The Climate Movement’s Last Stand?
by Shamus Cooke, Counterpunch, October 17
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The COP’s ongoing failure is rooted in its composition, where a small group of rich nations — steered by the big corporations within their borders — have spoiled any climate progress for 30 years. In 1997 the “historic” Kyoto Accords (COP 3) eventually evolved into a precedent-setting failure, triggered by President Bush’s abandonment of the treaty in 2001.
The United States has been the biggest obstacle to COP progress, a shameful tradition that Biden seems dedicated to upholding. For example, Biden’s recent UN speech urged “strong” but vague action on climate change, though only months earlier he issued 2,500 new oil and gas drilling permits — including 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, making oil-obsessed George W. Bush look sheepish.
Thus Biden’s actions at the coming COP are likely to mimic Obama’s, who famously torpedoed COP 15 (Copenhagen) in 2009. Obama then mostly ignored subsequent COP conferences — another way of ensuring their failure — until COP 21, when he was applauded for the collaboration that became the Paris Accords.
But as the Parisian ink was drying, Obama signed a provision that unleashed a torrent of oil, removing the US oil export ban that helped dam-up oil and gas production. Consequently, the big banks that fuel the oil industry opened up their vaults and flooded trillions into Big Oil’s coffers — helping the US regain its gruesome title of #1 exporter of oil and gas, while making a mockery of Obama’s Paris “pledges.” When Trump pulled out of the Paris Accords he simply ended a farce.
For decades the UN’s COP process has been a series of political games and PR stunts, where rich nations greenwash their military and market competitiveness via the shallowest cooperation rooted in “joint statements” about fake pledges announced via platitude-ridden speeches.
Greta Thunberg was widely ignored when she denounced the COP conferences, reducing them as “opportunities for countries to negotiate loopholes” (big enough for the super-emitters to squirm through). The climate movement has mostly moved beyond the listless COP, using it as a reason to mobilize while expecting nothing substantive to emerge from it. The COP hasn’t been replaced completely only because the movement isn’t powerful enough, yet.
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Organizing for Transformative Economic Demands
To win a ‘just transition’ and/or revolutionary Green New Deal requires targeted death blows against the big polluters: oil, gas, coal, cement, transport, Big Ag, etc. — in an effort to pivot the economy swiftly towards climate justice.
The quickest and most effective way to tame the big polluters is nationalization — via either government investment or expropriation. This demand is still marginal in the US but its popularity is increasing, since it would enable major polluters to be swiftfully and planfully drawn down and/or retrofitted, while using the massive income from these industries to fund various climate goals — rather than have the profits continue to go to billionaire polluters.
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Successful Movements Mobilize Society
A key organizing weakness of the climate movement has been its [separatist] mindset — detached from other social movements and the broader working class. Rather than struggling against the establishment, many in the climate movement attempted to seduce it, since “climate affects all of us.” But not equally.
Those with more resources are less affected when disaster strikes. The wealthy believe that they will outlast the rest as the climate crisis deepens, eventually escaping to floating cities or even space (yet another reason to nationalize Amazon).
Nationalization, economic planning and other structural demands can be popularized by linking them to existing movement demands. Expropriating Wall Street, for example, can be linked to forgiving student, credit and housing debt — and to fund a socialist Green New Deal.
Peace must also be a key demand of the climate movement. Not only because the US war machine is a massive polluter and unaffordable, but because without international cooperation — especially with China — there can be no global climate progress. Peace is fortunately a populist demand with existing movement energy to connect with.
The climate movement could also engage the broader public by mimicking the “World People’s Conference on Climate Change” that brought social movements together last year in Bolivia, and that in 2010 created the Cochabamba Accords (the climate plan of the global south written in explicit opposition to COP 15).
A similar conference — or perhaps a series of mass meetings that act as emergency climate summits — could engage with US labor and community groups and help educate, organize and bring broader layers into the movement. These kinds of spaces have the ability to discuss and vote on platforms capable of mobilizing the public in the fight for the future.
A movement that focuses on climate change resilience also has the potential to engage the public in struggle: [insisting] that everyone has healthcare, safe housing, transportation, and other resources needed to survive not only the climate but the challenges of daily life.
The climate movement must make itself indispensable, now, to the needs of millions of people in order to build the power capable of winning the necessary, revolutionary demands needed to repel the beast of climate change currently breaking through global society’s front door. # # #