Robert Meeropol

Robby, Abel, Michael and trains

my perennial chaos

"Robby & Elli" 1968

Robby speaking at the re-launch of the Mary Pitawanakwat Fund in Toronto

Robby and Cory work on the blog.

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Climate Change & White Privilege

July 19, 2016

Tags: Climate Change, White Privilege

Recently my daughter Rachel argued that my refusal to vote for Clinton because of her climate change policies is a reflection of my white privilege.

Her argument went this way: Because I am a relatively affluent older straight white male, I don’t have immediate concerns that poor people, people of color, women and the LGBTQ community have about a Trump presidency. Rachel did not belittle my climate-change concerns. She agreed about the gravity of environmental situation, but said I have the privilege of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, while the more vulnerable people in our country can’t afford to do that.

It makes sense that some people are more fearful than I am of a Trump victory - people whose children are in danger of being shot by a cop, whose family members could be detained and deported as undocumented or denied access to a needed abortion. However, while that argument justifies their position, it does not undercut mine.

Trump could make matters worse, but cops are already murdering young African-Americans under the current administration and there is no evidence that a Clinton presidency would change that. As Secretary of State, Clinton facilitated the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected President of Honduras, transforming that nation into a killing zone which, in turn, has created a flood of refugees we are now trying to deport. Clinton also has a long history of supporting policies that have screwed poor people.

While Trump might increase the oppression of the poor and undocumented in this country, Clinton’s neo-liberal economic policies in support of multinational corporations and extractionism will accelerate the destruction of habitats and livelihoods of tens, even hundreds, of millions of indigenous people in Latin America, Africa and Asia. A Clinton presidency is an immediate and dire threat to those people. And ask the people in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere who will be bombed to smithereens when hawkish Hillary takes over if they’d find her presidency acceptable in order to avoid Trump. It may seem insensitive, but just as I may be more insulated from a Trump presidency, at least some of the domestic poor can afford a Clinton presidency more easily than those on other continents whose lives her policies will destroy.

Finally, I will not vote for Clinton because my reading of the science teaches me that her policies will push us over tipping points that will generate positive feedback loops that will destroy the productive capacity of the planet. It may appear less immediate because of the lag between the production of greenhouse gases and their full impact, but we have run out of time. It won’t matter what color, gender or age you are when we face biospheric collapse. We are all in the same boat and we will all go down with the ship.

We need more people withdrawing support from those whose policies will spur climate chaos. Perhaps my privilege enables me to do so, but it is still imperative.

Global Warming or Climate Change?

May 8, 2014

Tags: Global Warming, Climate Change

Global warming and climate change are often used interchangeably, but do they mean the same thing? Environmental activists’ criticisms of the latter phrase concern the lulling effect of this “more neutral” term. They point out that not all climate change is bad. In fact, what is problematic about today’s climate change is its rapid pace and searing direction. However, others hesitate to use global warming because that’s too narrowly focused on temperature. True, global warming doesn’t tell the whole story, but I’ve made it my primary descriptor to emphasize the urgency of the situation.

Mark Hertsgaard, in his book HOT: LIVING THROUGH THE NEXT FIFTY YEARS ON EARTH, does an excellent job of pin-pointing what the two terms denote.

“[G]lobal warming refers to the man-made rise in temperatures caused by excessive amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Climate change, on the other hand, refers to the effects these higher temperatures have on earth’s natural systems, and the impact that can result: stronger storms, deeper droughts, shifting seasons, sea level rise, and much else.”

More simply, the first phrase is the cause and the second the effect.

So both terms have their proper place. I will try to use them accordingly, but I’m still leery of climate change. This is because as I mentioned above, change per se, is not the problem. In fact, our planet’s climate has been evolving throughout its four billion year history. The pace of change has been uneven, but during the vast majority of the last half billion years it has been mild enough to promote evolution without causing mass extinctions.

There have been exceptions. When an asteroid the size of Mt. Everest smashed into what is now the Yucatan Peninsula 67 million years ago, a steamy-hot earth was plunged into “nuclear” winter almost overnight. The temperature increase over thousands of years brought about by a massive spike in the atmosphere’s methane content 225 million years ago doomed 95% of all plant and animal species alive at that time.

I mention these because the changes scientists are predicting echo both mass extinction events. Such nightmare scenarios, rather than the “normal” climate change, are what we face now. Many species today are unable to adjust to the rate at which global temperatures are increasing. And if we continue on our current course, the predicted 6 to 7 degree Celsius rise in global temperature over the next hundred years may trigger massive releases of methane currently trapped in artic permafrost and the ocean depths that could raise temperature even further and render the air we breathe toxic.

This kind of extreme climate change is what we must do everything in our power to prevent. So, no matter how accurate the phrase climate change is in describing the effect of global warming it still does not adequately address our current peril.

Climate Justice First: an open letter to our New Left generation

January 2, 2014

Tags: Climate Change

Each New Year is a time of reflection, of looking forward, of hope. For the two of us, it’s also a time to renew our commitment to progressive activism. Over the decades, this work has involved many of you and has addressed many different issues – antiwar and antinuke, civil liberties and economic justice, gender and racial equality – in our local communities and around the globe. Understanding the close connections and shared causes of these oppressions, we have always believed that activists should support each other as we each work on the issues that fire our passion.

But things have changed. Global corporate-driven industrialization and militarization are, with increasing momentum, driving our planet toward total biotic collapse. The other issues – mass imprisonment and food safety and reproductive rights and a living wage – are as important as ever, but climate change is upon us and we have entered a new and very dangerous territory. We are concerned that so few of our comrades from the sixties are actively engaged in confronting this overriding challenge. We probably won’t live to see global devastation, but we are leaving our children and grandchildren a legacy of hell on earth. If nations and corporations continue to act as they have, it is most likely that we will render significant portions of our planet uninhabitable in the next 50 to 100 years.

This feels both colossal and very personal. Our grandchildren, now one and five, along with their entire generation, will live much shorter and harsher lives unless we stop the corporate-led forces that are at this moment committing terracide.

There are many reasons we are tempted to avoid this fight. Fighting for climate justice compels us to learn a new scientific vocabulary, to redirect our attention to how we interact with the physical elements of our planet, the animals, plants and minerals. It forces us to face, yet again, the greed of corporations and the complicity of governments. It requires us to accept that both major political parties have deep ties to the polluters and their buddies, and cannot be trusted to make the necessary changes. This task is overwhelming, but our grandchildren’s generation is doomed if we don’t take it on.

There is hope. The scientific evidence is strong. The movements for climate justice are growing. We ask you to join us – to read the books and articles if you haven’t already, and to join the climate justice activists. Our collective work against poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, indigenous rights still matters a hell of a lot. But if we plunge our planet into an ecological abyss, it won’t matter who is on the Supreme Court, who has the right to vote or to marry whom, or what the minimum wage is.

Our generation may be graying, but we can do this. We’ve done it before. We can educate ourselves, set priorities, and work both locally and globally. We can start new groups or join existing ones. (Organizations that don’t call for changing the basic nature of capitalism include, Sierra Club, Climate Action Now. A Marxist analysis is provided in the Monthly Review and Deep Green Resistance has an even more basic critique.)

It will not be easy; those who profit from the planet-killing industries are powerful. There is no guarantee of success. But we know our friends and comrades can make a tremendous difference if we all put our minds to it. As we enter 2014, we can’t imagine anything more worthwhile than preventing the collapse of the miraculous web of plant and animal life on our majestic and fragile home.

Ellen & Robert Meeropol

Selected Works

"Bravery is rare. Tyranny is commonplace. Both define the life of Robert Meeropol, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In his heart-wrenching, honest memoir, Meeropol recounts the emotional terrors of his childhood, the kindness of Abel and Anne Meeropol-who adopted him and his older brother after their parents' execution-his struggle to vindicate his parents, and his own political activism, culminating in the creation of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which he now directs."
Publisher's Weekly
"one of those rare books everyone should read"
–Joyce Carol Oates

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