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Coalition Blues

Despite all the post-Paris conference self-congratulation, the world’s nations adopted environmental plans that are inadequate, inequitable and unenforceable. If we’re going to solve the over-arching problem of climate change, it will most likely take an international, grassroots-based coalition of unprecedented size to push governments to act in time.

But such coalitions tend to be unwieldy, weak on demands and easily co-opted. The Alliance for Global Justice recently reposted a blog that provides a summary of the problems facing the exploding, but amorphous, “climate movement” in the US and Western Europe. They write:
“It is easy to focus our ire and ridicule on those we call ‘climate deniers’. But the worst climate change deniers are not the ones who say it is not happening, but the ones who recognize the problem but refuse to confront its most basic sources and causes. They are the ones who marginalize and ultimately suppress the voices of those proffering radical solutions and expressing urgency commensurate with the times …. They reject the demands of the Global South saying there is no unity. They put their faith in a quest for new technologies rather than fighting for a new system. They reject calling out the destructive nature of capitalism, saying we need a movement that cuts across class lines. And they treat those who speak about Empire as anachronistic visitors from another age.”

I agree with that statement and have previously written in this blog that the climate change movement must beware of green capitalist allies. “They are frienemies; in the guise of saving us they will make things worse.” Why do I risk attacking potential allies for making the problem worse at a time when building the broadest possible coalition is essential?

Because green capitalist solutions seduce even green-oriented progressives into thinking that we can reverse the coming climate chaos and ecological collapse by mounting a green New Deal that will provide tens of millions of well-paying jobs creating technological breakthroughs, and sustainable infrastructure, energy sources, transportation and housing while continuing our comfortable consumption-oriented life style. This is counterproductive in at least two ways.

First, while everyone deserves a well-paying job, in our system companies will advertise effectively to get these new job-holders to spend their new-found money on their products. This will cause an ecologically destructive orgy of consumption even if those products are made more efficiently. Second, it distracts people from focusing on the root cause of the problem: capitalism’s elevation of competition and its Grow-or-Die imperative. We can’t attack this global problem as long as countries and individuals compete to secure the most resources and accumulate as much wealth as possible. We need worldwide cooperation and social egalitarianism; these can never occur within the capitalist framework.

Since our current circumstances require the broadest coalition possible, we must distinguish between the more powerful promoters of green capitalism and the well-intentioned individuals who grasp at the straws it provides. Our job is to debunk the schemes of the former and persuade, not attack, the latter. The tightrope between fragmentation and co-optation is treacherous, but the only way to get to the other side is to traverse it successfully.  Read More 
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Should Have Been Snow

Weather forecasters are all a-dither about the “massive” snowstorm predicted for the Northeast this Saturday. Actually, one group of predictive models indicates the storm will pass far enough south to spare much of Southern New England, while a second model predicts it will wallop the entire region. Naturally, the media is hyping the latter, but as I write this it is even possible that for us it could blow harmlessly out to sea.

If the brewing storm strikes, it really should be the second of a one-two punch. That’s because last weekend’s rainstorm should have been a snowstorm. For those unfamiliar with Southern New England weather, we get lots of snow, but also plenty of rain in January. A rainstorm at my house at this time of year is far from extraordinary. To oversimplify the situation, that is because storm centers either pass to the north or south of us. If the center passes to our north, the counter-clockwise winds that circulate around low pressure draw warmer wet air from the Altantic over our region resulting in rain. When the center passes to the south, as in the classic Nor’easter, the same circulation draws in colder air from the Gulf of Maine and Quebec. In mid-winter this causes snowstorms.

In over fifty years of following weather, this is the first time I’ve seen what just happened late last week. A powerful storm developed off the mid Atlantic Coast and the storm center passed to the south of us. The winds shifted to the Northeast and North, but rain, not snow, fell the entire time. That’s because the temperatures over land were so mild and the water temperature in the Gulf of Maine was unusually warm. In fact, the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean is now 6 degrees warmer than it usually is at this time of year. I can’t imagine the amount of additional energy that has to be absorbed by sea waters to elevate the temperature that much over a thousand-mile stretch of ocean. That is a sobering indicator of global warming induced climate change.

Twenty, even ten years ago, what happened last weekend would have buried my house under a foot or more of snow. Now, we’d be bracing for another foot or two on top of that. Dealing with it would be rough, but such double-barreled snow dumps happen around here most winters, so we know how to cope.

Whenever such storms hit, they are a giant pain in the ass and last weekend’s rainstorm was easier to deal with than snow would have been. But as a weather nerd who understands its implications for our future, I find last weekend’s cold nasty rain much more worrisome than a massive snowstorm on the horizon.  Read More 
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Armed Insurgents, not Terrorists

Over the past few days there have been many news reports about the occupation of public land in Oregon. There’ve been multiple analysis pieces also, like the one in Common Dreams titled “Rightwing Terrorism on Display as Militants in Oregon Beckon Reinforcements.” I like Common Dreams and agree with their emphasis on the stark disparity between the government’s response to these armed white Christians and how it would respond if the occupiers were Muslims, blacks or Native Americans. The article notes that the mainstream media would be calling non-whites “terrorists” rather than “militia members” or “principled patriots.”

But do we want to label the occupiers “terrorists” as the Common Dreams headline suggests?

I define terrorism as serious violent acts against civilians designed to instill widespread fear in order to make a religious or political point. The 9/11 attacks, the Boston Marathon Bombing, and the recent attacks in Paris fall within that definition. So do our drone strikes in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many of the world’s governments commit terrorism, although none admit it.

Mass shootings, however, carried out by deranged individuals, property destruction not intended to kill, or even violent resistance to oppression, are not terrorism. Shooting 20 children in Sandy Hook – horrible though it was – was not terrorism, and neither were the protests that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Recently executed Shiite opposition leader Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was not a terrorist, despite the Saudi government’s claims.

Those occupying the Malheur National Wildlife headquarters in Oregon, are armed and dangerous but they have not, as far as I know, harmed anyone during their occupation. Even if they violently resist an FBI effort to retake the buildings by force, that would not make them terrorists.

One of the columnists quoted in the Common Dream article got it right: “This is an act of armed sedition against lawful authority. That is all that it is and that is quite enough. These are men with guns who have declared themselves outside the law. These are men with guns who have taken something that belongs to all of us.”

We on the left are correct to protest when law enforcement and the mass media slap the terrorist label on progressive activists they seek to repress. Secretary of State Kerry’s labeling Edward Snowdon a terrorist was just as outrageous as the government’s charging two young men in Illinois with terrorism for freeing mink in an animal rights protest. But we must resist the temptation to respond that “if you call left-wing protesters terrorists, then you should give the same label to right-wingers and attack them with equal firepower.” Playing fast and loose with this extremely inflammatory term is a bad idea no matter the political position of those involved. It will be used to counter our protests against government misapplication of the term, as well as to justify their falsely labeling our protests as terrorism.

While these right-wing militia types could easily, and possibly already have, committed terrorist acts elsewhere, let’s not get carried away and label as terrorist the militant actions of those we disagree with, unless the label really fits.  Read More 
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