By CHRISTINE FRANK
The New York Times recently reported that even if all nations were to achieve their current greenhouse gas reduction pledges (it is doubtful they actually have the will to do so), a disastrous level of planetary warming of 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit would still take place by the century’s end—which is to say that the goals are completely inadequate. This is according to Climate Interactive, a group whose calculations are used by U.S. negotiators and others.
World leaders are reaching way too low, with only a 30% reduction at most, when 80% or more is needed immediately. They are content to just scrape by and hope that the world can burn hydrocarbons indefinitely and still avoid catastrophic consequences—when they know better. None of them have the guts to break with their capitalist masters, and reduce all greenhouse gas emissions to zero as soon as possible.
They know it would take a crash program that leaves all fossil fuels in the ground while converting to clean energy and transport. But they are not prepared to take such drastic measures to protect Earth’s climate system because they are more interested in protecting the capitalist system.
In response to this sorry state of affairs, the activist group 350.org has laid out an ambitious campaign to lead the climate crisis movement down “the road to power through Paris” preceding and following the UN summit to take place there at the end of the year. Their executive director, May Boeve, recently outlined a series of events and actions that began with 350’s “Off & On” event on Sept. 10, at which author/activists Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein called for turning off the fossil-fuel industry and turning on 100% renewables.
McKibben and Klein spoke of defusing the world’s biggest carbon bombs in the form of extreme energy such as filthy tar sands, fracked oil and gas, deepwater drilling, and their delivery systems—explosive oil trains, tankers, and leaking pipelines.
To build up to Paris and beyond, other actions have been held, such as an “Under One Sky” multi-faith rally and prayer service on UN Plaza to force the Vatican to divest from fossil fuels and get Pope Francis, however progressive he is on climate change and social and economic inequalty, to put his money where his mouth is.
Also, a series of planning and strategizing workshops in New York City took place on Sept. 26 at Goddard Riverside Community Center. In addition, the Hip Hop Caucus just completed a 16-city, nationwide Act On Climate Tour that began at the 10-Year Katrina Anniversary in New Orleans.
To put pressure on negotiators in Paris and make them accountable to the principles of justice and science, a massive march is planned there, in which organizers hope to get hundreds of thousands into the streets in a global day of action. But 350.org and others do not intend to stop there. They are projecting an escalating wave of activity involving national and continental mobilizations targeting dirty fossil fuel projects around the world in April 2016.
Speakers at the Sept. 10 program also envisioned a world that takes seriously justice for the poor and oppressed, who suffer the most from industrial pollution and the natural disasters caused by climate change—unlike the rich, who profit handsomely from a system that equally brutalizes workers and the planet. Consequently, the program had a strong environmental justice focus with speakers such as Eddie Bautista of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance; Cynthia Ong of the Land, Empowerment, Animals, People project in Borneo; and Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus.
The speakers also drew upon the legacy of past movements for social change such as the struggles to abolish slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and apartheid with the understanding that we must absorb those lessons in order to build a powerful and successful movement to avert climate chaos.
Many environmental groups are now recognizing the intersection between social oppression, ecological devastation, and economic injustice and the need to confront all three simultaneously, which is an important step forward for the movement. This new understanding will enable us to confront not only the power of the industry but the state as well and the role it plays in the extraction, refining, and distribution of fossil fuels and the exploitation of the workers required to bring them to market.
The issues of class and climate justice must be linked by raising the demand for a just transition for all workers in order to make the shift from dirty jobs to green ones without being left languishing on the unemployment line. A just transition must include free training with union wages, full benefits, and safe conditions guaranteed so that workers can continue to sustain themselves and their families through the training process and afterward.
While environmentalists are beginning to understand this, union leaderships are not. For instance, because of the increased conversion from coal to natural gas for electrical generation, coal mines in Colorado and elsewhere are closing. This has meant the loss of as many as 500 jobs in a single community and a lot of hardship; yet, the leaders of the United Mine Workers are failing to raise the demand for a just transition for coal miners. They foolishly blame environmentalists—who rightfully want to shut down coal-fired power plants—for the job losses instead of blaming the bosses, who are the owners of a dangerously outmoded energy system and who stubbornly resist change to satisfy their own greed.
Failing to recognize this, the UMW bureaucracy continues to hitch their star to the employers’ wagon. That is not where the future lies for any worker. On the contrary, trade unions that organize dirty industries need to link up with the climate crisis and broader environmental movements and demand the conversion to green, sustainable production powered by clean wind and solar energy.
With the union movement representing only seven percent of workers in this country, building that sort of powerful alliance is one of the best ways to strengthen workers’ organizations.
Likewise, grasping the larger picture of how communities of workers and oppressed are the victims of capitalist industry’s “externalities” of polluted air, water, soil, ill health, and ecosystem degradation will give the climate crisis movement a stronger emphasis and draw more people into the struggle to save Mother Earth for human habitation.
That is why special emphasis must be placed on remedial measures for communities of the oppressed nationalities, who, as the victims of racism, have endured decades of breathing foul air, drinking contaminated water, and suffering from damaged health while living and working in neighborhoods or on tribal lands besieged by petro-chemical plants, toxic incinerators, uranium mines, and now, fracking drill pads and tar sand pits. Environmental clean-up, ecosystem restoration, and the best health care for those communities must be given top priority and be a vital part of achieving justice and ending environmental racism.
On the international level, people of the Global South are suffering even more intensely from the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation. Pathogens and disease vectors are on the rise from warming temperatures. Island nations are drowning due to rising sea levels. Poor infrastructure and health-care systems in developing nations make it that much harder to cope with natural disasters. Famine is more likely because of the destruction of subsistence food production and its replacement with cash luxury crops grown for northern markets.
The imposition of GMOs by transnational biotech companies has further weakened food production and the ability to survive by contaminating the drought-resistant heirloom seeds developed by indigenous farmers. Developing nations must be ensured the aid they need to adapt to climate change and improve their quality of life while avoiding the destructive path to development of the advanced industrial North.
This means that the big polluting nations must pay not only for their transgressions against the climate but also for their super-exploitation and disproportionate overconsumption of natural resources, many of which have been stolen from other countries and taken by force at the cost of millions of lives. Clean technologies such as wind turbines, solar voltaics, and mass transit systems should be produced for export and given free to developing countries.
Furthermore, climate change cannot be used as an excuse to further rob and exploit. There can be no more phony carbon-trading and offset schemes devised, for example, to replace natural forests with sterile, monocultural tree plantations of palm oil used to produced biofuels in Europe. These “green deserts” are leading to even more deforestation. Instead, every measure must be taken to preserve the tropical rainforests as essential carbon sinks, sources of oxygen, and drivers of climate.
The crimes of colonialism and imperialist oppressions are many, and they began with the wars of conquest and genocide against indigenous peoples on every continent outside of Europe. Therefore, indigenous peoples must be ensured the right to live sustainably on their ancestral lands without any further interference from transnationals, which aim to ruthlessly exploit the energy and other resources.
As the climate crisis movement places environmental justice at the center of its program for change, these necessary points will become more widely adopted.