Dec 152014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

COP Out 20
The Twentieth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change set a new record by going two days beyond their scheduled adjournment. Of course, there is much that needs to be discussed about how we can stop climate change, that has already begun, short of climate disaster in the life of younger generations. The Lima conference was supposed to launch a process of pledges, by every country, of concrete action to be incorporated in to a world wide plan. This master blueprint would be governed by a new global climate treaty to be adopted at next year’s COP in Paris. But the haggling in Peru about the wording of the concluding statement was aptly described by Sam Smith, chief of climate policy for the environmental group WWF, “The text went from weak to weaker to weakest and it’s very weak indeed.”

As with the first nineteen, differences at COP20 are often described as flowing from tensions between the industrialized powers and most everybody else. When the UN Framework was established in 1992 all countries were divided in to developed or developing. When the 1997 Kyoto Protocols were adopted only developed countries were obligated to accept quotas for emission reduction. (The USA never ratified the Kyoto treaty.)

The big majority of the 194 countries represented at COP20 are genuinely poor and some are feeling the worst effects of a climate crisis mostly created by rich nations. That includes the country hosting the UN meeting. Peruvians made up the lion’s share of a15,000 strong Peoples Climate March in Lima calling on COP to take real action toward zero carbon emissions no later than 2050.

In 1992, the ruling Communist Party in China was only in the early stages of restoration of capitalism and preparation for massive entry in the world economy. They were officially baptized as developing—and that remains their classification today despite the fact they now have the second biggest economy in the world.

Many arrived in Lima optimistic after the joint declaration of China and the USA a few weeks ago (see the November 16 WIR), which Bill McKibben proclaimed “historic.” But America was no more helpful this time than in the past. And China continued its masquerading as a poor developing country that should not yet be held to any requirement to reduce emissions.

To be sure, conditions in much of rural China are closer to Third World than the G7 countries. The benefits of China’s phenomenal recent growth are unevenly distributed—just as big pockets of poverty remain, and are even growing in the USA. And China does have a huge population—four times that of America.

But China isn’t exactly a charity case. As China has become the world’s current top carbon polluter they have also registered stunning growth in wealth. According to comparisons by Credit Suisse, in 2000 China was already the sixth richest country. By 2014 they had leapfrogged Britain, Germany and Italy to be the third richest, closing rapidly on number two Japan.

The national wealth of the USA is twice that of Japan and China combined. Offshored production by American companies of products destined for sale in the USA is a major contributor to China’s greenhouse and other pollution. A case can be made for financial restitution by corporate America to ease the burden of China adopting bold targets for switching from fossil to clean renewable energy and shifting more of their economy to internal needs rather than exports. But we cannot survive giving China a free pass to continue to build an average of one new coal fired power plant every ten days.

All countries need to sooner rather than later be on board for any adequate countermeasures to climate change to work–and the countries who prospered from the creation of global warming need to cough up reparations to assist the poor nations to develop along sustainable paths. If China and the USA—who between the two produce nearly half of all current carbon emissions—don’t join in, it’s game over.

Every participant in Lima had access to comprehensive reports by some of the world’s greatest scientists giving unrefuted evidence about the depth and urgency of the climate crisis. They present proven alternatives of clean renewable energy sources ready for rapid replacement of presently dominant fossil and nuclear.

But those with the authority to negotiate for the major climate offenders don’t represent scientists, or environmentalists, or those in island countries doomed by rising sea levels. They don’t even truly serve the interests of the working class majorities in their own countries. They take their orders from a ruling class that owns and directs the big corporations, megafarms and banks. That class is doing quite well and they are not looking for change.

We have a year to build a mass climate justice movement that can shake things up before the crucial next gathering in Paris. It’s up to the working class to take the lead in this mobilization. The one bright spot in Lima was record participation of the world’s union movement who presented a strong case for Just Transition and job creation as we restructure a sustainable economy. This included involvement of North American unions such as National Nurses United and the Amalgamated Transit Union. US Labor Against the War is also making climate action a center of their work.

There is no more important task for the workers’ movement.

Cops Not the Only Problem continued
Saturday’s March on Washington for Equal Rights for All drew tens of thousands on short notice. The New York Times reported 25,000 also marched in the nation’s biggest city and there were numerous smaller actions across the country. These protests were a needed response to the wave of police killings of unarmed Blacks, Indians, and Latinos. Action is required to save lives at risk from those tasked to protect and serve. It’s high time such lawless outrages are exposed and corrective action demanded.

But still largely ignored is the deteriorating social and economic conditions of tens of millions of people of color in the richest society in history. A just released report from the Pew Research Center on household net worth is telling. In 2007, on the eve of the Great Recession, the median white net worth was 192,500 dollars—ten times more than Black net worth. Today, five years in to “recovery,” the whites have fallen to 141,900. But that’s thirteen times more than Black household “wealth,” now an alarmingly anemic 11,000 dollars. Latinos haven’t fared much better—they have sunk from 23,600 to 13,700 today. (The report did not look at Native/Indian or Asian households.)

Racism has always meant a big gap between white and Black income and wealth even in relatively prosperous times. Now all workers are losing ground–and African-Americans are way ahead in the race to the bottom.

This collapse has been on the watch of the first Black President whose administration is currently gutting the biggest and most reliable source of “middle class” jobs for African-Americans—the US Postal Service. Dedicated to serving the interests of his ruling class patrons, President Obama has been remarkably insensitive to the dire impact on the Black community, especially the youth.

While workers doubly exploited by racism need their own effective organizations and leaders to advance their pressing issues, they also would benefit from deserved solidarity from the rest of the working class. We are, after all, all falling together–though at different rates. Like sky-divers often do, we should link hands and prepare a soft landing united. That’s a precondition for reclaiming a fair share for all of the tremendous national net worth that we—and only we—produce for society.

Rough Riders
Because of past budget deals, the lame duck session of the least productive Congress ever had to pass an enormous funding bill to avoid a government shutdown. We got a sneak preview of post-gridlock. The President and Speaker Boehner cut a deal for what became known as “Cromnibus.” (The CR stands for Continuing Resolution.) There could be no amendments—strictly up or down.

Democrat liberals in the House were allowed to oppose it since the GOP had a commanding majority but in the Democrat controlled Senate all were expected to get with the program. But that cynical division of labor didn’t reckon with the 67 nays and a number of abstentions of cracked tea pots who felt Boehner had sold them out. In the end, it was 57 Democrat aye votes, “defying” the Minority Leader, who saved the day. The bumbling effort of Senator Cruz to inject a deal breaker rejecting the President’s executive action on immigration was easily overcome in the upper chamber.

The Washington Post did a thorough analysis of Cromnibus appropriations and riders. Riders are policy statements that supplement—or are sometimes irrelevant to—appropriation of funds by Congress. Sometimes they are favors to a district back home while others are ideological, theocratic, or just plain bigotry.

Nearly everything in this bipartisan effort is bad news for working people. Liberals such as Senator Warren tended to emphasize setbacks to their quixotic battles to tame big banks and to prevent the rich from unduly influencing elections. Among the more pressing attacks:

* authorizing bosses to cut promised benefits, even to those currently receiving them, in union negotiated multi-employer pension plans.
* repeal recent rest rules for truck and over the road bus drivers, now allowing 82 hour work weeks.
* even though Amtrak had an all-time record ridership this year they receive no sorely needed increased funding.
* more cuts to EPA funding, bringing it down to the level of 1989. The agency is also denied authority to regulate greenhouse emissions from agricultural manure and the Army Corps of Engineers is forbidden to nose around farm ponds or irrigation ditches.

There were other truly big stories such as torture, 43 million Americans with unpaid medical bills, and some great investigative reporting by the Los Angeles Times about slave-like conditions on Mexican megafarms that supply much of our fresh produce, that I must defer because of my pixel limit. There will be one more WIR before I take my customary year-end holiday break.

That’s all for this week.


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Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

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