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PORTSIDE  January 2011, Week 4

PORTSIDE January 2011, Week 4

Subject:

Climate Protection Strategy in the 2010s

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Date:

Fri, 28 Jan 2011 21:18:24 -0500

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Beyond Business-as-Usual: Climate Protection Strategy
in the 2010s

by Jeremy Brecher
Prepared for the Labor Network for Sustainability
published by Portside
January 28, 2011

[Author's note: With the defeat of US climate
legislation, the stalling of international climate
negotiations, and the rise of tea party climate
denialism, is climate protection doomed? This piece
presents a strategy designed to win popular support and
make countries compete to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
It was prepared for the Labor Network for
Sustainability by Jeremy Brecher to help frame the
debate on where the climate protection movement goes
from here. For a fuller version, see Climate
Protection Strategy: Beyond Business-as-Usual
http://www.labor4sustainability.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/lns_climate_protection_strategy.pdf> .]

2010 was a rough year for those struggling to address
the climate crisis. The long-anticipated Copenhagen
climate change summit broke down in wrangling and
discord. The US Congress abandoned efforts to pass
climate legislation. A well-financed effort to deny
global warming and block any restriction on fossil
fuels seemed to be developing a powerful popular base.

Meanwhile, scientists reported that global temperatures
in 2010 were among the hottest since records began a
century ago. An ice sheet four times the size of
Manhattan broke off the Arctic ice pack. Los Angeles
saw its hottest day in history.

What is needed over the coming few years to reduce
carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions to the level
scientists say are necessary to preserve life as we
know it on earth?

A global movement

The failure of climate protection reflects the primacy
of short-term competitive self-interest by nations and
corporations. These institutions are not designed or
structured to pursue any wider human or global
interest. And their time horizon is determined not by
the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren but by
the next election cycle or quarterly report. To their
leaders, sustainability means getting through the next
couple of years without loss of elections or profits.
Climate protection advocates have looked to those
leaders to follow their personal and institutional
self-interest in protecting the climate -- and been
sorely disappointed.

The ingredient that has been missing until recently is
an independent global movement of people working
together across all boundaries to secure the long-term
global interest in saving the earth’s climate.

Creating such a movement may seem a hopeless task. But
in the past, the failure of established institutions to
solve problems has often led to the emergence of
movements demanding radical change. Betrayed government
promises for racial equality and nuclear disarmament,
for example, helped spawn national and global civil
rights, ban-the-bomb, and student movements in the
1960s.

Such a movement is in fact emerging today. It is seen
in the 10/10/10 Global Work Party and Day of Climate
Action, the massive actions of young people manifested
by the global 350.org activities, the civil society
actions at Copenhagen and Cancun, and the global
network of climate protection advocacy organizations.
While recognizing the many specific interests that will
be affected by climate change and climate protection,
that movement is based first and foremost on solidarity
with all of humanity and solidarity with future
generations.

A global race to cut greenhouse gasses

A core strategic objective for climate protection
should be to foment a competition among countries and
corporations to radically reduce their ghg emissions.
The movement against nuclear weapons and testing
provides a significant parallel. Its effectiveness is
recounted at length in the magisterial three-volume
history The Struggle Against the Bomb by Lawrence
Wittner. According to Wittner,

Most government officials -- and particularly those of
the major powers -- had no intention of adopting
nuclear arms control and disarmament policies. Instead,
they grudgingly accepted such policies thanks to the
emergence of popular pressure. . . Confronted by a vast
wave of popular resistance, they concluded,
reluctantly, that compromise had become the price of
political survival. Consequently they began to adapt
their rhetoric and policies to the movement’s program.

The "ban the bomb" movement demanded more of cold war
rivals than lip service or courtship. It demanded --
from all sides -- unilateral initiatives for peace, an
end to nuclear testing, a halt to the arms buildup, and
binding disarmament agreements. As Wittner massively
documents, the international movement and world public
opinion forced rival nations and blocs to accept the
nuclear test ban treaty, détente, arms control, and the
unacceptability of using nuclear weapons.

While some peace movements were primarily aligned with
East or West, it was the existence of a nonaligned
peace movement that provided the crucial ingredient for
the "peace race." The nonaligned movement could call
the shots as it saw them, criticizing or praising each
country on the basis of its actual performance. That
created, in effect, a bidding war over who would do the
most for peace. The global movement for climate
protection can foment the same dynamic -- making
countries and corporations compete to prove who is
actually walking the walk of reducing carbon and other
greenhouse gasses.

The economics of climate protection

The major proposed means for greenhouse gas reduction
has been to "put a price on carbon," either through a
cap-and-trade system or such variants as a cap-and-
dividend system or a carbon tax. Such market-based
strategies are necessary but not sufficient.

According to the British government's Stern report, the
greatest market failure of all history is the
destruction of the planet by greenhouse gases. While
current "cap and trade" programs attempt to create a
market solution to this problem by creating a market to
buy and sell pollution permits, we cannot wait for the
market to fix the market.

We must reconstruct society on a low ghg basis
regardless of whether or not it is profitable to do so.
We need to create a rapidly growing "green" sector in
which production is based on social necessity -
specifically, for climate protection - not just for
profit.

This doesn’t necessarily mean a classic "command
economy." Markets and systems of decentralized
cooperatives can be part of the mix. It’s not an
ideological question: We can use price mechanisms as a
technical device for efficient allocation once basic
social priorities have been set. But the price
mechanisms must not override the basic social decision
to reconstruct society on a low-carbon emission basis.
Where the market won’t implement that transformation,
public planning, regulation, and investment must do so.

Wartime mobilization provides an analogy. We don’t
expect an army to make a profit. It has other
responsibilities and requires other means of support.
During World War II, for example, public policy
mandated the production that was necessary: tanks and
airplanes. Money, factories, labor, and other resources
were redirected to that purpose. Tens of millions of
unemployed and underemployed workers were trained and
put to work producing what the war effort required.
(The campaign for such a program was first popularized
by UAW president Walter Reuther’s pamphlet 500 planes a
day: A program for the utilization of the automobile
industry for mass production of defense planes.)

At the same time, public policy forbade much production
that was unnecessary; as a popular song about wartime
mobilization put it, "put those plans for pleasure cars
away." Today's equivalent would be mandated annual
reductions in carbon-emitting production and
consumption, combined with employment of all available
people and resources for economic transformation.

The recent success of the Chinese economy, and
specifically its spectacular success in expanding green
industries, is similarly based on establishing social
priorities, expanding public investment and training,
and shutting down industries that pollute or waste
resources needed to combat pollution.

Global warming and the global economy

The climate crisis is escalating in the context of the
deepest global economic crisis in eighty years. This
crisis reflects the failure of globalization and
neoliberalism and will likely over time produce a
search for alternatives. The climate movement should
take advantage of this context to pursue solutions that
go beyond prevailing economic assumptions.

The defeat of climate protection has resulted in large
part from a view of the world as a geopolitical and
economic competition among rival nations and
corporations. Copenhagen foundered in good part on how
the economic costs and benefits of climate protection
would be borne by different countries and their
economic institutions.

In the face of the breakdown of international climate
cooperation, the more highly planned and regulated
economy of China is allocating massive public resources
to developing a "green energy economy" and, in the
context of global competition, is literally wiping out
the solar and wind power industries in the US. This is
being met by appeals by US labor and others to punish
the Chinese under WTO rules for encouraging climate
protection. Why not instead compete with the Chinese to
see who can provide the most effective subsidies for
climate protection?

What is needed is neither escalating trade wars nor the
free-trade utopia of neoliberalism. Instead, we need to
implement a strategy of mutually managed trade that
encourages all countries to develop their climate
protection industries and technologies as rapidly as
possible, while allowing the benefits to be shared in a
way that protects both developing countries and workers
in developed countries -- not to mention the planet as
a whole.

A framework for such an approach has often been
characterized as a "Global Green New Deal." The
International Trade Union Confederation [ITUC], which
represents 176 million workers in 151 countries, has
worked with the UN to develop a strategy for utilizing
the current crisis to reconstruct a greener and more
just global economy.

This approach has been endorsed by UN Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon, who has called for "an investment that
fights climate change, creates millions of green jobs
and spurs green growth." He says that what the world
needs, in short, is a "Green New Deal."

In the depths of the Great Depression, US President
Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the New Deal -- a set of
government programs to provide employment and social
security, reform tax policies and business practices,
stimulate the economy, and restore a devastated
national environment. It included not only the building
of homes, hospitals, school, roads, dams, electrical
grids, but massive programs in forest conservation,
land preservation, and environmentally-protective
agricultural policies. The New Deal put millions of
people to work and created a new policy framework for
America democracy.

The United Nation Environment Program (UNEP) and the
ITUC developed the Green Economy Initiative, which
advocates "mobilizing and re-focusing the global
economy towards investments in clean technologies and
‘natural’ infrastructure such as forests and soils."
According to UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, the
financial, fuel, and food crises result in part from
"speculation and a failure of governments to
intelligently manage and focus markets." Enormous
economic, social and environmental benefits are likely
to arise from "combating climate change and re-
investing in natural infrastructures -- benefits
ranging from new green jobs in clean tech and clean
energy businesses up to ones in sustainable agriculture
and conservation-based enterprises."

According to UNEP, the objectives of a "Global Green
New Deal" should be to create jobs and restore the
financial system and global economy to health; to put
the post-crisis economy on a sustainable path that
deals with ecological scarcity and climate instability;
and to put an end extreme poverty. It spells out
investments and policy reforms to achieve these goals.

The world labor movement emphasizes that addressing
both the problem of climate change and the problem of
economic decline require government leadership and
cooperation among governments. As the ITUC’s statement
to the Copenhagen climate conference put it,

Economic transformation can not be left to the
"invisible hand" of the market. Government-driven
investments, innovation and skills development, social
protection and consultation with social partners
(unions and employers) are essential if we want to make
change happen.

As the Stern Review reminds us, climate change
represents the biggest market failure in history. We
cannot trust the same failed market mechanisms to
successfully steer out of this crisis. The problem has
to be solved through regulation, democratically-decided
and implemented public policies and most importantly
political leadership.

Until both labor and climate protection movements start
to take on the shibboleths of neoliberalism, we face
more of the same only worse.

What is needed

The failure of the Cancun talks to cut greenhouse
gasses, and the abandonment of climate legislation in
the US Congress, indicate that a new course for climate
protection is necessary. It requires a global climate
movement that is independent of nations and
corporations and therefore able to make them compete in
a global race to cut carbon and other greenhouse
gasses. And it requires the transcendence of
neoliberalism by a new global economic regime that
makes human sustainability a higher priority than the
short-term interests of any country or corporation.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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