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November 2012, Week 2

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Thu, 8 Nov 2012 22:15:01 -0500
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After Sandy - A Chance to Rebuild a Fairer Society - How Can
We Seize It?

Hurricane Sandy: Beware of America's Disaster Capitalists

    The aftermath of the storm offers a chance to rebuild
    a fairer society. How can we seize it?

by Naomi Klein

November 6, 2012
The Guardian (UK)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/06/hurricane-sandy-americas-disaster-capitalists

Less than three days after Sandy made landfall on the east
coast of the United States, Iain Murray of the Competitive
Enterprise Institute blamed New Yorkers' resistance to Big Box
stores for the misery they were about to endure. Writing on
Forbes.com, he explained that the city's refusal to embrace
Walmart will likely make the recovery much harder: "Mom-and-
pop stores simply can't do what big stores can in these
circumstances," he wrote. He also warned that if the pace of
reconstruction turned out to be sluggish (as it so often is)
then "pro-union rules such as the Davis-Bacon Act" would be to
blame, a reference to the statute that requires workers on
public works projects to be paid not the minimum wage, but the
prevailing wage in the region.

The same day, Frank Rapoport, a lawyer representing several
billion-dollar construction and real estate contractors,
jumped in to suggest that many of those public works projects
shouldn't be public at all. Instead, cash-strapped governments
should turn to public private partnerships, known as "P3s" in
the US. That means roads, bridges and tunnels being rebuilt by
private companies, which, for instance, could install tolls
and keep the profits. These deals aren't legal in New York or
New Jersey, but Rapoport believes that can change. "There were
some bridges that were washed out in New Jersey that need
structural replacement, and it's going to be very expensive,"
he told the Nation. "And so the government may well not have
the money to build it the right way. And that's when you turn
to a P3."

The prize for shameless disaster capitalism, however, surely
goes to rightwing economist Russell S Sobel, writing in a New
York Times online forum. Sobel suggested that, in hard-hit
areas, Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) should
create "free-trade zones - in which all normal regulations,
licensing and taxes [are] suspended". This corporate free-for-
all would, apparently, "better provide the goods and services
victims need".

Yes, that's right: this catastrophe, very likely created by
climate change - a crisis born of the colossal regulatory
failure to prevent corporations from treating the atmosphere
as their open sewer - is just one more opportunity for further
deregulation. And the fact that this storm has demonstrated
that poor and working-class people are far more vulnerable to
the climate crisis shows that this is clearly the right moment
to strip those people of what few labour protections they have
left, as well as to privatise the meagre public services
available to them. Most of all, when faced with an
extraordinarily costly crisis born of corporate greed, hand
out tax holidays to corporations.

The flurry of attempts to use Sandy's destructive power as a
cash grab is just the latest chapter in the very long story I
have called the The Shock Doctrine. And it is but the tiniest
glimpse into the ways large corporations are seeking to reap
enormous profits from climate chaos.

One example: between 2008 and 2010, at least 261 patents were
filed or issued relating to "climate-ready" crops - seeds
supposedly able to withstand extreme conditions such as
droughts and floods; of these patents close to 80% were
controlled by just six agribusiness giants, including Monsanto
and Syngenta. With history as our teacher, we know that small
farmers will go into debt trying to buy these new miracle
seeds, and that many will lose their land.

In November 2010, the Economist ran a climate change cover
story that provides a useful (if harrowing) blueprint for how
climate change could serve as the pretext for the last great
land grab, a final colonial clearing of the forests, farms and
coastlines by a handful of multinationals. The editors explain
that droughts and heat stress are such a threat to farmers
that only big players can survive the turmoil, and that
"abandoning the farm may be the way many farmers choose to
adapt". They had the same message for fisherfolk occupying
valuable ocean-front lands: wouldn't it be so much safer,
given rising seas and all, if they joined their fellow farmers
in the urban slums? "Protecting a single port city from floods
is easier than protecting a similar population spread out
along a coastline of fishing villages."

But, you might wonder, isn't there a joblessness problem in
most of these cities? Nothing a little "reform of labour
markets" and free trade can't fix. Besides, cities, they
explain, have "social strategies, formal or informal". I'm
pretty sure that means people whose "social strategies" used
to involve growing and catching their own food can now cling
to life by selling broken pens at intersections, or perhaps by
dealing drugs. What the informal social strategy should be
when superstorm winds howl through those precarious slums
remains unspoken.

For a long time, climate change was treated by
environmentalists as a great equaliser, the one issue that
affected everyone, rich or poor. They failed to account for
the myriad ways by which the super rich would protect
themselves from the less savory effects of the economic model
that made them so wealthy. In the past six years, we have seen
in the US the emergence of private fire fighters, hired by
insurance companies to offer a "concierge" service to their
wealthier clients, as well as the short-lived "HelpJet" - a
charter airline in Florida that offered five-star evacuation
services from hurricane zones. Now, post-Sandy, upmarket real
estate agents are predicting that back-up power generators
will be the new status symbol with the penthouse and mansion
set.

For some, it seems, climate change is imagined less as a clear
and present danger than as a kind of spa vacation; nothing
that the right combination of bespoke services and well-
curated accessories can't overcome. That, at least, was the
impression left by the Barneys New York's pre-Sandy sale -
which offered deals on sencha green tea, backgammon sets and
$500 throw blankets so its high-end customers could "settle in
with style".

So we know how the shock doctors are readying to exploit the
climate crisis, and we know from the past how that story ends.
But here is the real question: could this crisis present a
different kind of opportunity, one that disperses power into
the hands of the many rather than consolidating it the hands
of the few; one that radically expands the commons, rather
than auctions it off in pieces? In short, could Sandy be the
beginning of A People's Shock?

I think it can. As I outlined last year, there are changes we
can make that actually have a chance of getting our emissions
down to the level science demands. These include re-localising
our economies (so we are going to need those farmers where
they are); vastly expanding and reimagining the public sphere
to not just hold back the next storm but to prevent even worse
disruptions in the future; regulating the hell out of
corporations and reducing their poisonous political power; and
reinventing economics so it no longer defines success as the
endless expansion of consumption.

Just as the Great Depression and the second world war launched
movements that claimed as their proud legacies social safety
nets across the industrialised world, so climate change can be
a historic occasion to usher in the next great wave of
progressive change. Moreover, none of the anti-democratic
trickery I described in The Shock Doctrine is necessary to
advance this agenda. Far from seizing on the climate crisis to
push through unpopular policies, our task is to seize upon it
to demand a truly populist agenda.

The reconstruction from Sandy is a great place to start road
testing these ideas. Unlike the disaster capitalists who use
crisis to end-run democracy, a People's Recovery (as many from
the Occupy movement are already demanding) would call for new
democratic processes, including neighbourhood assemblies, to
decide how hard-hit communities should be rebuilt. The
overriding principle must be addressing the twin crises of
inequality and climate change at the same time. For starters,
that means reconstruction that doesn't just create jobs but
jobs that pay a living wage. It means not just more public
transit, but energy-efficient, affordable housing along those
transit lines. It also means not just more renewable power,
but democratic community control over those projects.

But at the same time as we ramp up alternatives, we need to
step up the fight against the forces actively making the
climate crisis worse. That means standing firm against the
continued expansion of the fossil fuel sector into new and
high-risk territories, whether through tar sands, fracking,
coal exports to China or Arctic drilling. It also means
recognising the limits of political pressure and going after
the fossil fuel companies directly, as we are doing at 350.org
with our "Do The Math" tour. These companies have shown that
they are willing to burn five times as much carbon as the most
conservative estimates say is compatible with a liveable
planet. We've done the maths, and we simply can't let them.

Either this crisis will become an opportunity for an
evolutionary leap, a holistic readjustment of our relationship
with the natural world. Or it will become an opportunity for
the biggest disaster capitalism free-for-all in human history,
leaving the world even more brutally cleaved between winners
and losers.

When I wrote The Shock Doctrine, I was documenting crimes of
the past. The good news is that this is a crime in progress;
it is still within our power to stop it. Let's make sure that,
this time, the good guys win.

[Naomi Klein is the award-winning author of the international
bestseller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies.]

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