"Maybe it’s all Karl Marx’s fault. (All that cussing.) Capitalism, he said, “has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, that it is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells”.
"Capitalism is in crisis. The international financial meltdown is closing in. The two old tricks that dug it out of past crises—War and Shopping—simply will not work"
"It is only now, thanks to the Occupy Movement, that another language has appeared on US streets and campuses. To see students with banners that say ‘Class War’...is.. almost a revolution in itself"
Is it a house or a home? A temple to the new India, or a warehouse for its ghosts? Ever since Antilla arrived on Altamont Road in Mumbai, exuding mystery and quiet menace, things have not been the same. “Here we are,” the friend who took me there said, “Pay your respects to our new Ruler.”
Antilla belongs to India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani. I had read about this most expensive dwelling ever built, the twenty-seven floors, three helipads, nine lifts, hanging gardens, ballrooms, weather rooms, gymnasiums, six floors of parking, and the six hundred servants. Nothing had prepared me for the vertical lawn—a soaring, 27-storey-high wall of grass attached to a vast metal grid. The grass was dry in patches; bits had fallen off in neat rectangles. Clearly, Trickledown hadn’t worked. But Gush-Up certainly has. That’s why in a nation of 1.2 billion, India’s 100 richest people own assets equivalent to one-fourth of the GDP.
Antilla the Hun Mukesh Ambani’s 27-storey home on Altamont Road. Its bright lights, say the neighbours, have stolen the night.
The word on the street (and in the New York Times) is, or at least was, that after all that effort and gardening, the Ambanis don’t live in Antilla. No one knows for sure. People still whisper about ghosts and bad luck, Vaastu and Feng Shui. Maybe it’s all Karl Marx’s fault. (All that cussing.) Capitalism, he said, “has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, that it is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells”.
In India, the 300 million of us who belong to the new, post-IMF “reforms” middle class—the market—live side by side with spirits of the nether world, the poltergeists of dead rivers, dry wells, bald mountains and denuded forests; the ghosts of 2,50,000 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and of the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us. And who survive on less than twenty rupees a day.
Mukesh Ambani is personally worth $20 billion. He holds a majority controlling share in Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), a company with a market capitalisation of $47 billion and global business interests that include petrochemicals, oil, natural gas, polyester fibre, Special Economic Zones, fresh food retail, high schools, life sciences research and stem cell storage services. RIL recently bought 95 per cent shares in Infotel, a TV consortium that controls 27 TV news and entertainment channels, including CNN-IBN, IBN Live, CNBC, IBN Lokmat, and ETV in almost every regional language. Infotel owns the only nationwide licence for 4G Broadband, a high-speed “information pipeline” which, if the technology works, could be the future of information exchange. Mr Ambani also owns a cricket team.
RIL is one of a handful of corporations that run India. Some of the others are the Tatas, Jindals, Vedanta, Mittals, Infosys, Essar and the other Reliance (ADAG), owned by Mukesh’s brother Anil. Their race for growth has spilled across Europe, Central Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their nets are cast wide; they are visible and invisible, over-ground as well as underground. The Tatas, for example, run more than 100 companies in 80 countries. They are one of India’s oldest and largest private sector power companies. They own mines, gas fields, steel plants, telephone, cable TV and broadband networks, and run whole townships. They manufacture cars and trucks, own the Taj Hotel chain, Jaguar, Land Rover, Daewoo, Tetley Tea, a publishing company, a chain of bookstores, a major brand of iodised salt and the cosmetics giant Lakme. Their advertising tagline could easily be: You Can’t Live Without Us.
According to the rules of the Gush-Up Gospel, the more you have, the more you can have.
The era of the Privatisation of Everything has made the Indian economy one of the fastest growing in the world. However, like any good old-fashioned colony, one of its main exports is its minerals. India’s new mega-corporations—Tatas, Jindals, Essar, Reliance, Sterlite—are those who have managed to muscle their way to the head of the spigot that is spewing money extracted from deep inside the earth. It’s a dream come true for businessmen—to be able to sell what they don’t have to buy.
The other major source of corporate wealth comes from their land-banks. All over the world, weak, corrupt local governments have helped Wall Street brokers, agro-business corporations and Chinese billionaires to amass huge tracts of land. (Of course, this entails commandeering water too.) In India, the land of millions of people is being acquired and made over to private corporations for “public interest”—for Special Economic Zones, infrastructure projects, dams, highways, car manufacture, chemical hubs and Formula One racing. (The sanctity of private property never applies to the poor.) As always, local people are promised that their displacement from their land and the expropriation of everything they ever had is actually part of employment generation. But by now we know that the connection between GDP growth and jobs is a myth. After 20 years of “growth”, 60 per cent of India’s workforce is self-employed, 90 per cent of India’s labour force works in the unorganised sector.
Post-Independence, right up to the ’80s, people’s movements, ranging from the Naxalites to Jayaprakash Narayan’s Sampoorna Kranti, were fighting for land reforms, for the redistribution of land from feudal landlords to landless peasants. Today any talk of redistribution of land or wealth would be considered not just undemocratic, but lunatic. Even the most militant movements have been reduced to a fight to hold on to what little land people still have. The millions of landless people, the majority of them Dalits and adivasis, driven from their villages, living in slums and shanty colonies in small towns and mega cities, do not figure even in the radical discourse.
As Gush-Up concentrates wealth on to the tip of a shining pin on which our billionaires pirouette, tidal waves of money crash through the institutions of democracy—the courts, Parliament as well as the media, seriously compromising their ability to function in the ways they are meant to. The noisier the carnival around elections, the less sure we are that democracy really exists.
Each new corruption scandal that surfaces in India makes the last one look tame. In the summer of 2011, the 2G spectrum scandal broke. We learnt that corporations had siphoned away $40 billion of public money by installing a friendly soul as the Union minister of telecommunication who grossly underpriced the licences for 2G telecom spectrum and illegally parcelled it out to his buddies. The taped telephone conversations leaked to the press showed how a network of industrialists and their front companies, ministers, senior journalists and a TV anchor were involved in facilitating this daylight robbery. The tapes were just an MRI that confirmed a diagnosis that people had made long ago.
The privatisation and illegal sale of telecom spectrum does not involve war, displacement and ecological devastation. The privatisation of India’s mountains, rivers and forests does. Perhaps because it does not have the uncomplicated clarity of a straightforward, out-and-out accounting scandal, or perhaps because it is all being done in the name of India’s “progress”, it does not have the same resonance with the middle classes.
In 2005, the state governments of Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand signed hundreds of Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with a number of private corporations turning over trillions of dollars of bauxite, iron ore and other minerals for a pittance, defying even the warped logic of the free market. (Royalties to the government ranged between 0.5 per cent and 7 per cent.)
Only days after the Chhattisgarh government signed an MoU for the construction of an integrated steel plant in Bastar with Tata Steel, the Salwa Judum, a vigilante militia, was inaugurated. The government said it was a spontaneous uprising of local people who were fed up of the “repression” by Maoist guerrillas in the forest. It turned out to be a ground-clearing operation, funded and armed by the government and subsidised by mining corporations. In the other states, similar militias were created, with other names. The prime minister announced the Maoists were the “single-largest security challenge in India”. It was a declaration of war.
On January 2, 2006, in Kalinganagar, in the neighbouring state of Orissa, perhaps to signal the seriousness of the government’s intention, ten platoons of police arrived at the site of another Tata Steel plant and opened fire on villagers who had gathered there to protest what they felt was inadequate compensation for their land. Thirteen people, including one policeman, were killed, and 37 injured. Six years have gone by and though the villages remain under siege by armed policemen, the protest has not died.
Meanwhile in Chhattisgarh, the Salwa Judum burned, raped and murdered its way through hundreds of forest villages, evacuating 600 villages, forcing 50,000 people to come out into police camps and 3,50,000 people to flee. The chief minister announced that those who did not come out of the forests would be considered to be ‘Maoist terrorists’. In this way, in parts of modern India, ploughing fields and sowing seed came to be defined as terrorist activity. Eventually, the Salwa Judum’s atrocities only succeeded in strengthening the resistance and swelling the ranks of the Maoist guerrilla army. In 2009, the government announced what it called Operation Green Hunt. Two lakh paramilitary troops were deployed across Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
After three years of “low-intensity conflict” that has not managed to “flush” the rebels out of the forest, the central government has declared that it will deploy the Indian army and air force. In India, we don’t call this war. We call it “creating a good investment climate”. Thousands of soldiers have already moved in. A brigade headquarters and air bases are being readied. One of the biggest armies in the world is now preparing its Terms of Engagement to “defend” itself against the poorest, hungriest, most malnourished people in the world. We only await the declaration of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which will give the army legal immunity and the right to kill “on suspicion”. Going by the tens of thousands of unmarked graves and anonymous cremation pyres in Kashmir, Manipur and Nagaland, it has shown itself to be a very suspicious army indeed.
While the preparations for deployment are being made, the jungles of Central India continue to remain under siege, with villagers frightened to come out, or go to the market for food or medicine. Hundreds of people have been jailed, charged for being Maoists under draconian, undemocratic laws. Prisons are crowded with adivasi people, many of whom have no idea what their crime is. Recently, Soni Sori, an adivasi school-teacher from Bastar, was arrested and tortured in police custody. Stones were pushed up her vagina to get her to “confess” that she was a Maoist courier. The stones were removed from her body at a hospital in Calcutta, where, after a public outcry, she was sent for a medical check-up. At a recent Supreme Court hearing, activists presented the judges with the stones in a plastic bag. The only outcome of their efforts has been that Soni Sori remains in jail while Ankit Garg, the Superintendent of Police who conducted the interrogation, was conferred with the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry on Republic Day.
We hear about the ecological and social re-engineering of Central India only because of the mass insurrection and the war. The government gives out no information. The Memorandums of Understanding are all secret. Some sections of the media have done what they could to bring public attention to what is happening in Central India. However, most of the Indian mass media is made vulnerable by the fact that the major share of its revenues come from corporate advertisements. If that is not bad enough, now the line between the media and big business has begun to blur dangerously. As we have seen, RIL virtually owns 27 TV channels. But the reverse is also true. Some media houses now have direct business and corporate interests. For example, one of the major daily newspapers in the region--Dainik Bhaskar (and it is only one example)—has 17.5 million readers in four languages, including English and Hindi, across 13 states. It also owns 69 companies with interests in mining, power generation, real estate and textiles. A recent writ petition filed in the Chhattisgarh High Court accuses DB Power Ltd (one of the group’s companies) of using “deliberate, illegal and manipulative measures” through company-owned newspapers to influence the outcome of a public hearing over an open cast coal mine. Whether or not it has attempted to influence the outcome is not germane. The point is that media houses are in a position to do so. They have the power to do so. The laws of the land allow them to be in a position that lends itself to a serious conflict of interest.
There are other parts of the country from which no news comes. In the sparsely populated but militarised northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, 168 big dams are being constructed, most of them privately owned. High dams that will submerge whole districts are being constructed in Manipur and Kashmir, both highly militarised states where people can be killed merely for protesting power cuts. (That happened a few weeks ago in Kashmir.) How can they stop a dam?
The most delusional dam of all is Kalpasar in Gujarat. It is being planned as a 34-km-long dam across the Gulf of Khambhat with a 10-lane highway and a railway line running on top of it. By keeping the sea water out, the idea is to create a sweet water reservoir of Gujarat’s rivers. (Never mind that these rivers have already been dammed to a trickle and poisoned with chemical effluent.) The Kalpasar dam, which would raise the sea level and alter the ecology of hundreds of kilometres of coastline, had been dismissed as a bad idea 10 years ago. It has made a sudden comeback in order to supply water to the Dholera Special Investment Region (SIR) in one of the most water-stressed zones not just in India, but in the world. SIR is another name for an SEZ, a self-governed corporate dystopia of “industrial parks, townships and mega-cities”. The Dholera SIR is going to be connected to Gujarat’s other cities by a network of 10-lane highways. Where will the money for all this come from?
In January 2011, in the Mahatma (Gandhi) Mandir, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi presided over a meeting of 10,000 international businessmen from 100 countries. According to media reports, they pledged to invest $450 billion in Gujarat. The meeting was scheduled to take place at the onset of the 10th anniversary year of the massacre of 2,000 Muslims in February-March 2002. Modi stands accused of not just condoning, but actively abetting, the killing. People who watched their loved ones being raped, eviscerated and burned alive, the tens of thousands who were driven from their homes, still wait for a gesture towards justice. But Modi has traded in his saffron scarf and vermilion forehead for a sharp business suit, and hopes that a 450-billion-dollar investment will work as blood money, and square the books. Perhaps it will. Big Business is backing him enthusiastically. The algebra of infinite justice works in mysterious ways.
The Dholera SIR is only one of the smaller Matryoshka dolls, one of the inner ones in the dystopia that is being planned. It will be connected to the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), a 1,500-km-long and 300-km-wide industrial corridor, with nine mega-industrial zones, a high-speed freight line, three seaports and six airports, a six-lane intersection-free expressway and a 4,000 MW power plant. The DMIC is a collaborative venture between the governments of India and Japan, and their respective corporate partners, and has been proposed by the McKinsey Global Institute.
The DMIC website says that approximately 180 million people will be “affected” by the project. Exactly how, it doesn’t say. It envisages the building of several new cities and estimates that the population in the region will grow from the current 231 million to 314 million by 2019. That’s in seven years’ time. When was the last time a state, despot or dictator carried out a population transfer of millions of people? Can it possibly be a peaceful process?
The Indian army might need to go on a recruitment drive so that it’s not taken unawares when it’s ordered to deploy all over India. In preparation for its role in Central India, it publicly released its updated doctrine on Military Psychological Operations, which outlines “a planned process of conveying a message to a select target audience, to promote particular themes that result in desired attitudes and behaviour, which affect the achievement of political and military objectives of the country”. This process of “perception management”, it said, would be conducted by “using media available to the services”.
The army is experienced enough to know that coercive force alone cannot carry out or manage social engineering on the scale that is envisaged by India’s planners. War against the poor is one thing. But for the rest of us—the middle class, white-collar workers, intellectuals, “opinion-makers”—it has to be “perception management”. And for this we must turn our attention to the exquisite art of Corporate Philanthropy.
Of late, the main mining conglomerates have embraced the Arts—film, art installations and the rush of literary festivals that have replaced the ’90s obsession with beauty contests. Vedanta, currently mining the heart out of the homelands of the ancient Dongria Kondh tribe for bauxite, is sponsoring a ‘Creating Happiness’ film competition for young film students whom they have commissioned to make films on sustainable development. Vedanta’s tagline is ‘Mining Happiness’. The Jindal Group brings out a contemporary art magazine and supports some of India’s major artists (who naturally work with stainless steel). Essar was the principal sponsor of the Tehelka Newsweek Think Fest that promised “high-octane debates” by the foremost thinkers from around the world, which included major writers, activists and even the architect Frank Gehry. (All this in Goa, where activists and journalists were uncovering massive illegal mining scandals, and Essar’s part in the war unfolding in Bastar was emerging.) Tata Steel and Rio Tinto (which has a sordid track record of its own) were among the chief sponsors of the Jaipur Literary Festival (Latin name: Darshan Singh Construction Jaipur Literary Festival) that is advertised by the cognoscenti as ‘The Greatest Literary Show on Earth’. Counselage, the Tatas’ “strategic brand manager”, sponsored the festival’s press tent. Many of the world’s best and brightest writers gathered in Jaipur to discuss love, literature, politics and Sufi poetry. Some tried to defend Salman Rushdie’s right to free speech by reading from his proscribed book, The Satanic Verses. In every TV frame and newspaper photograph, the logo of Tata Steel (and its tagline—Values Stronger than Steel) loomed behind them, a benign, benevolent host. The enemies of Free Speech were the supposedly murderous Muslim mobs, who, the festival organisers told us, could have even harmed the school-children gathered there. (We are witness to how helpless the Indian government and the police can be when it comes to Muslims.) Yes, the hardline Darul-Uloom Deobandi Islamic seminary did protest Rushdie being invited to the festival. Yes, some Islamists did gather at the festival venue to protest and yes, outrageously, the state government did nothing to protect the venue. That’s because the whole episode had as much to do with democracy, votebanks and the Uttar Pradesh elections as it did with Islamist fundamentalism. But the battle for Free Speech against Islamist Fundamentalism made it to the world’s newspapers. It is important that it did. But there were hardly any reports about the festival sponsors’ role in the war in the forests, the bodies piling up, the prisons filling up. Or about the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, which make even thinking an anti-government thought a cognisable offence. Or about the mandatory public hearing for the Tata Steel plant in Lohandiguda which local people complained actually took place hundreds of miles away in Jagdalpur, in the collector’s office compound, with a hired audience of fifty people, under armed guard. Where was Free Speech then? No one mentioned Kalinganagar. No one mentioned that journalists, academics and filmmakers working on subjects unpopular with the Indian government—like the surreptitious part it played in the genocide of Tamils in the war in Sri Lanka or the recently discovered unmarked graves in Kashmir—were being denied visas or deported straight from the airport.
But which of us sinners was going to cast the first stone? Not me, who lives off royalties from corporate publishing houses. We all watch Tata Sky, we surf the net with Tata Photon, we ride in Tata taxis, we stay in Tata Hotels, we sip our Tata tea in Tata bone china and stir it with teaspoons made of Tata Steel. We buy Tata books in Tata bookshops. Hum Tata ka namak khate hain. We’re under siege.
If the sledgehammer of moral purity is to be the criterion for stone-throwing, then the only people who qualify are those who have been silenced already. Those who live outside the system; the outlaws in the forests or those whose protests are never covered by the press, or the well-behaved dispossessed, who go from tribunal to tribunal, bearing witness, giving testimony.
But the Litfest gave us our Aha! Moment. Oprah came. She said she loved India, that she would come again and again. It made us proud.
This is only the burlesque end of the Exquisite Art.
Though the Tatas have been involved with corporate philanthropy for almost a hundred years now, endowing scholarships and running some excellent educational institutes and hospitals, Indian corporations have only recently been invited into the Star Chamber, the Camera stellata, the brightly lit world of global corporate government, deadly for its adversaries, but otherwise so artful that you barely know it’s there.
What follows in this essay might appear to some to be a somewhat harsh critique. On the other hand, in the tradition of honouring one’s adversaries, it could be read as an acknowledgement of the vision, flexibility, the sophistication and unwavering determination of those who have dedicated their lives to keep the world safe for capitalism.
Their enthralling history, which has faded from contemporary memory, began in the US in the early 20th century when, kitted out legally in the form of endowed foundations, corporate philanthropy began to replace missionary activity as Capitalism’s (and Imperialism’s) road opening and systems maintenance patrol. Among the first foundations to be set up in the United States were the Carnegie Corporation, endowed in 1911 by profits from the Carnegie Steel Company; and the Rockefeller Foundation, endowed in 1914 by J.D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil Company. The Tatas and Ambanis of their time.
Some of the institutions financed, given seed money or supported by the Rockefeller Foundation are the UN, the CIA, the Council on Foreign Relations, New York’s most fabulous Museum of Modern Art, and, of course, the Rockefeller Center in New York (where Diego Riviera’s mural had to be blasted off the wall because it mischievously depicted reprobate capitalists and a valiant Lenin. Free Speech had taken the day off.)
J.D. Rockefeller was America’s first billionaire and the world’s richest man. He was an abolitionist, a supporter of Abraham Lincoln and a teetotaller. He believed his money was given to him by God, which must have been nice for him.
Here’s an excerpt from one of Pablo Neruda’s early poems called Standard Oil Company:
Their obese emperors from New York
are suave smiling assassins
who buy silk, nylon, cigars
petty tyrants and dictators.
They buy countries, people, seas, police, county councils,
distant regions where the poor hoard their corn
like misers their gold:
Standard Oil awakens them,
clothes them in uniforms, designates
which brother is the enemy.
the Paraguayan fights its war,
and the Bolivian wastes away
in the jungle with its machine gun.
A President assassinated for a drop of petroleum,
a million-acre mortgage,
a swift execution on a morning mortal with light, petrified,
a new prison camp for subversives,
in Patagonia, a betrayal, scattered shots
beneath a petroliferous moon,
a subtle change of ministers
in the capital, a whisper
like an oil tide,
and zap, you’ll see
how Standard Oil’s letters shine above the clouds,
above the seas, in your home,
illuminating their dominions.
When corporate-endowed foundations first made their appearance in the US, there was a fierce debate about their provenance, legality and lack of accountability. People suggested that if companies had so much surplus money, they should raise the wages of their workers. (People made these outrageous suggestions in those days, even in America.) The idea of these foundations, so ordinary now, was in fact a leap of the business imagination. Non-tax-paying legal entities with massive resources and an almost unlimited brief—wholly unaccountable, wholly non-transparent—what better way to parlay economic wealth into political, social and cultural capital, to turn money into power? What better way for usurers to use a minuscule percentage of their profits to run the world? How else would Bill Gates, who admittedly knows a thing or two about computers, find himself designing education, health and agriculture policies, not just for the US government, but for governments all over the world?
Over the years, as people witnessed some of the genuinely good the foundations did (running public libraries, eradicating diseases)—the direct connection between corporations and the foundations they endowed began to blur. Eventually, it faded altogether. Now even those who consider themselves left-wing are not shy to accept their largesse.
By the 1920s, US capitalism had begun to look outwards, for raw materials and overseas markets. Foundations began to formulate the idea of global corporate governance. In 1924, the Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations jointly created what is today the most powerful foreign policy pressure group in the world—the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which later came to be funded by the Ford Foundation as well. By 1947, the newly created CIA was supported by and working closely with the CFR. Over the years, the CFR’s membership has included 22 US secretaries of state. There were five CFR members in the 1943 steering committee that planned the UN, and an $8.5 million grant from J.D. Rockefeller bought the land on which the UN’s New York headquarters stands.
All eleven of the World Bank’s presidents since 1946—men who have presented themselves as missionaries of the poor—have been members of the CFR. (The exception was George Woods. And he was a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation and vice-president of Chase-Manhattan Bank.)
At Bretton Woods, the World Bank and IMF decided that the US dollar should be the reserve currency of the world, and that in order to enhance the penetration of global capital, it would be necessary to universalise and standardise business practices in an open marketplace. It is towards that end that they spend a large amount of money promoting Good Governance (as long as they control the strings), the concept of the Rule of Law (provided they have a say in making the laws) and hundreds of anti-corruption programmes (to streamline the system they have put in place.) Two of the most opaque, unaccountable organisations in the world go about demanding transparency and accountability from the governments of poorer countries.
Given that the World Bank has more or less directed the economic policies of the Third World, coercing and cracking open the markets of country after country for global finance, you could say that corporate philanthropy has turned out to be the most visionary business of all time.
Corporate-endowed foundations administer, trade and channelise their power and place their chessmen on the chessboard, through a system of elite clubs and think-tanks, whose members overlap and move in and out through the revolving doors. Contrary to the various conspiracy theories in circulation, particularly among left-wing groups, there is nothing secret, satanic, or Freemason-like about this arrangement. It is not very different from the way corporations use shell companies and offshore accounts to transfer and administer their money—except that the currency is power, not money.
The transnational equivalent of the CFR is the Trilateral Commission, set up in 1973 by David Rockefeller, the former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (founder-member of the Afghan Mujahideen, forefathers of the Taliban), the Chase-Manhattan Bank and some other private eminences. Its purpose was to create an enduring bond of friendship and cooperation between the elites of North America, Europe and Japan. It has now become a penta-lateral commission, because it includes members from China and India. (Tarun Das of the CII; N.R. Narayanamurthy, ex-CEO, Infosys; Jamsheyd N. Godrej, managing director, Godrej; Jamshed J. Irani, director, Tata Sons; and Gautam Thapar, CEO, Avantha Group).
The Aspen Institute is an international club of local elites, businessmen, bureaucrats, politicians, with franchises in several countries. Tarun Das is the president of the Aspen Institute, India. Gautam Thapar is chairman. Several senior officers of the McKinsey Global Institute (proposer of the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor) are members of the CFR, the Trilateral Commission and the Aspen Institute.
The Ford Foundation (liberal foil to the more conservative Rockefeller Foundation, though the two work together constantly) was set up in 1936. Though it is often underplayed, the Ford Foundation has a very clear, well-defined ideology and works extremely closely with the US state department. Its project of deepening democracy and “good governance” are very much part of the Bretton Woods scheme of standardising business practice and promoting efficiency in the free market. After the Second World War, when Communists replaced Fascists as the US government’s enemy number one, new kinds of institutions were needed to deal with the Cold War. Ford funded RAND (Research and Development Corporation), a military think-tank that began with weapons research for the US defense services. In 1952, to thwart “the persistent Communist effort to penetrate and disrupt free nations”, it established the Fund for the Republic, which then morphed into the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions whose brief was to wage the cold war intelligently without McCarthyite excesses. It is through this lens that we need to view the work Ford Foundation is doing, with the millions of dollars it has invested in India—its funding of artists, filmmakers and activists, its generous endowment of university courses and scholarships.
The Ford Foundation’s declared “goals for the future of mankind” include interventions in grassroots political movements locally and internationally. In the US, it provided millions in grants and loans to support the Credit Union Movement that was pioneered by the department store owner, Edward Filene, in 1919. Filene believed in creating a mass consumption society of consumer goods by giving workers affordable access to credit—a radical idea at the time. Actually, only half of a radical idea, because the other half of what Filene believed in was the more equitable distribution of national income. Capitalists seized on the first half of Filene’s suggestion, and by disbursing “affordable” loans of tens of millions of dollars to working people, turned the US working class into people who are permanently in debt, running to catch up with their lifestyles.
Embracing death Microcredit has been the bane of many a farmer. Many have been forced to commit suicide.
Many years later, this idea has trickled down to the impoverished countryside of Bangladesh when Mohammed Yunus and the Grameen Bank brought microcredit to starving peasants with disastrous consequences. Microfinance companies in India are responsible for hundreds of suicides—200 people in Andhra Pradesh in 2010 alone. A national daily recently published a suicide note by an 18-year-old girl who was forced to hand over her last Rs 150, her school fees, to bullying employees of the microfinance company. The note said, “Work hard and earn money. Do not take loans.”
There’s a lot of money in poverty, and a few Nobel Prizes too.
By the 1950s, the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, funding several NGOs and international educational institutions, began to work as quasi-extensions of the US government that was at the time toppling democratically elected governments in Latin America, Iran and Indonesia. (That was also around the time they made their entry into India, then non-aligned, but clearly tilting towards the Soviet Union.) The Ford Foundation established a US-style economics course at the Indonesian University. Elite Indonesian students, trained in counter-insurgency by US army officers, played a crucial part in the 1965 CIA-backed coup in Indonesia that brought General Suharto to power. Gen Suharto repaid his mentors by slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Communist rebels.
Eight years later, young Chilean students, who came to be known as the Chicago Boys, were taken to the US to be trained in neo-liberal economics by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago (endowed by J.D. Rockefeller), in preparation for the 1973 CIA-backed coup that killed Salvador Allende, and brought in General Pinochet and a reign of death squads, disappearances and terror that lasted for seventeen years. (Allende’s crime was being a democratically elected socialist and nationalising Chile’s mines.)
In 1957, the Rockefeller Foundation established the Ramon Magsaysay Prize for community leaders in Asia. It was named after Ramon Magsaysay, president of the Philippines, a crucial ally in the US campaign against Communism in Southeast Asia. In 2000, the Ford Foundation established the Ramon Magsaysay Emergent Leadership Award. The Magsaysay Award is considered a prestigious award among artists, activists and community workers in India. M.S. Subbulakshmi and Satyajit Ray won it, so did Jayaprakash Narayan and one of India’s finest journalists, P. Sainath. But they did more for the Magsaysay award than it did for them. In general, it has become a gentle arbiter of what kind of activism is “acceptable” and what is not.
Interestingly, Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement last summer was spearheaded by three Magsaysay Award winners—Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi. One of Arvind Kejriwal’s many NGOs is generously funded by Ford Foundation. Kiran Bedi’s NGO is funded by Coca Cola and Lehman Brothers.
Though Anna Hazare calls himself a Gandhian, the law he called for—the Jan Lokpal Bill—was un-Gandhian, elitist and dangerous. A round-the-clock corporate media campaign proclaimed him to be the voice of “the people”. Unlike the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US, the Hazare movement did not breathe a word against privatisation, corporate power or economic “reforms”. On the contrary, its principal media backers successfully turned the spotlight away from massive corporate corruption scandals (which had exposed high-profile journalists too) and used the public mauling of politicians to call for the further withdrawal of discretionary powers from government, for more reforms, more privatisation. (In 2008, Anna Hazare received a World Bank award for outstanding public service). The World Bank issued a statement from Washington saying the movement “dovetailed” into its policy.
Like all good Imperialists, the Philanthropoids set themselves the task of creating and training an international cadre that believed that Capitalism, and by extension the hegemony of the United States, was in their own self-interest. And who would therefore help to administer the Global Corporate Government in the ways native elites had always served colonialism. So began the foundations’ foray into education and the arts, which would become their third sphere of influence, after foreign and domestic economic policy. They spent (and continue to spend) millions of dollars on academic institutions and pedagogy.
Joan Roelofs in her wonderful book Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism describes how foundations remodelled the old ideas of how to teach political science, and fashioned the disciplines of “international” and “area” studies. This provided the US intelligence and security services a pool of expertise in foreign languages and culture to recruit from. The CIA and US state department continue to work with students and professors in US universities, raising serious questions about the ethics of scholarship.
The gathering of information to control people they rule is fundamental to any ruling power. As resistance to land acquisition and the new economic policies spreads across India, in the shadow of outright war in Central India, as a containment technique, the government has embarked on a massive biometrics programme, perhaps one of the most ambitious and expensive information-gathering projects in the world— the Unique Identification Number (UID). People don’t have clean drinking water, or toilets, or food, or money, but they will have election cards and UID numbers. Is it a coincidence that the UID project run by Nandan Nilekani, former CEO of Infosys, ostensibly meant to “deliver services to the poor”, will inject massive amounts of money into a slightly beleaguered IT industry? (A conservative estimate of the UID budget exceeds the Indian government’s annual public spending on education.) To “digitise” a country with such a large population of the largely illegitimate and “illegible”—people who are for the most part slum-dwellers, hawkers, adivasis without land records—will criminalise them, turning them from illegitimate to illegal. The idea is to pull off a digital version of the Enclosure of the Commons and put huge powers into the hands of an increasingly hardening police state. Nilekani’s technocratic obsession with gathering data is consistent with Bill Gates’s obsession with digital databases, “numerical targets”, “scorecards of progress”. As though it is a lack of information that is the cause of world hunger, and not colonialism, debt and skewed profit-oriented, corporate policy.
Corporate-endowed foundations are the biggest funders of the social sciences and the arts, endowing courses and student scholarships in “development studies”, “community studies”, “cultural studies”, “behavioural sciences” and “human rights”. As US universities opened their doors to international students, hundreds of thousands of students, children of the Third World elite, poured in. Those who could not afford the fees were given scholarships. Today in countries like India and Pakistan there is scarcely a family among the upper middle classes that does not have a child that has studied in the US. From their ranks have come good scholars and academics, but also the prime ministers, finance ministers, economists, corporate lawyers, bankers and bureaucrats who helped to open up the economies of their countries to global corporations.
Scholars of the Foundation-friendly version of economics and political science were rewarded with fellowships, research funds, grants, endowments and jobs. Those with Foundation-unfriendly views found themselves unfunded, marginalised and ghettoised, their courses discontinued. Gradually, one particular imagination—a brittle, superficial pretence of tolerance and multiculturalism (that morphs into racism, rabid nationalism, ethnic chauvinism or war-mongering Islamophobia at a moment’s notice) under the roof of a single, overarching, very unplural economic ideology—began to dominate the discourse. It did so to such an extent that it ceased to be perceived as an ideology at all. It became the default position, the natural way to be. It infiltrated normality, colonised ordinariness, and challenging it began to seem as absurd or as esoteric as challenging reality itself. From here it was a quick easy step to ‘There is No Alternative’.
It is only now, thanks to the Occupy Movement, that another language has appeared on US streets and campuses. To see students with banners that say ‘Class War’ or ‘We don’t mind you being rich, but we mind you buying our government’ is, given the odds, almost a revolution in itself.
One century after it began, corporate philanthropy is as much part of our lives as Coca Cola. There are now millions of non-profit organisations, many of them connected through a byzantine financial maze to the larger foundations. Between them, this “independent” sector has assets worth nearly 450 billion dollars. The largest of them is the Bill Gates Foundation with ($21 billion), followed by the Lilly Endowment ($16 billion) and the Ford Foundation ($15 billion).
As the IMF enforced Structural Adjustment, and arm-twisted governments into cutting back on public spending on health, education, childcare, development, the NGOs moved in. The Privatisation of Everything has also meant the NGO-isation of Everything. As jobs and livelihoods disappeared, NGOs have become an important source of employment, even for those who see them for what they are. And they are certainly not all bad. Of the millions of NGOs, some do remarkable, radical work and it would be a travesty to tar all NGOs with the same brush. However, the corporate or Foundation-endowed NGOs are global finance’s way of buying into resistance movements, literally like shareholders buy shares in companies, and then try to control them from within. They sit like nodes on the central nervous system, the pathways along which global finance flows. They work like transmitters, receivers, shock absorbers, alert to every impulse, careful never to annoy the governments of their host countries. (The Ford Foundation requires the organisations it funds to sign a pledge to this effect.) Inadvertently (and sometimes advertently), they serve as listening posts, their reports and workshops and other missionary activity feeding data into an increasingly aggressive system of surveillance of increasingly hardening States. The more troubled an area, the greater the numbers of NGOs in it.
Mischievously, when the government or sections of the Corporate Press want to run a smear campaign against a genuine people’s movement, like the Narmada Bachao Andolan, or the protest against the Koodankulam nuclear reactor, they accuse these movements of being NGOs receiving “foreign funding”. They know very well that the mandate of most NGOs, in particular the well-funded ones, is to further the project of corporate globalisation, not thwart it.
Armed with their billions, these NGOs have waded into the world, turning potential revolutionaries into salaried activists, funding artists, intellectuals and filmmakers, gently luring them away from radical confrontation, ushering them in the direction of multi-culturalism, gender, community development—the discourse couched in the language of identity politics and human rights.
The transformation of the idea of justice into the industry of human rights has been a conceptual coup in which NGOs and foundations have played a crucial part. The narrow focus of human rights enables an atrocity-based analysis in which the larger picture can be blocked out and both parties in a conflict—say, for example, the Maoists and the Indian government, or the Israeli Army and Hamas—can both be admonished as Human Rights Violators. The land-grab by mining corporations or the history of the annexation of Palestinian land by the State of Israel then become footnotes with very little bearing on the discourse. This is not to suggest that human rights don’t matter. They do, but they are not a good enough prism through which to view or remotely understand the great injustices in the world we live in.
Another conceptual coup has to do with foundations’ involvement with the feminist movement. Why do most “official” feminists and women’s organisations in India keep a safe distance between themselves and organisations like say the 90,000-member Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangathan (Revolutionary Adivasi Women’s Association) fighting patriarchy in their own communities and displacement by mining corporations in the Dandakaranya forest? Why is it that the dispossession and eviction of millions of women from land which they owned and worked is not seen as a feminist problem?
The hiving off of the liberal feminist movement from grassroots anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist people’s movements did not begin with the evil designs of foundations. It began with those movements’ inability to adapt and accommodate the rapid radicalisation of women that took place in the ’60s and ’70s. The foundations showed genius in recognising and moving in to support and fund women’s growing impatience with the violence and patriarchy in their traditional societies as well as among even the supposedly progressive leaders of Left movements. In a country like India, the schism also ran along the rural-urban divide. Most radical, anti-capitalist movements were located in the countryside where, for the most part, patriarchy continued to rule the lives of most women. Urban women activists who joined these movements (like the Naxalite movement) had been influenced and inspired by the western feminist movement and their own journeys towards liberation were often at odds with what their male leaders considered to be their duty: to fit in with ‘the masses’. Many women activists were not willing to wait any longer for the “revolution” in order to end the daily oppression and discrimination in their lives, including from their own comrades. They wanted gender equality to be an absolute, urgent and non-negotiable part of the revolutionary process and not just a post-revolution promise. Intelligent, angry and disillusioned women began to move away and look for other means of support and sustenance. As a result, by the late ’80s, around the time Indian markets were opened up, the liberal feminist movement in a country like India has become inordinately NGO-ised. Many of these NGOs have done seminal work on queer rights, domestic violence, AIDS and the rights of sex workers. But significantly, the liberal feminist movements have not been at the forefront of challenging the new economic policies, even though women have been the greatest sufferers. By manipulating the disbursement of the funds, the foundations have largely succeeded in circumscribing the range of what “political” activity should be. The funding briefs of NGOs now prescribe what counts as women’s “issues” and what doesn’t.
The NGO-isation of the women’s movement has also made western liberal feminism (by virtue of its being the most funded brand) the standard-bearer of what constitutes feminism. The battles, as usual, have been played out on women’s bodies, extruding Botox at one end and burqas at the other. (And then there are those who suffer the double whammy, Botox and the Burqa.) When, as happened recently in France, an attempt is made to coerce women out of the burqa rather than creating a situation in which a woman can choose what she wishes to do, it’s not about liberating her, but about unclothing her. It becomes an act of humiliation and cultural imperialism. It’s not about the burqa. It’s about the coercion. Coercing a woman out of a burqa is as bad as coercing her into one. Viewing gender in this way, shorn of social, political and economic context, makes it an issue of identity, a battle of props and costumes. It is what allowed the US government to use western feminist groups as moral cover when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Afghan women were (and are) in terrible trouble under the Taliban. But dropping daisy-cutters on them was not going to solve their problems.
In the NGO universe, which has evolved a strange anodyne language of its own, everything has become a “subject”, a separate, professionalised, special-interest issue. Community development, leadership development, human rights, health, education, reproductive rights, AIDS, orphans with AIDS—have all been hermetically sealed into their own silos with their own elaborate and precise funding brief. Funding has fragmented solidarity in ways that repression never could. Poverty too, like feminism, is often framed as an identity problem. As though the poor have not been created by injustice but are a lost tribe who just happen to exist, and can be rescued in the short term by a system of grievance redressal (administered by NGOs on an individual, person to person basis), and whose long-term resurrection will come from Good Governance. Under the regime of Global Corporate Capitalism, it goes without saying.
Indian poverty, after a brief period in the wilderness while India “shone”, has made a comeback as an exotic identity in the Arts, led from the front by films like Slumdog Millionaire. These stories about the poor, their amazing spirit and resilience, have no villains—except the small ones who provide narrative tension and local colour. The authors of these works are the contemporary world’s equivalent of the early anthropologists, lauded and honoured for working on “the ground”, for their brave journeys into the unknown. You rarely see the rich being examined in these ways.
Having worked out how to manage governments, political parties, elections, courts, the media and liberal opinion, there was one more challenge for the neo-liberal establishment: how to deal with growing unrest, the threat of “people’s power”. How do you domesticate it? How do you turn protesters into pets? How do you vacuum up people’s fury and redirect it into blind alleys?
Here too, foundations and their allied organisations have a long and illustrious history. A revealing example is their role in defusing and deradicalising the Black Civil Rights movement in the US in the 1960s and the successful transformation of Black Power into Black Capitalism.
The Rockefeller Foundation, in keeping with J.D. Rockefeller’s ideals, had worked closely with Martin Luther King Sr (father of Martin Luther King Jr). But his influence waned with the rise of the more militant organisations—the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panthers. The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations moved in. In 1970, they donated $15 million to “moderate” black organisations, giving people grants, fellowships, scholarships, job training programmes for dropouts and seed money for black-owned businesses. Repression, infighting and the honey trap of funding led to the gradual atrophying of the radical black organisations.
Martin Luther King Jr made the forbidden connections between Capitalism, Imperialism, Racism and the Vietnam War. As a result, after he was assassinated, even his memory became a toxic threat to public order. Foundations and Corporations worked hard to remodel his legacy to fit a market-friendly format. The Martin Luther King Junior Centre for Non-Violent Social Change, with an operational grant of $2 million, was set up by, among others, the Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Mobil, Western Electric, Procter & Gamble, US Steel and Monsanto. The Center maintains the King Library and Archives of the Civil Rights Movement. Among the many programmes the King Center runs have been projects that “work closely with the United States Department of Defense, the Armed Forces Chaplains Board and others”. It co-sponsored the Martin Luther King Jr Lecture Series called ‘The Free Enterprise System: An Agent for Non-violent Social Change’. Amen.
A similar coup was carried out in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. In 1978, the Rockefeller Foundation organised a Study Commission on US Policy toward Southern Africa. The report warned of the growing influence of the Soviet Union on the African National Congress (ANC) and said that US strategic and corporate interests (i.e., access to South Africa’s minerals) would be best served if there were genuine sharing of political power by all races.
The foundations began to support the ANC. The ANC soon turned on the more radical organisations like Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness movement and more or less eliminated them. When Nelson Mandela took over as South Africa’s first Black President, he was canonised as a living saint, not just because he was a freedom fighter who spent 27 years in prison, but also because he deferred completely to the Washington Consensus. Socialism disappeared from the ANC’s agenda. South Africa’s great “peaceful transition”, so praised and lauded, meant no land reforms, no demands for reparation, no nationalisation of South Africa’s mines. Instead, there was Privatisation and Structural Adjustment. Mandela gave South Africa’s highest civilian award—the Order of Good Hope—to his old supporter and friend General Suharto, the killer of Communists in Indonesia. Today, in South Africa, a clutch of Mercedes-driving former radicals and trade unionists rule the country. But that is more than enough to perpetuate the illusion of Black Liberation.
The rise of Black Power in the US was an inspirational moment for the rise of a radical, progressive Dalit movement in India, with organisations like the Dalit Panthers mirroring the militant politics of the Black Panthers. But Dalit Power too, in not exactly the same but similar ways, has been fractured and defused and, with plenty of help from right-wing Hindu organisations and the Ford Foundation, is well on its way to transforming into Dalit Capitalism.
‘Dalit Inc ready to show business can beat caste’, the Indian Express reported in December last year. It went on to quote a mentor of the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DICCI). “Getting the prime minister for a Dalit gathering is not difficult in our society. But for Dalit entrepreneurs, taking a photograph with Tata and Godrej over lunch and tea is an aspiration—and proof that they have arrived,” he said. Given the situation in modern India, it would be casteist and reactionary to say that Dalit entrepreneurs oughtn’t to have a place at the high table. But if this is to be the aspiration, the ideological framework of Dalit politics, it would be a great pity. And unlikely to help the one million Dalits who still earn a living off manual scavenging—carrying human shit on their heads.
Young Dalit scholars who accept grants from the Ford Foundation cannot be too harshly judged. Who else is offering them an opportunity to climb out of the cesspit of the Indian caste system? The shame as well as a large part of the blame for this turn of events also goes to India’s Communist movement whose leaders continue to be predominantly upper caste. For years it has tried to force-fit the idea of caste into Marxist class analysis. It has failed miserably, in theory as well as practice. The rift between the Dalit community and the Left began with a falling out between the visionary Dalit leader Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar and S.A. Dange, trade unionist and founding member of the Communist Party of India. Dr Ambedkar’s disillusionment with the Communist Party began with the textile workers’ strike in Mumbai in 1928 when he realised that despite all the rhetoric about working class solidarity, the party did not find it objectionable that the “untouchables” were kept out of the weaving department (and only qualified for the lower paid spinning department) because the work involved the use of saliva on the threads, which other castes considered “polluting”.
Ambedkar realised that in a society where the Hindu scriptures institutionalise untouchability and inequality, the battle for “untouchables”, for social and civic rights, was too urgent to wait for the promised Communist revolution. The rift between the Ambedkarites and the Left has come at a great cost to both. It has meant that a great majority of the Dalit population, the backbone of the Indian working class, has pinned its hopes for deliverance and dignity to constitutionalism, to capitalism and to political parties like the BSP, which practise an important, but in the long run, stagnant brand of identity politics.
In the United States, as we have seen, corporate-endowed foundations spawned the culture of NGOs. In India, targeted corporate philanthropy began in earnest in the 1990s, the era of the New Economic Policies. Membership to the Star Chamber doesn’t come cheap. The Tata Group donated $50 million to that needy institution, the Harvard Business School, and another $50 million to Cornell University. Nandan Nilekani of Infosys and his wife Rohini donated $5 million as a start-up endowment for the India Initiative at Yale. The Harvard Humanities Centre is now the Mahindra Humanities Centre after it received its largest-ever donation of $10 million from Anand Mahindra of the Mahindra Group.
Black ‘liberation’ Or a bow to the Washington Consensus?.
At home, the Jindal Group, with a major stake in mining, metals and power, runs the Jindal Global Law School and will soon open the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy. (The Ford Foundation runs a law school in the Congo.) The New India Foundation funded by Nandan Nilekani, financed by profits from Infosys, gives prizes and fellowships to social scientists. The Sitaram Jindal Foundation endowed by Jindal Aluminium has announced five cash prizes of Rs 1 crore each to be given to those working in rural development, poverty alleviation, environment education and moral upliftment. The Reliance Group’s Observer Research Foundation (ORF), currently endowed by Mukesh Ambani, is cast in the mould of the Rockefeller Foundation. It has retired intelligence agents, strategic analysts, politicians (who pretend to rail against each other in Parliament), journalists and policymakers as its research “fellows” and advisors.
ORF’s objectives seem straightforward enough: “To help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.” And to shape and influence public opinion, creating “viable, alternative policy options in areas as divergent as employment generation in backward districts and real-time strategies to counter nuclear, biological and chemical threats”.
I was initially puzzled by the preoccupation with “nuclear, biological and chemical war” in ORF’s stated objectives. But less so when, in the long list of its ‘institutional partners’, I found the names of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, two of the world’s leading weapons manufacturers. In 2007, Raytheon announced it was turning its attention to India. Could it be that at least part of India’s $32 billion defence budget will be spent on weapons, guided missiles, aircraft, warships and surveillance equipment made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin?
Do we need weapons to fight wars? Or do we need wars to create a market for weapons? After all, the economies of Europe, US and Israel depend hugely on their weapons industry. It’s the one thing they haven’t outsourced to China.
In the new Cold War between US and China, India is being groomed to play the role Pakistan played as a US ally in the cold war with Russia. (And look what happened to Pakistan.) Many of those columnists and “strategic analysts” who are playing up the hostilities between India and China, you’ll see, can be traced back directly or indirectly to the Indo-American think-tanks and foundations. Being a “strategic partner” of the US does not mean that the Heads of State make friendly phone calls to each other every now and then. It means collaboration (interference) at every level. It means hosting US Special Forces on Indian soil (a Pentagon Commander recently confirmed this to the BBC). It means sharing intelligence, altering agriculture and energy policies, opening up the health and education sectors to global investment. It means opening up retail. It means an unequal partnership in which India is being held close in a bear hug and waltzed around the floor by a partner who will incinerate her the moment she refuses to dance.
In the list of ORF’s ‘institutional partners’, you will also find the RAND Corporation, Ford Foundation, the World Bank, the Brookings Institution (whose stated mission is to “provide innovative and practical recommendations that advance three broad goals: to strengthen American democracy; to foster the economic and social welfare, security and opportunity of all Americans; and to secure a more open, safe, prosperous and cooperative international system”.) You will also find the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation of Germany. (Poor Rosa, who died for the cause of Communism, to find her name on a list such as this one!)
Though capitalism is meant to be based on competition, those at the top of the food chain have also shown themselves to be capable of inclusiveness and solidarity. The great Western Capitalists have done business with fascists, socialists, despots and military dictators. They can adapt and constantly innovate. They are capable of quick thinking and immense tactical cunning.
But despite having successfully powered through economic reforms, despite having waged wars and militarily occupied countries in order to put in place free market “democracies”, Capitalism is going through a crisis whose gravity has not revealed itself completely yet. Marx said, “What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”
The proletariat, as Marx saw it, has been under continuous assault. Factories have shut down, jobs have disappeared, trade unions have been disbanded. The proletariat has, over the years, been pitted against each other in every possible way. In India, it has been Hindu against Muslim, Hindu against Christian, Dalit against Adivasi, caste against caste, region against region. And yet, all over the world, it is fighting back. In China, there are countless strikes and uprisings. In India, the poorest people in the world have fought back to stop some of the richest corporations in their tracks.
Capitalism is in crisis. Trickledown failed. Now Gush-Up is in trouble too. The international financial meltdown is closing in. India’s growth rate has plummeted to 6.9 per cent. Foreign investment is pulling out. Major international corporations are sitting on huge piles of money, not sure where to invest it, not sure how the financial crisis will play out. This is a major, structural crack in the juggernaut of global capital.
Capitalism’s real “grave-diggers” may end up being its own delusional Cardinals, who have turned ideology into faith. Despite their strategic brilliance, they seem to have trouble grasping a simple fact: Capitalism is destroying the planet. The two old tricks that dug it out of past crises—War and Shopping—simply will not work.
I stood outside Antilla for a long time watching the sun go down. I imagined that the tower was as deep as it was high. That it had a twenty-seven-storey-long tap root, snaking around below the ground, hungrily sucking sustenance out of the earth, turning it into smoke and gold.
Why did the Ambanis’ choose to call their building Antilla? Antilla is the name of a set of mythical islands whose story dates back to an 8th-century Iberian legend. When the Muslims conquered Hispania, six Christian Visigothic bishops and their parishioners boarded ships and fled. After days, or maybe weeks at sea, they arrived at the isles of Antilla where they decided to settle and raise a new civilisation. They burnt their boats to permanently sever their links to their barbarian-dominated homeland.
By calling their tower Antilla, do the Ambanis hope to sever their links to the poverty and squalor of their homeland and raise a new civilisation? Is this the final act of the most successful secessionist movement in India? The secession of the middle and upper classes into outer space?
As night fell over Mumbai, guards in crisp linen shirts with crackling walkie-talkies appeared outside the forbidding gates of Antilla. The lights blazed on, to scare away the ghosts perhaps. The neighbours complain that Antilla’s bright lights have stolen the night.
Perhaps it’s time for us to take back the night.1. Edited March 18, 2012: the year of CIA backed coup in Indonesia was earlier incorrectly mentioned as 1952. Corrected to 1965
2. Edited March 20, 2012: The sentence that now reads “All this in Goa, where activists and journalists were uncovering massive illegal mining scandals, and Essar’s part in the war unfolding in Bastar was emerging” was earlier published as: “All this in Goa, while activists and journalists were uncovering massive illegal mining scandals that involved Essar”
From Outlook India
March 26th 2012
"The perpetual growth myth ... promotes the impossible idea that indiscriminate economic growth is the cure for all the world's problems, while it is actually the disease that is at the root cause of our unsustainable global practices"
UN-Sponsored Papers Predict Sustained Ecological and Social Meltdown:
"The current system is broken," says Bob Watson, the UK’s chief scientific advisor on environmental issues and a winner of the prestigious Blue Planet prize in 2010. "It is driving humanity to a future that is 3-5°C warmer than our species has ever known, and is eliminating the ecology that we depend on for our health, wealth and senses of self."
"We cannot assume that technological fixes will come fast enough. Instead we need human solutions. The good news is that they exist but decision makers must be bold and forward thinking to seize them."
Watson's comments accompanied a new paper
released today by 20 past winners of the Blue Planet Prize
- often called the Nobel Prize for the environment, and comes ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Rio+20 conference
– which takes place in June this year – where world leaders will (it is hoped) seize the opportunity to set human development on a new, more sustainable path.Civilization Faces 'Perfect Storm of Ecological and Social Problems'The Guardian
's John Vidal reports
In the face of an "absolutely unprecedented emergency", say the [...] past winners of the Blue Planet prize – the unofficial Nobel for the environment – society has "no choice but to take dramatic action to avert a collapse of civilization. Either we will change our ways and build an entirely new kind of global society, or they will be changed for us".
The stark assessment of the current global outlook by the group, who include [Watson]... US climate scientist James Hansen, Prof José Goldemberg, Brazil's secretary of environment during the Rio Earth summit in 1992, and Stanford University Prof Paul Ehrlich. [...]
"The perpetual growth myth ... promotes the impossible idea that indiscriminate economic growth is the cure for all the world's problems, while it is actually the disease that is at the root cause of our unsustainable global practices"
Apart from dire warnings about biodiversity loss and climate change, the group challenges governments to think differently about economic "progress".
"The rapidly deteriorating biophysical situation is more than bad enough, but it is barely recognized by a global society infected by the irrational belief that physical economies can grow forever and disregarding the facts that the rich in developed and developing countries get richer and the poor are left behind.
"The perpetual growth myth ... promotes the impossible idea that indiscriminate economic growth is the cure for all the world's problems, while it is actually the disease that is at the root cause of our unsustainable global practices", they say.
The group warns against over-reliance on markets but instead urges politicians to listen and learn from how poor communities all over the world see the problems of energy, water, food and livelihoods as interdependent and integrated as part of a living ecosystem.
The paper urges governments to:
- Replace GDP as a measure of wealth with metrics for natural, built, human and social capital - and how they intersect.
- Eliminate subsidies in sectors such as energy, transport and agriculture that create environmental and social costs, which currently go unpaid.
- Tackle over-consumption, and address population pressure by empowering women, improving education and making contraception accessible to all.
- Transform decision making processes to empower marginalized groups, and integrate economic, social and environmental policies instead of having them compete.
- Conserve and value biodiversity and ecosystem services, and create markets for them that can form the basis of green economies.
- Invest in knowledge - both in creating and in sharing it - through research and training that will enable governments, business, and society at large to understand and move towards a sustainable future.
“Sustainable development is not a pipe dream,” says Dr Camilla Toulmin, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development. “It is the destination the world’s accumulated knowledge points us towards, the fair future that will enable us to live with security, peace and opportunities for all. To get there we must transform the ways we manage, share and interact with the environment, and acknowledge that humanity is part of nature not apart from it.”
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “The paper by the Blue Planet laureates will challenge governments and society as a whole to act to limit human-induced climate change, the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in order to ensure food, water energy and human security. I would like to thank Professor Watson and colleagues for eloquently articulating their vision on how key development challenges can be addressed, emphasizing solutions; the policies, technologies and behavior changes required to grow green economies, generate jobs and lift people out of poverty without pushing the world through planetary boundaries.”
***A second UNEP report
was also released today in Kenya. Though separate from the assessment of the Planet Blue laureates, it echoes many of their themes and concerns.Capital FM News
in Kenya reports
A new report
by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned of a continued deterioration in the state of the global environment due to failure by governments to implement internationally agreed goals.
The summary report released at the sidelines of a UNEP Governing Council meeting in Nairobi stated that out of the 90 internationally agreed goals, only 40 were in progress, 32 had insufficient progress while 13 were not in development at all.
“We have failed to meet agreed goals,” Peter Gilruth Director Division of Early Warning Assessment (DEWA) UNEP said.
“The internationally agreed goal of avoiding the adverse effects of climate change is presenting the global community with one of its most serious challenges that is threatening overall development goals,” he noted.
He added that the rate at which forest loss, particularly in the tropics was taking place remained alarmingly high.
“Today, 80 percent of the world’s population live in areas with high levels of threat to water security, affecting 3.4 billion people mostly in developing countries,” he stated.
The Fifth Global Environment Outlook (GEO 5)
assessed progress and gaps in the implementation of internationally agreed goals on environment and the full report would be released in June ahead of the Rio+20 Summit on sustainable development.
The report recommended that policy makers focus on the underlying drivers of environmental change such as the negative aspects of population growth, consumption and production, urbanisation rather than just concentrating on reducing environmental pressures or symptoms.
“The solutions put on the table are not intended to be prescriptive in nature but rather a menu of options that you (governments) might want to look at for your own use. It is just a potential source of information to assist in decision making,” Gilruth said.
Published on Monday, February 20, 2012 by Common Dreams
There is a question from a gentleman in the fourth row.
He introduces himself as Richard Rothschild. He tells the crowd that he ran for county commissioner in Maryland’s Carroll County because he had come to the conclusion that policies to combat global warming were actually “an attack on middle-class American capitalism.” His question for the panelists, gathered in a Washington, DC, Marriott Hotel in late June, is this: “To what extent is this entire movement simply a green Trojan horse, whose belly is full with red Marxist socioeconomic doctrine?”
Here at the Heartland Institute’s Sixth International Conference on Climate Change, the premier gathering for those dedicated to denying the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet, this qualifies as a rhetorical question. Like asking a meeting of German central bankers if Greeks are untrustworthy. Still, the panelists aren’t going to pass up an opportunity to tell the questioner just how right he is.
Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who specializes in harassing climate scientists with nuisance lawsuits and Freedom of Information fishing expeditions, angles the table mic over to his mouth. “You can believe this is about the climate,” he says darkly, “and many people do, but it’s not a reasonable belief.” Horner, whose prematurely silver hair makes him look like a right-wing Anderson Cooper, likes to invoke Saul Alinsky: “The issue isn’t the issue.” The issue, apparently, is that “no free society would do to itself what this agenda requires…. The first step to that is to remove these nagging freedoms that keep getting in the way.”
Claiming that climate change is a plot to steal American freedom is rather tame by Heartland standards. Over the course of this two-day conference, I will learn that Obama’s campaign promise to support locally owned biofuels refineries was really about “green communitarianism,” akin to the “Maoist” scheme to put “a pig iron furnace in everybody’s backyard” (the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels). That climate change is “a stalking horse for National Socialism” (former Republican senator and retired astronaut Harrison Schmitt). And that environmentalists are like Aztec priests, sacrificing countless people to appease the gods and change the weather (Marc Morano, editor of the denialists’ go-to website, ClimateDepot.com).
Most of all, however, I will hear versions of the opinion expressed by the county commissioner in the fourth row: that climate change is a Trojan horse designed to abolish capitalism and replace it with some kind of eco-socialism. As conference speaker Larry Bell succinctly puts it in his new book Climate of Corruption
, climate change “has little to do with the state of the environment and much to do with shackling capitalism and transforming the American way of life in the interests of global wealth redistribution.”
Yes, sure, there is a pretense that the delegates’ rejection of climate science is rooted in serious disagreement about the data. And the organizers go to some lengths to mimic credible scientific conferences, calling the gathering “Restoring the Scientific Method” and even adopting the organizational acronym ICCC, a mere one letter off from the world’s leading authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But the scientific theories presented here are old and long discredited. And no attempt is made to explain why each speaker seems to contradict the next. (Is there no warming, or is there warming but it’s not a problem? And if there is no warming, then what’s all this talk about sunspots causing temperatures to rise?)
In truth, several members of the mostly elderly audience seem to doze off while the temperature graphs are projected. They come to life only when the rock stars of the movement take the stage—not the C-team scientists but the A-team ideological warriors like Morano and Horner. This is the true purpose of the gathering: providing a forum for die-hard denialists to collect the rhetorical baseball bats with which they will club environmentalists and climate scientists in the weeks and months to come. The talking points first tested here will jam the comment sections beneath every article and YouTube video that contains the phrase “climate change” or “global warming.” They will also exit the mouths of hundreds of right-wing commentators and politicians—from Republican presidential candidates like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann all the way down to county commissioners like Richard Rothschild. In an interview outside the sessions, Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, proudly takes credit for “thousands of articles and op-eds and speeches…that were informed by or motivated by somebody attending one of these conferences.”
The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think tank devoted to “promoting free-market solutions,” has been holding these confabs since 2008, sometimes twice a year. And the strategy appears to be working. At the end of day one, Morano—whose claim to fame is having broken the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth story that sank John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign—leads the gathering through a series of victory laps. Cap and trade: dead! Obama at the Copenhagen summit: failure! The climate movement: suicidal! He even projects a couple of quotes from climate activists beating up on themselves (as progressives do so well) and exhorts the audience to “celebrate!”
There were no balloons or confetti descending from the rafters, but there may as well have been.
* * *
When public opinion on the big social and political issues changes, the trends tend to be relatively gradual. Abrupt shifts, when they come, are usually precipitated by dramatic events. Which is why pollsters are so surprised by what has happened to perceptions about climate change over a span of just four years. A 2007 Harris poll found that 71 percent of Americans believed that the continued burning of fossil fuels would cause the climate to change. By 2009 the figure had dropped to 51 percent. In June 2011 the number of Americans who agreed was down to 44 percent—well under half the population. According to Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, this is “among the largest shifts over a short period of time seen in recent public opinion history.”
Even more striking, this shift has occurred almost entirely at one end of the political spectrum. As recently as 2008 (the year Newt Gingrich did a climate change TV spot with Nancy Pelosi) the issue still had a veneer of bipartisan support in the United States. Those days are decidedly over. Today, 70–75 percent of self-identified Democrats and liberals believe humans are changing the climate—a level that has remained stable or risen slightly over the past decade. In sharp contrast, Republicans, particularly Tea Party members, have overwhelmingly chosen to reject the scientific consensus. In some regions, only about 20 percent of self-identified Republicans accept the science.
Equally significant has been a shift in emotional intensity. Climate change used to be something most everyone said they cared about—just not all that much. When Americans were asked to rank their political concerns in order of priority, climate change would reliably come in last.
But now there is a significant cohort of Republicans who care passionately, even obsessively, about climate change—though what they care about is exposing it as a “hoax” being perpetrated by liberals to force them to change their light bulbs, live in Soviet-style tenements and surrender their SUVs. For these right-wingers, opposition to climate change has become as central to their worldview as low taxes, gun ownership and opposition to abortion. Many climate scientists report receiving death threats, as do authors of articles on subjects as seemingly innocuous as energy conservation. (As one letter writer put it to Stan Cox, author of a book critical of air-conditioning, “You can pry my thermostat out of my cold dead hands.”)
This culture-war intensity is the worst news of all, because when you challenge a person’s position on an issue core to his or her identity, facts and arguments are seen as little more than further attacks, easily deflected. (The deniers have even found a way to dismiss a new study confirming the reality of global warming that was partially funded by the Koch brothers, and led by a scientist sympathetic to the “skeptic” position.)
The effects of this emotional intensity have been on full display in the race to lead the Republican Party. Days into his presidential campaign, with his home state literally burning up with wildfires, Texas Governor Rick Perry delighted the base by declaring that climate scientists were manipulating data “so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” Meanwhile, the only candidate to consistently defend climate science, Jon Huntsman, was dead on arrival. And part of what has rescued Mitt Romney’s campaign has been his flight from earlier statements supporting the scientific consensus on climate change.
But the effects of the right-wing climate conspiracies reach far beyond the Republican Party. The Democrats have mostly gone mute on the subject, not wanting to alienate independents. And the media and culture industries have followed suit. Five years ago, celebrities were showing up at the Academy Awards in hybrids, Vanity Fair
launched an annual green issue and, in 2007, the three major US networks ran 147 stories on climate change. No longer. In 2010 the networks ran just thirty-two climate change stories; limos are back in style at the Academy Awards; and the “annual” Vanity Fair
green issue hasn’t been seen since 2008.
This uneasy silence has persisted through the end of the hottest decade in recorded history and yet another summer of freak natural disasters and record-breaking heat worldwide. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry is rushing to make multibillion-dollar investments in new infrastructure to extract oil, natural gas and coal from some of the dirtiest and highest-risk sources on the continent (the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline being only the highest-profile example). In the Alberta tar sands, in the Beaufort Sea, in the gas fields of Pennsylvania and the coalfields of Wyoming and Montana, the industry is betting big that the climate movement is as good as dead.
If the carbon these projects are poised to suck out is released into the atmosphere, the chance of triggering catastrophic climate change will increase dramatically (mining the oil in the Alberta tar sands alone, says NASA’s James Hansen, would be “essentially game over” for the climate).
All of this means that the climate movement needs to have one hell of a comeback. For this to happen, the left is going to have to learn from the right. Denialists gained traction by making climate about economics: action will destroy capitalism, they have claimed, killing jobs and sending prices soaring. But at a time when a growing number of people agree with the protesters at Occupy Wall Street, many of whom argue that capitalism-as-usual is itself the cause of lost jobs and debt slavery, there is a unique opportunity to seize the economic terrain from the right. This would require making a persuasive case that the real solutions to the climate crisis are also our best hope of building a much more enlightened economic system—one that closes deep inequalities, strengthens and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work and radically reins in corporate power. It would also require a shift away from the notion that climate action is just one issue on a laundry list of worthy causes vying for progressive attention. Just as climate denialism has become a core identity issue on the right, utterly entwined with defending current systems of power and wealth, the scientific reality of climate change must, for progressives, occupy a central place in a coherent narrative about the perils of unrestrained greed and the need for real alternatives.
Building such a transformative movement may not be as hard as it first appears. Indeed, if you ask the Heartlanders, climate change makes some kind of left-wing revolution virtually inevitable, which is precisely why they are so determined to deny its reality. Perhaps we should listen to their theories more closely—they might just understand something the left still doesn’t get.
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The deniers did not decide that climate change is a left-wing conspiracy by uncovering some covert socialist plot. They arrived at this analysis by taking a hard look at what it would take to lower global emissions as drastically and as rapidly as climate science demands. They have concluded that this can be done only by radically reordering our economic and political systems in ways antithetical to their “free market” belief system. As British blogger and Heartland regular James Delingpole has pointed out, “Modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the left: redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, greater government intervention, regulation.” Heartland’s Bast puts it even more bluntly: For the left, “Climate change is the perfect thing…. It’s the reason why we should do everything [the left] wanted to do anyway.”
Here’s my inconvenient truth: they aren’t wrong. Before I go any further, let me be absolutely clear: as 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists attest, the Heartlanders are completely wrong about the science. The heat-trapping gases released into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels are already causing temperatures to increase. If we are not on a radically different energy path by the end of this decade, we are in for a world of pain.
But when it comes to the real-world consequences of those scientific findings, specifically the kind of deep changes required not just to our energy consumption but to the underlying logic of our economic system, the crowd gathered at the Marriott Hotel may be in considerably less denial than a lot of professional environmentalists, the ones who paint a picture of global warming Armageddon, then assure us that we can avert catastrophe by buying “green” products and creating clever markets in pollution.
The fact that the earth’s atmosphere cannot safely absorb the amount of carbon we are pumping into it is a symptom of a much larger crisis, one born of the central fiction on which our economic model is based: that nature is limitless, that we will always be able to find more of what we need, and that if something runs out it can be seamlessly replaced by another resource that we can endlessly extract. But it is not just the atmosphere that we have exploited beyond its capacity to recover—we are doing the same to the oceans, to freshwater, to topsoil and to biodiversity. The expansionist, extractive mindset, which has so long governed our relationship to nature, is what the climate crisis calls into question so fundamentally. The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits, including the limits of human intelligence.
So in a way, Chris Horner was right when he told his fellow Heartlanders that climate change isn’t “the issue.” In fact, it isn’t an issue at all. Climate change is a message, one that is telling us that many of our culture’s most cherished ideas are no longer viable. These are profoundly challenging revelations for all of us raised on Enlightenment ideals of progress, unaccustomed to having our ambitions confined by natural boundaries. And this is true for the statist left as well as the neoliberal right.
While Heartlanders like to invoke the specter of communism to terrify Americans about climate action (Czech President Vaclav Klaus, a Heartland conference favorite, says that attempts to prevent global warming are akin to “the ambitions of communist central planners to control the entire society”), the reality is that Soviet-era state socialism was a disaster for the climate. It devoured resources with as much enthusiasm as capitalism, and spewed waste just as recklessly: before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Czechs and Russians had even higher carbon footprints per capita than their counterparts in Britain, Canada and Australia. And while some point to the dizzying expansion of China’s renewable energy programs to argue that only centrally controlled regimes can get the green job done, China’s command-and-control economy continues to be harnessed to wage an all-out war with nature, through massively disruptive mega-dams, superhighways and extraction-based energy projects, particularly coal.
It is true that responding to the climate threat requires strong government action at all levels. But real climate solutions are ones that steer these interventions to systematically disperse and devolve power and control to the community level, whether through community-controlled renewable energy, local organic agriculture or transit systems genuinely accountable to their users.
Here is where the Heartlanders have good reason to be afraid: arriving at these new systems is going to require shredding the free-market ideology that has dominated the global economy for more than three decades. What follows is a quick-and-dirty look at what a serious climate agenda would mean in the following six arenas: public infrastructure, economic planning, corporate regulation, international trade, consumption and taxation. For hard-right ideologues like those gathered at the Heartland conference, the results are nothing short of intellectually cataclysmic.1. Reviving and Reinventing the Public Sphere
After years of recycling, carbon offsetting and light bulb changing, it is obvious that individual action will never be an adequate response to the climate crisis. Climate change is a collective problem, and it demands collective action. One of the key areas in which this collective action must take place is big-ticket investments designed to reduce our emissions on a mass scale. That means subways, streetcars and light-rail systems that are not only everywhere but affordable to everyone; energy-efficient affordable housing along those transit lines; smart electrical grids carrying renewable energy; and a massive research effort to ensure that we are using the best methods possible.
The private sector is ill suited to providing most of these services because they require large up-front investments and, if they are to be genuinely accessible to all, some very well may not be profitable. They are, however, decidedly in the public interest, which is why they should come from the public sector.
Traditionally, battles to protect the public sphere are cast as conflicts between irresponsible leftists who want to spend without limit and practical realists who understand that we are living beyond our economic means. But the gravity of the climate crisis cries out for a radically new conception of realism, as well as a very different understanding of limits. Government budget deficits are not nearly as dangerous as the deficits we have created in vital and complex natural systems. Changing our culture to respect those limits will require all of our collective muscle—to get ourselves off fossil fuels and to shore up communal infrastructure for the coming storms.2. Remembering How to Plan
In addition to reversing the thirty-year privatization trend, a serious response to the climate threat involves recovering an art that has been relentlessly vilified during these decades of market fundamentalism: planning. Lots and lots of planning. And not just at the national and international levels. Every community in the world needs a plan for how it is going to transition away from fossil fuels, what the Transition Town movement calls an “energy descent action plan.” In the cities and towns that have taken this responsibility seriously, the process has opened rare spaces for participatory democracy, with neighbors packing consultation meetings at city halls to share ideas about how to reorganize their communities to lower emissions and build in resilience for tough times ahead.
Climate change demands other forms of planning as well—particularly for workers whose jobs will become obsolete as we wean ourselves off fossil fuels. A few “green jobs” trainings aren’t enough. These workers need to know that real jobs will be waiting for them on the other side. That means bringing back the idea of planning our economies based on collective priorities rather than corporate profitability—giving laid-off employees of car plants and coal mines the tools and resources to create jobs, for example, with Cleveland’s worker-run green co-ops serving as a model.
Agriculture, too, will have to see a revival in planning if we are to address the triple crisis of soil erosion, extreme weather and dependence on fossil fuel inputs. Wes Jackson, the visionary founder of the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, has been calling for “a fifty-year farm bill.” That’s the length of time he and his collaborators Wendell Berry and Fred Kirschenmann estimate it will take to conduct the research and put the infrastructure in place to replace many soil-depleting annual grain crops, grown in monocultures, with perennial crops, grown in polycultures. Since perennials don’t need to be replanted every year, their long roots do a much better job of storing scarce water, holding soil in place and sequestering carbon. Polycultures are also less vulnerable to pests and to being wiped out by extreme weather. Another bonus: this type of farming is much more labor intensive than industrial agriculture, which means that farming can once again be a substantial source of employment.
Outside the Heartland conference and like-minded gatherings, the return of planning is nothing to fear. We are not talking about a return to authoritarian socialism, after all, but a turn toward real democracy. The thirty-odd-year experiment in deregulated, Wild West economics is failing the vast majority of people around the world. These systemic failures are precisely why so many are in open revolt against their elites, demanding living wages and an end to corruption. Climate change doesn’t conflict with demands for a new kind of economy. Rather, it adds to them an existential imperative.3. Reining in Corporations
A key piece of the planning we must undertake involves the rapid re-regulation of the corporate sector. Much can be done with incentives: subsidies for renewable energy and responsible land stewardship, for instance. But we are also going to have to get back into the habit of barring outright dangerous and destructive behavior. That means getting in the way of corporations on multiple fronts, from imposing strict caps on the amount of carbon corporations can emit, to banning new coal-fired power plants, to cracking down on industrial feedlots, to shutting down dirty-energy extraction projects like the Alberta tar sands (starting with pipelines like Keystone XL that lock in expansion plans).
Only a very small sector of the population sees any restriction on corporate or consumer choice as leading down Hayek’s road to serfdom—and, not coincidentally, it is precisely this sector of the population that is at the forefront of climate change denial.4. Relocalizing Production
If strictly regulating corporations to respond to climate change sounds somewhat radical it’s because, since the beginning of the 1980s, it has been an article of faith that the role of government is to get out of the way of the corporate sector—and nowhere more so than in the realm of international trade. The devastating impacts of free trade on manufacturing, local business and farming are well known. But perhaps the atmosphere has taken the hardest hit of all. The cargo ships, jumbo jets and heavy trucks that haul raw resources and finished products across the globe devour fossil fuels and spew greenhouse gases. And the cheap goods being produced—made to be replaced, almost never fixed—are consuming a huge range of other nonrenewable resources while producing far more waste than can be safely absorbed.
This model is so wasteful, in fact, that it cancels out the modest gains that have been made in reducing emissions many times over. For instance, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
recently published a study of the emissions from industrialized countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol. It found that while they had stabilized, that was partly because international trade had allowed these countries to move their dirty production to places like China. The researchers concluded that the rise in emissions from goods produced in developing countries but consumed in industrialized ones was six times
greater than the emissions savings of industrialized countries.
In an economy organized to respect natural limits, the use of energy-intensive long-haul transport would need to be rationed—reserved for those cases where goods cannot be produced locally or where local production is more carbon-intensive. (For example, growing food in greenhouses in cold parts of the United States is often more energy-intensive than growing it in the South and shipping it by light rail.)
Climate change does not demand an end to trade. But it does demand an end to the reckless form of “free trade” that governs every bilateral trade agreement as well as the World Trade Organization. This is more good news —for unemployed workers, for farmers unable to compete with cheap imports, for communities that have seen their manufacturers move offshore and their local businesses replaced with big boxes. But the challenge this poses to the capitalist project should not be underestimated: it represents the reversal of the thirty-year trend of removing every possible limit on corporate power.5. Ending the Cult of Shopping
The past three decades of free trade, deregulation and privatization were not only the result of greedy people wanting greater corporate profits. They were also a response to the “stagflation” of the 1970s, which created intense pressure to find new avenues for rapid economic growth. The threat was real: within our current economic model, a drop in production is by definition a crisis—a recession or, if deep enough, a depression, with all the desperation and hardship that these words imply.
This growth imperative is why conventional economists reliably approach the climate crisis by asking the question, How can we reduce emissions while maintaining robust GDP growth? The usual answer is “decoupling”—the idea that renewable energy and greater efficiencies will allow us to sever economic growth from its environmental impact. And “green growth” advocates like Thomas Friedman tell us that the process of developing new green technologies and installing green infrastructure can provide a huge economic boost, sending GDP soaring and generating the wealth needed to “make America healthier, richer, more innovative, more productive, and more secure.”
But here is where things get complicated. There is a growing body of economic research on the conflict between economic growth and sound climate policy, led by ecological economist Herman Daly at the University of Maryland, as well as Peter Victor at York University, Tim Jackson of the University of Surrey and environmental law and policy expert Gus Speth. All raise serious questions about the feasibility of industrialized countries meeting the deep emissions cuts demanded by science (at least 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050) while continuing to grow their economies at even today’s sluggish rates. As Victor and Jackson argue, greater efficiencies simply cannot keep up with the pace of growth, in part because greater efficiency is almost always accompanied by more consumption, reducing or even canceling out the gains (often called the “Jevons Paradox”). And so long as the savings resulting from greater energy and material efficiencies are simply plowed back into further exponential expansion of the economy, reduction in total emissions will be thwarted. As Jackson argues in Prosperity Without Growth
, “Those who promote decoupling as an escape route from the dilemma of growth need to take a closer look at the historical evidence—and at the basic arithmetic of growth.”
The bottom line is that an ecological crisis that has its roots in the overconsumption of natural resources must be addressed not just by improving the efficiency of our economies but by reducing the amount of material stuff we produce and consume. Yet that idea is anathema to the large corporations that dominate the global economy, which are controlled by footloose investors who demand ever greater profits year after year. We are therefore caught in the untenable bind of, as Jackson puts it, “trash the system or crash the planet.”
The way out is to embrace a managed transition to another economic paradigm, using all the tools of planning discussed above. Growth would be reserved for parts of the world still pulling themselves out of poverty. Meanwhile, in the industrialized world, those sectors that are not governed by the drive for increased yearly profit (the public sector, co-ops, local businesses, nonprofits) would expand their share of overall economic activity, as would those sectors with minimal ecological impacts (such as the caregiving professions). A great many jobs could be created this way. But the role of the corporate sector, with its structural demand for increased sales and profits, would have to contract.
So when the Heartlanders react to evidence of human-induced climate change as if capitalism itself were coming under threat, it’s not because they are paranoid. It’s because they are paying attention.6. Taxing the Rich and Filthy
About now a sensible reader would be asking, How on earth are we going to pay for all this? The old answer would have been easy: we’ll grow our way out of it. Indeed, one of the major benefits of a growth-based economy for elites is that it allows them to constantly defer demands for social justice, claiming that if we keep growing the pie, eventually there will be enough for everyone. That was always a lie, as the current inequality crisis reveals, but in a world hitting multiple ecological limits, it is a nonstarter. So the only way to finance a meaningful response to the ecological crisis is to go where the money is.
That means taxing carbon, as well as financial speculation. It means increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy, cutting bloated military budgets and eliminating absurd subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. And governments will have to coordinate their responses so that corporations will have nowhere to hide (this kind of robust international regulatory architecture is what Heartlanders mean when they warn that climate change will usher in a sinister “world government”).
Most of all, however, we need to go after the profits of the corporations most responsible for getting us into this mess. The top five oil companies made $900 billion in profits in the past decade; ExxonMobil alone can clear $10 billion in profits in a single quarter. For years, these companies have pledged to use their profits to invest in a shift to renewable energy (BP’s “Beyond Petroleum” rebranding being the highest-profile example). But according to a study by the Center for American Progress, just 4 percent of the big five’s $100 billion in combined 2008 profits went to “renewable and alternative energy ventures.” Instead, they continue to pour their profits into shareholder pockets, outrageous executive pay and new technologies designed to extract even dirtier and more dangerous fossil fuels. Plenty of money has also gone to paying lobbyists to beat back every piece of climate legislation that has reared its head, and to fund the denier movement gathered at the Marriott Hotel.
Just as tobacco companies have been obliged to pay the costs of helping people to quit smoking, and BP has had to pay for the cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico, it is high time for the “polluter pays” principle to be applied to climate change. Beyond higher taxes on polluters, governments will have to negotiate much higher royalty rates so that less fossil fuel extraction would raise more public revenue to pay for the shift to our postcarbon future (as well as the steep costs of climate change already upon us). Since corporations can be counted on to resist any new rules that cut into their profits, nationalization—the greatest free-market taboo of all—cannot be off the table.
When Heartlanders claim, as they so often do, that climate change is a plot to “redistribute wealth” and wage class war, these are the types of policies they most fear. They also understand that, once the reality of climate change is recognized, wealth will have to be transferred not just within wealthy countries but also from the rich countries whose emissions created the crisis to poorer ones that are on the front lines of its effects. Indeed, what makes conservatives (and plenty of liberals) so eager to bury the UN climate negotiations is that they have revived a postcolonial courage in parts of the developing world that many thought was gone for good. Armed with irrefutable scientific facts about who is responsible for global warming and who is suffering its effects first and worst, countries like Bolivia and Ecuador are attempting to shed the mantle of “debtor” thrust upon them by decades of International Monetary Fund and World Bank loans and are declaring themselves creditors—owed not just money and technology to cope with climate change but “atmospheric space” in which to develop.
* * *
So let’s summarize. Responding to climate change requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless it is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at a minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law. In short, climate change supercharges the pre-existing case for virtually every progressive demand on the books, binding them into a coherent agenda based on a clear scientific imperative.
More than that, climate change implies the biggest political “I told you so” since Keynes predicted German backlash from the Treaty of Versailles. Marx wrote about capitalism’s “irreparable rift” with “the natural laws of life itself,” and many on the left have argued that an economic system built on unleashing the voracious appetites of capital would overwhelm the natural systems on which life depends. And of course indigenous peoples were issuing warnings about the dangers of disrespecting “Mother Earth” long before that. The fact that the airborne waste of industrial capitalism is causing the planet to warm, with potentially cataclysmic results, means that, well, the naysayers were right. And the people who said, “Hey, let’s get rid of all the rules and watch the magic happen” were disastrously, catastrophically wrong.
There is no joy in being right about something so terrifying. But for progressives, there is responsibility in it, because it means that our ideas—informed by indigenous teachings as well as by the failures of industrial state socialism—are more important than ever. It means that a green-left worldview, which rejects mere reformism and challenges the centrality of profit in our economy, offers humanity’s best hope of overcoming these overlapping crises.
But imagine, for a moment, how all of this looks to a guy like Heartland president Bast, who studied economics at the University of Chicago and described his personal calling to me as “freeing people from the tyranny of other people.” It looks like the end of the world. It’s not, of course. But it is, for all intents and purposes, the end of his
world. Climate change detonates the ideological scaffolding on which contemporary conservatism rests. There is simply no way to square a belief system that vilifies collective action and venerates total market freedom with a problem that demands collective action on an unprecedented scale and a dramatic reining in of the market forces that created and are deepening the crisis.
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At the Heartland conference—where everyone from the Ayn Rand Institute to the Heritage Foundation has a table hawking books and pamphlets—these anxieties are close to the surface. Bast is forthcoming about the fact that Heartland’s campaign against climate science grew out of fear about the policies that the science would require. “When we look at this issue, we say, This is a recipe for massive increase in government…. Before we take this step, let’s take another look at the science. So conservative and libertarian groups, I think, stopped and said, Let’s not simply accept this as an article of faith; let’s actually do our own research.” This is a crucial point to understand: it is not opposition to the scientific facts of climate change that drives denialists but rather opposition to the real-world implications of those facts.
What Bast is describing—albeit inadvertently—is a phenomenon receiving a great deal of attention these days from a growing subset of social scientists trying to explain the dramatic shifts in belief about climate change. Researchers with Yale’s Cultural Cognition Project have found that political/cultural worldview explains “individuals’ beliefs about global warming more powerfully than any other individual characteristic.”
Those with strong “egalitarian” and “communitarian” worldviews (marked by an inclination toward collective action and social justice, concern about inequality and suspicion of corporate power) overwhelmingly accept the scientific consensus on climate change. On the other hand, those with strong “hierarchical” and “individualistic” worldviews (marked by opposition to government assistance for the poor and minorities, strong support for industry and a belief that we all get what we deserve) overwhelmingly reject the scientific consensus.
For example, among the segment of the US population that displays the strongest “hierarchical” views, only 11 percent rate climate change as a “high risk,” compared with 69 percent of the segment displaying the strongest “egalitarian” views. Yale law professor Dan Kahan, the lead author on this study, attributes this tight correlation between “worldview” and acceptance of climate science to “cultural cognition.” This refers to the process by which all of us—regardless of political leanings—filter new information in ways designed to protect our “preferred vision of the good society.” As Kahan explained in Nature
, “People find it disconcerting to believe that behaviour that they find noble is nevertheless detrimental to society, and behaviour that they find base is beneficial to it. Because accepting such a claim could drive a wedge between them and their peers, they have a strong emotional predisposition to reject it.” In other words, it is always easier to deny reality than to watch your worldview get shattered, a fact that was as true of die-hard Stalinists at the height of the purges as it is of libertarian climate deniers today.
When powerful ideologies are challenged by hard evidence from the real world, they rarely die off completely. Rather, they become cultlike and marginal. A few true believers always remain to tell one another that the problem wasn’t with the ideology; it was the weakness of leaders who did not apply the rules with sufficient rigor. We have these types on the Stalinist left, and they exist as well on the neo-Nazi right. By this point in history, free-market fundamentalists should be exiled to a similarly marginal status, left to fondle their copies of Free to Choose
and Atlas Shrugged
in obscurity. They are saved from this fate only because their ideas about minimal government, no matter how demonstrably at war with reality, remain so profitable to the world’s billionaires that they are kept fed and clothed in think tanks by the likes of Charles and David Koch, and ExxonMobil.
This points to the limits of theories like “cultural cognition.” The deniers are doing more than protecting their cultural worldview—they are protecting powerful interests that stand to gain from muddying the waters of the climate debate. The ties between the deniers and those interests are well known and well documented. Heartland has received more than $1 million from ExxonMobil together with foundations linked to the Koch brothers and Richard Mellon Scaife (possibly much more, but the think tank has stopped publishing its donors’ names, claiming the information was distracting from the “merits of our positions”).
And scientists who present at Heartland climate conferences are almost all so steeped in fossil fuel dollars that you can practically smell the fumes. To cite just two examples, the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels, who gave the conference keynote, once told CNN that 40 percent of his consulting company’s income comes from oil companies, and who knows how much of the rest comes from coal. A Greenpeace investigation into another one of the conference speakers, astrophysicist Willie Soon, found that since 2002, 100 percent of his new research grants had come from fossil fuel interests. And fossil fuel companies are not the only economic interests strongly motivated to undermine climate science. If solving this crisis requires the kinds of profound changes to the economic order that I have outlined, then every major corporation benefiting from loose regulation, free trade and low taxes has reason to fear.
With so much at stake, it should come as little surprise that climate deniers are, on the whole, those most invested in our highly unequal and dysfunctional economic status quo. One of the most interesting findings of the studies on climate perceptions is the clear connection between a refusal to accept the science of climate change and social and economic privilege. Overwhelmingly, climate deniers are not only conservative but also white and male, a group with higher than average incomes. And they are more likely than other adults to be highly confident in their views, no matter how demonstrably false. A much-discussed paper on this topic by Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap (memorably titled “Cool Dudes”) found that confident conservative white men, as a group, were almost six times as likely to believe climate change “will never happen” than the rest of the adults surveyed. McCright and Dunlap offer a simple explanation for this discrepancy: “Conservative white males have disproportionately occupied positions of power within our economic system. Given the expansive challenge that climate change poses to the industrial capitalist economic system, it should not be surprising that conservative white males’ strong system-justifying attitudes would be triggered to deny climate change.”
But deniers’ relative economic and social privilege doesn’t just give them more to lose from a new economic order; it gives them reason to be more sanguine about the risks of climate change in the first place. This occurred to me as I listened to yet another speaker at the Heartland conference display what can only be described as an utter absence of empathy for the victims of climate change. Larry Bell, whose bio describes him as a “space architect,” drew plenty of laughs when he told the crowd that a little heat isn’t so bad: “I moved to Houston intentionally!” (Houston was, at that time, in the midst of what would turn out to be the state’s worst single-year drought on record.) Australian geologist Bob Carter offered that “the world actually does better from our human perspective in warmer times.” And Patrick Michaels said people worried about climate change should do what the French did after a devastating 2003 heat wave killed 14,000 of their people: “they discovered Walmart and air-conditioning.”
Listening to these zingers as an estimated 13 million people in the Horn of Africa face starvation on parched land was deeply unsettling. What makes this callousness possible is the firm belief that if the deniers are wrong about climate change, a few degrees of warming isn’t something wealthy people in industrialized countries have to worry about. (“When it rains, we find shelter. When it’s hot, we find shade,” Texas Congressman Joe Barton explained at an energy and environment subcommittee hearing.)
As for everyone else, well, they should stop looking for handouts and busy themselves getting unpoor. When I asked Michaels whether rich countries have a responsibility to help poor ones pay for costly adaptations to a warmer climate, he scoffed that there is no reason to give money to countries “because, for some reason, their political system is incapable of adapting.” The real solution, he claimed, was more free trade.
* * *
This is where the intersection between hard-right ideology and climate denial gets truly dangerous. It’s not simply that these “cool dudes” deny climate science because it threatens to upend their dominance-based worldview. It is that their dominance-based worldview provides them with the intellectual tools to write off huge swaths of humanity in the developing world. Recognizing the threat posed by this empathy-exterminating mindset is a matter of great urgency, because climate change will test our moral character like little before. The US Chamber of Commerce, in its bid to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon emissions, argued in a petition that in the event of global warming, “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations.” These adaptations are what I worry about most.
How will we adapt to the people made homeless and jobless by increasingly intense and frequent natural disasters? How will we treat the climate refugees who arrive on our shores in leaky boats? Will we open our borders, recognizing that we created the crisis from which they are fleeing? Or will we build ever more high-tech fortresses and adopt ever more draconian antiimmigration laws? How will we deal with resource scarcity?
We know the answers already. The corporate quest for scarce resources will become more rapacious, more violent. Arable land in Africa will continue to be grabbed to provide food and fuel to wealthier nations. Drought and famine will continue to be used as a pretext to push genetically modified seeds, driving farmers further into debt. We will attempt to transcend peak oil and gas by using increasingly risky technologies to extract the last drops, turning ever larger swaths of our globe into sacrifice zones. We will fortress our borders and intervene in foreign conflicts over resources, or start those conflicts ourselves. “Free-market climate solutions,” as they are called, will be a magnet for speculation, fraud and crony capitalism, as we are already seeing with carbon trading and the use of forests as carbon offsets. And as climate change begins to affect not just the poor but the wealthy as well, we will increasingly look for techno-fixes to turn down the temperature, with massive and unknowable risks.
As the world warms, the reigning ideology that tells us it’s everyone for themselves, that victims deserve their fate, that we can master nature, will take us to a very cold place indeed. And it will only get colder, as theories of racial superiority, barely under the surface in parts of the denial movement, make a raging comeback. These theories are not optional: they are necessary to justify the hardening of hearts to the largely blameless victims of climate change in the global South, and in predominately African-American cities like New Orleans.
In The Shock Doctrine
, I explore how the right has systematically used crises—real and trumped up—to push through a brutal ideological agenda designed not to solve the problems that created the crises but rather to enrich elites. As the climate crisis begins to bite, it will be no exception. This is entirely predictable. Finding new ways to privatize the commons and to profit from disaster are what our current system is built to do. The process is already well under way.
The only wild card is whether some countervailing popular movement will step up to provide a viable alternative to this grim future. That means not just an alternative set of policy proposals but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis—this time, embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance and cooperation rather than hierarchy.
Shifting cultural values is, admittedly, a tall order. It calls for the kind of ambitious vision that movements used to fight for a century ago, before everything was broken into single “issues” to be tackled by the appropriate sector of business-minded NGOs. Climate change is, in the words of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change
, “the greatest example of market failure we have ever seen.” By all rights, this reality should be filling progressive sails with conviction, breathing new life and urgency into longstanding fights against everything from free trade to financial speculation to industrial agriculture to third-world debt, while elegantly weaving all these struggles into a coherent narrative about how to protect life on earth.
But that isn’t happening, at least not so far. It is a painful irony that while the Heartlanders are busily calling climate change a left-wing plot, most leftists have yet to realize that climate science has handed them the most powerful argument against capitalism since William Blake’s “dark Satanic Mills” (and, of course, those mills were the beginning of climate change). When demonstrators are cursing out the corruption of their governments and corporate elites in Athens, Madrid, Cairo, Madison and New York, climate change is often little more than a footnote, when it should be the coup de grâce.
Half of the problem is that progressives—their hands full with soaring unemployment and multiple wars—tend to assume that the big green groups have the climate issue covered. The other half is that many of those big green groups have avoided, with phobic precision, any serious debate on the blindingly obvious roots of the climate crisis: globalization, deregulation and contemporary capitalism’s quest for perpetual growth (the same forces that are responsible for the destruction of the rest of the economy). The result is that those taking on the failures of capitalism and those fighting for climate action remain two solitudes, with the small but valiant climate justice movement—drawing the connections between racism, inequality and environmental vulnerability—stringing up a few swaying bridges between them.
The right, meanwhile, has had a free hand to exploit the global economic crisis to cast climate action as a recipe for economic Armageddon, a surefire way to spike household costs and to block new, much-needed jobs drilling for oil and laying new pipelines. With virtually no loud voices offering a competing vision of how a new economic paradigm could provide a way out of both the economic and ecological crises, this fearmongering has had a ready audience.
Far from learning from past mistakes, a powerful faction in the environmental movement is pushing to go even further down the same disastrous road, arguing that the way to win on climate is to make the cause more palatable to conservative values. This can be heard from the studiously centrist Breakthrough Institute, which is calling for the movement to embrace industrial agriculture and nuclear power instead of organic farming and decentralized renewables. It can also be heard from several of the researchers studying the rise in climate denial. Some, like Yale’s Kahan, point out that while those who poll as highly “hierarchical” and “individualist” bridle at any mention of regulation, they tend to like big, centralized technologies that confirm their belief that humans can dominate nature. So, he and others argue, environmentalists should start emphasizing responses such as nuclear power and geoengineering (deliberately intervening in the climate system to counteract global warming), as well as playing up concerns about national security.
The first problem with this strategy is that it doesn’t work. For years, big green groups have framed climate action as a way to assert “energy security,” while “free-market solutions” are virtually the only ones on the table in the United States. Meanwhile, denialism has soared. The more troubling problem with this approach, however, is that rather than challenging the warped values motivating denialism, it reinforces them. Nuclear power and geoengineering are not solutions to the ecological crisis; they are a doubling down on exactly the kind of short-term hubristic thinking that got us into this mess.
It is not the job of a transformative social movement to reassure members of a panicked, megalomaniacal elite that they are still masters of the universe—nor is it necessary. According to McCright, co-author of the “Cool Dudes” study, the most extreme, intractable climate deniers (many of them conservative white men) are a small minority of the US population—roughly 10 percent. True, this demographic is massively overrepresented in positions of power. But the solution to that problem is not for the majority of people to change their ideas and values. It is to attempt to change the culture so that this small but disproportionately influential minority—and the reckless worldview it represents—wields significantly less power.
* * *
Some in the climate camp are pushing back hard against the appeasement strategy. Tim DeChristopher, serving a two-year jail sentence in Utah for disrupting a compromised auction of oil and gas leases, commented in May on the right-wing claim that climate action will upend the economy. “I believe we should embrace the charges,” he told an interviewer. “No, we are not trying to disrupt the economy, but yes, we do want to turn it upside down. We should not try and hide our vision about what we want to change—of the healthy, just world that we wish to create. We are not looking for small shifts: we want a radical overhaul of our economy and society.” He added, “I think once we start talking about it, we will find more allies than we expect.”
When DeChristopher articulated this vision for a climate movement fused with one demanding deep economic transformation, it surely sounded to most like a pipe dream. But just five months later, with Occupy Wall Street chapters seizing squares and parks in hundreds of cities, it sounds prophetic. It turns out that a great many Americans had been hungering for this kind of transformation on many fronts, from the practical to the spiritual.
Though climate change was something of an afterthought in the movement’s early texts, an ecological consciousness was woven into OWS from the start—from the sophisticated “gray water” filtration system that uses dishwater to irrigate plants at Zuccotti Park, to the scrappy community garden planted at Occupy Portland. Occupy Boston’s laptops and cellphones are powered by bicycle generators, and Occupy DC has installed solar panels. Meanwhile, the ultimate symbol of OWS—the human microphone—is nothing if not a postcarbon solution.
And new political connections are being made. The Rainforest Action Network, which has been targeting Bank of America for financing the coal industry, has made common cause with OWS activists taking aim at the bank over foreclosures. Anti-fracking activists have pointed out that the same economic model that is blasting the bedrock of the earth to keep the gas flowing is blasting the social bedrock to keep the profits flowing. And then there is the historic movement against the Keystone XL pipeline, which this fall has decisively yanked the climate movement out of the lobbyists’ offices and into the streets (and jail cells). Anti-Keystone campaigners have noted that anyone concerned about the corporate takeover of democracy need look no further than the corrupt process that led the State Department to conclude that a pipeline carrying dirty tar sands oil across some of the most sensitive land in the country would have “limited adverse environmental impacts.” As 350.org’s Phil Aroneanu put it, “If Wall Street is occupying President Obama’s State Department and the halls of Congress, it’s time for the people to occupy Wall Street.”
But these connections go beyond a shared critique of corporate power. As Occupiers ask themselves what kind of economy should be built to displace the one crashing all around us, many are finding inspiration in the network of green economic alternatives that has taken root over the past decade—in community-controlled renewable energy projects, in community-supported agriculture and farmers’ markets, in economic localization initiatives that have brought main streets back to life, and in the co-op sector. Already a group at OWS is cooking up plans to launch the movement’s first green workers’ co-op (a printing press); local food activists have made the call to “Occupy the Food System!”; and November 20 is “Occupy Rooftops”—a coordinated effort to use crowd-sourcing to buy solar panels for community buildings.
Not only do these economic models create jobs and revive communities while reducing emissions; they do so in a way that systematically disperses power—the antithesis of an economy by and for the 1 percent. Omar Freilla, one of the founders of Green Worker Cooperatives in the South Bronx, told me that the experience in direct democracy that thousands are having in plazas and parks has been, for many, “like flexing a muscle you didn’t know you had.” And, he says, now they want more democracy—not just at a meeting but also in their community planning and in their workplaces.
In other words, culture is rapidly shifting. And this is what truly sets the OWS moment apart. The Occupiers—holding signs that said Greed Is Gross and I Care About You—decided early on not to confine their protests to narrow policy demands. Instead, they took aim at the underlying values of rampant greed and individualism that created the economic crisis, while embodying—in highly visible ways—radically different ways to treat one another and relate to the natural world.
This deliberate attempt to shift cultural values is not a distraction from the “real” struggles. In the rocky future we have already made inevitable, an unshakable belief in the equal rights of all people, and a capacity for deep compassion, will be the only things standing between humanity and barbarism. Climate change, by putting us on a firm deadline, can serve as the catalyst for precisely this profound social and ecological transformation.
Culture, after all, is fluid. It can change. It happens all the time. The delegates at the Heartland conference know this, which is why they are so determined to suppress the mountain of evidence proving that their worldview is a threat to life on earth. The task for the rest of us is to believe, based on that same evidence, that a very different worldview can be our salvation.This article appeared in the November 28, 2011 edition of The Nation.
Joel Kovel's Speech at Occupy Wall Street:
I am honoured to be here this evening because you are the light of the world. I’m not saying this to flatter, but because we have to understand it deeply. Your genius has been to seize upon the emerging hopes of humanity and give them a form of realization. Now you are on the threshold of a world-transforming process, and you must decide whether to cross over it.
Most of you have been spurred to come here by economic and political injustice: vicious indebtedness, precarious employment or unemployment, a nightmarish rise in inequality of wealth. In short, the workings of a system that is corrupt, manifestly broken and, it seems, in terminal crisis, But that is just one side of the problem, and, I fear, the lesser side. The brutal fact of the other side is that our planetary ecology is breaking down. Climate change, species loss, widening circles of pollution are some of its marks.
All this, and more, testifies to an ecological crisis of unprecedented proportion that threatens the future of civilization, and even the extinction of our species along with many others. It is the greatest challenge in all human history. To meet it, we need to begin with a basic truth: that the same system which causes economic and political injustice also causes ecological breakdown. It follows that to understand and change both sides of our predicament, we need to be able to name and understand this system - and, first of all, to see it as a system and to understand its root, so that we can uproot it. The system, in a word, is capitalism.
Capitalism is more than the set of corporations, though corporations are among its instruments. It is a deep-seated ailment in the human condition that centers around the conversion of everything to money and lives from the expansion of money, or profit, which becomes capital itself. This expansion is inherently endless, because money is number, and numbers have no limit. We call this capital’s accumulation, and it is the supreme value of the capitalist system. To accumulate, capital has to start somewhere. This takes place in something called a Commons.
A Commons is a portion of nature collectively worked on and enjoyed by people. When the capitalist class takes control of the Commons, it’s called an enclosure. Thus, the history of capitalism can be written as an ongoing and expanding series of enclosures - and the struggles against this. When the European settlers came here, they saw that the Indians were communists who lived according to the Commons. This aroused their vampire-like greed, and so they set out on a path of destruction and possession. They enclosed the Commons, put walls around it, and converted it to private property And yes, Wall Street is named for a real wall built on the actual site of today’s street. It defined an enclosure built to “wall off” the Algonquin Indians and keep them out of the settler’s way.
This can be said to be the launching point of capitalism in North America. It has grown into the metastasizing cancer known as Finance Capital you see all around you, extending everywhere to the outer limits of empire, and into the depths of our souls. Indeed, the name, Wall Street, has come to mean capitalism itself. So you see, when you occupy Wall Street you are truly reversing the enclosure of Commons and tearing at the very root of capitalism. Welcome to the Indian Nation!
And this, friends, is the secret to your stroke of genius that makes you the light of the world. If we are faithful to this lesson, we can transform society, bring about justice for all, and overcome the ecological crisis. For you have created a pathway of “commoning.” Your space of occupation is both a site of resistance and a site of production. This dual nature is what gives strength and resilience to your movement and ignites the spark to inspire the whole world, even as you have been inspired by other examples of creative commoning. Now a resistant and productive commons is itself a flourishing, integral ecosystem; and the building ground for healing and restoring other ecosystems. It is implied in what Karl Marx wrote in 1848 - and I hope you are not ashamed to learn from Karl Marx — that we will build “an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” Therefore, freedom is the essential condition for a society beyond capitalism.
An association of free people will take care of nature because they see themselves as part of nature. They will struggle for a new world based on a new kind of production that gives nature intrinsic value. They will develop the tools for overcoming and healing the cancer of accumulation and the ecological crisis it generates. Such a society will be in harmony with nature and not nature’s enemy. I would call it “ecosocialism,” and I hope you will join in its building.
The task is fantastically difficult. But, once you realize that you are not here to want what they want you to want: To help out the Democratic party; to get a seat at the big table; to rationalize the deadly regime of accumulation . . . New choices open before you. And this is the one for the flourishing of life. Neither are you here to want what I want you to want. You are here to seize the day whose dawning you have brought about, and to direct it into the future. Much study lies ahead, much frustration, indeed, much sacrifice . . . but also much joy, once you accept the truth that the old order is dying, and the faith that a new one can be born.
On 31 October, according to the UN, world population tops seven billion.
It’s only 13 years ago that we hit six billion. So is population exploding? It certainly sounds like it, judging by many media reports.
But take a look at these graphics and you may see another picture emerging. Let’s start with the projections:
The top line assumes a high total fertility rate, or number of children a woman will have on average during her lifetime. This takes us to around 11 billion people by 2050.
The middle one (which is most commonly used) assumes a medium or ‘replacement’ fertility rate and takes us up to around nine billion.
The lowest assumes a below replacement fertility rate and takes us to around eight billion.
So, a lot depends on the fertility rate and its impact on family size:
In around 76 countries in the world, the current population is not even replacing itself. But in some low income countries, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa, the fertility rate has remained high, with women having around five children on average.
Let’s look at what happens to those three projections beyond 2050:
In a low fertility scenario world population peaks by 2050 and starts to decline. By 2100 we are back where we were 1998, with six billion people. This is what some population experts, including the UNFPA’s Ralph Hakkert, think will happen.
In a medium fertility scenario, where people carry on replacing themselves, the rate of population growth slows down until we gradually reach 10 billion by 2100.
In a high fertility world we hit 16 billion by 2100.
As we have seen over the past 50 years, the global trend is quite definitely towards smaller families. Once that trend begins, with people having fewer children or none at all, it is hard or even impossible to reverse – as policy makers have found in countries with shrinking populations like Japan or Korea or parts of Europe.
We know that one of the strongest factors in determining family size is women’s education and empowerment.
Just look at what happens to fertility rates when women become more literate.
Some people who are concerned about global warming are saying that the priority has to be bringing down fertility rates in the countries where they are high. Currently 18 per of the world’s population lives in such low-income countries.
But the areas where population is growing fastest are those that emit least CO2 while countries where population is growing slowly or shrinking emit the most.
Look at this:
Vanessa Baird’s new book, No-Nonsense Guide to World Population, is available from the New Internationalist online shop, or all good bookshops. This article from the New Internationalist Blog
The 'today' when this classic article was first published was back in 2007 - reposted here so it can be rediscovered.
Homo sapiens has been contending with its effects on nature since Paleolithic days and the first great extinctions wrought by hunting bands. But it was not until the 1970s that these became experienced as a great ecological crisis threatening the future of the species. The modern environmental movement was born in that moment, with its Earth Days, green parties and innumerable NGOs signalling that a new, ecologically aware age had arisen to contend with the planetary threat.
The optimism of those early years has now quite faded. Despite certain useful interventions like greater recycling of garbage or the development of green zones, it is increasingly apparent that the whole mass of governmental regulations, environmental NGO’s and academic programs has failed to check the overall pace of ecological decay. Indeed, since the first Earth Day was proclaimed, the breakdown in crucial areas such as carbon emissions, the loss of barrier reefs and deforestation of the Amazon basin has actually accelerated and even begun to assume an exponential character.
How do we explain this grim fact, the awareness of which should inspire the most vigorous efforts to go beyond the limits of present-day environmentalism? Perhaps Margaret Thatcher should be heeded here. In the later years of the 1970s, the very decade that was to usher in the environmental era, the “Iron Lady” Prime Minister of the UK announced the rise of “TINA,” the acronym for her slogan “There Is No Alternative” to the given society, and certainly no alternative of the sort envisioned by the first wave of environmentalists.
What had happened was that environmentalism had missed the point, and was dealing with external symptoms rather than the basic disease. Thatcher did not spell it out in detail but there is no mistaking what she had in mind and stood for: There was to be no alternative to capitalism—to be exact, the born-again, harder-edged kind of capitalism which was being installed during the 70s in place of the welfare-state capitalism that had prevailed for much of the century. This was a deliberate response to a serious accumulation crisis that had convinced the leaders of the global economy to install what we know as neoliberalism. Thatcher was emblematic, along with Ronald Reagan in the US, of its political face.
Neoliberalism is a return to the pure logic of capital; it is no passing storm but the true condition of the capitalist world we inhabit. It has effectively swept away measures which had inhibited capital’s aggressivity, replacing them with naked exploitation of humanity and nature. The tearing down of boundaries and limits to accumulation is known as “globalization,” and is celebrated by ideologues like Thomas Friedman as a new epoch of universal progress borne on the wings of free trade and unfettered commodification. This blitzkrieg or bombardment simply overwhelmed the feeble liberal reforms which the environmental movements of the 1970s had helped put in place in order to check ecological decay. And as these movements have had little or no critique of capital, they drift helplessly in a time of accelerated breakdown.
Thus it is time to recognize the utter inadequacy of first-wave environmentalism’s basic premises and forms of organization. There is a certain urgency to this recognition, for nothing less than profound and indeed unprecedented changes in human existence are forewarned by the ecological crisis. And that this path has now opened before us can be attributed to capital itself, which places us on a track to ecological chaos. While there are many complexities corresponding to capital’s responsibility for the ecological crisis, there is but one overriding tendency: capitalism requires continual growth of the economic product and since this growth is for the sake of capital and not real human need, the result is the continual destabilization of an integral relationship to nature. The essential reason for this lies in capitalism’s distinctive difference from all other modes of production, that is, that it is organized around the production of capital itself—a purely abstract, numerical entity with no internal limit. Hence it drags the material natural world, which very definitely has limits, along with it on its mad quest for value and surplus value, and can do nothing else.
We have no choice about the fact that the ecological crisis portends radical change. But we can choose the kind of change, whether it is to be for life or death. As Ian Angus puts it in his listserve, Climate and Capitalism, the choice is simple enough: “EcoSocialism or Barbarism: There is no third way” *
This is a paraphrase of the great Rosa Luxemburg’s saying of the early twentieth century, that the real choice before humanity was between “Socialism or Barbarism.” This is quite true. The failure of the socialist revolutions (both immediately as in the case of Luxemburg and the Spartacist uprising in Germany, and later with the failure of the other socialisms of the twentieth century, especially those organized around the USSR and China), has been a condition for the present triumph of barbaric capitalism, with its endless wars, nightmarish consumerism, ever-widening gap between rich and poor — and most significantly, ecological crisis. So the choice remains the same, except that capitalist barbarism now means ecocatastrophe. This is because the capacity of the earth to buffer the effects of human production has become overwhelmed by the chaos of its productive system. Any movement for social transformation in our time will have to foreground this issue, for the very notion of a future depends on whether we can resolve it or not.
For this reason, a socialism worthy of the name will have to be ecologically—or to be more exact, “ecocentrically”—oriented, that is, it will have to be an “ecosocialism” devoted to restoring the integrity of our relationship to nature. The distinction between ecosocialism and the “first-epoch” socialisms of the last century is not merely terminological, as though for ecosocialism we simply need worker control over the industrial apparatus and some good environmental regulation. We do need worker control in ecosocialism as we did in the socialism of the “first epoch,” for unless the producers are free there is no overcoming of capitalism. But the ecological aspect also poses a new and more radical issue that calls into question the very character of production itself.
Capitalist production, in its endless search for profit, seeks to turn everything into a commodity. Only in this way can accumulation continuously expand. By releasing us from the tyranny of private ownership of the means of production, socialism, whether of the first-epoch variety or as ecosocialism, makes it possible to interrupt the deadly tendency of cancerous growth, which is effectively driven by the competition between capitals for ever greater market share. But this leaves open the question of just what will be produced, and how, within an ecosocialist society.
It is plain that production will have to shift from being dominated by exchange—the path of the commodity—to that which is for use, that is for the direct meeting of human needs. But this in turn requires definition, and in the context of ecological crisis, “use” can only mean those set of needs essential for the overcoming of the ecological crisis—for this is the greatest need for civilization as a whole, and therefore for each woman and man within it.
It follows that human beings can only flourish in circumstances in which the damage to nature that capital has wrought is overcome, as for example, by ceasing to transfer carbon to the atmosphere. Since “nature” is the interrelated set of all ecosystems, production within ecosocialism should be oriented toward the mending of ecosystemic damage and indeed, the making of flourishing ecosystems. This could entail ecologically rational farms, for example, or—since we ourselves are natural creatures who live ecosystemically, in communities—ecologically directed human relationships, including the raising of children, the relations between genders and indeed, the whole spiritual and aesthetic side of life.
This article is far too brief to allow the development of these themes. But from what has been said so far it should be apparent that in talking of ecosocialism we are saying much more than that our economy or technology must change. Ecosocialism is no more a purely economic matter than was socialism or communism in the eyes of Marx. It needs to be precisely the radical transformation of society—and human existence—that Marx envisioned as the next stage in human evolution. Indeed, it must be that if we are going to survive the ecological crisis. Ecosocialism is the ushering in, then, of a whole mode of production, one in which freely associated labour produces flourishing ecosystems rather than commodities.
Most definitely, this raises far more questions than it answers, which is itself a measure of how profound the ecological crisis is. What, after all, would life look like if we stopped pouring carbon into the atmosphere and allowed the climate ecosystem to re-equilibrate, that is, be healed? How, really, are we to live fully human lives in harmony with nature given the tremendous horrors built into our system of society? There is no certainty of outcome. But there is one certainty we have to build: there must be an alternative.
By Ian Angus & Simon ButlerFrom Grist
The United Nations says that the world's population will reach 7 billion people this month.
The approach of that milestone has produced a wave of articles and opinion pieces blaming the world's environmental crises on overpopulation. In New York's Times Square, a huge and expensive video
declares that "human overpopulation is driving species extinct." In London's busiest Underground stations, electronic poster boards
warn that 7 billion is ecologically unsustainable.
In 1968, Paul Ehrlich's bestseller The Population Bomb
declared that as a result of overpopulation, "the battle to feed humanity is over," and the 1970s would be a time of global famines and ever-rising death rates. His predictions were all wrong, but four decades later his successors still use Ehrlich's phrase -- too many people!
-- to explain environmental problems.
But most of the 7 billion are not endangering the earth. The majority of the world's people don't destroy forests, don't wipe out endangered species, don't pollute rivers and oceans, and emit essentially no greenhouse gases.
Even in the rich countries of the Global North, most environmental destruction is caused not by individuals or households, but by mines, factories, and power plants run by corporations that care more about profit than about humanity's survival.
No reduction in U.S. population would have stopped BP from poisoning the Gulf of Mexico last year.
Lower birthrates won't shut down Canada's tar sands, which Bill McKibben has justly called one of the most staggering crimes the world has ever seen.
Universal access to birth control should be a fundamental human right -- but it would not have prevented Shell's massive destruction of ecosystems in the Niger River delta, or the immeasurable damage that Chevron has caused to rainforests in Ecuador.
Ironically, while populationist groups focus attention on the 7 billion, protestors in the worldwide Occupy movement have identified the real source of environmental destruction: not the 7 billion, but the 1%, the handful of millionaires and billionaires who own more, consume more, control more, and destroy more than all the rest of us put together.
In the United States, the richest 1% own a majority of all stocks and corporate equity, giving them absolute control of the corporations that are directly responsible for most environmental destruction.Read more from Angus and Butler in their new book Too Many People?
A recent report
prepared by the British consulting firm Trucost for the United Nations found that just 3,000 corporations cause $2.15 trillion in environmental damage every year. Outrageous as that figure is -- only six countries have a GDP greater than $2.15 trillion -- it substantially understates the damage, because it excludes costs that would result from "potential high impact events such as fishery or ecosystem collapse," and "external costs caused by product use and disposal, as well as companies' use of other natural resources and release of further pollutants through their operations and suppliers."
So in the case of oil companies, the figure covers "normal operations," but not deaths and destruction caused by global warming, not damage caused by worldwide use of its products, and not the multi-billions of dollars in costs to clean up oil spills. The real damage those companies alone do is much greater than $2.15 trillion, every single year.
The 1% also control the governments that supposedly regulate those destructive corporations. The millionaires include 46 percent of members of the U.S. House of Representatives, 54 out of 100 senators, and every president since Eisenhower.
Through the government, the 1% control the U.S. military, the largest user of petroleum in the world, and thus one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Military operations produce more hazardous waste than the five largest chemical companies combined. More than 10 percent of all Superfund hazardous waste sites in the United States are on military bases.
Those who believe that slowing population growth will stop or slow environmental destruction are ignoring these real and immediate threats to life on our planet. Corporations and armies aren't polluting the world and destroying ecosystems because there are too many people, but because it is profitable to do so.
If the birthrate in Iraq or Afghanistan falls to zero, the U.S. military will not use one less gallon of oil.
If every African country adopts a one-child policy, energy companies in the U.S., China, and elsewhere will continue burning coal, bringing us ever closer to climate catastrophe.
Critics of the too many people
argument are often accused of believing that there are no limits to growth. In our case, that simply isn't true. What we do say is that in an ecologically rational and socially just world, where large families aren't an economic necessity for hundreds of millions of people, population will stabilize. In Betsy Hartmann's words, "The best population policy is to concentrate on improving human welfare in all its many facets. Take care of the population and population growth will go down."
The world's multiple environmental crises demand rapid and decisive action, but we can't act effectively unless we understand why they are happening. If we misdiagnose the illness, at best we will waste precious time on ineffective cures; at worst, we will make the crises worse.Read more on population. Check out our series 7 billion: What to expect when you're expanding
.The too many people
argument directs the attention and efforts of sincere activists to programs that will not have any substantial effect. At the same time, it weakens efforts to build an effective global movement against ecological destruction: It divides our forces, by blaming the principal victims of the crisis for problems they did not cause.
Above all, it ignores the massively destructive role of an irrational economic and social system that has gross waste and devastation built into its DNA. The capitalist system and the power of the 1%, not population size, are the root causes of today's ecological crisis.
As pioneering ecologist Barry Commoner once said, "Pollution begins not in the family bedroom, but in the corporate boardroom."
Ian Angus is coauthor of Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis
. He is editor of the ecosocialist journal Climate and Capitalism
.Simon Butler is coauthor of Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis
. He is editor of Green Left Weekly
Join the Conversation on Grist
Why We Occupy, What We Know
by John Bellamy Foster Occupy Eugene rally, 15 October 2011
We are here as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which in a few short weeks has become a global movement in hundreds of cities around the world. We are part of the 99 percent not only in this country but the world.
I have been reading the mainstream, corporate media. I have been listening to the pundits, the power brokers, the politicians. They criticize our movement, saying we don't really know why we are here. They claim that we are simply angry; that all we are is an "emotional outcry." House majority leader Eric Cantor calls us "a growing mob."
Wall Street bankers interviewed by the New York Times
say that we are "fringe groups"; that we will "thin out" and disperse when the weather gets colder.
A New York Times
article reported yesterday that we were confused "liberal activists" fed up with partisan politics but with no real ideas of your own. An editorial in the same paper said we were just protestors, with no clear demands. We are well meaning, they conceded, but it is the politicians, not the people in the street, who have the job -- so they say -- of determining the future course of things, not us, not the 99%.Foreign Affairs
magazine, the publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, writes that Occupy Wall Street is critical of Wall Street, but not of capitalism; they say that we do not question the system itself.They are wrong
. We are part of the growing army of the Occupy Wall Street movement worldwide. And we know why we are here
- We know that U.S. society has become fundamentally unequal. We know, though we may not all know the exact numbers, that the top 1 percent of income recipients receives almost 25 percent of all income in the society (including capital gains), and the top 10 percent receives almost 50 percent.
- We know, though we might not be able to quote the figures precisely, that, between 1950 and 1970, for every additional dollar made by those in the bottom 90 percent of income earners, those in the top one hundredth of one percent received $162 dollars. But that was back when things were more equal! Between 1990 and 2002, for every added dollar made by those in the bottom 90 percent of the population, those in the top one hundredth of one percent made an additional $18,000.
- We know about the Forbes 400. That in the United States 400 individuals (a number far less than those here today) own as much wealth as the bottom half of the U.S. population, some 150 million people.
- We know, though we may not know the precise details, that according to an audit by the U.S. General Accounting Office, the Federal Reserve Board provided more than $16 trillion in financial assistance in the latest financial crisis to the largest corporations in the United States and the world. The rich were bailed out while the majority of the population was made to pay the cost! And you are still paying!
- We know that there is over 9 percent official unemployment in the United States, while the real number of people who want full-time employment and don't have it is around twice that.
- We know that official unemployment for adolescents is 25%; for blacks 16 percent; for Latinos and Latinas 11%. And if you double these numbers you are closer to reality.
- We know, though we may not realize its full extent, that there are 2.4 billion people globally who, according to the International Labor Organization, are unemployed, underemployed, economically inactive, or engaged in subsistence labor. That 39 percent of the world's workers live on less than $2 a day.
- We know that multinational corporations exploit the differences in wages between countries, taking advantage of the enormous global reserve army of the unemployed, to generate humongous profits, and to hold down wages worldwide.
- We know that there is no real economic recovery; that we are in a period of economic stagnation, where only the rich are prospering. That economic growth in the United States has been slowing down in each successive decade since the 1960s and is now virtually stagnant. That the rich are getting bigger slices of a non-growing pie while the slices for almost everyone else are less.
- We know that the planet is being destroyed. That the future of all species and of humanity itself is being cut off. That, as James Hansen, the world's leading climatologist puts it, this is "our last chance to save humanity." And that none of the governments in the rich economies are doing anything at all about it! That oil companies and coal companies are more important to those in power than the planet itself.
- We know that the United States and its allies have been engaged recently in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. That an intervention is being planned for Iran, and possibly Venezuela. That U.S. military bases dot the entire globe and are increasing in numbers. We know that the United States spends around half a billion dollars officially on the military each year, and in reality a trillion dollars a year.
- We know that we live in a plutocracy rather than a democracy, where money outvotes public opinion at every point in the political process.
- We know that unions are in the defensive in this country. That they have been smashed by unfair legislation. That they are struggling to find a way to fight back.
- We know that our elementary and secondary educations system in the United States is being privatized and destroyed.
- We know that we have by far the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
- We know that all of this is related to the system of economic power, to a society that believes in the Wall Street principle, "greed is good," the signature of capitalism.
- We know that we are the necessary, the last defense of humanity. That you are the world's 99%. That we will not "thin out" when the weather gets bad. That we are not a mob. That we are the earth, we are democracy, we are the future. The world has been occupied too long by a tiny minority. It is time for the people to reoccupy it. To take it back.
In 2009, I participated in a discussion about the global financial crisis on Democracy Now!
I said then that we were in a period of long-term economic stagnation (of which the financial crisis was simply a symptom). The closest historical precedent was the Great Depression. I pointed out that it took about four years after the 1929 stock market crash before there was a revolt in the United States in the 1930s -- what we know as the Great Revolt from Below -- which resulted in the industrial union movement, the rise of the CIO, and the second New Deal. The revolt didn't come in earnest until a year or more after the economic recovery had started in 1933, when people suddenly realized that the recovery was false.
I said that a similar Great Revolt from Below was likely in the United States today, given a deep and lasting economic stagnation. But that we might have to wait three or four years, just as in the Great Depression, for it to get off the ground, and for the people to ignite. That, just as in the Great Depression, the revolt would not materialize until people had learned that the promise of economic recovery was false, that they had been lied to and systematically robbed. Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Eugene, Occupy the United States
is the Great Revolt from Below in our time.
But what we are witnessing this time is the growth of something much larger still. In a matter of a few weeks we have watched the emergence of an Occupy the World movement. Everywhere people are uniting in struggle. When I was in Australia at the beginning of October, when this all was getting started, radical activists were absolutely glued to the events in Occupy Wall Street -- even before it was being reported by the mainstream media in this country. Why? Australia is on the other side of the globe. Why should they care about a resistance movement in New York?
The reason is that we in the United States live in "Fortress America," the heart of a world empire. Revolts are not supposed to happen here
! If a break in the wall appears, if massive protests occur, here, "Inside the Monster," as José Marti called it, the whole world is suddenly uplifted and encouraged to resist. Because then they know that the empire is crumbling. Our struggles here are opening up space for resistance for all the people of the world.
What does occupy
mean? Why is an occupation
so important? Why is this movement so different? It is because it means we are not going away
. We will not disperse. We will remain. We will win. The world requires it.
Thank you.From Monthly Review
Ten Quick Propositions on Climate Change
Canadian Dimension July-August issue 2011
- Profit maximization is the iron rule of capitalism, setting limits to ecological reform. A profit-based economy that requires continuous economic growth makes ecological catastrophes inevitable.
- Voluntarism, technological fixes and market incentives as they have been constructed cannot achieve even the weak Green House Gas targets governments have committed to. Even so, many governments such as ours and that of theUSA, haven’t even initiated these market mechanisms like carbon taxes or cap and trade.
- We need to accept that we WILL pass the terrible tipping points that climate scientists like James Hansen have been talking about for at least a decade now. And that the catastrophes they predict will happen, gradually at first and then rapidly as the feedbacks kick in.
- As the consequences of passing the tipping points eventuate, with droughts, floods, rising sea levels, growing numbers of climate refugees – states everywhere will begin to exercise authoritarian measures to preserve order and to ensure that increasingly scarce water, food and energy resources are preserved for the rich and to feed the material requirements of corporate enterprise. Robert Heilbroner predicted this outcome back in 1974 in his Inquiry into the Human Prospect. Joel Kovel discussed the prospect more recently.
- We can already see the beginnings of the move towards authoritarianism – the xenophobic response to immigration throughout Europe, the attempt to destroy unionism in the USA, the harsh way protesters against austerity measures are being treated, to say nothing of police repression against G20 protesters inToronto. And Stephen Harper’s deliberate efforts to silence his critics by shutting down or reorienting research and advocacy organizations.
- It is essential for us to be critiquing market-based solutions and those, including most mainstream environmental organizations, who promote these solutions and insist on working within the system. We need to expose environmental organizations who accept funding from corporate-based foundations that are extensions of the energy industrial complex and thus allow themselves to be used by the perpetrators of climate change and bolstering their legitimacy.
- We need to be putting forth more structurally based solutions such as stopping the tar sands, massive investment in solar, wind and geothermal renewables and expanding public transit. Yet, we should accept that these solutions are and will be totally rejected by capitalist states and that, in any case, renewable energy cannot meet the mass energy requirement of consumerism and relentless economic growth especially in the light of ongoing neoliberal globalization.
- We need to be talking now about how we will respond to the ecological catastrophe as it unfolds and to the authoritarian actions of capitalist states to repress popular resistance against harsh austerity measures and to increasingly destructive methods of extracting oil and natural gas from less accessible sources.
- It will be essential to show how the economy can be transformed so that it does not require continuous growth and yet provides for the basic requirements of all citizens.
- Intellectual argument is not sufficient. Our movement will have to turn towards widespread forms of direct action to stop the ecocide and the austerity measures that shift the burden of the ecological crisis onto the lower and working classes.
Classic Article translated here in to Portugese. First Appeared in Socialist Voice in 2008
and reposted in to Climate & Capitalism in 2011
. Scroll down for the English Original.
A meu pedido, Alexandre Leite, editor do excelente blogueInvestigando o Novo Imperialismo
traduziu para o Bioterra, mais esta excelente reflexão de um pensador e jornalista Ian Angus, grande divulgador do ecossocialismo. Ian Angus é editor do jornal onlineClimate and Capitalism
, e editor associado da Socialist Voice, publicado na Socialist Voice
Agradeço muito ao Alexandre pelo seu trabalho, que tem sido inestimável e louvo-o pelo quanto se tem empenhado na tradução de importantes documentos que põe a lume em português.
Ian Angus -
27 de Julho de 2008
[original em inglês:If socialism fails: the spectre of a 21st Century Barbarism
Desde o primeiro dia em que surgiu em linha, o blogue Climate and Capitalism tem no seu topo o lema Ecossocialismo ou Barbárie: não há uma terceira via.Temos deixado bem claro que o ecossocialismo não é uma nova teoria ou ramo do socialismo.É o socialismo com os importantes pontos de vista de Marx sobre a ecologia aperfeiçoados, socialismo empenhado na luta contra a destruição ecológica. Mas porque é que dizemos que a alternativa ao ecossocialismo é a barbárie?
Os marxistas têm usado a palavra barbárie em várias situações, mas a maioria das vezes é para descrever as acções ou condições sociais que são grosseiramente desumanas, brutais e violentas. Não é uma palavra que usemos com ligeireza, porque significa não apenas mau comportamento mas também violações das mais importantes normas de solidariedade humana e da vida civilizada. 
O lema Socialismo ou Barbárie nasceu com a grande líder socialista revolucionária alemã Rosa Luxembrugo, que repetidamente o frisou durante a 1ª Grande Guerra. Era um conceito profundo, e que se tornou cada vez mais relevante com o passar dos anos.
Rosa Luxemburgo passou toda a sua vida adulta na organização e educação da classe trabalhadora para a luta pelo socialismo. Ela estava convencida de que se o socialismo não triunfasse, o capitalismo tornar-se-ia cada vez mais bárbaro, varrendo séculos de avanços civilizacionais. Em 1915, numa grande polémica contra a guerra, ela referiu-se à visão de Friedrich Engels de que a sociedade tem de avançar para o socialismo ou reverter à barbárie, e depois perguntou: O que é que significa uma reversão à barbárie no actual estado da civilização europeia?
Ela deu duas respostas em relação a isso. A longo prazo, disse ela, uma continuação do capitalismo levaria ao colapso literal da sociedade civilizada e o surgimento de uma nova Era das Trevas, semelhante à Europa depois da queda do Império Romano: O colapso de todas a civilização como a da antiga Roma, despovoamento, desolação, degeneração: um grande cemitério. (The Junius Pamphlet) 
Ao dizer isto, Rosa Luxemburgo estava a recordar à esquerda revolucionária que o socialismo não é inevitável, que se o movimento socialista falhar, o capitalismo pode destruir a civilização moderna, deixando para trás um mundo muito mais pobre e austero. Esse não era um conceito novo, fazia parte do pensamento Marxista desde o seu início. Em 1848, no Manifesto Comunista, Karl Marx e Friedrich Engels escreveram: A história de toda a sociedade até aqui é uma história de luta de classes, que de cada vez acabou, ora numa reconfiguração revolucionária de toda a sociedade, ora no declínio comum de todas as classes em luta.
Nas palavras de Luxemburgo: A Humanidade enfrenta a alternativa: Dissolução e queda numa anarquia capitalista, ou regeneração através de uma revolução social. (Um Apelo aos Trabalhadores do Mundo).
As Duas Faces do Capitalismo
Mas Luxemburgo, mais uma vez seguindo o exemplo de Marx e Engels, também usou o termo barbárie de outro modo, para contrastar os nobres ideais capitalistas tão proclamados, com a sua efectiva prática de tortura, fome, assassínio e guerra.
Marx descreveu várias vezes a natureza dual do progresso capitalista. Em 1853, escrevendo sobre o domínio britânico sobre a Índia, ele descreveu a profunda hipocrisia e inerente barbárie da civilização burguesa [que] se revela em frente aos nosso olhos, desde a sua casa, onde assume formas respeitáveis, até às colónias, onde vai nua.
O progresso capitalista, disse ele, assemelha-se a um ídolo pagão, hediondo, que não bebe o néctar a não ser pelas caveiras da chacina. (O Futuro Resulta do Domínio Britânico na Índia).
De forma semelhante, num discurso perante trabalhadores radicais em Londres em 1856, ele disse: Por um lado, despontaram para a vida forças industriais e científicas, de que nenhuma época da história humana alguma vez tinha suspeitado. Por outro lado, existem sintomas de decadência, ultrapassando de longe os horrores registados nos últimos tempos do Império Romano. (Discurso no Aniversário do jornal People’s Paper [O Jornal do Povo])
Imensas melhorias na condição humana foram alcançadas no capitalismo: na saúde, cultura, filosofia, literatura, música e outros. Mas o capitalismo também trouxe fome, destruição, violência em massa, tortura e até genocídio, todos numa escala sem precedentes. À medida que o capitalismo se expandiu e envelheceu, o lado bárbaro da sua natureza tornou-se cada vez mais visível.
A sociedade burguesa, que chegou ao poder prometendo igualdade, democracia, e direitos humanos, nunca se inquietou em atirar essas ideias borda fora para expandir e proteger a sua riqueza e os seus lucros. Esta é a visão da barbárie com a qual Rosa Luxemburgo estava principalmente preocupada durante a 1ª Guerra Mundial. Ela escreveu: Envergonhada, desonrada, embrenhada em sangue e ensopada em porcaria, assim está esta sociedade capitalista. Não como normalmente a vemos, desempenhando os papéis da paz e da rectidão, da ordem, da filosofia, da ética , como uma besta rugindo, como uma orgia de anarquia, como um bafo pestilento, devastando a cultura e a humanidade, mas aparecendo em toda a sua horrorosa nudez. Nesta altura, um olhar à nossa volta mostra o que significa a regressão da sociedade burguesa à barbárie. Esta guerra mundial é uma regressão à barbárie.(The Junius Pamphlet)
Para Luxemburgo, a barbárie não era uma possibilidade futura. Era a presente realidade do imperialismo, uma realidade que estava destinada a tornar-se muito pior se o socialismo não conseguisse travá-la. Tragicamente, viu-se que ela estava correcta. A derrota das revoluções alemãs de 1919 a 1923, conjuntamente com o isolamento e degeneração da Revolução Russa, abriu caminho a um século de genocídio e guerra constante.
Em 1933, Leon Trotsky descreveu o surgimento do fascismo comouma sociedade capitalista a vomitar uma barbárie não digerida. (O que é o Nacional Socialismo?)
Mais tarde ele escreveu: O atraso da revolução socialista engendra o indubitável fenómeno da barbárie: desemprego crónico, depauperação da pequena burguesia, fascismo, e finalmente guerras de exterminação que não abrem nenhum caminho novo. (Em Defesa do Marxismo)
Mais de 250 milhões de pessoas, a maioria delas civis, foram mortas nas guerras de exterminação e em atrocidades em massa no século XX. O século XXI continua esse registo: em menos de oito anos, mais de três milhões de pessoas morreram em guerras no Iraque, Afeganistão e outros locais do Terceiro Mundo, e pelo menos 700,000 morreram em desastres naturais.
Como alertaram Luxemburgo e Trotsky, a barbárie já está sobre nós. Só a acção das massas pode parar o avanço da barbárie, e só o socialismo pode definitivamente derrotá-la. O seu apelo à acção é ainda mais importante actualmente, quando o capitalismo acrescentou a destruição ecológica, afectando principalmente os pobres, às guerras e outros horrores do século XX.
Barbárie do Século XXI
Essa visão tem sido exprimida repetida e vincadamente pelo presidente venezuelano Hugo Chávez. Discursando em Viena em Maio de 2006, ele referiu-se explicitamente às palavras de Luxemburgo: A escolha da humanidade é entre o socialismo e a barbárie. … Quando Rosa Luxemburgo disse esta frase, ela estava a falar de um futuro relativamente distante. Mas agora a situação mundial é tão má que a ameaça sobre a raça humana não é no futuro, mas sim agora. 
Alguns meses antes, em Caracas, ele argumentou que a destruição capitalista do ambiente impõe uma particular urgência na luta contra a barbárie actualmente: Eu recordava Karl Marx e Rosa Luxemburgo e a frase que cada um deles, no seu tempo e contexto particulares proferiram; o dilema 'socialismo ou barbárie’. Eu acredito que é altura de empreendermos com coragem e clareza uma ofensiva política, social, colectiva e ideológica em todo o mundo.Uma verdadeira ofensiva que nos permita avançar progressivamente, durante os próximos anos, as próximas décadas, deixando para trás o perverso e destruidor modelo capitalista e avançar na construção de um modelo socialista para evitar a barbárie e para além disso a aniquilação da vida no planeta. Eu acredito que esta ideia tem uma forte ligação com a realidade. Não creio que tenhamos muito tempo. Fidel Castro disse num dos seus discursos que eu li, não há muito tempo: Amanhã pode ser tarde demais, façamos agora o que temos de fazer.
Eu não acho que que isto seja um exagero. O ambiente está a sofrer danos que poderão ser irreversíveis: aquecimento global, o efeito de estufa, o degelo das calotes polares, a subida do nível do mar, furacões, com terríveis consequências sociais que irão abalar a vida neste planeta. 
Chávez e o movimento revolucionário Bolivariano na Venezuela ergueram orgulhosamente a bandeira do Socialismo do Século XXI para descreverem os seus objectivos. Como mostram estes comentários, eles também estão a levantar uma bandeira de alerta, de que a alternativa ao socialismo é a Barbárie do Século XXI, a barbárie do século passado amplificada e intensificada com a crise ecológica.
Alteração Climática e Barbarização
O Painel Intergovernamental para as Alterações Climáticas (IPCC na sigla inglesa) há duas décadas que estuda e relata as alterações do clima. Recentemente, o Vice-Presidente do IPCC, o professor Mohan Munasinghe, deu uma palestra na Universidade de Cambridge onde descreveu um possível futuro mundo distópico no qual os problemas sociais são piorados pelas consequências ambientais do aumento das emissões dos gases com efeitos de estufa.
Ele afirmou: A alteração do clima é, ou pode ser, o factor adicional que vem exacerbar os problemas existentes de pobreza, degradação ambiental, polarização social e terrorismo, e pode conduzir a uma situação muito caótica.
A Barbarização, disse Munasinghe, já está a acontecer. Nós enfrentamos uma situação onde os ricos vivem em enclaves, protegidos, e os pobres vivem cá fora em condições insustentáveis.. Uma crítica usual ao IPCC é que os seus relatórios são muito conservadores, que eles atenuam quão rápida está a ser a alteração e quão desastrosos podem ser os seus efeitos. Por isso, quando o Vice-Presidente do IPCC diz que a barbarização já está a acontecer, ninguém deve insinuar que isso é um exagero.
A Presente Realidade da Barbárie
A ideia da Barbárie do Século XXI pode parecer implausível. Mesmo com a inflação dos alimentos e dos combustíveis, crescente desemprego e crises imobiliárias, muitos trabalhadores nos países de capitalismo avançado ainda usufruem de um considerável grau de conforto e segurança.
Mas fora dos enclaves protegidos no norte do planeta, a realidade dabarbarização é por demais evidente:
2.5 mil milhões de pessoas, quase metade da população mundial, sobrevive com menos de dois dólares por dia.
Mais de 850 milhões de pessoas sofrem de má nutrição crónica e o triplo passa frequentemente fome.
Todos os dias, por hora, 180 crianças morrem de fome e 1200 morrem de doenças facilmente evitáveis.
Mais de meio milhão de mulheres morrem todos os anos de complicações na gravidez ou no parto. 99% delas vivem no sul do planeta.
Mais de mil milhões de pessoas vivem em grandes bairros de lata urbanos, sem instalações sanitárias, sem espaço suficiente para viver, ou habitação duradoura.
1.3 mil milhões de pessoas não têm água potável. 3 milhões morrem de doenças relacionadas com a água, todos os anos.
O Relatório de Desenvolvimento Humano 2007-2008 das Nações Unida avisa que a não atenuação das alterações climáticas irá afundar os países mais pobres do mundo numa espiral descendente, deixando centenas de milhões de pessoas perante a má nutrição, escassez de água, ameaças ecológicas, e uma perda de meios de subsistência. 
Nas palavras do Administrador do PNUD, Kemal Dervi: Em última análise, a alteração climática é uma ameaça à humanidade como um todo. Mas são os pobres, grupo sem nenhuma responsabilidade pelo prejuízo ecológico que estamos a provocar, os que enfrentam os custos humanos mais imediatos e severos. 
Entre as ameaças do Século XXI identificadas pelo Relatório de Desenvolvimento Humano estão:
O enfraquecimento dos sistemas agrícolas como resultado da exposição à seca, aumento das temperaturas, e chuva mais errática, colocando até 600 milhões de pessoas em má nutrição.
Uns adicionais 1.8 mil milhões de pessoas enfrentando problemas de água até 2080, com grandes áreas do sul da Ásia e norte da China a enfrentarem graves crises ecológicas como resultado do recuo dos glaciares e de alterações nos padrões de chuvas.
Deslocações forçadas por inundações e tempestades tropicais de até 332 milhões de pessoas e zonas costeiras e de baixa altitude. Mas de 70 milhões de habitantes do Bangladesh, 22 milhões do Vietname, e 6 milhões do Egipto podem ser afectados por inundações relacionadas com o aquecimento global.
Aumento de riscos de saúde, incluindo até mais 400 milhões de pessoas com risco de malária.
A estas ameaças podemos acrescentar certamente pelo menos 100 milhões de pessoas às cifras de fome permanente este ano, como resultado da inflação dos preços dos alimentos.
No relatório da ONU, o antigo bispo sul-africano Desmond Tutu, repercute a previsão de Munasinghe dos enclaves protegidos dos ricos num mundo de destruição ecológica: Enquanto que os cidadãos do mundo rico estão a salvo, os pobres, os vulneráveis e os famintos estão expostos à dura realidade das alterações climáticas na sua vida diária…. Estamos a caminhar para um mundo de ‘apartheid de adaptação’.
Continuando o capitalismo no esquema do costume, as alterações climáticas estão rapidamente a alargar o fosso entre os ricos e os pobres, entre países e internamente, e a impor um sofrimento sem paralelo aos que não têm tanta capacidade de se protegerem. Essa é a realidade da Barbárie do Século XXI.
Nenhuma sociedade que permite que isto aconteça pode ser chamada de civilizada. Nenhuma ordem social que causa isto merece sobreviver.
From the first day it appeared online, Climate and Capitalism’s
masthead has carried the slogan “Ecosocialism or Barbarism: there is no third way.” We’ve been quite clear that ecosocialism is not a new theory or brand of socialism — it is socialism with Marx’s important insights on ecology restored, socialism committed to the fight against ecological destruction. But why do we say that the alternative to ecosocialism is barbarism
Marxists have used the word “barbarism” in various ways, but most often to describe actions or social conditions that are grossly inhumane, brutal, and violent. It is not a word we use lightly, because it implies not just bad behaviour but violations of the most important norms of human solidarity and civilized life. 
The slogan “Socialism or Barbarism” originated with the great German revolutionary socialist leader Rosa Luxemburg, who repeatedly raised it during World War I. It was a profound concept, one that has become ever more relevant as the years have passed.
Rosa Luxemburg spent her entire adult life organizing and educating the working class to fight for socialism. She was convinced that if socialism didn’t triumph, capitalism would become ever more barbaric, wiping out centuries of gains in civilization. In a major 1915 antiwar polemic,
she referred to Friedrich Engels’ view that society must advance to socialism or revert to barbarism and then asked, “What does a ‘reversion to barbarism’ mean at the present stage of European civilization?”
She gave two related answers.
In the long run, she said, a continuation of capitalism would lead to the literal collapse of civilized society and the coming of a new Dark Age, similar to Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire: “The collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration — a great cemetery.” (The Junius Pamphlet)
By saying this, Rosa Luxemburg was reminding the revolutionary left that socialism is not inevitable, that if the socialist movement failed, capitalism might destroy modern civilization, leaving behind a much poorer and much harsher world. That wasn’t a new concept – it has been part of Marxist thought from its very beginning. In 1848, in The Communist Manifesto
, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote:
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. … that each time ended, either in the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”
In Luxemburg’s words: “Humanity is facing the alternative: Dissolution and downfall in capitalist anarchy, or regeneration through the social revolution.” (A Call to the Workers of the World
)Capitalism’s Two Faces
But Luxemburg, again following the example of Marx and Engels, also used the term “barbarism” another way, to contrast capitalism’s loudly proclaimed noble ideals with its actual practice of torture, starvation, murder and war.
Marx many times described the two-sided nature of capitalist “progress.” In 1853, writing about British rule in India, he described the “profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization [that] lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked.”
Capitalist progress, he said, resembled a “hideous, pagan idol, who would not drink the nectar but from the skulls of the slain.” (The Future Results of British Rule in India
Similarly, in a speech to radical workers in London in 1856, he said:
“On the one hand, there have started into life industrial and scientific forces, which no epoch of the former human history had ever suspected. On the other hand, there exist symptoms of decay, far surpassing the horrors recorded of the latter times of the Roman Empire.” (Speech at the Anniversary of the People’s Paper
Immense improvements to the human condition have been made under capitalism — in health, culture, philosophy, literature, music and more. But capitalism has also led to starvation, destitution, mass violence, torture and even genocide — all on an unprecedented scale. As capitalism has expanded and aged, the barbarous side of its nature has come ever more to the fore.
Bourgeois society, which came to power promising equality, democracy, and human rights, has never had any compunction about throwing those ideals overboard to expand and protect its wealth and profits. That’s the view of barbarism that Rosa Luxemburg was primarily concerned about during World War I. She wrote:
“Shamed, dishonoured, wading in blood and dripping in filth, this capitalist society stands. Not as we usually see it, playing the roles of peace and righteousness, of order, of philosophy, of ethics — as a roaring beast, as an orgy of anarchy, as pestilential breath, devastating culture and humanity — so it appears in all its hideous nakedness …
“A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This world war
is a regression into barbarism.” (The Junius Pamphlet
For Luxemburg, barbarism wasn’t a future possibility. It was the present reality of imperialism, a reality that was destined to get much worse if socialism failed to stop it. Tragically, she was proven correct. The defeat of the German revolutions of 1919 to 1923, coupled with the isolation and degeneration of the Russian Revolution, opened the way to a century of genocide and constant war.
In 1933, Leon Trotsky described the rise of fascism as “capitalist society … puking up undigested barbarism.” (What is National Socialism?
Later he wrote: “The delay of the socialist revolution engenders the indubitable phenomena of barbarism — chronic unemployment, pauperization of the petty bourgeoisie, fascism, finally wars of extermination which do not open up any new road.” (In Defense of Marxism
More than 250 million people, most of them civilians, were killed in the wars of extermination and mass atrocities of the 20th Century. The 21st century continues that record: in less than eight years over three million people have died in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Third World, and at least 700,000 have died in “natural” disasters.
As Luxemburg and Trotsky warned, barbarism is already upon us. Only mass action can stop barbarism from advancing, and only socialism can definitively defeat it. Their call to action is even more important today, when capitalism has added massive ecological destruction, primarily affecting the poor, to the wars and other horrors of the 20th Century.21st Century Barbarism
That view has been expressed repeatedly and forcefully by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Speaking in Vienna in May 2006, he referred explicitly to Luxemburg’s words:
“The choice before humanity is socialism or barbarism. … When Rosa Luxemburg made this statement, she was speaking of a relatively distant future. But now the situation of the world is so bad that the threat to the human race is not in the future, but now.” 
A few months earlier, in Caracas, he argued that capitalism’s destruction of the environment gives particular urgency to the fight against barbarism today:
“I was remembering Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg and the phrase that each one of them, in their particular time and context put forward; the dilemma ‘socialism or barbarism.’ …
“I believe it is time that we take up with courage and clarity a political, social, collective and ideological offensive across the world — a real offensive that permits us to move progressively, over the next years, the next decades, leaving behind the perverse, destructive, destroyer, capitalist model and go forward in constructing the socialist model to avoid barbarism and beyond that the annihilation of life on this planet.
“I believe this idea has a strong connection with reality. I don’t think we have much time. Fidel Castro said in one of his speeches I read not so long ago, “tomorrow could be too late, let’s do now what we need to do.” I don’t believe that this is an exaggeration. The environment is suffering damage that could be irreversible — global warming, the greenhouse effect, the melting of the polar ice caps, the rising sea level, hurricanes — with terrible social occurrences that will shake life on this planet.” 
Chavez and the revolutionary Bolivarian movement in Venezuela have proudly raised the banner of 21st Century Socialism to describe their goals. As these comments show, they are also raising a warning flag, that the alternative to socialism is 21st Century Barbarism
— the barbarism of the previous century amplified and intensified by ecological crisis.Climate Change and ‘Barbarization’
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been studying and reporting on climate change for two decades. Recently the Vice-Chair of the IPCC, Professor Mohan Munasinghe, gave a lecture at Cambridge University that described “a dystopic possible future world in which social problems are made much worse by the environmental consequences of rising greenhouse gas emissions.”
He said: “Climate change is, or could be, the additional factor which will exacerbate the existing problems of poverty, environmental degradation, social polarisation and terrorism and it could lead to a very chaotic situation.”
“Barbarization,” Munasinghe said, is already underway. We face “a situation where the rich live in enclaves, protected, and the poor live outside in unsustainable conditions.” 
A common criticism of the IPCC is that its reports are too conservative, that they understate how fast climate change is occurring and how disastrous the effects may be. So when the Vice-Chair of the IPCC says that “barbarization” is already happening, no one should suggest that it’s an exaggeration.The Present Reality of Barbarism
The idea of 21st Century Barbarism may seem farfetched. Even with food and fuel inflation, growing unemployment and housing crises, many working people in the advanced capitalist countries still enjoy a considerable degree of comfort and security.
But outside the protected enclaves of the global north, the reality of “barbarization” is all too evident.
- 2.5 billion people, nearly half of the world’s population, survive on less than two dollars a day.
- Over 850 million people are chronically undernourished and three times that many frequently go hungry.
- Every hour of every day, 180 children die of hunger and 1200 die of preventable diseases.
- Over half a million women die every year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. 99% of them are in the global south.
- Over a billion people live in vast urban slums, without sanitation, sufficient living space, or durable housing.
- 1.3 billion people have no safe water. 3 million die of water-related diseases every year.
The United Nations Human Development Report 2007-2008
warns that unmitigated climate change will lock the world’s poorest countries and their poorest citizens in a downward spiral, leaving hundreds of millions facing malnutrition, water scarcity, ecological threats, and a loss of livelihoods. 
In UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervi’s words: “Ultimately, climate change is a threat to humanity as a whole. But it is the poor, a constituency with no responsibility for the ecological debt we are running up, who face the immediate and most severe human costs.” 
Among the 21st Century threats identified by the Human Development Report
- The breakdown of agricultural systems as a result of increased exposure to drought, rising temperatures, and more erratic rainfall, leaving up to 600 million more people facing malnutrition.
- An additional 1.8 billion people facing water stress by 2080, with large areas of South Asia and northern China facing a grave ecological crisis as a result of glacial retreat and changed rainfall patterns.
- Displacement through flooding and tropical storm activity of up to 332 million people in coastal and low-lying areas. Over 70 million Bangladeshis, 22 million Vietnamese, and six million Egyptians could be affected by global warming-related flooding.
- Expanding health risks, including up to 400 million more people facing the risk of malaria.
To these we can add the certainty that at least 100 million people will be added to the ranks of the permanently hungry this year
as a result of food price inflation.
In the UN report, former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu echoes Munasinghe’s prediction of protected enclaves for the rich within a world of ecological destruction:
“While the citizens of the rich world are protected from harm, the poor, the vulnerable and the hungry are exposed to the harsh reality of climate change in their everyday lives…. We are drifting into a world of ‘adaptation apartheid’.”
As capitalism continues with business as usual, climate change is fast expanding the gap between rich and poor between and within nations, and imposing unparalleled suffering on those least able to protect themselves. That is the reality of 21st Century Barbarism.
No society that permits
that to happen can be called civilized. No social order thatcauses
it to happen deserves to survive.
* * * * * * * *Ian Angus is Editor of the online journal Climate and Capitalism, and an Associate Editor ofSocialist Voice.Footnotes
 In “Empire of Barbarism”
, December 2004), John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark provide an excellent account of the evolution of the word “barbarism” and its present-day implications.
The best discussion of Rosa Luxemburg’s use of the word is in Norman Geras, The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg
(NLB 1976), which unfortunately is out of print.
 The works of Marx, Engels, Luxemburg and Trotsky that are quoted in this article can be found online in the Marxists Internet Archive
 Hands Off Venezuela, May 13, 2006
 Green Left Weekly, August 31, 2005
 “Expert warns climate change will lead to ‘barbarisation’” Guardian
, May 15, 2008
 United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report 2007/2008
 “Climate change threatens unprecedented human development reversals.”
UNDP News Release, Nov. 27, 2007