This post was written by Leah Temper, coordinator and co-editor at EJAtlas, and originally appeared at The Guardian on March 3.
In 2012 protests erupted in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina over the demolition of a much beloved local park to build a business complex. A movement under the slogan “This Park is Ours” aimed originally at protecting the green space soon broadened into a collective movement aimed against corruption, lack of transparency, economic inequality and dwindling social services. Hundreds of protesters from all social classes and religions gathered daily in the endangered park, becoming part of a Bosnian spring that came to represent a struggle for human dignity and accountability under most articulated civic movement since the 1992-1995 war.
These struggles have sometimes toppled governments, such as the coup in Madagascar in 2008 that brought “land-grabbing” to global attention when Daewoo was given a lease to grow food and biofuels for export on half the country’s land. But most of the time, the evictions, forced relocations and the violent repression of those impacted by contamination from gold mines, oil extraction, plantations and agribusiness operations are rarely covered in the press. Ecological violence inflicted upon the poor is often not news but simply considered to be part of the costs of “business as usual.”
Naomi has begun a three-country European tour this week to launch the German, Spanish, Catalan, and French translations of This Changes Everything. And the response so far shows that the book is already changing the climate debate there, by giving a big boost to a discussion that Europeans have clearly been eager to have: what are the connections between capitalism and global warming? And what are the implications for how we tackle this crisis?
Consider the breadth of the audiences engaging with these questions in Germany, where Naomi’s interview got a mention on the cover of their edition of Harper’s Bazaar—obviously not a typical platform for rabble-rousing books about the need for economic system change.
But even more remarkable is the “world on fire” cover story recently published by Der Spiegel. The eminent, very mainstream German weekly—think Time magazine—not only did its own Q&A with Naomi, but also used TCE as a jumping-off point to explore the capitalism-and-climate debate in depth and from its own perspective. “Regardless of whether one finds her standpoint to be plausible, radical or beyond the pale, it is difficult to disagree with one of her points: Our reaction to climate change is inversely proportional to the dimension of the problem it presents,” the journalists wrote.
And climate change is being increasingly integrated into the fight against austerity in Europe: look no further than the huge Blockupy protests in Frankfurt on Wednesday, with up to 30,000 marching to the European Central Bank to stand against the disastrous response of international elites to the economic and ecological crises. Naomi spoke to an energized crowd, making the case for how “austerity and privatization policies are destabilizing the planet itself.”
Food production is responsible for a big chunk of global greenhouse gases, while climate change is already having a significant impact on food production. It’s also the site of struggle between a small handful of big agribusiness corporations seeking to shore up the control of global food production and distribution systems at the expense of small scale farmers who have been practicing agroecology and food sovereignty for generations. So it’s worth covering some of the basics to work out how we can articulate a progressive, just, and sustainable vision of agriculture ahead of the UN climate talks in December.
Today, six companies control 60% of the world’s commercial seed market, and ten fertilizer companies account for more than 40% of their global market. The largest four traders control around 90% of global grain, and five companies account for half of global coffee trade, with just three controlling almost 70% of the UK retail coffee market.
Reading This Changes Everything, I started asking a lot of new questions. A number of us in the British student movement campaigning against war and austerity were increasingly perturbed by the lack of concern about climate change among some of our peers, even though we knew that extreme weather is displacing more people than war now, and that the destruction of the planet’s life-support systems would make it impossible for progressive politics to fulfill its promises. I was frustrated when activists cautioned: “The welfare of pandas and ice caps is a middle class concern. You just can’t mobilize around it.” Particularly maddening was a rather bleak sense that they had a point.
While the British Left may have been on the back foot since Thatcher, things had reached new lows for us twenty-somethings; we’d grown up with the relentless, televised War on Terror, and a Great Recession that should have discredited free-market fundamentalism but instead was being used as a battering ram to destroy what was left of the British welfare state. We had been reduced to defending the last of the gains made by our grandparents, things once taken for granted: universal rights “from the cradle to the grave.” Climate change seemed like one too many fronts to be fighting on.
From Anchorage and the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast, the collapse in oil prices is being used as an excuse by right-wing governments to further gut social spending and shrink critical services for the poor.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Louisiana. To be sure, Louisiana’s Republican Governor Bobby Jindal was ransacking the public sector long before oil prices crashed. He enacted massive tax cuts soon after taking office in 2008, costing the state $1.8 billion over three years, with most of the benefits accruing to top earners while public services repeatedly get the ax to pay for the shortfall.
This transcript originally appeared at Common Dreams on February 6.
Common Dreams editor’s note: The following conversation between Naomi Klein and May Boeve took place as anonline webinar hosted by 350.org last week in advance of the upcomingGlobal Divestment Day(s), taking place on February 13 and 14, during which individuals and institutions from around the world will take action and urge others “do what is necessary for climate action by divesting from fossil fuels.” Joining the online talk were more than 2,000 people who were able to listen in and ask questions.
Naomi Klein: [The number of people on this call] is a powerful indication of the interest in this topic [and shows] the message that divestment is everywhere. Because there’s a sort of patchy quality to it: there are places where this is very much part of the public debate and then there are places where it’s just getting started. And by having a coordinated day of action it sends a really clear message that this is happening all over, that it’s spreading quicker than any movement I’ve ever witnessed, and that it’s just an exciting time. So thank you all for being here.
MB: So my first question, Naomi, is this: there’s a lot of talk right now in the news about falling oil prices. Can you speak to the role that falling oil prices play in energy and climate politics in particular, and what we should be thinking about in this moment?
Nature has a new opinion piece up that signals a bold new push for field experiments into techo hacking the climate system, usually known as “geoengineering.” Right now there are all kinds of geoengineering experiments going on in labs and with computer modeling but “outdoor tests” are still frowned upon.
The authors of the piece—fixtures on the “geo-clique” conference circuit—boldly call for these tests to go ahead even in the absence of any regulatory system governing them. They explicitly state that “governance and experimentation must co-evolve”—which is a high-minded way of saying: roll the dice and see what happens.
This post was written by Lauren McCauley, senior editor at Common Dreams, and originally appeared at Common Dreams on February 3.
In what may seem like an unlikely alliance, environmental groups are throwing their full support behind oil industry workers who on Sunday announced a widespread work stoppage over complaints that Big Oil companies “value production and profit over health and safety.”
The strike, which marks the largest national strike of oil workers since 1980, was called by the United Steelworkers Union (USW) after negotiations with Royal Dutch Shell, which is leading the industry-wide bargaining effort, broke down.
Like terminally ill patients, whole populations are asked to suffer without end, just so that their economies score a few extra decimals in the GDP scale, to sustain the profits of the 1%.
In theory, growth is needed to pay off debts, create new jobs, or increase the incomes of the poor. In practice, we have had decades of growth, yet we are still indebted, with our youth unemployed and poverty as high as ever. We were indebted to grow and now we are forced to grow to pay off debts.
On a week-long trip to the UK last fall, I was struck by how quickly the push to open up the country to fracking has been escalating. Thankfully, activists are mounting a vigorous and creative response, and are more than up to the task of galvanizing the public to put a stop to this mad dash to extract.
That is not to say it will be easy. In rushing to exploit the UK’s shale gas reserves, the industry has spent millions on public relations and brazenly overridden the democratic will of British citizens by overturning laws that had prevented drilling under homes. The coalition government, meanwhile, has done the sector’s bidding at every turn.
“In dozens of nations around the world, market mechanisms are being celebrated as a way to address climate change,” he writes. “And in Australia for example, the loss of the carbon price is being mourned as a massive step backwards. But carbon tax or no carbon tax, scientists & activists clearly state that the systems that got us into this mess are not systems that are cut out to save us from the onslaught of climate change.”
Don’t miss “In Your Wildest Schemes,” which boasts a colorful cast of characters (including an appearance by Naomi!) and a range of inspiring activist and Indigenous voices, and covers everything from disturbing geoengineering experiments to the rights of nature enshrined in the Bolivian constitution. You can check out more of Sam’s work here.
This post was written by Jon Queally, senior editor and staff writer at Common Dreams, and originally appeared at Common Dreams on January 16.
Humanity’s rapacious growth and accelerated energy needs over the last generation—particularly fed by an economic system that demands increasing levels of consumption and inputs of natural resources—are fast driving planetary systems towards their breaking point, according to a new pair of related studies.
Prepared by researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the first study looks specifically at how “four of nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed as a result of human activity.” Published in the journal Nature on Thursday, the 18 researchers involved with compiling evidence for the report—titled “Planetary Boundaries 2.0“—found that when it comes to climate change, species extinction and biodiversity loss, deforestation and other land-system changes, and altered biogeochemical cycles (such as changes to how key organic compounds like phosphorus and nitrogen are operating in the environment), the degradation that has already take place is driving the Earth System, as a whole, into a new state of imbalance.
The UK is edging closer to blackouts, with unplanned outages leaving National Grid struggling to meet the levels of spare electricity capacity required by government. And with an estimated 7 million people living in fuel poverty in Britain, households are struggling to pay extortionate fuel bills from the “Big Six” energy companies that dominate the market. However, small co-ops are showing how we can build a sustainable and affordable energy future. From Scotland to Spain, communities are taking back control of their energy to provide renewable power and create local jobs.
“The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” – J.G. Ballard
The climate crisis often presents us with postcards from our possible futures. In a brilliant investigation last October for BuzzFeed, Amanda Chicago Lewis told the story of prisoners in California who are being used to combat the out-of-control wildfires that have gripped the state over the course of the last year, and paid a fraction of the minimum wage. Lewis tells the story of Demetrius Barr, a nonviolent drug offender who expresses complex emotions about his circumstances. On the one hand, he describes the firefighting work as a chance to escape the dehumanizing confinement and restricted motion of an indoor prison. On the other hand, he was earning less than $2.00 a day and compared the exploitative economics of his situation to slavery (a comparison, Lewis notes, that is common among prisoners working in the California brush).
Reading this account, I was uncomfortably reminded of my visit to Louisiana in the summer of 2010, when I was preparing an article on the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion. Near the shore, the humid southern air was completely saturated with the smell of oil. Rows of sweaty, unsmiling workers in identical uniforms—who were nearly all Black, as far as I could see—were laying down barriers along the shoreline, resembling the barracks of an ecological trench war. They were sub-sub-subcontractors who had been hired to clean up the spill, recruited from parish prisons and for-profit incarceration centers across the state.
When Alexandru Popescu walked out of his Romanian hometown of Ploieşti, on August 30th, his 84-year old father thought he was crazy. The 46-year-old antiquarian had done some odd things before, like growing organic food on a plot outside the city, or throwing in his lot with activists fighting cyanide-polluting gold mining. But his latest plan was beyond comprehension to his dad. On November 25th, he arrived in Brussels with swollen knees and fewer toenails, wearing a T-shirt bearing the words “No to Cyanide and Fracking.” He had walked 2,900 kilometers to deliver that message to EU policymakers—and by the end of his journey, his father was as proud as a father can be.
Alexandru’s story is part of a much larger one: the spaces of nonviolent resistance to fossil fuel and mineral extraction that are spreading like wildfire around the world. Many of them have been documented by the global atlas of environmental justice created by EJOLT, a research project to catalogue and analyze ecological conflicts.
Movements practicing direct action have already won fracking bans in France and Bulgaria, and most recently in New York State. In many other places they have delayed drilling, and resistance continues to grow across Europe. But with the new European Commission now essentially copying and pasting from the wish list of industry lobby group Business Europe in what may be the largest attack on environmental legislation in EU history, the heat is certainly on.
Naomi delivered this speech on December 18 at The Opera House in Toronto, at a special production of the Basement Revue to honour Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women.
Listen to an audio recording of Naomi’s reading here, with live musical accompaniment from Cris Derksen.
On July 20, 2013, Bella Laboucan-McLean fell 31 stories off the balcony of a condo tower in downtown Toronto. She had been at a small gathering inside one of the building’s many glass boxes. There were five other people in the condo that night.
A resident of a lower-floor heard the sound of her body falling and alerted the police.
Bella was twenty-five years old, Cree from Northern Alberta.
The following statement on the UN climate conference in Lima, Peru was released by environmental and economic justice groups (full list below) on December 14.
The world faces a planetary emergency: climate change, caused by a system that puts the pursuit of profit above the needs of people and the limits of nature. It is already devastating millions of people across the planet. Climate science predicts we will soon breach critical tipping points and could be locked in to 4-5°C of warming with catastrophic impacts for us all.
The annual United Nations climate summit is wrapping up in in Lima, Peru and on its penultimate day, something historic happened. No, not the empty promises from powerful governments to finally get serious about climate action—starting in 2020 or 2030 or any time other than right now. The historic event was the decision of the climate justice movement to symbolically join the increasingly global #BlackLivesMatter uprising, staging a “die in” outside the convention center much like the ones that have brought shopping malls and busy intersections to a standstill, from the US to the UK.
“I have no theological objection” to nuclear power, said Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott this week. He was responding to his Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s renewed push for the right’s favourite techno-fix, which she launched just before heading to Lima to continue the government’s wrecking-ball approach to climate action.
Abbott’s choice of words is fascinating. On the face of it, he is seeking to suggest that opposing nuclear power is a faith-based, rather than rational, view. Given that nuclear power has been shown repeatedly to be too slow, too costly and too risky to work as a climate solution (see, for instance, here and here), nothing could be further from the truth. It is, in fact, the right’s consistent promotion of nuclear that is underpinned by several right wing articles of faith. It’s worth unpacking this credo, because it reveals what’s really going on when nuclear power is raised.
This post was written by Alleen Brown, journalist and Assistant Research Editor at The Intercept, and originally appeared at The Intercept on December 3.
The news broke quietly in the Danish press the Saturday before the U.S. midterm elections last month: according to documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, a spy from Britain’s most secretive intelligence agency, GCHQ, went disguised as a UK delegate to the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, and another was deployed to the UN’s Cancun climate talks in 2010. This followed news last winter that the NSA also spied on the Copenhagen negotiations.
As climate talks pick up again this week, this time in Lima, Peru, a number of negotiators and observers have shrugged off the reports of espionage. Although Secretary General Ban Ki-moon initially hinted that the UN would launch an investigation into British spying, a spokesperson has refused to confirm that any formal inquiry exists.
It would be hard to invent a more destructive ritual of national self-punishment. Year after year, we hand oil companies gigantic tracts of pristine land. They skin them of entire ecosystems. They vacuum billions of dollars out of the country. Their oversized power, sunk into lobbying and litigation, upends government law-making.
And Canada’s return? The exploitation of the tar sands provides just two percent of our GDP. It has gutted manufacturing jobs and made a mockery of our emissions targets. And now that oil prices are crashing—as resource commodities predictably do—it is putting a vicious squeeze on government spending.
Note: This letter will be published in the next issue of the New York Review of Books, as well as a response by Kolbert. The letter is followed here by a short additional note and update, addressing Kolbert’s reply.