electricity generation, but also many more involved in the fossil-dependent auto industry, airlines, trucking, railroads, petrochemicals, agriculture—and the war machine. Abandoning those workers without offering comparable employment would not only be unjust—it ain’t going to happen.

To restructure a sustainable economy that also can provide jobs for all with a decent living standard requires democratic planning, and sharing of resources and technology on a global scale–not for capitalist profits but for human needs in a secured biosphere.

Maybe you can fight climate change while ignoring Washington. But to defeat the devastation spreading from global warming will require the working class majority of humanity taking power in Washington–and Beijing, Ottawa, Moscow, New Delhi, London, Tokyo, Berlin, and all the other capitals of capital.


We are, of course, a long way from that goal. Victory is not assured. What is guaranteed is the ultimate collapse of human civilization if we fail to win the struggle for Class & Climate Justice.

There are some hopeful signs, especially in the country that launched the Industrial Revolution that got us in to this ecological mess. The British Marxist economist Michael Roberts, who writes a useful weekly blog, was relatively upbeat about a recent Labour Party conference on models of public ownership. Roberts writes,

In many ways, [Labour’s financial spokesperson John] McDonnell’s speech was inspiring in that the next Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn and McDonnell is genuinely dedicated to restoring properly-funded and resourced public services and reversing past privatisations of key economic sectors made by previous Conservative and Labour governments in the neoliberal period of the 30 years before the Great Recession.

“McDonnell and the report emphasised a range of models for future publicly owned assets and services: from cooperatives, municipal services and the nationalisation of key sectors like health, education and utilities like water, energy and transport – the so-called ‘natural monopolies’.”

Jeremy Corbyn and Naomi Klein at a labor rally in Paris during the 2015 climate summit

The self-declared Marxist McDonnell has undoubtedly given many such speeches over the years. But the enthusiastic reception at this conference was nurtured by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy whose British affiliates had won the backing of the Trades Union Congress, the British counterpart to the AFL-CIO, for socialization of energy by the next Labour government—that could take power soon.

Fortunately, McDonnell and Corbyn never rejected the fight for the central government nor did the working class abandon their historic party. To get some sanity in Washington, and win the fight against climate change requires launching a Labor Party in the USA.

Wall Street Down, Armourdale Out

In the final days of the first year in decades of Republican control of both houses of Congress and the White House they finally passed significant legislation desired by all wings of the ruling class. Even in victory, Trump could not resist lying about the size and scope of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. More disingenuous was the claim that corporations would use most of their windfall to create jobs and raise wages. The promise that economic growth would make it “revenue neutral” was just as bogus. Many bosses chipped in with worker bonuses allegedly made possible by tax relief for business.

Unfortunately for the Trumpites, the very perceived success of full employment and wage increases spooked many speculators fearing inflation. Trump’s bragging about record high stock indexes suddenly switched to other topics as the markets plunged in a massive “correction” that may not yet be over.

Most working class wealth is in home ownership. Relatively few workers have much invested in stocks. Millions don’t even have a bank account. Patricia Cohen writing in the New York Times reminds us,

A whopping 84 percent of all stocks owned by Americans belong to the wealthiest 10 percent of households. And that includes everyone’s stakes in pension plans, 401(k)’s and individual retirement accounts, as well as trust funds, mutual funds and college savings programs like 529 plans.”

In another piece in the Times Cohen debunks the panic about wage hikes fueling inflation,

The recent stock market rumpus has been set off in part by fears that a tight labor market and quickening wage growth are a foretaste of higher inflation and interest rates….A growing preference among employers for one-time awards instead of raises that keep building over time has been quietly transforming the employment landscape for two decades. But it was accelerated by the recession’s intensity, which made employers especially cautious about increasing labor costs….This little-noticed shift in how employers compensate workers could also help explain one of the economy’s most persistent puzzles: why a hot labor market has failed to ignite bigger increases in wages.”

I would add that today’s “full employment” is qualitatively different than past periods of prosperity. It’s been achieved by millions of discouraged workers simply dropping out of the labor market and many more working in low wage part-time and “gig economy” jobs.

So far, corporations have mainly been using their windfall to continue the trend of closing and “consolidating” unionized plants rather than expanding. Recently I commented on the loss of 800 jobs in the closing of Harley-Davidson’s Kansas City assembly and the “creation” of 400 jobs once done at that plant in Harley’s York, Pennsylvania operation. Now I turn to Armourdale.

P&G Armourdale Plant In Hospice

This district in the Kaw aka Kansas River flood plain began as a true company town to house workers at the one-time meat packing giant Armour’s first plant outside Chicago. Soon four more big packinghouses were located in what became an expanded Kansas City, Kansas. And since soap used to be based on animal waste Colgate-Palmolive and Proctor & Gamble also built large plants to be close to their source of raw material.

The packinghouses and stockyards are long gone as the industry restructured in to many smaller plants in rural areas. In 2006, Colgate sold what was left of their plant to a small outfit making small bars of soap found in hotel rooms. But P&G continued to invest, making their Armourdale plant state-of-the-art.

But neither technology nor the Tax Cut and Jobs Act could save the P&G workforce. Last week the company gave advance notice that 380 remaining jobs will be eliminated as they close the Armourdale plant and transfer the work to a new facility in Tabler Station, West Virginia.

A Modest Concession By Me

Many readers have long urged me to utilize “social media” beyond the Google + I’ve used for years. I will never succumb to the lure of FaceBook but I am trying an experiment with Twitter. It will be very low key, mainly announcing new postings of the WIR and other timely events and articles. You can find and follow me, I think, here.

That’s all for this week.

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