9 Responses

  1. Will L. November 7, 2013 at 6:44 pm |

    Hey Chris, Great article. You might be interested to know that student divestment activists are already organizing into a democratic network that organizes on anti-racist and anti-capitalist principles. We’re very inspired by SNCC as well as newer student networks like United We Dream. We’re in the early stages, but big plans are brewing! Check out our beta website: studentsdivest.org/nationalnetwork

    Will Lawrence
    Swarthmore Mountain Justice (alum)

  2. Tord Björk November 7, 2013 at 6:19 pm |

    Thankyou for a most welcome article on the tactical and strategic choices of the US climate justice and environmental movement. The point made: “As I mentioned earlier, what the leftwing critics ignore are the internal dynamics of social movements and how participation alters the ideas of those involved. A key tenet of Marxism – not to mention basic pedagogy – is that those involved in struggle “learn by doing” much more quickly and on a much deeper, more visceral level, than they ever could by reading leftwing critiques, however correct they may be in the abstract.” is very useful.

    But is it not applicable also against the claimed “left wing” alliance now built as the only alternative what it seems to 350.org and big ENGOs at the national level. It seems as this new coalition exactly does the mistake made by leftists criticizing mass mobilizations were people learn by doing rather than from the very start define themselves as anti capitalists.

    Secondly is not the reverse mistake made here: “While McKibben remains confused and contradictory on a number of fronts, in his recent interview in Salon he said, “But this is a systemic problem. It’s going to be solved or not solved by a systemic solution. It’s past the point where we’re going to manage to do it one light bulb at a time. The roof of my house is covered in solar panels. When I’m home, I’m a pretty green fellow. But I know that that’s not actually going to solve the problem. So a lot of people have to get on the train and go to Washington to be in protests.”

    This is in my view a totally pointless position from McGibben. It completely lack any real political content and says something utterly trivial that cannot be taken seriously anywhere, at least outside the US. Where is this odd thing believing in individual consumerism as the solution to the climate crisis other than among those living inside the world of commercial media? Yes commercial media have a strong grip on the consciousness of many individuals today, also among members of environmental organisations, but which democratically organized environmental organizations believe in this trivial crap McGibben now says is unsufficient, they never did, at least not outside the US. If the US have a lot of undemocratic and even antidemocratic ENGOs this is an oddity which has very little to say on the issue of tactics and strategy on environmental issues as nature is not negotiable, it is material.

    By claiming that it is something radical about McGibbens pointless notion the highly questionable role of 350.org as the main organizer globally of hegemony for those forces that wants to stop the global climate justice movement from taking a position against the idea that market solutions is the tactically and strategically most important way to stop climate change.

    Now this is of course not only or even primarily a US problem, but certainly the kind of argument put forward by Chris Williams helps legitimate the negative role played by 350.org globally (earlier carried by the left wing SWP party who also used its power to stop the global climate justice movement to stand up against carbon trading as central organizers of global climate action days). The antipolitical side of the globally negative impact 350.org have in its dmonination of global action goes unchallenged.

    Now how can my appraisal of Chris first point against left wing critizism against single issue mass civil disobedience campaigning be compatible with my criticism against lack of criticism of McGibben which of course is t the same time a criticism of all activists inside 350.org that are legitmationg the poltically negative role this organization have globally and probably also in the US? I do not know enough about US social movements to say what is the limitations and possibilites at the moment, first one have to walk in mockasins for seven years I suppose. But my experience of the extremely overestimated mass civil disobedience movements in the US in the international litterature and this self admiration which also shines through Chris remarks is a problem. Form never can be seperated from content and thus the time and again overemphasis in the greatness of the form and lack of discussing the accumulation of political content from one protest wave after the other is problematic. Yes the mass civil disobedience is impressive, and for certain I belong to those beleiving that this is the only way forward for the kind of greater changes now necessary. But never without discussing also the political content.

    Here it seems to me that an alliance between a pragmatic 350.org able of organizing mass civil disobedience and an anticapitalist coalition which seems fairly small but with an emphasis on ideological correct view is a disaster and the kind of unholy alliance that will not move neither the US movement nor the global movement forward. Instead it seems to me that it is the political dividing line which is the most important which is on the one hand lobbying and at times single issue civil disobedience primarily as a lobbying of politicians on one side and on the other side local protest that do not compromise, do civil disobedience not as a tactical tool towards politicians but as a real challenge of power together with those that as so many mass movements in the rest of the world (including the main stream Friends of the Erath International and Via Camepsina) say no to carbon trading an REDD and at the same time having a constructive programme for just transition, especially of course for public investment in low income areas and in many fields of action far beyond what any professional ENGO lobby organization ever is interested in. A strategy that do not include the necessity of splitting the movement into those with the correct anticapitalist analysis and include those that for a long time now have shown they are against a clear demand against privatization of nature and so called “green economy”. Chris tactic and strategy is simply filled with an inner contradiction which also makes him weak in the argumentation from those critizing him who have not much to say than name dropping and claims that it is not the content of what has to be done that is the interesting matter but the speed. It is the quality of the action which now is at stake, climate change nor for that matter art extinction cannot be solved by market mechanisms, which is easy to explain without necessarily demand everyone to have the same view on capitalism is the starting point before we can unite in action.

  3. Ken Glick (EEI) September 25, 2013 at 4:05 pm |

    “Most striking of all, Millennials are more willing than their elders to challenge cherished American myths about capitalism and class. According to a 2011 Pew study, Americans under 30 are the only segment of the population to describe themselves as “have nots” rather than “haves.” They are far more likely than older Americans to say that business enjoys more control over their lives than government. And unlike older Americans, who favor capitalism over socialism by roughly 25 points, Millennials, narrowly, favor socialism.”

    True, but isn’t this always the case that young people are more idealistic and less “set in their ways” than those Americans who have mortgages, car payments, soccer practice for the kids, etc.?

    Just wait another 15 years and I’m sure you will find that people who are Millennials now will be middle-class establishment types.

  4. MikeH September 24, 2013 at 2:00 am |

    Thanks for the response Chris.

    The reason why Roger Pielke Jr drew a reaction and the Economist did not is that the Breakthrough Institute and Pielke Jr have been very influential in shaping the climate policy that the USA and Australia will get in lieu of an ETS.

    This is capitalism’s plan B – it is not primarily market based and there will not be a price on carbon. Lots of adaption since as BI argue, it will not be as bad as the scientists make out, plus government sponsored R&D in the short term because that will magically create “safe” nuclear plus other solutions like CCS that will eventually save us.

    There was a fierce debate between Romm and the BI. Romm’s argument was and is that we have the technology to start deploying renewables aggressively now and any improvement would come from “learn by doing”. Here is Pielke Jr claiming victory over Romm and arguing that there is no way that 450ppm let alone the 350ppm that Romm was arguing for is a realistic goal.

  5. MikeH September 21, 2013 at 7:32 pm |

    I see that Ian has managed to restore the comments. Chris, my comment on your article was unnecessarily harsh – for that I apologise. I agree with much of what you say but I tend to see red when Pielke Jr is quoted. He is opposed to any action on climate change arguing that it will be benign and that we are best to adapt. That is also the position that Rupert Murdoch holds. There is a reason that Pielke Jr is regularly called to testify before the House by Republicans. The following article puts Pielke Jr in context.

    What Pielke Jr does not point out in your quote that you used is that the reason USA carbon mitigation is in front of the EU is in large part because of fracking and cheap natural gas replacing coal.
    “Natural gas has grown from only 15 percent of total [electricity] generation in 2005 to 30 percent in 2012.

    The issue I have with the way that the left frames the debate over the ETS is that it confuses strategy and tactics – not the movement’s but those of the capitalists. The strategy of that section of the capitalist class that concedes that something needs to be done on climate change is to aim for as high a mitigation target that they can get away with. 550ppm, 650ppm? Their preferred tactic is emissions trading although in Australia they have fought that option tooth and nail believing that a “Direct Action” plan would allow for even less impact on profits. In Australia the mitigation target is so low (5 per cent reduction on 2000 levels by 2020) that they will probably meet the target even with their fake plan.

    The left criticises the tactic but the focus needs to be on the strategy – i.e. the mitigation targets.

    You describe the ETS as “A system ripe for corporate abuse, fraud and all manner of financial scams, without doing anything about carbon emissions.” But it is likely according to the OECD that the EU will actually meet their paltry targets. And if they managed to reform the scheme to meet most of the objections about scams – what then? Or if the ETS schemes that are being trialled in China have an effect or at least appear to? For those people not paying close attention that could get very confusing with the argument focusing on the tactic and not the target.

    I think Kevin Anderson gets the argument right when he points out that it would not matter how high the carbon price was or how scam free the ETS was, it would still not lead to fast enough mitigation *on its own* to avoid dangerous climate change i.e. get to the “350” in 350.org.

    1. Chris Williams September 23, 2013 at 12:04 pm |

      Thanks for the clarification and retraction Mike. I was going to write that, by your original logic, you should have stopped reading as soon as you got to the part where I quote climate change denying magazine, The Economist. Interestingly, their latest issue has a special report devoted to biodiversity and how economic growth, particularly centered around the rich, is the most effective method to prevent mass extinctions (which they now admit might happen). If you’d done that, you could have avoided seeing red when you came to Pielke Jr.’s name later on.

      As for your other point, I agree that the US’s emissions have declined because of the recession and because natural gas obtained from fracking is replacing more costly coal plants. Though all those emissions are now coming from China, as coal exports by the US have exploded. I wrote about that phenomenon in a previous article.

      I think your other point about ETS and similar schemes is unlikely to be true, other than by setting easily attainable goals. The same factors at work in the US are affecting EU emissions. The decline seems unlikely to be predominantly related to ETS, especially as ETS has more or less fallen apart due to a ridiculous oversupply of credits.

      There are clearly sections of the ruling class across the world who think something needs to be done; even in the US – though perhaps not in Canada or Australia, with economies being built on relentless resource extraction, particularly fossil fuels.

      However, they are incapacitated by their own ideology of the last 30 years. The only really effective and swift way to reduce emissions (while retaining capitalism) would be via government directed action. Unfortunately, neoliberalism prevents them from taking this route. If a global financial meltdown that rivaled the Great Depression wasn’t enough to make them change course (quite the contrary), it seems highly unlikely, without a genuine mass social movement (perhaps combined with history, geopolitics, geology and geography as is the case in Germany) that a few naysayers amongst the capitalist class will get further than paltry band-aids in the shape of lame targets, pitifully high caps and other madcap market schemes that give handouts to their banker friends and assorted middlemen.

      There is a larger and extremely important point about market-based schemes and their advocacy by environmentalists that I did not get to (the article was already really long!). Namely, the question of people concerned with the future of the planet not just accepting, but actively advocating for extending market relations into every single aspect of the biosphere. I’m thinking of writing something more about that issue and posing an alternative way of looking at things.

  6. Mike H September 21, 2013 at 3:32 pm |

    Sorry. I stopped taking you seriously when you quoted climate science “lukewarmer” Roger Pielke Jr approvingly in the debate with Joe Romm.

    This is not the first time I have read articles from the left borrowing arguments from one of the most vicious opponents of action on climate change.

    If you are going to write on the subject, perhaps learn something about the debate first.

    The key to understanding the way forces line up in this debate is to distinguish between those who believe that we need to decarbonise aggressively (and despite his conservative politics that includes Romm who by the way has been scathing in his criticism of Obama) and those who are arguing strenuously against the need for any immediate action – and that includes Pielke Jr, Lomborg and the rest of the windbags in the Breakthrough Institute.

    By making a price on carbon the dividing line between the forces of good and evil you are missing the point. Look at Australia and the Abbott governments fake “Direct Action” plan. WTF do you think that came from – answer – the Pielke Jr crowd.

    I thought Klein’s interview was rather poor and opened her up for criticism. On the hand, this speech was superb.

  7. gabriel ignetti September 21, 2013 at 3:32 pm |

    I’ll take McKibben over Klein any day. Her assertion is unsupportable and hyperbolic. It assumes that there is one monolithic ruling class. While it is plain to see that the Rich are in charge they are far from monolithic as the differences between the Dems and the Repugs demonstrates. Outright denial is different from recognition and action which has already been taken by the Obama administration as insufficient as that might be. The Democrats are pro-business but they are also less ideological and far more rational in their dealings with environmental issues than the Repugs. One thing we need to keep in mind is that they are not operating in a vacuum. Even a Ralph Nader would be unable to move significantly in the face of GOP resistance. Sure they don’t go far enough and, yes, they could do more but at least they recognize the problem and, let’s face it, Global Warming is a significant threat to business as usual as well as a threat to U.S. security. This is well recognized by both the CIA and the Pentagon. There is, therefore, no problem in someone such as Bill McKibben taking money from rich donors and it is not a far fetched assumption to believe that many if not most all of his rich contributers share the same goals as he does. I might add that, this is especially true if a rich donor is based in the tourism, agribusiness, or insurance industries for the simple reason that they would tend to see the threat to their bottom line far differently than some oil or coal tycoon. I might also add that natural gas MUST be a bridge fuel. The conversion of cars to methanol is far more doable in the short term than moving to electric vehicles which would take years of R & D, and plant construction and conversion not to mention the problem of getting enough lithium out of the ground to fulfil that conversion.

    I might add that it is really easy to rag the Dems given that the amount of independent socialists in Congress can be counted on one finger and even Bernie Sanders supported Clinton and Gore over Nader for pragmatic reasons. As the song goes Our Spirit is in the material world.
    Deal with it.

    1. Mike H September 21, 2013 at 3:35 pm |

      Klein is on the board of 350.org. Joe Romm is a supporter as are I believe most of the large environmental groups. Klein’s criticism of the large NGOs is more than valid. It was just poorly put in that interview.

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