Apr 292015
 

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

A Missed Opportunity
The 1970 first Earth Day in the USA was a big deal. Just in New York City alone, a million took part in a march down Fifth Avenue and a Rally-Festival in Central Park. There was also a giant action in Philadelphia and impressive ones in virtually every city and town across the country.

The focus of this massive mobilization, that far exceeded the expectations of organizers, was palpable water and air pollution generated by industry, cars, and chemical agriculture. This outpouring, far broader in demographics than its campus instigators, had a salutary effect. It was the driving force leading to the passage of the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts along with the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. Those historic gains were supplemented by OSHA, the Urban Mass Transit Act, and Amtrak, making the Nixon years more productive on environmental measures than any other administration. The USA briefly became a vanguard in such governmental regulation, a model soon copied–and improved–by most other industrialized countries.

But there was a letup after these swift and substantial achievements. Many in the fledgling ecological movement concluded that since they had now done the heavy lifting a system that seemed to still work could carry on with some occasional prodding and tweaking. The participation of some prominent politicians of “both” parties in the 1970 E-Day, such as Democrat Senators Gaylord Nelson and Ed Muskie, and Republican Mayor of New York City John Lindsay, gave some early credibility to this illusion. In this country Earth Day became a ritual observance, most years dispersed in to thousands of micro-gatherings focused primarily on green lifestyle adjustments. Big groups such as the Sierra Club, who ultimately grew to a million members, devoted most of their activity to lobbying, litigation and electoral endorsements.

In 1970, there were only a handful of scientists coming to grips with Global Warming. They did not yet have access to the satellite and computer technology that within a couple of decades allowed them to confidently construct models that proved troubling. They projected the planet was heading toward a climate change crisis chiefly due to accumulating Greenhouse emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Far from being alarmist, most climate science projections have erred on the side of caution. Today’s headline stories in the Guardian and New York Times about the melting of Arctic ice and PermaFrost; extreme weather events such as monster storms, droughts lasting years, massive floods and forest fires; rising sea levels—all were predicted but are coming much sooner than once expected.

The scientific consensus is bad news not just for every living thing on Earth; urgently needed remedial action to stop climate change short of climate catastrophe will also bury the economic system, and the class that rules over it, currently prevailing throughout the world–except for one island in the Caribbean. As Naomi Klein has accurately and aptly put it, this changes everything.

Capital doesn’t like any restrictions on the way they make profits. They carried out a sort of low intensity warfare against the environmental reforms of the Seventies championed by the first E-Day. But they mostly had to comply with a lot of things they didn’t like. They put scrubbers on smokestacks, cleaned up their waste water discharges, took lead out of gasoline, and equipped all cars with positive crankcase ventilation. And even with these despised burdens they figured out how to make record profits.

But climate change is a different kettle of endangered fish. To leave a sustainable biosphere for future generations, we have to make enormous changes in not only how we produce energy but how we travel, what we eat, where and in what kind of structure we live. Whole industries will be wiped out, replaced with new different ones. This biggest ever challenge to human civilization requires a democratically determined centralized plan of such scale only governments can undertake. It will not succeed in the very unfriendly confines of the capitalist market.

A Russian revolutionary once said that even if the capitalists were being led up the gallows they would try to sell rope to their hangman—and haggle over the price. His point was that the ruling class is so obsessed with the profit motive they will ignore their own mortal danger—never mind the rest of us. I don’t advocate stringing up all the bosses and bankers but clearly we must break their death grip on economy and government if civilization is to survive the climate change crisis.

Such radical treatment for a severely distressed planet has been too bitter a pill for Establishment greens in this country to swallow. Much like most of our unions, they have worked diligently for “partnership” with climate wrecking corporations, hoping to convince them they can become as green as the lucre they have hoarded. And they profusely thank politicians beholden to the Greenhouse Gang for any green platitudes occasionally inserted by speech writers. While you can find some good educational material on their websites, the deference of these Pale Greens to Free Enterprise undercuts their goals and ours.

It’s taken a long time to overcome this inertia. The first high profile protests in the USA linked to climate change came out of a rear guard stand against the Keystone XL pipeline. XL was a shortcut to be added to an extensive Keystone network already long in place transporting extremely dirty bitumen from Alberta to U.S. plants equipped to synthesize it in to gasoline. Bill McKibben’s social media-driven 350.org, backed by perhaps the most prominent climate scientist James Hansen, initially brought together student activists and prominent artists and entertainers for picketing and civil disobedience at the White House. They were eventually joined by some unions—and even the Sierra Club. Their actions have so far have kept XL in purgatory.

Last September an even broader ad hoc coalition organized a People’s Climate March in New York on the eve of a UN Climate Summit. This was part of a global coordination of simultaneous demonstrations in regional centers on all inhabited continents. 400,000 marched in the Big Apple, tens of thousands of them mobilized by unions such as SEIU, AFSCME, Amalgamated Transit Union, and National Nurses United. While the demand for “meaningful action” was somewhat hazy the New York march—and numerous solidarity actions in other U.S. cities—was a big breakthrough.

Of course, no meaningful action in the UN venue has yet emerged. Most countries failed to submit requested but not required action plans by an informal deadline. Those received from the United States, the 28-nation European Union, Russia, Mexico, Switzerland, Norway and Gabon, are unsettling to say the least. A Reuters dispatch reported,

“The Climate Action Tracker (CAT), compiled by scientists, said pledges so far put the world on track for average temperatures in the year 2100 three to four degrees Celsius (5.4 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than they were in pre-industrial time. That is well above a U.N. goal of a maximum 2 degrees C (3.6F) rise.”

The last best chance for UN coordinated action will be a Paris gathering of all parties beginning in November. In light of this dismal present outlook, with time running short, the April 22 Earth Day, about half way between the People’s Climate March and Paris, should have been an occasion for more mass action to put the pressure on.

I monitored television news for E-Day coverage. The most prominent mention I saw was a commercial about a big Earth Day Sale at Nebraska Furniture Mart. NFM is one of the properties of the philanthropic multi-billionaire Warren Buffet whose holdings also include the BNSF railroad—showing year-over-year increased revenue mainly from hauling highly volatile fracked Bakken crude out of North Dakota.

Recently there has been some stirring around divestment campaigns seeking to convince institutions to withdraw extensive investments in fossil fuels. The Keep  It In the Ground initiative by The Guardian, partnering with 350.org, has been endorsed by over 180,000 signers, including me. The Guardian is focusing on two major charitable trusts—Bill and Melinda Gates, and Wellcome—while 350 goes after universities.

I endorsed not because I think we can bring the climate wreckers to their knees by cutting off their capital. No such campaigns in the past have succeeded on that level and it’s not going to happen now. But divestment is a useful educational and organizational tool, exposing the dominance of fossil dependency in even the most admired institutions. Divestment can be a complement to, but not a substitute for mass action.

In the Sixties and Seventies periodic mass demonstrations in the streets, around clear principled demands, won solid gains for civil rights, eventually helped force the government that speaks in our name to get out of Vietnam, and carved a place for ecology in our politics and culture. When the streets gradually became quiet in the Eighties and Nineties our side started taking a beating. And the Earth started heating up to today’s crisis level.

It is historical experience, not nostalgia for my youth, that convinces me that proven tactics must be revived. It is confidence in scientific predictions that instills a sense of urgency. Class and Climate Justice is not just a catchy slogan adopted by this website. It’s a goal indispensable to the future of civilization.

Some may want to say, “brother, you’re preaching to the choir.” I’m not a church goer but it’s my understanding that the sermons inspire the choir to sing. I’m certainly no singer and perhaps not much of a preacher. But I am a life-long agitator and if I’ve stirred you up that’s my job. I hope you will come back for more because we are just getting started.

Upcoming Events
Minneapolis, May 1


Twin Cities organizations plan a major march on Friday, May 1 — celebrated worldwide as International Worker’s Day – to call for workers’ rights. More than 30 local groups will join together for a march that begins at 2:30 p.m. from East Lake Street and Nicollet Ave. S. in Minneapolis. Participants will proceed to downtown Minneapolis for a 5 p.m. rally outside the Hennepin County Government Center, 300 S. 6th St. Labor organizations sponsoring the march include AFSCME Local 34, AFSCME Local 844, AFSCME Local 3800, CTUL, Minnesota Young Workers (AFL-CIO) and SEIU Local 26. The event will be joined by participants in a Black Lives Matter march that will start earlier in the afternoon. Blacks Lives Matter is protesting the arrests of participants in a Dec. 20 demonstration at the Mall of America.

Chicago May 2-3
Electoral Action Conference
300 S Ashland
For details click here

That’s all for this week.
————————————————-
Free subscription to the Week In Review is available at RSS

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

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.