by Bill Onasch
An excuse for a nine day gap since the last WIR is that I accepted an invitation from my friends at Socialist Action to provide an article about the President’s State of the Union Address. You can view what I wrote here.
As I put the finishing touches on this edition Kansas City is experiencing a record high temperature for this date—expected to top out around 75F, about forty degrees above normal. I wonder what in the world can be going on?
Clock Watchers, Unite
Last Thursday the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced the minute hand of their iconic Doomsday Clock two ticks. We are now just three minutes from Midnight Doom. This graphic warning has been adjusted forward and back eighteen times since its 1947 debut in response to the threat of nuclear war. Kennette Benedict, the executive director of the group that includes several Nobel Laureates, explained the latest move as reported by AFP,
“Today, unchecked climate change and a nuclear arms race resulting from modernization of huge arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity. And world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe.”
The article goes on to say,
“The scientists called on people to demand action from their leaders to curb fossil fuel pollution and to stop developing ever more modern nuclear weapons that are endangering the planet. ‘We are not saying it is too late to take action, but the window for action is closing rapidly. The world needs to be awakened from its lethargy and start making changes,’ Benedict said. Such actions should cap greenhouse gas emissions at levels sufficient to keep average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the group said.”
This group mainly comes from different disciplines than climate scientists responsible for UN studies but they have reached the same scientific conclusions. And, being relatively more free from political or corporate interference they certainly speak more plainly.
The concluding section of the last WIR identified a number of events and reports that justify alarm that is beyond alarmism. I promised this time to look at urgent responses. The best news is–this won’t take long.
The default leader of the “Free World” managed to say nothing new in the four paragraphs about climate change in his SOTU speech to Congress. While later irking Republicans by protecting additional Alaska wilderness from oil exploration he also authorized for the first time drilling off the Atlantic coast. Rationalizing the East Coast expansion the Interior Secretary restated administration policy, “The safe and responsible development of our nation’s domestic energy resources is a key part of the President’s efforts to support American jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”
On a trip to India Obama applauded solar power initiatives in the world’s second most populous country–and a growing greenhouse gas polluter. While there he also promoted deals to provide them with nuclear power—with strict liability limits for U.S. companies in the event of a Fukushima like disaster.
This isn’t even rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It is requesting a more upbeat number by the orchestra as the bow slips below the water line. The Pentagon—itself a world class polluter—has advised the President that climate change is a serious threat to national security. But there is no consideration of bold government action for a planned restructuring of the economy–as was successfully done to meet the proclaimed security threat of World War II.
What motivates the inadequate, even retrograde actions of political leaders so bluntly described by Ms Benedict in her reasons for advancing the Doomsday Clock? A perceptive and concise explanation can be found in a recent posting on the Climate & Capitalism site–400 parts per million and class struggle by Victor Wallis. Among many other good points, he says,
“While no one has a positive interest in destroying the environment, the capitalist class has an interest in blocking the measures that could protect it. Recognizing this class dimension to the environmental struggle is vital.”
This inseparable intertwining of class and climate can be ignored only at humanity’s peril. Pale greens such as the Sierra Club, with a million digital members, occasionally touch base with top layers of the union bureaucracy in the Blue-Green Alliance. Much more extensive are their “partnerships” with climate killing corporations. And they spend many millions of dollars trying to elect “pro-green” Establishment candidates—such as President Obama.
More hopeful is a new activist wing of the environmental movement that has largely focused on what they see as an achievable, sorely needed victory—stopping the Keystone XL pipeline. Many of their ranks are influenced by the increasingly anti-capitalist message of Naomi Klein. The social media driven 350.org played a key role in the 400,000 strong People’s Climate March in New York last September that attracted substantial union mobilizations of their members.
This is at least a modest start that has some potential for beginning to assemble the needed components for a mass movement to stop and reverse that ominous clock. An acid test for this fledgling movement will come if we get what we ask for by stopping KXL.
Some will say, “See, the system works. We should thank the President and carefully choose our next achievable goal.”
A yet to be determined number would more soberly reply, “Our victory, which came after several years of demonstrations, civil disobedience, as well as traditional lobbying, is mostly symbolic, having little impact on the growing global climate crisis. We cannot be content with such low hanging fruit. The future of our planet requires we take over the whole orchard.”
At the end of the day, our prospects depend on the active participation of our class—the working class majority. Unlike the capitalist ruling class, our class has no material interest in blocking the needed measures to stop climate change. Next time I’ll come back to the jackpot question of how to get our sisters and brothers on board. Before shifting topics let me say, with apologies to Donne and Hemingway, ask not for whom the Doomsday alarm clock bell tolls—it tolls for thee, and me, and all humanity.
* Some good news from the NNU site, “Registered nurses and nurse practitioners who work at 21 Kaiser Permanente hospitals and 65 clinics across Northern and Central California, the largest nurses’ collective bargaining contract in the U.S., have voted to approve a new three-year agreement that provides for substantial improvements in patient care, health and safety protections for nurses, and economic gains. The pact was overwhelmingly approved in membership meetings held Tuesday through Friday last week from Santa Rosa to Fresno. The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United represents 18,000 Kaiser RNs and NPs, part of an overall membership of 185,000 RNs nationally in NNU, the largest U.S. organization of nurses.” Unfortunately, thousands of Kaiser mental health employees in the National Union of Healthcare Workers are still battling for a new contract.
* Along with the rest of the world, I’ll be watching with interest the new anti-austerity government swept in to power by the workers of Greece.
* Breaking news from the New York Times, “In the late 1960s, more than half of the households in the United States were squarely in the middle, earning, in today’s dollars, $35,000 to $100,000 a year. Few people noticed or cared as the size of that group began to fall, because the shift was primarily caused by more Americans climbing the economic ladder into upper-income brackets. But since 2000, the middle-class share of households has continued to narrow, the main reason being that more people have fallen to the bottom.”
* While union membership in the USA grew by 48,000 last year union density dipped slightly to 11.2 percent as the workforce grew at a faster rate. The most-unionized occupations were local government (41.9 percent), utilities (22.3 percent), transportation and warehousing (19.6 percent), telecommunications (14.8 percent), and construction (13.9 percent). Agriculture, finance, professional services and bars and restaurants were the least-unionized.
That’s all for this week.
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