Friday, September 26, 2014

This Changes Everything, including Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate is a must-read guide to the climate justice movement. It summarizes the science of climate change, the extractivist industries driving it, the system to which they are connected, and the growing resistance. Through her dynamic style, Naomi Klein describes the changes in the climate, the changes in the movement, and inspires us to change ourselves as well—just as her own politics have changed.

Climate change
This Changes Everything warns of the severe consequences of climate change, the industries (like tar sands, fracking, and mountain top removal) that are pushing us to the precipice, and the racism and profiteering that accompany it. Klein shows that the proposed capitalist solutions—from industries like nuclear power, market schemes like carbon offsets, technology like geoengineering, or faith in the 1%—only compound the problem. As she explains, “The idea that capitalism and only capitalism can save the world from a crisis created by capitalism is no longer an abstract theory; it’s a hypothesis that has been tested and retested in the real world. We are now able to set theory aside and take a hard look at the results.”

Faced with a capitalist climate change, she debunks simplistic solutions—whether it’s calling for individual lifestyle changes while ignoring the socioeconomic conditions that constrain choice, claiming there aren’t enough resources while billions have gone to corporate bailouts, or blaming China and India while ignoring Western corporations profiting from the exploitation of their workers. This is not only a critique of the system that produces climate change but of the record of the mainstream environmental movement in challenging it. Klein outlines the coopting of the earlier environmental movement, “what had been a rabble of hippies became a movement of lawyers, lobbyists, and UN summit hoppers” who presented climate change “as a narrow technical problem with no end of profitable solutions within the market system.”

The failure of mainstream environmentalism has eliminated gradual and incremental options: “We are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.” This Changes Everything is an urgent call for mass action, connecting the increasing climate disasters to the radical transformation needed to stop them. As Klein explains in her poetic style, climate change is “a civilizational wake-up call. A powerful message—spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions—telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet.”

Movement change
This Changes Everything profiles the rising climate justice movements, introducing readers to campaigns and activists around the world, and showing concrete and inspiring examples of how people are organizing. “All of this has changed so rapidly as I have been writing that I had had to race to keep up. Yes, ice sheets are melting faster than the models projected, but resistance is beginning to boil.”

Klein profiles the indigenous communities leading the climate justice movement, from the Ogoni people in Nigeria to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation at ground zero of the tar sands. Contrasting the lack of solidarity to the Mi’kmaq blockade at Burnt Church 15 years ago with the broad support for the Mi’kmaq blockade at Elsipogtog last year, she describes the sea change that the movement is producing: “The movements against extreme energy extraction are becoming more than just battles against specific oil, gas, an coal companies and more, even, than pro-democracy movements. They are opening up spaces for a historical reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and non-Natives, who are finally understanding that, at a time when elected officials have open disdain for basic democratic principles, Indigenous rights are not a threat, but a tremendous gift.”

Arguing that “exploited workers and an exploited planet are, it turn out, a package deal,” Klein shares lessons from the Northern Cheyenne in building community-run solar panels, and explains how that the technology for renewables exists and provides an alternative both for front-line Indigenous communities defending their land and for non-Indigenous workers needing jobs: “Manufacturing in North America is as battered as family farming, which means that well-paying union jobs are so scarce that people will fight for whatever jobs are on offer, no matter how dangerous, precarious, or polluting to themselves, their families, or their communities. The solution, as the more visionary sectors of the labor movement understand, is to fight for policies that do not force workers to make those kinds of choices…Today’s climate movement does not have the luxury of simply saying no without simultaneously fighting for a series of transformative yeses—the building blocks of our next economy that can provide good clean jobs, as well as a social safety net that cushions the hardships for those inevitably suffering losses…There is no more potent weapon in the battle against fossil fuels than the creation of real alternatives. Just the glimpse of another kind of economy can be enough to energize the fight against the old one.”

As a great theorist for the movements, Naomi Klein has both influenced and been influenced by them. This Changes Everything represents another change in Naomi Klein’s own politics, that have shaped and been shaped by movements against corporate globalization, war and climate change.

From brand bullies to state bullies
In No Logo she explained the rise of multinationals as the result of a marketing idea in the 1980s, and wrote that the “virtual brick and mortar” of branding was replacing production. Taking aim at the “brand bullies” she praised a resistance “both focused and fragmented” that could subvert and hold the multinationals accountable by culture jamming and reclaiming the streets. Released in the wake of the 2001 Seattle protest against the WTO, No Logo reflected the emerging anti-globalization movement and provided activists with a global framework to understand corporations and the diverse threats they pose. But it left open the role of the state.

The Iraq War of 2003 and the historic movement against it showed that corporate profits don’t just derive from marketing strategies but from state violence—whether it’s to steal Iraq’s oil or profit from disasters in New Orleans. The Shock Doctrine reflected this radicalization and deepened it. As Naomi Klein wrote, “Most of us chose to oppose the way as an act of folly by a president who mistook himself for a king, and his British sidekick who wanted to be on the winning side of history. There was little interest in the idea that war was a rational policy choice, that the architects of the invasion had unleashed ferocious violence because they could not crack open the closed economies of the Middle East by peaceful means, that the level of terror was proportional to what was at stake.”

The Shock Doctrine was released in 2007 just at the time of the economic crisis, and armed activists to confront the resulting austerity. As the moderator introducing her at the Climate Convergence last week explained, Chicago teachers had reading groups of her book during their successful strike.

Whereas the word “capitalism” did not even make the index of No Logo, it was on the front cover and throughout The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism. But it was not capitalism itself that was the problem, but a particular “fundamentalist” “unfettered” and “deregulated” version. Rather than a bad marketing idea of the 1980s, Klein located the problem decades prior in Milton Friedman’s economic theories that led a “50 year campaign for total corporate liberation.” As she wrote, “I am not arguing that all forms of market systems are inherently violent…A free market in consumer products can coexist with free public health care, with public schools, with a large segment of the economy—like a national oil company—held in state hands…Markets need not be fundamentalist… Keynes proposed exactly that kind of mixed, regulated economy…that system of compromises, checks and balances.”

From disaster capitalism to capitalist disasters
The climate science and the indigenous-led climate justice movement have led to another exciting shift in politics. As she wrote in the introduction of This Changes Everything, “this is the hardest book I have ever written, precisely because the research has led me to search out such radical responses.” Her search encourages us to do the same. Now the problem is not years of marketing or decades of neoliberalism but centuries of colonialism and capitalism: “the things we must do to avoid catastrophic warming are no longer just in conflict with the particular strain of deregulated capitalism that triumphed in the 1980s. They are now in conflict with the fundamental imperative at the heart of our economic model: grow or die.”

Rather than defending state-owned oil companies, she argues: “These have never been safe or low-risk industries. Running an economy on energy sources that release poisons as an unavoidable part of their extraction and refining has always required sacrifice zones—whole subsets of humanity categorized as less than fully human, which made their poisoning in the name of progress somehow acceptable.”

As a result, she takes on the record of the “extractivist left” who have tried to make change without fighting for climate justice—including trade unions “trying to freeze in place the dirtiest jobs, instead of fighting for the good clean jobs their members deserve,” centre-left Keynesians obsessed with GDP growth regardless of how it’s achieved, the former Soviet Union whose environmental record was just as bad as the capitalists, the Latin American government who have reduced economic inequality but not ecological injustice, and Greece’s left alternative Syriza that counterposed the environment with economic recovery.

Rather than calling for compromises, Naomi Klein denounces the “fetish of centrism” in the face of climate catastrophe: “What the ‘moderates’ constantly trying to reframe climate action as something more palatable are really asking is: How can we create change so that the people responsible for the crisis do not feel threatened by the solutions? How, they ask, do you reassure members of a panicked, megalomanical elite that they are still masters of the universe, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary? The answer is: you don’t. You make sure you have enough people on your side to change the balance of power and take on those responsible.”

Strategic debates
Shifting from subverting brands to calling for a climate revolution leads to a shift in strategy: “I have, in the past, strongly defended the right of young movements to their amorphous structures—whether that means rejecting identifiable leadership or eschewing programmatic demands…As many are coming to realize, the fetish for structurelessness, the rebellion against any kind of institutionalization, is not a luxury today’s transformative movements can afford…Despite endless griping, tweeting, flash mobbing, and occupying, we collectively lack many of the tools that built and sustained the transformative movements of the past. Our public institutions are disintegrating, while the institutions of the traditional left—progressive political parties, strong unions, membership-based community service organizations—are fighting for their lives.”

There’s also the question of the ultimate aim of this fight. If the climate crisis is rooted in centuries of colonialism and capitalism, then we need to replace the corporations and states responsible. But while This Change Everything leads us in that direction, it constantly returns to the theme of The Shock Doctrine: that the problem is not capitalism itself but the “reigning ideology” of “market fundamentalism,” created by the “free market counterrevolution” that has “infiltrated virtually every government” and “binds the imagination of our elites.” This makes it seem like neoliberalism is a conspiratorial highjacking of a system that could otherwise be sustainable, leading to nostalgia for the Keynesianism of the 1930s and social programs after WWII.

But Keynesianism failed to solve the Great Depression, which only disappeared through the barbarism of WWII and a permanent arms economy that temporarily sustained a capitalist boom. This allowed states to develop health and education both under pressure from social movements but also in order to compete with other capitalist rivals. The re-emergence of economic crisis led to neoliberal ideology—not the other way around—and the limitations of its “corporate liberation strategy” was made clear when decades of deregulation and financialization failed to prevent the worst (and ongoing) economic crisis since the Great Depression. Economic crisis and war (whose ecological impacts are hardly mentioned) are both intrinsic features of capitalism, whether Keynesian or neoliberal. But because the democratic and revolutionary waves that ended WWI and inspired the world were first crushed and then buried in history, the only answer to her question “has an economic shift of this kind ever happened before in history?” is some reformist version of capitalism.

This Changes Everything does not quite change everything. But released in the context of 400,000 marching for climate justice—along with thousands of actions across the world—it reflects and advances the hope that this new movement can change everything: “The climate movement offers an overarching narrative in which everything from the fight for good jobs to justice for migrants to reparations for historical wrongs like slavery and colonialism can all become part of the grand project of building a nontoxic, shockproof economy before it’s too late.”

Monday, September 22, 2014

Photo essay: the People's Climate March

18 months ago saw the largest climate march in US history, as 40,000 people marched on the White House. Yesterday saw up to 10 times that number march on the UN climate summit demanding climate action.

This reflects the urgency of the climate crisis that is quite literally a matter of life and death. The destruction of all of earth’s species, the death of the oceans, carbon emissions pushing to a tipping point—all these are processes already under way, and as Naomi Klein explained at the climate convergence the night before the march, all we need to do for this to continue is nothing.

This threat is accelerated by increasingly extreme forms of extraction—deepwater drilling, mountaintop removal, fracking, tar sands and nuclear—that deliberately devastate the earth in order to extract toxic fuels.

This threat is not evenly distributed, but is sharpened by environmental racism. From Hurricane Katrina to Hurricane Sandy, the increasingly unnatural disasters are disproportionately affecting poor and racialized communities at home and abroad, those least responsible for the climate crisis.

The climate crisis is intertwined with the economic crisis, both originating from a common source. The same 1% that is raising tides is also raising rents, tuition, debt, healthcare costs, and unemployment of the 99%. But people are also rising.

The historic march in New York—and the 2,600 other actions across 150 countries that happened the same day—show that the global climate justice movement is growing, led by those most affected. The People’s Climate March was led by youth carrying the banner “Frontlines of crisis, Forefront of change”, followed by an Indigenous contingent with the banner “Respect Indigenous Peoples, End CO2lonialism.”

Solidarity with Indigenous peoples is growing alongside solidarity for migrants, who are challenging the climate disasters that displaced them and the exploitation they encounter in their new country.

While extraction industries thrive on pitting workers against the planet, the climate justice movement includes growing demands for green jobs and a just transition, so that workers can be part of building a health world.

While some on the march called on people to change their dietary habits or electoral choices, others were clear on the main threats to the planet and its people: corporations and the military, as this float carried by Veterans for Peace explained.

While Harper boycotted the UN climate summit, hundreds from Canada joined the march, and thousands joined solidarity demonstrations across the country.

Participants from Canada marched in Indigenous, faith and anti-tar sands contingents—which marched against tar sands and pipelines, and for divestment and green energy.

While the threat of climate change is serious, the march was as festive as it was urgent. The climate crisis is also an opportunity. A better world is possible, but it will take system change to stop climate change.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Stopping Harper's long awaited Iraq War

As hundreds of thousands of people across Canada marched against the Iraq War in 2003, Harper demanded war. The mass movement stopped Canada from officially participating in the war, but Harper’s support continued. After first copying the Australian Prime Minister’s speech supporting the invasion, Harper wrote to The Wall Street Journal that Canada not joining the war was “a serious mistake. For the first time in history, the Canadian government has not stood beside its key British and American allies in their time of need.” Harper vowed that “in our hearts and minds, we will be with our allies and friends,” and has worked since then to support US war in Iraq—first indirectly and now directly.

Iraq Slaughter + Intervention in Syria = ISIS
In 2003 we were told there was no option but war to stop Saddam Hussein and liberate Iraqis. This ignored the role of the West in supporting the dictator, and the capacity of Iraqis to fight for their own liberation. The only “weapons of mass destruction” were those of the West—from sanctions that killed more than 1 million people before the invasion, to war that killed more than 1 million people after the invasion. The US leveled Fallujah, tortured in Abu Ghraib, massacred in Baghdad, raped and killed in Mahmoudiya, and armed sectarian death squads as a strategy to divide and conquer—planting the seeds for ISIS to grow.

The Arab Spring showed that people in the region can fight for their own liberation, and their greatest obstacle is Western military intervention. The West highjacked the Libyan revolution, supported Israel and counter-revolution in Egypt, and armed Saudi Arabia and other dictatorships. While the Saudi dictatorship beheaded at least 8 people last month, it is immune from criticism because it does the West’s dirty work—repressing resistance in Bahrain and arming extremist groups in Syria, which have now spread into Iraq as ISIS. Canada has been part of this process: joining the bombing of Libya, supporting the new Egyptian dictatorship, selling $10 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, and unconditionally supporting Israel.

“Canada continues to condemn the repugnant killing of innocent civilians, including women and children,” said Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, justifying the latest bombing of Iraq. Where was that condemnation when the US was killing a million Iraqis, or when Israel was killing thousands of Palestinians? Where’s the condemnation of the West’s role, via Saudi Arabia, of creating ISIS, or the condemnation of the impact of bombing? As Phillis Bennis wrote, “the airstrikes defeat the important goal of ending popular support for ISIS, and instead actually serve to strengthen the extremist organization.”

War on soldiers, refugees and the planet
While Harper was forced to admit the 2003 Iraq War was “absolutely an error,” he has refused to support the troops who came to the same conclusion. For ten years Iraq War resisters have come to Canada instead of committing war crimes in Iraq. For that they have the support of international law, a majority of Canadians, two motions in Parliament, ten court decisions, and the legacy of welcoming Vietnam War resisters (both volunteers and conscripts). But the Harper government has ignored the courts, scapegoated war resisters for a refugee backlog the government created, flagged resisters as “criminally inadmissible,” deported resisters to be jailed in the US, and re-written Canadian history and a government website regarding Vietnam War resisters.

The attack on US Iraq War resisters parallels the campaign against Canadian veterans, and against refugees fleeing war zones. While Harper has wasted millions celebrating the war of 1812 and pledged half a trillion dollars to militarism, he has cut veteran disability pensions in the midst of a surge of suicides, restricted the arrival of Syrian refugees and cut refugee health. As a recent Federal Court ruled, “The 2012 modifications to the [Interim Federal Health Program] potentially jeopardize the health, the safety and indeed the very lives, of these innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages Canadian standards of decency...I have found as a fact that lives are being put at risk.” If Iraqis fleeing ISIS try to make it to Canada, they will encounter barriers accessing healthcare, barriers to citizenship for them and their children, and unsafe working conditions—like the Iraqi refugee who fell to his death six weeks ago from a scaffold in Toronto.

Iraq is still dealing with the depleted uranium fired in civilian areas in 2003, which will contaminate the country for generations, and another round of bombings will make things worse. The US military is the largest consumer of oil in the world, and a new bombing campaign will add to global carbon emissions and increase demand for Canada’s tar sands—which are killing local indigenous communities.

Years of Harper’s rule have dropped his popularity, making an uncertain military intervention risky. Like the war in Afghanistan, he is using extensions to mask the duration, and euphemisms to mask its nature. As Thomas Walkom wrote, the government promise of no boots on the ground is “a curious pledge in that it left open the question of where exactly Canadian troops operating there will place their feet.” Like the early days in the lead up to the last Iraq War, the Liberals support Harper and the NDP is unsure. But like those days, this can change with popular pressure. The memory of the 2003 anti-war movement and the Arab Spring is not gone, and while there is currently confusion around Iraq there’s been a surge in solidarity with Palestinians and Indigenous communities here—which can reorient people to the imperial threat to Iraq.

Harper wants to bury the memory of Iraq, ignore the needs of refugees and find an outlet for tar sands and military spending—through a war that will further inflame the region and the climate. Instead Canada needs to
1. Stop supporting the latest war
2. Stop arming and supporting repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia
3. Stop the tar sands that fuel wars and devastate Indigenous communities
4. Support US Iraq War resisters and Canadian veterans healing from past wars
5. Support refugees access to status, healthcare, and good jobs

6. Divert the $490 billion in military spending into social, economic and ecological alternatives.