Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits


This issue is dedicated to Luke W. Cole (1962-2009). Founding co-editor of the journal Race Poverty & the Environment and founder of the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment.

Editor Emeritus
Carl Anthony

Juliet Ellis

B. Jesse Clarke

Design and Layout
B. Jesse Clarke

Editorial Assistance
Merula Furtado

Publishing Assistant
Christine Joy Ferrer

Copyediting and
Merula Furtado, Marcy Rein
Christine Joy Ferrer

Urban Habitat Board of Directors

Joe Brooks (Chair)

Romel Pascual (Vice-Chair)   
Mayor's Office, City of Los Angeles

Tamar Dorfman (Treasurer)
San Francisco Mayor's Office of
Community Development

Carl Anthony
Cofounder, Urban Habitat

Malo Andre Hutson

Department of City and Regional Planning
University of California,?Berkeley

Felicia Marcus
Natural Resources Defense Council

Arnold Perkins

Alameda Public Health Department (retired)

Deborah Johnson
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

Wade Crowfoot
Environmental Defense Fund

Organizations are listed
for identification purposes only.

Subscribe to RP&E
Annual subscriptions are $20 for groups and individuals;
$40 for institutions. (Free for grassroots groups upon request.) Send subscription checks to:
RP&E, 436 14th Street, #1205, Oakland, CA 94612.

Subscribe online at www.urbanhabitat.org

© 2009 by the individual creators and Urban Habitat.
For specific reprint information, queries or submissions, please email editor@urbanhabitat.org.

RP&E was first published in 1990 by Urban Habitat Program and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation’s Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. In the interest of dialogue, RP&E publishes diverse views. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the editors, Urban Habitat, or its funders.


Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

Contributor List RP&E 16-2

Carl Anthony
Joshua Arce
Eric Arnold
Kisasi Brooks
Adrienne Maree Brown
Cassandra Carmichael
Rebecca Carter
Noam Chomsky
Ellen Choy
B. Jesse Clarke
Wade Crowfoot
Sheila Davis
Gopal Dayaneni
Juliet Ellis
Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins
Orin Langelle
Christine Joy Ferrer
Marty Fujita
Tom Goldtooth
Margaret Gordon
Kathryn Goulding
Lisa Gray Garcia
Carol Harvey
Dana Harvey
J. Andrew Hoerner
Emily Kirsch
Donal Mahon
Tara Marchant
M. Mascarenhas-Swan
Leslie Moody
Tram Nguyen
Vu-Bang Nguyen
Mateo Nube
Ana Orozco
Francisca Porchas
Evelyn Rangel-Medina
Maryam Roberts
Nia Robinson
Carmen Rojas
Clifton Ross
Rachel Smolker
Mililani Trask
Mari Rose Taruc
Pam Tau Lee
Amy Vanderwarker
Al Weinrub
Sottolin Weng
Daphne Wysham

Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

From the Director's Desk

In 2006, Race, Poverty & the Environment co-published a special issue of the journal entitled “Getting Ready for Change: Green Economics and Climate Justice” with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. People like Van Jones and Majora Carter had just begun to talk of “green jobs” and to develop an inspiring vision of the green economy as a vehicle for achieving greater social equity.

Since then, many organizations have formed to advance this work. Legislation has passed at all levels, such as the federal Green Jobs Act, California’s landmark climate change bills (AB32 and SB375), and green building ordinances in local jurisdictions all over the country.

The current climate change landscape strongly resembles the state of transportation advocacy when I joined Urban Habitat in 2001. I remember being surprised then by the absence of organizations that represented those most impacted by poor transit policy and funding decisions—low-income communities and the transit dependent. Urban Habitat developed its transportation justice project to address this lack.

Our commitment to movement building grounded that work, as it does our current climate change strategy. At the state level, we will be coordinating with our allies throughout California to create a network of organizations working on climate justice. We aim to bring together organizations focused on ensuring that green jobs are available and accessible to low-income residents and communities of color; groups concerned about the environmental health implications of the growing solar industry; and those, like Urban Habitat, who are trying to influence the implementation of legislation such as AB32 and SB375. This network will provide a forum for like-minded organizations to share information and strategies, and the opportunity to exercise political and policy-making power withour having to be experts in all areas.

At the regional and local levels, Urban Habitat will also focus on implementation of SB375. We are studying the equity implications of elements of the legislation such as CEQA reform and pricing mechanisms. Utilizing our education and training program, we will develop learning opportunities that can help low-income communities of color engage effectively.

Urban Habitat Turns Twenty

In developing strategy for climate change work, Urban Habitat has two decades of experience in land-use, transportation, and planning to draw on. This year marks the organization’s twentieth anniversary, and we have a lot to be proud of. As one of the few social and environmental justice organizations working on a regional scale, we have been able to take on some of the larger decision-makers that perpetuate systemic and institutional racism. In this fight, our journal, Race, Poverty & the Environment, provides one of our most important tools for shining the light on disparities and promoting effective models for advancing equity. RP&E was started in 1990 in collaboration with our dear friend and ally, Luke Cole.

As many of you know, Luke was killed in a car accident this past summer. It was a huge shock to those of us who knew him and an enormous loss for the environmental justice movement. When people read the newspaper reports of Luke’s death, many people were surprised to learn that he was only 46 years old—not because he looked older, but because he accomplished so much during his lifetime. (See stories.)

In this issue of the journal we want to honor Luke’s contributions to the environmental and social justice movements. Luke did not need to experience injustice first-hand to join and often lead the fight. We are blessed to have had the opportunity to work with Luke on producing RP&E and we are committed to continuing his vision of a magazine that brings forward a framework for achieving racial and social justice.



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Carbon Fundamentalism vs. Climate Justice

Imagine waking up on December 1, 1999, and learning about the World Trade Organization (WTO) for the first time by watching it fall apart. The catalyst? An internationalist “inside-outside” strategy that leveraged people power on the outside to provide political space inside for the Global South and civil society organizations. (A note on the WTO.)

The potential for such a political moment is once again upon us, exactly 10 years after the collapse of the WTO in Seattle, Wash. This time, it’s the 15th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 7, 2009, for 12 days to forge a climate policy that will succeed the initial commitments set by the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. The goal is to substantially reduce atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses while addressing the consequences of climate disruption already underway. Global warming has already disproportionately impacted the small island states, coastal peoples, indigenous peoples, and the poor throughout the world, particularly in Africa.

As Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) observes, “In the U.S. and across the globe, the movement for climate justice has been steadily growing; not simply demanding action on climate, but demanding rights-based and justice-based action on climate that confronts false solutions, root causes of climate change, and amplifies the voices of those least responsible and most directly impacted. Not only are we the frontline of impacts, we are the frontline of survival....”

UNFCCC should not be thought of as being just about climate change, nor should climate change be thought of as simply setting targets for reducing atmospheric concentrations of carbon. These negotiations are about everything: international trade; forests; food and agriculture; the rights of the indigenous and forest peoples; resource privatization; international finance (private and public); development rights; oceans; rivers; technology; intellectual property; migration, displacement and refugees; and biodiversity, to name a few. The reduction of emissions is only one part of the negotiations.

The Framework Treaty itself mandates that we “protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” How we implement, calculate, and pay for it all is the heart of the matter.

The Battle of Seattle
At the third WTO Ministerial Conference in 1999, negotiations were stopped in their tracks by massive street protests outside the convention center and by concerted resistance from the governments of the Global South who were represented inside. The scale and breadth of the coalition against ever more inequitable trade agreements is a landmark in progressive organizing. Labor, environmentalists, faith-based organizations, and non-governmental groups of all sorts made common cause with the demands of the Global South. Despite six Ministerial discussions which have been organized since 1999, the WTO still has not been able to reach substantial new agreements and looks likely to miss its newest deadline in 2010.—Ed.

Inside the Outside
We all have a lot at stake. Ruling elites and corporations are exercising disproportionate pressure on climate policy both domestically and internationally to ensure that their interests—continued industrial exploitation of land and people in the service of growth and profit, and the commodification of atmospheric space through carbon trading—are preserved. Whereas, social movements like Via Campesina, Third World Network, the indigneous peoples’ movement, and international labor organizations, together with the African Union, a few Latin American countries, and the Association of Small Island States are working to create the political space for a rights-based, justice-based approach to ecological sustainability that addresses the historic causes of climate change and its disproportionate impacts.

In the United States, the Environmental Justice movement has given rise to the Climate Justice movement, which has fought to raise the voices of those communities least responsible but most severely impacted—viz., poor people of color and indigenous peoples—and demands a climate policy that redresses existing economic and environmental inequality. According to Nia Robinson, director of the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, “The successful creation of climate policy cannot happen without the input of communities that have suffered as a result of the United States’ fossil fuel addiction. Our government must begin to recognize these communities as experts or run the risk of creating policies that will do as much harm, if not more, than climate change itself.”

But Orin Langelle, co-director of the Global Justice Ecology Project believes that, "The Copenhagen climate talks have been hijacked. Copenhagen is becoming no more than a CorporateHaven for trade talks by corporations." The best we can hope for then is to stop some of the worst policies from taking hold and create the political space needed for social movements to pressure governments into responding to the needs of the people and the biosphere. If we can weaken the influence of corporations directly or through their proxy states, most notably the United States, we may be able to put the brakes on their attempted land, air, and water grab.

Carbon Fundamentalism: False Framing
The current focus on climate change provides an unprecedented opportunity to make much needed deep systemic alterations necessary to achieve greater equity, justice, and democracy as we weather the unavoidable transition. Unfortunately, the narrow focus on “carbon reduction” only serves to exacerbate the root causes of inequity.
Protest during the UNFCCC climate negotiations. © 2007 Anne Peterman GGJEP-GFCThe view that the problem is a technical one, which can be addressed through narrow technological or policy solutions, is a strategic construct of the center-right.

The dominant framin
g of the problem is that we must stabilize the amount of carbon in the atmosphere at 450 ppm, or more aggressively, at 350 ppm by 2050, to avoid a mean atmospheric temperature rise of 2° Celsius. Getting national governments to agree to such targets is considered better than nothing. Granted, the atmospheric carbon concentration levels are an indicator of the problem and must be addressed, but such a narrow framing hides the larger ecological context and the inequitable economic system that got us here.

The technical framing of popular films, such as “An Inconvenient Truth,” which detail the growth and consequences of atmospheric concentrations of carbon, including some doomsday predictions, only reveal the tip of the melting iceberg. Such films have been used to promote solutions that seem “practical” because they are politically “viable” and considered “reasonable” under the current system. In truth, many of these proposals—such as, the large-scale shifting of arable land use from food production to agro-fuel production, carbon trading regimes, and synthetic biology—have huge negative consequences for poverty, food security, water security, human rights, and biological and cultural diversity. Nor do they resolve the carbon problem.

As Anne Petermann of the Global Justice Ecology Project puts it, "Carbon Fundamentalism corrupts the science, ignores the interrelationships of the biosphere, and ignores human rights and equity by encouraging the continuation of over-production for over-consumption, entrenching the consolidation of profit and power."
Without a holistic, integrated approach to the ecological crisis that is grounded in science but predicated on justice and equity, we will simply shift the problem around, make it worse, and further compromise our survival.

    Tom Goldtooth - Voices for Climate Change
Tom Goldtooth

The climate bill, unfortunately, has been co-opted by the oil and coal industry. It’s a situation where we again have politics over science. And for our network and our constituency on the frontline of unsustainable energy policy, from Alaska to the tip of Argentina, to the indigenous people in Nigeria, it’s business as usual. We don’t see democracy in the process of decisions being made around climate policy, whether it’s domestically, like the Waxman-Markey bill, or globally. It’s business as usual. We had high hopes, and we still do, but it’s going to take the political will of the people, [not] discussions behind closed doors. That’s something that’s really a big concern for us here as American Indian and Alaska natives. Our communities and many of the people in America have been locked out of the process that’s happening between the big environmental organizations and big industry.

We are part of the 350 million indigenous peoples throughout the world. The [U.N. meetings concerning the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] mark the first time that 400 indigenous peoples came together from every region in the world to discuss the impacts of climate change.

We all agreed that we are at the frontlines with disproportionate impacts. There has to be a human rights framework to address this issue. We came out of this meeting in consensus: we’ve got to have aggressive emission targets. We agreed that we need to push the industrialized countries like America and Canada to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2020 using 1990 levels, and 95 to 100 percent by 2050. We have the technology to do that.

A well-financed and very powerful oil and coal industry is [in negotiations] with these large environmental organizations that don’t have constituencies. I think [support for the current climate bill] is a sellout position. I think the people of America are smarter than that. But America needs to have more understanding of where we’re at with climate change and what market-based solutions the government and corporations are developing.

Tom Goldtooth is the co-director of the Indigenous Environmental Network headquartered at Bemidji, Minnesota. This interview is excerpted from a transcript courtesy of Democracy Now. Photo courtesy of the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Dirt Behind the Clean Development Mechanism
One clear example of deliberate deception by the Industrialized North is the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) established at the first round of the Kyoto Protocol. It is a system created to manage carbon “offsets” and give polluters the appearance of reducing their overall carbon emissions by funding purported “low-carbon” development in the Global South. Under this scheme, the European Union, for example, can increase the number of cars on its road but balance its carbon budget by paying a developing country to protect its own forests or use more efficient energy technologies. Not surprisingly, opponents of the scheme call it, “trying to lose weight by paying someone else to go on a diet.”

David Victor, a Stanford University Law Professor who coauthored a study of the CDM reveals that, "Between one- and two-thirds of all CDM offsets do not represent actual emission cuts." Another study by the non-governmental organization International Rivers, shows that nearly three-quarters of all CDM-funded projects were already complete at the time of their approval, hence not dependent on the funding. According to Payal Parekh, an oceanographer and climate scientist who works with International Rivers, “Ultimately, you cannot really prove or disprove whether a project is truly ‘additional,’ because it requires one to know what would have happened [without the funding]. Without the aid of a fortune teller's crystal ball, this is simply impossible.”

Clearly, CDMs provide little, if any, protection for poor communities and communities of color impacted by existing dirty industry and destructive offsets. The narrowly focused “offsets” often finance such ecologically destructive projects as mega dams, plantation forests, and industrial agro-fuels—projects which invariably result in the displacement of peoples and a violation of their rights. Yet, CDMs represent one of the primary financing mechanisms advanced by the rich countries and corporations.

On the other hand, several peoples’ movements around the world and nations, such as Bolivia and the entire African Union, are calling for “Ecological Debt” as a fair financing mechanism for mitigation and adaptation. Ecological Debt is the debt owed by the Industrialized North to the Global South for the “historical and current resource-plundering, environmental degradation, and dumping of greenhouse gases and toxic wastes,” according to Acción Ecologica, an environmental rights organization based in Quito, Ecuador. It is a reparations approach favored by impacted nations, as opposed to the “offset and obfuscate” approach supported by the United States and the European Union.

As Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society in Durban frames it, there are basically two ways for the Global North to pay back the hard-hit Global South for the climate crisis: “Through complicated, corrupt, controversial [CDM] projects with plenty of damaging side effects to communities, or… through other mechanisms that must provide financing quickly, transparently, and decisively, to achieve genuine income compensation plus renewable energy to the masses.”

The Tipping Point
A recent poll by The Guardian of London revealed that almost nine out of 10 climate scientists do not believe political efforts to restrict global warming to 2° Celsius will succeed. “Given soaring carbon emissions and political constraints, an average rise of four to five degrees Celsius by the end of this century is more likely,” they say. Such a rise in temperature will almost certainly be catastrophic for life on this planet.

Additionally, a synthesis report on climate science issued in June this year warns that climate change will proceed faster than predicted over the next five years, and that we are running a very high risk of breaching some tipping points, including the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

The scale and pace of the crisis demands immediate, forceful, and systemic action. We must fully appreciate and understand that we are in the throes of a climate crisis and that change is inevitable. What matters most now is how that change occurs and who leads the transition. History teaches that when societies and economies go through major transitions, the balance of social forces is incredibly important. The degree to which our new future embodies equity, justice, and democracy as we move through these economic and ecologic changes depends entirely on how well we position popular social movements to take control of the transition.

Road to Copenhagen Paved with Opportunities
Copenhagen is a strategic opportunity to further build a trans-local movement that integrates ecological sustainability and economic justice and coordinates the power of social movements to build the capacity of communities to weather the transition. Beyond Copenhagen, we must set our sights on the United States Social Forum in Detroit in 2010.
We’ve already seen the West Coast climate action against Chevron link the local impacts of fossil fuels in Richmond, Calif. to the global impacts of climate change. The Mobilization for Climate Justice (www.actforclimatejustice.org) is a national coalition that has anchored several actions in recent months, including ones at the launch of the United Nations meeting in New York and the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh in September. It has actions planned to mark the 10th anniversary of the Seattle WTO.

Even as the United States Congress is poised to pass a climate bill that will commodify atmospheric space and give the worst industries the right to pollute, an explosion of local solutions are emerging across the country.
The time to act is now, while we still have room to breathe.

Gopal Dayaneni is on the planning committee of Movement Generation: Justice and Ecology Project and is a climate justice researcher for the Funders Network on Trade and Globalization. Active in movement organizing since the 1980s, he has worked with the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, the Design Action Collective, and Project Underground.

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Not only are we the frontline of impacts, we are the frontline of survival.

The Economics of Climate Change

By Noam Chomsky

Last June, a group of MIT scientists released the results of what they describe as the most comprehensive modeling of how much hotter the Earth’s climate will get in this century. It shows that “without rapid and massive action, the problem will be about twice as severe as previously estimated” a couple of years ago. It could be even worse than that because their model does not fully incorporate positive feedbacks that can occur, such as the melting of permafrost in the Arctic regions caused by the increased temperature. It will release huge amounts of methane, which is worse than carbon dioxide. 

“There’s no way the world can or should take these risks,” says the lead scientist on the project. “The least-cost option to lower the risk is to start now and steadily transform the global energy system over the coming decades to low or zero greenhouse gas-emitting technologies.”

At present there’s very little sign of that happening. Furthermore, while new technologies are essential, the problems go well beyond that. In fact, they go beyond the current technical debates in Congress about how to work out cap-and-trade devices. We have to face something more far-reaching—the need to reverse the huge state-corporate and social engineering projects of the post-Second World War period, which very consciously promoted an energy-wasting and environmentally destructive fossil fuel economy.

The Conspiracy that Shaped Our Economy
The state-corporate program began with a conspiracy by General Motors, Firestone Rubber, and Standard Oil of California to buy up and destroy efficient electric transportation systems in Los Angeles and dozens of other cities. They were actually convicted of criminal conspiracy but given a mere rap on the wrist with a $5,000 fine. The federal government then took over—relocating infrastructure and capital stock to suburban areas and creating a huge interstate highway system under the (usual) pretext of defense. Railroads were displaced by government-financed motor and air transport.

The public played almost no role, apart from choosing within the narrowly structured framework of options designed by state-corporate managers, who were supported by vast campaigns to “fabricate” consumers with “created wants,” to borrow a term from Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class.[1] These efforts grew out of the recognition—over a century ago—that democratic achievements have to be curtailed by shaping attitudes and beliefs towards the superficial things of life, such as fashionable consumption. It was necessary to ensure that the opulent minority are protected from the ignorant and meddlesome populace. A direct result was the atomization of society and the entrapment of isolated individuals with huge debts.

While state-corporate power was vigorously promoting the privatization of life and maximal waste of energy, it was also undermining the efficient choices that the market cannot or does not provide. To put it in concrete terms, if I want to get home from work in the evening, the market does allow me a choice between, a Ford and a Toyota, but it doesn’t allow me a choice between a car and a subway, which would be much more efficient. Even if everybody wants it—and that’s a social decision—the market doesn’t allow that choice. Now, in a democratic society, it would be the decision of an organized public, but that’s just what the elite attack on democracy seeks to undermine.

Retooling the Future: The D-I-Y Approach
The consequences of our state-corporate decisions are now before us in ways that are sometimes surreal. A couple of weeks ago, a Wall Street Journal article reported that the United States Transportation Secretary was in Spain to meet with high-speed rail suppliers. Europe’s engineering and rail companies are lining up for some potentially lucrative contracts for high-speed rail projects. At stake is $13 billion in stimulus funds that the Obama administration is allocating to upgrade existing rail lines and build new ones that would one day rival Europe’s.

Consider this: European countries are hoping to get United States taxpayer funding to build high-speed rail and related infrastructure, even as Washington is busy dismantling leading sectors of United States industry and in the process, ruining the lives and communities of workers who could easily do the work themselves. You couldn’t conjure up a more damning indictment of the economic system that’s been constructed by state-corporate managers.

Surely, the auto industry could be reconstructed and its highly skilled workforce used to produce what the country needs. It’s been done before. During World War II, we had a semi-command, government-organized economy. Industry was reconstructed for the purpose of war. It not only ended the Great Depression, it initiated the most spectacular period of growth in economic history. In just four years, industrial production just about quadrupled, laying the basis for the Golden Age that followed.

Warnings about the purposeful destruction of United States’ productive capacity have been made for decades. The late Seymour Melman[2] was among those who pointed the way to a sensible way to reverse the process. Even if the state-corporate leadership has different priorities, there’s no reason for passivity on the part of the public. With enough popular support, the so-called stakeholders—workers and community—could just take over the plants and carry out the task of reconstruction themselves.

One of the standard texts on corporations in economics literature points out that “Nowhere… is it written in stone that the short-term interests of corporate shareholders in the United States deserve a higher priority than… all other corporate stakeholders”—that is, the workers and community. In other words, state-corporate decisions are not determined by economic theory.

It’s also important to remind ourselves that the notion of workers’ control is as American as apple pie. In the early days of the Industrial Revolution, working people in New England just took it for granted that those who work in the mills should own them. They also regarded wage labor as being different from slavery, in that it was temporary—a view shared by Abraham Lincoln. There have been immense efforts to drive such thoughts out of people’s heads, to win what the business world calls “the everlasting battle for the minds of men.” On the surface, these efforts appear to have succeeded, but the ideas are latent in the American psyche and they can be revived.

For instance, about 30 years ago in Youngstown, Ohio, when United States Steel prepared to shut down a major facility that was at the heart of this steel town, there were substantial protests from the workforce and the community. There was an effort led by Staughton Lynd[3], albeit unsuccessful, to bring to the courts the principle that [worker and community] stakeholders should have the highest priority. With enough popular support, such efforts could succeed, and right now is a propitious time to revive those efforts. But first, it would be necessary to overcome the effects of the concentrated campaign to drive our own history and culture out of our minds.

Forgetting the Past
There was a very dramatic illustration of the success of this campaign just a few months ago. In February, President Obama went to Illinois to give a talk at a factory to show his solidarity with the working people. The factory he chose—over the strong objections of church groups, peace activists, and human rights groups—belonged to Caterpillar, a corporation known for its role in providing (what amount to) weapons of mass destruction to the Israeli occupied territories.

Apparently forgotten was Caterpillar’s decision in the 1980s—following Reagan’s dismantling of the air traffic controllers’ union—to rescind their labor contract with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and bring in scabs to break a strike. It was the first such occurrence in generations and a practice that was illegal in other industrial countries, apart from South Africa, at the time.

Obama was a civil rights lawyer in Chicago at that time and he certainly must have read the Chicago Tribune, which ran quite a good study of the events. They reported that the union was stunned to find that unemployed workers crossed the picket line with no remorse and Caterpillar workers found little moral support in their community. This is one of the many communities where the union had lifted the standard of living. Wiping out these memories is another victory in the relentless campaign to destroy workers’ rights and democracy, which is constantly waged by the business classes.
Unfortunately, even the union leadership failed to understand the campaign. It was only in 1978 that UAW president Doug Fraser recognized what was happening and criticized the leaders of the business community for waging a “one-sided class war… against working people, the unemployed, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old, and even many in the middle class of our society,” and for having “broken and discarded the fragile, unwritten compact previously existing during a period of growth and progress.”

In fact, placing one’s faith in a compact with owners and managers is a suicide pact. The UAW is discovering that right now, as the state-corporate leadership proceeds to eliminate the hard-fought gains of working people by dismantling the productive core of the economy, while at the same time, sending the Transportation Secretary to Spain for help—at taxpayer expense—to do what American workers could do themselves.

Strategies for a Functioning Democracy
The importance of short- and long-term strategies to build—in part, resurrect—the foundations of a functioning democratic society cannot be overstated. One vital short-term goal should be to revive a strong and independent labor movement. In its heyday, it was a critical base for advancing democracy and human and civil rights—the primary reason why it has been subjected to such unremitting attacks in policy and propaganda. Another immediate goal is to pressure Congress to permit organizing rights with the long promised Employee Free Choice Act legislation.

A longer-term goal is to win the educational and cultural battle that’s been waged with such bitterness in the one-sided class war. It means tearing down the enormous edifice of delusions about markets, free trade, and democracy that’s been assiduously constructed over many years, and to overcome the marginalization and atomization of the public.
Of all the crises that afflict us, the growing deficit of democracy may be the most severe and unless it is reversed, Arundhati Roy’s forecast might prove accurate in the not-so-distant future. The conversion of democracy to a performance in which the public are only spectators might very well lead inexorably to what she calls the “endgame for the human race.”

1.    First published in 1899, Theory of the Leisure Class was the first detailed critique of consumerism.
2.    Author of The Permanent War Economy and Pentagon Capitalism, Melman was a professor of industrial engineering and operations research at Columbia University, who wrote extensively on "economic conversion."
3.    The son of sociologists Robert Staughton Lynd and Helen Lynd, Lynd is a historian, professor, author, and lawyer who, during the 1960s and 70s earned a reputation as conscientious objector, tax resister, and civil rights activist.

Noam Chomsky is a linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, political activist, and author of over a hundred books. He is also professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This article is based on a transcript produced by Democracy Now! of a speech given by Chomsky at Riverside Church in New York on June 12, 2009 at an event sponsored by the Brecht Forum.

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State-corporate power [is] vigorously promoting the privatization of life and maximal waste of energy, it was also undermining the efficient choices that the market cannot or does not provide.

Resilient Cities: Building Community Control

Oil is the life-blood of globalization. Along with its sister coal, it has made industrial capitalism hum at a feverish pace for the past 200 years. Globalization is the force that is pushing our ecological and economic systems to the brink. Should we choose to stay the current course, the planet’s health will face some serious and catastrophic tipping points.

The most common face of the crisis is climate chaos, but this is only one of several interconnected and mutually reinforcing problems: Toxic waste poisons our land, air, and water; a shortage of fresh water has left growing numbers of humanity without access to clean potable water; a food and agriculture crisis has resulted from land being industrially consumed and depleted to produce export crops; biological and cultural diversity are facing extraordinary rates of extinction; and indigenous communities are facing cultural and physical genocide. It’s apparent that our addiction to fossil fuels and a fixation on market-based ‘economic growth’ have placed the planet’s life-systems in a precarious situation.

Adrienne Maree Brown - Voices for Climate JusticeAdrienne Maree Brown

What inspires you to work for change?
My number one inspiration right now is not an organization or a person or an event, it’s the city of Detroit. I first went there a couple of years ago to do organizational development, and later for direct action trainings with Detroit Summer, which was founded by Grace Lee Boggs and her partner Jimmy Boggs. Their key lesson is, ‘Transform yourself to transform the world. It’s time to grow our soul’s capacity to deal with the world we’re living in.’

The tangible solutions that are now coming out of Detroit blow my mind. It’s not just young folks getting excited about these ideas and trying to implement revolutions. It’s the 30- to 50-year-old black men coming out of prison or unemployed, gardening and farming. It’s not about getting a job and being a cog in someone else’s system. It’s about liberated work, where you are playing a useful role in your community. Interview continues...read more

“Reclaiming democratic control over our food and water and our ecological survival is the necessary project for our freedom,” says Vandana Shiva, the celebrated author and physicist. To meet this challenge we need a well prepared and forward-thinking social justice movement that can help envision and build a post-globalized world based on local living democracies—deeply rooted in a sense of ecological place and centered on meeting its residents’ needs in an equitable way. “A global economy which takes ecological limits into account must necessarily localize production to reduce wasting both natural resources and people,” she writes.[1]

Modern industrial society’s failure to recognize this has led us to an untenable situation. As journalist George Monbiot points out, “If our economy grows at three percent between now and 2040, we will consume in that period economic resources equivalent to all those consumed since humans first stood on two legs.”[2]

Critical Political Opportunity for Urban Centers
From a grassroots perspective, building community resilience and higher degrees of material self-sufficiency will be critical towards ensuring that communities of color weather coming ecological transitions. The basic needs of urban communities of color—such as access to potable water, healthy food, and mass transit—will otherwise be at stake in an era of heightened ecological stress.

“The key to truly addressing ecological crisis [is not] buying more hybrid cars but collective action towards systemic change,” says Claire Tran, the national organizer at Right To The City Alliance. “That’s what’s needed if we want to achieve community resilience in this period of ecological transition.”

A useful bellwether for the future of urban centers in the United States may be the current situation in Detroit, Mich. Responding to decades of deindustrialization, capital flight, and governmental neglect, an intergenerational grassroots movement known as Detroit Summer has taken self-reliance to heart and built a citywide network of over 700 community gardens. As legendary civil rights activist Grace Lee Boggs recently wrote, “Detroit’s local foods movement has been a catalyst in the [r]evolution that is rebirthing Detroit as a city of Hope… The city’s early devastation by deindustrialization provided us with the space to start anew… it challenged us to make a paradigm shift in our thinking about social justice.”[3]

This paradigm shift has intertwined the concepts of community control and sustainable agriculture and is crafting an innovative path for other urban communities of color to emulate across the country. Adrienne Maree Brown, director of the Ruckus Society points out that, “It’s not young, white activists doing the gardening in Detroit [but] 30-, 40-, 50-year old black men coming out of prison, who are gardening and farming. And it’s no longer about getting a job and being a cog in someone else’s system. It’s about liberated work where you are actually playing a useful role in your community… Out of necessity, people have started sharing food and thinking of food as a central way to be in community with each other.” (See interview below.)

A New Kind of Positive Regionalism
The creation of local community resilience will require us to have a reflective and responsive relationship to our ecosystem. We must first learn to read a place if we are to establish a sustainable relationship to it. In turn, the creation of such resiliency will hinge upon the establishment of democratic control over decisions that affect our daily life and the places we live in. The primary function of renewed local and regional place-based economies will be the shared, equitable management of common resources—namely air, water, land, food, energy and labor—for the benefit of all. But in order to re-position rights to shared resources, we must first decommodify the resources or, as in the case of the right to pollute the atmosphere, refuse to commodify at all.

So, the chief arenas of struggle for the implementation of climate justice will increasingly be local and regional zoning boards and land-use policies, regional transportation policies, and regional water boards, to name a few. Understanding and managing ‘regional’ foodsheds, watersheds, smart growth plans, and transportation plans are key to implementing a vision for urban racial justice that is rooted in ecological place.

In San Francisco, for example, a community organization called POWER (People Organizing to Win Employment Rights) has initiated a partnership with the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD)—the largest landholder in the city—to create community gardens, farmers markets, and flea markets on idle school district land. The use of these properties for free or at low cost supports community resiliency and self-reliance through the low-cost production of food and the creation of barter networks within the community. Such a collaboration also advances the concept of a public commons: idle land previously considered ‘private property’ and beyond the community’s control, is now treated as public property to be used for the common good.

Alicia Garza, the co-director of POWER, connects this campaign to a climate justice lens in the following way: “Community control has always been at the center of our political work as community organizers, but it’s become that much more important in this new period of global ecological transition… In this context, resilience—adapting to climate change from a grassroots perspective—must mean taking control of what this transition is going to look like in our communities. We are standing at the threshold of a new political moment.”

Community-Based Solutions
Building community food security and designing equitable, healthy regional “foodsheds” may mean different things to different regions as each has distinct watersheds, agricultural surroundings, climate patterns, as well as distinct power dynamics at play. But the concept of “community resiliency” opens up incredible opportunities for organizers to generate innovative strategies for linking our intrinsic rights to natural resources (that have been historically denied), to creative, participatory projects and campaigns that build community power. Done right, the process can dramatically lower carbon footprints at the local and regional level, rebuild the health of local and regional ecosystems, and institute new systems of governance rooted in equity, justice, and self-determination.
Furthermore, as we build our capacity for self-governance by asserting ourselves in existing political arenas where policy is set, we must also build the transcendent institutions that we will need to better manage our commons. Democratic worker cooperatives, urban food security projects, regional exchanges, local micro-lending systems, publicly run water management entities, decentralized energy systems—all of these will be necessary in a socially just post-carbon society.

As the examples from Detroit and San Francisco illustrate, elegant solutions are waiting for our implementation. “I feel extremely empowered and extremely hopeful with the emergence of these new movements shaping a new ecological paradigm and a new earth democracy,” says Vandana Shiva.

1.    Shiva, Vandana. Earth Democracy, South End Press, 2005, pg. 5.
2.    Monbiot, George, The Guardian, December 4, 2007.
3.    Boggs, Grace Lee. “Detroit's 'Quiet Revolution,’” The Nation, September 2009

Mateo Nube, the lead author of this article, is also the director of the Movement Generation (MG) Justice and Ecology Project, which provides in-depth analysis and information about the global ecological crisis and facilitates strategic planning for action among leading Bay Area organizers working for economic and racial justice in communities of color. www.movementgeneration.org.

Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

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Interview with Adrienne Maree Brown—Voices of Climate Justice

Adrienne Maree Brown - Voices for Climate JusticeVoices of Climate JusticeWhat inspires you to work for change?
My number one inspiration right now is not an organization or a person or an event, it’s the city of Detroit. I first went there a couple of years ago to do organizational development, and later for direct action trainings with Detroit Summer, which was founded by Grace Lee Boggs and her partner Jimmy Boggs. Their key lesson is, ‘Transform yourself to transform the world. It’s time to grow our soul’s capacity to deal with the world we’re living in.’

The tangible solutions that are now coming out of Detroit blow my mind. It’s not just young folks getting excited about these ideas and trying to implement revolutions. It’s the 30- to 50-year-old black men coming out of prison or unemployed, gardening and farming. It’s not about getting a job and being a cog in someone else’s system. It’s about liberated work, where you are playing a useful role in your community.

Watching “The Greening of Cuba” reminds me of Detroit. Detroit has had an economic crisis for decades. The auto companies have divested, now it’s this urban rural city. Detroit’s population is less than half what it was. Out of necessity, people have had to start community gardens and urban farming. Music and food are being used to organize people. Potlucks provide a communal place to talk about issues and eat together.

Detroit has the highest statistics in terms of crime, unemployment, and drop out rates. Those are the symptoms of an unhealthy society. Those negative aspects can create a real darkness and depression. But that darkness can be the womb from which our new societies are born, where we can create the world we want to see.

Detroit is full of ‘midwives.’ They say, ‘We’re birthing it. We have to do love. We have to transform ourselves.’ In all of our cities, we have to begin to live the world we want to see. Our actions have to be towards the world we want. We need to be guerilla gardening and turning people’s heat and water on. We need to be the guerillas putting up solar panels in the hood. That’s what Detroit has taught me, and what I’m trying to bring into my leadership in Ruckus.

How is Ruckus integrating climate justice with its work?
The over-arching vision of Ruckus is that all communities acheive self-determination and sustainability. We prioritize directly impacted communities—folks who are impacted by economic and environmental injustice and are angry about their situation. We help them determine how to strategically take action, so they can reorient themselves to the long-term vision of self- determination and sustainability.

People often try isolated organizing. It’s regular for a community group to tell us, ‘We really need help to stop this coal fire power plant from being built,’ or 'We need help to stop water contamination.’ But we have to start seeing isolated issues in the larger context of ecological justice for all. There are many false solutions out there. For example, carbon trading—a long-term, comprehensive lens shows that that's not a compromise we can make. We don’t want to perform an action as a compromise, or a reaction. We want action taken towards a real solution.

How are you organizing?
At Ruckus, we train people in nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience. All of the circumstances relating to the ecological crisis—waste and toxins, food and agriculture, water—are changing the quality of life for communities today. We provide training and support to groups facing these problems. And at our camps we often see folks working on several of those issues and learning together. From our work within the Indigenous People's Power Project, and now learning with Movement Generation, it's clear that those issues naturally intersect. They are all community resiliency issues. We prioritize communities with long-term visions to build community strength.
Detroit Community Garden
How does direct action fit into your view of how social movements make change?
As a non-negotiable component for success. Direct action is where escalation happens, where people can play an active role in advancing a negotiation, where we see and feel each other's solidarity. At its best, direct action is where we advance the frontline of our movement work by visualizing the change we seek. Direct action is how we first saw images of blacks and whites at lunch counters together in the south. Today, guerilla gardens are one example of a way to show that we know how to live more sustainably and we will push our leaders to catch up with us.

It's about framing the issue in a way that inspires people to act, not just react. I think the key need of our movements today is visionary voices and actors who are living a viable future and making it accessible to our communities.

What sort of organizing and consciousness raising do you see as crucial to building an effective international movement that is rooted in local concerns?
I think we need movements where folks practice what they preach. We need movements that aren't centered on what the powers that be can grant us, but rather on what we can build and practice together. We need urban-rural relationships that are based on shared water and food sources. We need movements that show that everyone must change—not just policies, or rich folks or poor folks or middle class folks.

What’s the difference between liberated work and green market economy?
The green jobs frame seems to be shifting people from low-income jobs that aren’t environmentally focused to jobs that are “sustainable.” It's great to train folks to install solar panels, but if those solar panels are not going to be in Bayview or West Oakland, if those solar panels are going to be in the wealthier parts of San Francisco, in Marin, and in places outside of their communities, what is really changing in the long run? The essential inequalities of a market-driven society aren't challenged.

Liberated work is when we are practicing solutions that benefit and liberate all communities. A 'green economy' doesn’t mean we are liberated from the concept of jobs where we toil for the benefit of others. Let us use our minds and our hearts and exist as human beings, not fit into someone’s assembly line and make things for the class above us. To be liberated is to be free to work for our own communities, to thrive, to be in symbiotic relationships based on our needs and our dreams.

In terms of sustainability, I don’t believe we can have a green future or any future, unless we understand that we have to change the power dynamics based on race, class, and gender. We have to invert the power structure. We must pour our resources and relations into those who are the most impacted and have the most need—that means our children, our elders, those who are sick and dying. They should become the recipients of our energy. That’s where our wisdom comes from; and our future. A truly sustainable society takes care of itself. You may be driving a Prius but if you don’t know how to talk to your family or connect with your community and land, it’s not going to be sustainable no matter how much you call it green.



Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

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