Thursday, October 25, 2007

Are there any convenient truths?

"But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination
Published Oct 22, 2007 12:12 AM

Will it really help save the planet from environmental ruin that former Vice President Al Gore has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?

That might seem like a strange question. So let’s ask another: Has it helped stop illegal and predatory imperialist wars that Jimmy Carter got the prize in 2002; that Yasser Arafat had to share it in 1994 with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin of Israel; that Nelson Mandela was awarded it jointly with F.W. de Klerk of apartheid South Africa in 1993; or that Le Duc Tho had to share it with Henry Kissinger in 1973?

If the Nobel Peace Prize has stood for anything, it is rehabilitating war makers who have finally decided to pull back from their bloody adventures after being forced to do so by the incredible heroism of mass struggle. The imperialist military is then free to rebuild itself in order to strike out again when political conditions are more favorable.

The awarding of peace prizes to both sides in these conflicts was meant to hide the truth: that a national liberation struggle for sovereignty and independence has nothing in common with an imperialist bloodbath for neocolonies, resources and cheap labor. It is the de Klerks, Kissingers and Carters who are rehabilitated by being associated in the popular mind with real heroes of the peoples’ resistance.

However, this time the recipients are not associated with any particular war—certainly not the all-out attack on Yugoslavia by the U.S. Air Force during the Clinton-Gore presidency and the dismembering of that socialist country.

Gore and the IPCC have been given the peace prize for their work in raising awareness about global warming.

It is certainly true that Gore’s book and popular film “An Inconvenient Truth” shook up a lot of people about the dangers of melting polar ice caps and glaciers, rising sea temperatures leading to more powerful hurricanes and typhoons, and the widespread and unpredictable effects on climate—including droughts as well as floods—that can result from the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Yet while Gore’s film painted the picture of a looming catastrophe for the planet and all its inhabitants, it had very little to say about how to stop it. Buy low-wattage light bulbs. Ride a bike to work or school. Invest in green industries.

Nevertheless, the extreme right wing in the U.S. is frothing at the mouth about him receiving the Nobel, as can be seen in the many on-line comments on this subject.

Gore, of course, is not a scientist. He is a politician who has taken up the issue of global warming since losing the presidential election to George W. Bush in 2000—even though he got a clear majority of the popular vote and there was undeniable exclusion of African-American voters that cost him the key state of Florida. But he didn’t put up a fight when a rightwing-dominated Supreme Court gave Bush the election.

So Gore, who happens to be an heir to a family fortune built on oil—his father was very close to Armand Hammer of Occidental Petroleum—found himself without a job.

From denial to cooptation

Two decades ago, the early reaction of the huge transnational corporations to the news of global warming, especially the ones related to energy, was to mount a well-financed campaign of denial. They feared being forced to cut back production—and lose profits.

In 1988, 300 scientists and policy makers from 48 countries met and issued the first call to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The next year, 50 oil, gas, coal, automobile and chemical manufacturing companies and their trade associations formed the Global Change Coalition. For a decade, the GCC lobbied politicians—a legal form of bribery—and placed “experts” in the media who pooh-poohed global warming.

The GCC disbanded in 2000, although its members would lobby the new Bush administration against signing the Kyoto Accords. State Department briefing papers obtained by Greenpeace showed the administration thanking executives of Exxon- Mobil, the world’s largest oil company valued at close to $400 billion, for the firm’s “active involvement” in helping determine the U.S. government’s climate change policy. (The Guardian, June 8, 2005)

But by the time Gore was looking for something to do, the evidence of climate change was undeniable. Big money had to change its tactic. It made the adjustment to “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

So-called green development is now a huge international industry. There are several ways capitalists can make money while supposedly putting a dent in global warming.

One is through the market for carbon credits. The Kyoto Accords put a “cap” on greenhouse gas emissions that is intended to modestly reduce them by 2012. The United States did not sign the accords but some state and local authorities have decided to regulate emissions. Wherever these “caps” exist in the world, polluting companies can legally exceed them if they buy carbon credits—the right to emit x amount of carbon dioxide. The credits are bought from other companies or even from countries which don’t exceed the imposed limits or which take an action—like planting trees—that sops up carbon dioxide from the air.

Generally, it is poor, developing countries that are being pressured to sell their credits—and forgo development—to polluting, richer countries.

Selling carbon credits now is a very, very big business.

The newly created Environmental Markets Network advocates for “market-based economic solutions to global environmental and climate issues.” In January it was announced that Jon Anda, a vice chairperson in charge of global capital markets at the investment banking firm of Morgan Stanley, was leaving his job there to become president of EMN.

A release from the new firm said that EMN would “focus on climate change legislation, where a cap on greenhouse gas emissions and a sound trading system offer a roadmap for economic growth and sound environmental policy.”

EMN is a spinoff of Environmental Defense, which in 2000 joined with a group of companies that had left the global-warming-denying GCC: Dupont, British Petroleum, Shell, Suncor, Alcan and Ontario Power Generation, as well as the French aluminum manufacturer Pechiney.

The board of directors of Environmental Defense has included executives from Morgan Stanley as well as the Pew Center for Global Climate Change—funded by the Pew family of Sun Oil fame, the Bush-connected Carlyle Group, Berkshire Partners and Carbon Investments. (“The Corporate Climate Coup,” ZNet, May 8)

This rush of the biggest and most polluting transnationals into setting up organizations that will supposedly save the world should give anyone with a progressive bone in their body pause.

‘Green finance’

The business publication Euromoney focused its September issue on “green finance,” interviewing “the thought-leaders at the world’s largest banks about their strategies to assist in—and benefit from—the challenge of climate change.”

Featured was an interview with Gore, who told the magazine, “Markets are the key to climate change.”

Gore had teamed up with Goldman Sachs executives David Blood, Peter Harris and Mark Ferguson to establish the London-based environment investment firm Generation Investment Management, with Gore and Blood (honestly!) at its helm. In May 2005, Gore, representing GIM, addressed the Institutional Investor Summit on Climate Risk and emphasized the need for investors to think in the long term and to integrate environmental issues into their equity analyses.

“I believe that integrating the issues relating to climate change into your analysis of what stocks are worth investing in, how much, and for how long, is simply good business,” Gore explained to the assembled investors. Applauding a decision to move in this direction, announced the day before by General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, Gore declared that, “We are here at an extraordinarily hopeful moment ... when the leaders in the business sector begin to make their moves.” (ZNet)

What Gore’s Nobel prize underscores is that the biggest banks and corporations have moved, and are now up to their eyeballs in schemes to make “green” money.

Many people, especially those saturated by the U.S. monoculture that touts capitalism as the best of all possible worlds, will say, “What’s wrong with that? If they make money while solving global warming, why should I worry?”

Let’s look at the track record of these corporations once again.

They said technological change would eliminate hard, dangerous jobs and make everyone middle class. Instead, it has enriched the wealthiest one-tenth of one percent of the population beyond their wildest dreams, while leaving poverty intact and festering and more workers in minimum-wage jobs.

They said we didn’t need socialized medicine, where everyone gets free health care like in Cuba, or even a single-payer plan like the ones in capitalist Europe. The market would take care of it. Now U.S. medical care is the most expensive in the world, 47 million people here have no coverage, and the owners of the pharmaceuticals, HMOs and medical supply companies are among that richest one-tenth of one percent. The United States ranks 41st in the world in women surviving their pregnancies while babies born in the U.S. are three times more likely to die in their first month than babies born in Japan. (Save the Children report, May 10)

They convinced millions of workers to buy homes with ballooning mortgage rates, saying they could always refinance as the market went up. The market went down and 2 million families face the loss of their homes this year.

They said nuclear power was going to provide cheap, limitless energy for everyone. It proved so dangerous and costly that the big money went back to coal and oil and left the radioactive mess behind for the government to clean up.

In all these cases, the rich get richer while the problems continue.

Now they’re saying that investing green will save the world from the pollution they have caused.

‘Climate change? Social change!’

While many of the well-funded, mainstream environmental groups have bought into the view that nothing can be done without cooperating with the profiteers, not everyone concerned about climate change takes that view.

Take, for instance, the Durban Group for Climate Justice, formed in South Africa. It describes itself as “an international network of independent organizations, individuals and people’s movements who reject the free market approach to climate change. We are committed to help build a global grassroots movement for climate justice, mobilize communities around the world and pledge our solidarity with people opposing carbon trading on the ground.”

An associated group, Global Justice Ecology Project, says that large-scale production of biofuels, carbon trading and carbon offset forestry are “false solutions to climate change.” On the production of biofuels, which divert food crops into fuel production and are one of the hottest items on the corporate agenda these days, it says: “The stage is now set for direct competition for grain between the 800 million people who own automobiles and the world’s 2 billion poorest people.”

And it quotes the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement: “The only goal [of biofuels] is to maintain current patterns of consumption in the First World and high rates of profit for multinational corporations.”

It is the poorest and most oppressed who are already suffering the most from climate change—be they in New Orleans and Mississippi or in African countries hit, paradoxically, by both record droughts and floods.

The slogan of the Durban group is “Climate change? Social change!”

That is the right track. To bring the planet back into balance again, the means of production must be liberated from the class whose personal profit has been the driving motive of technological change for several centuries now.

Science and technology are not to blame. It is the social system under which they have developed that has perverted technology from its original purpose: to solve humanity’s problems in the struggle to survive and flourish. Capitalism has been one headlong rush to produce more and more, create markets where none existed before, and even destroy other countries’ industries in order to profit from rebuilding them.

Gore can never oppose this system—he is an advocate for it and a son of the ruling class.

Grassroots groups that work with the landless, the hurricane survivors, the villagers fighting Occidental Petroleum in Colombia, and the hungry deprived of food by biofuel production may never get the money and publicity now flowing to Gore’s projects, but they are the true environmentalists. They will be an integral part of the growing class struggle for a socialist system that totally reorganizes modern life, building mass transit, not Hummers; schools, not bombs; and energy-saving housing, not estates for the rich.



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