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STILL OUT ON A LIMB

Know Your Frienemies

I recently read Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet by Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman. Although I disagree with the author’s conclusions, people who are strategizing about how to organize a mass movement to counter global warming and its resulting climate change will benefit from reading it.

Readers will understand my quarrel once they read the authors’ response to Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: “Far from posing a fundamental problem to capitalism, it’s capitalism with all its innovative and entrepreneurial powers that is our hope of steering clear of the looming climate shock.”

You read that right. Capitalism is the only solution to approaching climate crises. According to the authors the solution to global warming is to tax carbon emissions to cover their environmental costs. Their biggest fear, aside from the consequences of not imposing such a tax, is that if we continue with business as usual, as things heat up some nation will resort to dangerous geo-engineering, such as seeding the atmosphere with sulfur dioxide particles, which is fraught with peril.

So why read this book?

First, they are smart and well-connected. Wagner is the lead economist at the Environmental Defense Fund, and Weitzman is a Harvard economics professor. Their writing is engaging and clear. They make a good case for why global warming induced climate change is real and risks rendering our planet incompatible with civilization. Organizers will find these arguments helpful.

Second, these men will be the green experts the mainstream media finds most palatable and quotable. As the climate change policy battle intensifies, people like Wagner and Weitzman will be given air time on PBS, NPR and the major news networks (other than Fox). They will be featured in influential liberal journals. For example, The New York Review of Books just reviewed this book favorably. The reviewer was someone whose work the authors praise and thank in their acknowledgements. (Which may be an ethically questionable choice, perhaps reflecting the old boy network.) These authors and their colleagues are capable of mounting a robust public relations effort to promote their positions. Last week, a professor at Duke University’s Sanford school of Public Policy, who co-founded the Partnership for Responsible Growth, published a guest column in my local paper entitled “Capitalism can stop climate change” (Daily Hampshire Gazette, 6/24), which advocated the same concept to “[h]arness the power of the market and create a global, uniform price on carbon.”

Finally, the climate change movement must beware of friends like these. These authors take climate change seriously and as we build a broad-based campaign they might be included as allies. They are not climate change deniers, but they deny the necessity of changing our system and its underlying grow or die imperative.

They are frienemies; in the guise of saving us they will make things worse.  Read More 
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A Humbling Experience

I grew up thinking I knew the answers. My adoptive parents and their friends told me that my birth parents were innocent. So did my older brother. I held this emotion-based belief until age eighteen, when I read the trial transcript and Walter and Miriam’s Schneir’s book, INVITATION TO AN INQUEST. Then I became intellectually certain that my parents had done nothing illegal, except lie about their Communist Party membership. Moreover, I was sure that David and Ruth Greenglass hadn’t stolen any secrets either, but were coerced by the government into inventing their crimes.

The Schneir’s thesis that no espionage took place contradicted the trial strategy of Manny Bloch, my parents’ attorney. Manny conceded that crimes had taken place; he argued that the Greenglasses were guilty and pinned them on my parents to shift the blame.

When I was in my twenties, I thought that Manny’s acceptance of a key aspect of the government’s case was just one of many critical errors he made at the trial. I also remember thinking how naive he was to lay the blame for my parents’ trouble at the feet of two unscrupulous individuals, rather than making a more systemic analysis that attributed the frame-up to the political manipulation of the federal law enforcement bureaucracy.

It is a humbling experience to have studied a historical event for decades, to be among a handful of experts on the Rosenberg Case, and yet realize that a significant portion of my analysis has been wrong. It is even more disconcerting because this has happened at least four times.

1. My beliefs started unraveling when I went to law school. That’s when I understood that even though we had shown that the government witnesses lied and invented evidence, this did not prove my parents’ innocence. That shook me up. How could I know for sure if Ethel and Julius Rosenberg had engaged in a secret conspiracy to aid the Soviet Union?

Admitting I could be wrong about things I once knew were true, replacing certainty with doubt, was not an easy transition. When I wrote AN EXECUTION IN THE FAMILY, I had to grapple with my feelings about the possibility that my parents had engaged in high-risk political actions even though they had small children. Given my childhood experiences I would have probably made other decisions. But still, I prefer that my parents were activists who remained true to their beliefs, and not just innocent victims.

2. Morton Sobell’s 2008 admission that he and Julius provided secret military-industrial information to the Soviet Union during and after World War II convinced me that my father had committed non-atomic espionage in the 1940’s. This time I found the change easier to accept because I had admitted errors previously and speculated that some of my answers might still be wrong. I wasn’t an academic or investigator who had staked his professional career to a particular Rosenberg Case thesis. As my parents’ son, I was not blinded by visions of career advancement, but instead wanted to know the truth. Although it is difficult to come to terms with family guilt, I found closure in accepting it.

3. I was also wrong about my uncle and aunt, David and Ruth Greenglass (see my 5/12/15 blog: Big Rosenberg Case News on the Horizon.) Ruth’s Grand Jury testimony, which I expect will be matched by David’s when it is released, shows that they weren’t merely weaklings who caved in to government demands. Instead they were amoral, conniving criminals who pinned their actions on my parents.

4. Finally, I was wrong about Manny Bloch. His analysis in 1951 was more accurate than the one I had developed. I wonder now if my parents confided in Manny, giving him knowledge and a context in which to place the Greenglass’ perfidy.

No one is always right, yet often we cling to beliefs in what amounts to political fundamentalism, causing us to reject facts that don’t fit our world view. When we must admit that a cherished opinion is mistaken, we may react with cynicism or disengagement. I don’t know why it is so hard to admit mistakes and still continue to engage the world, often with a more nuanced perspective. I understand that letting go of long-held convictions can be difficult. However, refusing to reconsider despite newly revealed information is a much bigger problem.  Read More 
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Big Rosenberg Case News on the Horizon

Last month Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein ordered the release of David Greenglass’ 1950 Grand Jury testimony against my parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. The statements of most of the Grand Jury witnesses, including Ruth Greenglass, were released in 2008, but at that time David Greenglass was still alive and objected to the release of his testimony. Greenglass family members still object, and the window to appeal Hellerstein’s ruling has not yet closed, so a further delay remains possible. It is more likely, however, that there will be no appeal, and this final disclosure will occur before the end of the summer.

This is big news. When Ruth Greenglass’ testimony was released, it caused a minor sensation in the mainstream media. Although she was a cooperating witness and under oath, Ruth made no mention of my mother typing David Greenglass’ handwritten notes. At trial the next year, both the Greenglasses swore that Ethel typed notes from their key espionage meeting; that testimony resulted in my mother’s execution.

If David’s statements echo Ruth’s, they will provide further proof that David and Ruth invented their decisive testimony against my mother at some time between their Grand Jury appearance and the trial. That would not surprise me; after reviewing the FBI files and other records in the 1980’s, my brother and I came to that conclusion, although the mainstream media ignored us. However, I did not expect that either Ruth’s or David’s Grand Jury testimony would differ so starkly from what they swore to at trial.

I predict that when David’s transcript is released, the media will pounce on this increasingly compelling evidence of my mother’s innocence. That’s a bombshell, but they may miss the bigger story.

The core of the government’s case was that my parents met with the Greenglasses on September 25th, 1945 at the Rosenberg apartment in New York City. At that meeting, the Greenglasses claimed, David gave a sketch of the cross-section of the atomic bomb to my father, and Ethel typed David’s accompanying hand-written notes. The prosecutor claimed this drawing gave away the most important secret known to mankind, and in summarizing the case against Ethel, dramatically stated that as Ethel hit the keys, she struck blow upon blow against her country.

What the media missed is that Ruth’s Grand Jury testimony made no mention whatsoever of the September 25th meeting. I bet David’s won’t mention it either. I’m confident of this because a careful analysis of Soviet and US Government files indicate that Ruth Greenglass transmitted David’s sketch to a KGB agent, without my parents’ involvement, on December 21st, 1945 and that the sketch was logged in to the KGB files on December 27th. There is no evidence, other than the Greenglass’s trial testimony, that a September meeting ever took place. Furthermore, David’s sketch was flawed and worthless, and if it had been given to my father in September it should have arrived in Moscow no later than early October.

In sum, the impending release of David Greenglass’s Grand Jury testimony is likely to provide powerful proof that David and Ruth Greenglass invented the critical September meeting to shift blame from themselves to my parents. It remains to be seen whether our government knew that the Greenglasses were lying.  Read More 
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It’s Only Logical

Tom Mayer, a retired professor friend of mine, recently posted a blog about his experience talking to a group of seniors about the “American Empire.” He said that while some agreed with him, the majority didn’t think there was such a thing. I was particularly interested in his summary of our global military presence because of the relationship between it, “business as usual,” and global warming.

He wrote that the U.S. “has over 1,000 foreign military bases located in over 100 countries. U.S. annual military expenditures are over one-third of the world total and exceed the military expenditures of the next eight countries combined. We are the unrivaled world leader in developing and deploying military technology. The U.S. has made over 80 extensive military interventions since World War Two.”

Few things are more obvious than our country’s imperial nature and the domestic military-industrial complex is one of the principal engines driving our economy. This is an environmental disaster because the United States military, which is exempt from green regulation, is the largest single source of pollution on the planet. The demands of maintaining our empire pose a grave environmental threat to complex life on our planet. Given this, it is only logical that we can’t make the changes to our economy necessary to curb runaway global warming, consequent climate change and resource depletion without dismantling our global empire and converting the military-industrial complex.

That’s a monumentally daunting task. It will take massive domestic and international movements to mount a serious challenge to these forces. But there are already large numbers, perhaps even millions, of people worldwide who are doing just that. Some don’t put it that way, but nevertheless it is what they are doing. Through its divestment campaign and calls for an end to “business as usual,” 350.org (far from the most radical green organization) states that 3/4 of the world’s known fossil fuel supply must remain in the ground. How can that happen without turning off the military’s gas pumps? Just try to power a fighter jet with solar panels or an aircraft carrier with wind turbines.

It is, therefore, only logical that we cannot ally ourselves with, or back those who support, the military-industrial complex if we wish to stave off world-wide climate-generated catastrophe.

Both Republican and Democratic National Parties are solidly behind the military-industrial complex. While there are local, possibly even statewide, exceptions, exceptions are all they are. For the past 40 years, the vast majority of the two big party’s federal legislative candidates, as well as all of their presidential nominees, have been whole-hearted, military-industrial complex boosters. Nothing will change in 2016, except one presidential nominee may be a woman.

If we must end business as usual to save ourselves, and if this requires us to take on the military-industrial complex, we cannot accomplish this within the framework of the Republicrat duopoly. Whatever you think about voting for one particularly good Democrat (or Republican - good luck finding one), logic dictates that we must focus on working outside of this system. As I’ve written before, we can’t engage in politics as usual to defeat business as usual.

It’s only logical.  Read More 
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Scream Bloody Murder

In Boston last week I spent a morning circumnavigating Jamaica Pond with a good friend. Of course we addressed the state of the world, and inevitably we came around to considering the approaching environmental crises. We agreed that we had to change the nature of our economic system to avoid catastrophe. But my friend, an effective activist who focuses on immigrant rights and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, said, “When it comes to the environment, I’m paralyzed. What can we do? So I’ll keep working on helping the undocumented.”

I had no good response. My friend and I both support the divestment campaign of 350.org, but neither of us have significant connections with institutions that own fossil fuel company stock. I suggested that we try to get Massachusetts to develop an application to enable people to determine their carbon footprint (CF). The state should give a $50 or $100 tax credit to everyone who uses the application and reports their CF when filing their taxes. I reasoned the more people know about their footprint, the more concrete steps they can take to reduce it, and the more strenuously they’ll demand that massive institutional polluters do the same. My friend wondered if people would cheat, and if such an individual focus would do much good. Then we moved on to other topics.

But I kept thinking about the paralysis so many of us feel, knowing we must make massive changes. Short of calling for revolution, however, we can only come up with small ideas like mine. I’m not paralyzed, but I’m hobbling along haltingly when I should be striding purposefully forward. Is having people learn their carbon footprint all I can think of?

I wish I had responded that another thing we can do is scream bloody murder. I don’t mean we should dash about shrieking that the sky is falling (although that’s pretty close to the truth.) I mean we should use whatever medium we are comfortable with, every available situation we’re in, to write, talk and demonstrate about it. The one thing we should not do is ignore the situation or remain silent because it is too unpleasant.

Screaming bloody murder isn’t much of a plan. But if many of us make enough noise to create a growing buzz in social settings, more people will become involved. If more people get involved, more minds will be working on the problem. Maybe my little idea about knowing your carbon footprint will catch on and make a difference, or maybe others will come up with one, two or a dozen better plans. More engaged minds make it more likely that someone or some group will think of strategies, methods and actions that will spark the mass movement we need.

Even if all we do to begin with is talk more about it, it is bound to make a difference. Anyone can do it, and those who do will be a little less paralyzed and, I bet, feel better for our effort.  Read More 
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Outside My Comfort Zone

Last Friday evening Elli and I attended an “open to the public” plenary session at the Northeast Environmental Organizers Conference. Our response was mixed. We were frustrated because the program was very late and chaotic. We were encouraged to see over a hundred committed young activists, mostly in their 20’s and 30’s, focusing on how to reach out beyond themselves to build a mass movement for radical environmental change.

I appreciated their emphasis on outreach. After all, to change the basic orientation of our economy, to prevent biospheric collapse, we must involve huge numbers of people.

But reaching out to those unlike you is easier said than done. It got me thinking about my own inability to chart an activist course of environmental action. Yes, I write blogs, have read extensively and facilitated study groups about the subject. I’ve also attended demonstrations and discussed the issue with friends, but I have neither gotten involved in, nor helped create, an organization doing ongoing outreach to build the movement I feel is essential to our survival.

I find this baffling because, like so many of my contemporaries, as a not-so-old-yet recent retiree I have the flexibility and energy to get more involved. I’ve thought about this and decided that given my personal history the most effective work I could do was to reach out to my contemporaries, those who were active in the late 1960’s, to persuade them to jump on the environmental bandwagon.

But that hasn’t worked out as I expected. Plenty of my SDS buddies have stayed active, but the majority are not focused on climate change and don’t seem willing to make it their central focus. Others retain leftist, or now perhaps liberal politics, but aren’t inclined to get involved in ongoing organizing. I could not move those I felt most qualified to activate.

I talked to an organizer from the Green Party about my inability to make headway. She told me I had the wrong focus. She said people my age, unless they were already actively engaged, were too set in their ways or comfortable with their circumstances, and so would do no more than engage in liberal politics as usual. I hope she was wrong.

She told me we would find more fertile ground with younger people. They’ve been screwed by the crash of 2008. They are struggling to find decent work. Some live at the margins of society, others are stuck as low-paid corporate serfs, while those who climbed the professional ladder are saddled with massive educational debts that render them higher-paid corporate serfs. She concluded that young people see the crisis coming and that’s who will make and build the movement.

This, plus the conference, has been marinating in my mind. I realize that the growth of our movement shows many are receptive to working for basic change to short-circuit environmental disaster, and that my problem is my reluctance to engage with those outside my comfort zone. I must internalize the same lesson the conference attendees were learning. I’m not yet ready to give up on my contemporaries, but let’s also take this outreach perspective to heart and focus upon the young people who are more receptive and are the biggest stake-holders.  Read More 
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But the Republicans Are Worse

I few days ago I read a piece on a progressive list-serve that postulated Hillary Clinton’s “coronation” would be a disaster because it would pave the way for a “Scott Walker presidency.” I didn’t read much of it because I’m more concerned about the environmental consequences of a Clinton victory. I also saw a poll a few days ago that indicated 69% of democrats want Clinton to be the Democratic Party’s candidate. A lot can happen between now the convention, but for now it seems likely that Hillary Clinton will be the nominee despite progressive democrats’ wishes that someone like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders get the nod.

When I tell friends I won’t vote for Hillary, some agree, but more say they feel compelled to vote for her to keep a Republican out. When I respond that I won’t vote for her because I fear her environmental policies and war-mongering, they respond “but the Republicans are worse.”

This frustrates me because I feel it changes the subject. I object to Clinton’s positions and I hear about Republicans in return. This avoids discussing her positions and their consequences. Even the Warren or Sanders boosters want them to enter the race to counter Clinton’s coziness with Wall Street, rather than because they are alarmed by her environmental and hawkish record.

I’m terrified of Clinton’s environmental policies and her military adventurism. Clinton’s history demonstrates that she’s an interventionist. She voted for the Iraq war, and insiders report that while Secretary of State she argued against Obama’s plans to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. More recently she favored intervention in Syria, on Gaza she appears to be channeling Benjamin Netanyahu, and has been urging more military involvement in Iraq, and a more hostile policy towards Iran. Given that a large swath of the globe from Nigeria to Pakistan is aflame, a vote for Hillary is a vote for more American intervention. When it comes to foreign policy she is essentially a neoconservative.

Clinton’s environmental record is also poor. For instance, despite her recent silence, she supported the XL pipeline several year ago. According to USpolitics.about.com environmentalists don’t like her because, among other things, of “her ties to the [XL pipeline] project developer, her support of the pipeline and her apparent willingness to alienate more liberal members of the party who are concerned about the environment.” When she was Secretary of State her idea of combating climate change was to promote a world-wide fracking boom. Coupling this with the oft-overlooked fact that war is also a huge environmental disaster demonstrates why I feel a Clinton Presidency is a deadly step in the wrong direction.

So many of my liberal and even leftist friends won’t deal with this. If Clinton’s policies make devastating environmental destruction and increased warfare a near certainty, isn’t a vote for her the same as giving up on saving the coming generation from misery and death because she’s a little less evil? Does that make sense?

I’d welcome a counter argument that her policies aren’t really that bad, but if that is your position please show me some proof. I’d love to be wrong about this and I’m desperate to hear more than “but the Republicans are worse.”  Read More 
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Annual Annoyance

I write this on April 5th, exactly 64 years after Federal Judge Irving R. Kaufman sentenced Ethel and Julius Rosenberg to death. I can’t help being annoyed that today the New York Daily News, and the TV news station New York 1 both incorrectly reported that my parents were convicted of “espionage.”

Ethel and Julius were actually charged with and convicted of “Conspiracy to Commit Espionage.” Lawyers will tell you that there is a significant difference between conspiracy and espionage charges. The former requires that two or more people get together, plan espionage and take one act in furtherance of their scheme, while the latter requires the actual commission of espionage.

But wait a minute, you ask. Why should it matter now? After all, in 2008 Morton Sobell admitted that he and Julius committed espionage in the 1940’s. So while accurately reporting the details of the charge might matter to legal scholars, what is the political consequence now?

It might not matter in Julius’ case, but it’s a game-changer for Ethel.

David and Ruth Greenglass’ testimony at trial was the only evidence against my mother. The Greenglasses claimed that Ethel was present at a September, 1945 meeting and that she typed David’s handwritten espionage notes. In 2001 David admitted that this testimony was perjury and we now know that the September meeting never took place. Ruth Greenglass also testified that when Julius asked her to help enlist David in a spy ring, she was reluctant and Ethel pressed her by saying let David decide. However the KGB files indicate that Ruth was enthusiastic, and that Ethel just said “be careful.” While giving encouragement might qualify as an act in furtherance of a conspiracy, the ambiguous statement “be careful” is subject to a range of interpretations.

And to be clear, those statements are the only evidence presented against Ethel. Beyond that, both the US and USSR governments’ files indicate that Ethel was never an active espionage agent. Our government knew Ethel was not an agent but held her as a hostage to coerce her husband into cooperating with the authorities. The FBI files never claimed she was guilty, but consistently described her as “cognizant and recalcitrant.” Whatever Julius did, Ethel was neither charged with, nor did she commit, espionage.

Given this, I hope you can understand my annoyance when the media gets it wrong. New York City area mainstream media outlets have reiterated this “mistake” for 64 years. To repeat inaccurate information – without mentioning that we now know Ethel never committed espionage – is outrageous.  Read More 
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Time’s Up?

Two weeks ago Elli and I began our tour to promote her new novel. On the first night we stayed at an old friend’s apartment in New York City. Naturally, we discussed politics, and after hearing me describe my environmental concerns our friend responded that scientists have been predicting for decades what they still say today; we are running out of time to avoid ecological disaster.

I believe she was gently implying that perhaps things weren’t as bad as I feared, and that I might be over-reacting. Our old friend raised a very important point, and I believe that she was both right and wrong.

It is true that scientific warnings of climate-model predicted catastrophes first cropped up over 25 years ago, and we are hearing more of the same today. In fact, in 2013 when I was considering writing a book about climate change, I drafted some preliminary thoughts to include in it. I addressed this issue in those notes:

“In the World Watch Institute’s annual publication, The State of the World, which I first read in 1989, Lester Brown wrote that the situation was becoming dire and we were running out of time. James Hansen, the famed NASA scientist echoed this sentiment in Congressional testimony in 1995. Tim Flannery in his book The Weather Makers said the same in 2005, and now Bill McKibben and a host of others reiterate this warning every day. For over 25 years most experts have been predicting that we were almost out of time. At some point we must conclude that either their earliest predictions were alarmist or we’ve already run out of time.”

So our friend was correct to imply that increasingly shrill, but constant, warnings over decades begin to feel like Chicken Little shrieking that the sky is falling. But the broader political context of such warnings demonstrate that something else is going on.

In this country the vast majority of scientists (who have based their dire forecasts on the predictive models they’ve studied) accept as a given the economic and social bases of Western Society. They haven’t only been saying “it is almost too late to avoid disaster.” Taken in context, their words actually mean, “If we find the political will to act quickly and decisively it is not too late to avoid civilization-destroying calamities within the framework of our capitalist system.”

Their repeated plaintive cries do not reflect their models’ exaggeration of predicted disasters. If anything, the models’ predictions have been too conservative. Things are getting worse, more quickly than expected. Rather, scientists are trapped by their inability to conceive of a way out of the mess we’ve gotten into that doesn’t fit within the parameters of our current economic system. The only choice offered by that perspective is either to repeat it is not too late or give up all hope.

But there is an alternative assessment: unless we junk our current system it is already too late.

I believe the only chance we have to avoid what our species will experience as unprecedented planetary disasters during this century is to abandon multi-national corporate capitalism and its accompanying military-industrial complex and consumption-driven excesses. This may not be sufficient, but it is necessary. That’s one reason why I say we have to reject politics as usual in order to defeat business as usual.  Read More 
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Jobs or Environment?

The scientific consensus is that continuing “business as usual” will result in the rapid destruction of the planet’s productive capacity and cause the demise of most complex life forms, including our own. Many people understand this, but agreeing on how to avoid climate disaster remains a great challenge.

Historically, our species’ impact on the planet grew steadily, but relatively slowly, until the capitalism-driven industrial revolution in the early 19th century. Since then, our global carbon footprint has mushroomed, and in the last 50 years it has enveloped the world. Today, because of the interaction between capitalism and industrial production, we face human-induced global warming, sweeping resource depletion and mass extinction. Earth’s resources are finite, but the developed world produces too much, consumes too much, and capitalism requires perpetual growth to avoid recessions, or even a depression. The underdeveloped world has a much smaller carbon footprint, but its natural resources are being vacuumed up by the richer nations.

Many people assume that we can’t take action to protect the environment if it will hurt the economy. But scientists, who are neither politicians nor economists, teach us is that if economic and environmental needs are in conflict, we cannot afford to chose the former at the expense of the latter. It seems obvious: if the way we extract and consume resources causes global warming, climate change, sea level rise, and resource depletion, then we must alter our extraction and consumption behavior. But this means reversing the developed world’s requirement of continuous growth.

Many “Greens” in the United States and Europe claim that there doesn’t have to be a conflict. They call for a “Green New Deal” or a “Green MacArthur Plan” or a “Green Apollo Project.” Such proposals postulate that we can “grow our way” to sustainability with new technology and increased efficiency. Both business and labor push this agenda.

Labor demands full-time, living wage work for all and progressives support this demand. But if there are more people working for more hours, even in green jobs, we’ll produce and consume more. Greener, more efficient, production still requires energy and uses resources. And, if we work to distribute resources more fairly throughout the world, that means 7 billion, not just 500 million, consumers. It is wishful thinking to believe that we can rev up the global economy to sustain 7 billion consumers while avoiding environmental destruction.

The elephant in the room is that we need to reduce economic activity even though this is incompatible with capitalism. In order to extract and consume less, we must produce less. In other words: the environment must trump the economy. Furthermore, if we share resources equally, the 20% of us (myself included) who consume 80% of the world’s products must live differently and give up approximately three-quarters of what we have. Actually, for most of the top 20% the figure is not that high because of the top 1%’s alarmingly enormous consumption. That said, are the remaining 19% willing to give up even half their stuff?

These concerns feed our paralysis. We don’t see a political path to get those in power, who represent the 1%, to alter our economic system, and we can’t imagine ourselves, and other reasonably well-to-do people, giving up our lifestyles. But if we accept that we are unable to change either our economic system or our lifestyles, then we are conceding that our economic system will trump the environment.

We’ve been advertised into thinking our devices and clothes, cars and travel are essential to our happiness. Studies have shown, however, that American consumers are not fulfilled by the lives they are leading. We might discover that we can consume less and feel more satisfied.

We fear that we don’t have the time and/or ability to build the movement we need, but are we that powerless? Each year brings new international convulsions. Domestic and worldwide rebelliousness may appear ephemeral, and the politics of those resisting are not necessarily green, but there is massive global dissatisfaction with the status quo. Perhaps we can harness this if we give up politics as usual in the name of derailing business as usual.

In the United States, the majority of people are barely getting by, and millions live in poverty. How absurd for me to ask them to risk transforming our economy while, in effect, stopping to smell the roses. Those of us who believe in economic justice will find such a request particularly troubling. But domestic consumption must be reduced, and some proposals on the table could move us concretely in the right direction. A Labor-Green coalition calling for a huge hourly wage increase tied to a 25 hour work week would enable people to work less and still make enough to house and feed themselves and their families. More people would have good jobs, but the total amount produced would not increase would not increase. A reduction in work hours, coupled with community-building campaigns, can encourage people to use their new-found free time for social fulfillment rather than consumption, lowering our carbon footprint.

This will drive the capitalists crazy since the wage increases will come out of their profits, and slackened consumption will reduce their sales. But that’s what it would mean for the environment to trump the economy.
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