Tag Archives: Naomi Klein

Obama: The Sham Environmentalist

Obama: The Sham Environmentalist
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
26 January 2017

What grade does President Obama deserve for his environmental policies? According to the BBC the Obama Administration should be awarded an “A-” for negotiating the 2016 Paris climate agreement, introducing new regulations governing pollution from US power plants and designating 548 million acres of US territory as protected areas.

The Guardian anticipated this positive assessment of Obama’s actions on the environment, with a 2014 leader column asserting that “President Obama’s commitment to fighting climate change has not been in doubt”.

This support for Obama was taken to extraordinary lengths by last year’s BBC documentary series Inside Obama’s White House. With the 2009 United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen heralded as the final chance to save the planet from dangerous levels of climate change, the BBC’s one-sided account explains Obama worked to solve the climate crisis in the face of Chinese intransigence (the Chinese – and not the US, apparently – “were afraid of the impact on their economy”). With India, Brazil and South African joining China in a supposedly secret meeting “to stop the climate deal”, the film excitedly tells a story of Obama crashing the party to force an agreement on China in a sincere attempt to save the planet.

There is, of course, more to the story. As the US historian Howard Zinn once noted, “The chief problem in historical honesty is not outright lying, it is omission or de-emphasis of important data.”

In contrast to the BBC’s hagiography, George Monbiot, arguably the most knowledgeable environmental commentator in the UK, noted at the time that “The immediate reason for the failure of the talks can be summarised in two words: Barack Obama.” Bill McKibben, a leading US environmentalist, concurred, arguing Obama “has wrecked the UN and he’s wrecked the possibility of a tough plan to control global warming.” Missing from the BBC’s account, Canadian author Naomi Klein highlighted a key reason behind Monbiot’s and McKibben’s conclusions: “Obama arrived with embarrassingly low targets and the heavy emitters of the world took their cue from him.”

How low? The European Union went into the talks promising to cut its carbon emissions by 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Obama – whose commitment to fighting climate change, remember, “has not been in doubt” – offered a measly four percent cuts below 1990 levels by 2020. Obama was “the conservative voice among world leaders” when it came to climate change, “supporting the least-aggressive steps”, noted Peter Brown, the Assistant Director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in the Wall Street Journal.

The attempt to block significant action on the international stage broadly mirrors the Democratic president’s (in)action domestically during his first term. The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg uncovered an important spring 2009 meeting at the White House between the Obama Administration and leaders of the US green movement in which, incredibly, the environmentalists were told not to talk about climate change. With the Obama team apparently concerned about attacks from industry and conservative groups, Goldenberg noted the meeting “marked a strategic decision by the White House to downplay climate change – avoiding the very word”, which in turn produced a near total absence of the issue during the 2012 presidential campaign.

Goldenberg reports that “environmental groups, taking their cue from the White House… downplayed climate change” after the meeting. McKibben, who attended the summit, was one of the few people to speak out against the strategy: “All I said was sooner or later you are going to have to talk about this in terms of climate change. Because if you want people to make the big changes that are required by the science then you are going to have to explain to people why that is necessary, and why it’s such a huge problem”.

While the liberal media was dazzled by Obama’s Christ-like campaign rhetoric about slowing “the rise of the oceans” and healing the planet, in office the first Black president pursued an “all-of-the-above” energy policy. This, according to environmental journalist Mark Hertsgaard, “made the United States the world’s leading producer of oil and gas by the end of his first term.” Writing in 2013, McKibben provided clarification: “We are… a global-warming machine. At the moment when physics tells us we should be jamming on the carbon breaks, America is revving the engine.”

What about the Environmental Protection Agency rules Obama introduced in 2014 to cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent? These are certainly a step in the right direction but, as Kevin Bundy from the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute noted, the proposals are “like fighting a wildfire with a garden hose – we’re glad the president has finally turned the water on, but it’s just not enough to get the job done.”

Internationally, the ongoing UN climate talks continued to be a fiasco in the years after Copenhagen, with the Guardian’s chief environmental correspondent John Vidal laying the blame in 2012 “squarely on the US in particular and the rich countries in general.” Vidal continued: “For three years now, they have bullied the poor into accepting a new agreement. They have delayed making commitments, withheld money and played a cynical game of power politics to avoid their legal obligations.”

Troublingly, the widely heralded Paris Agreement – for which the liberal media have repeatedly congratulated Obama for realising – is looking increasingly like a red herring. Though the text of the accord agrees to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C, and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C, a recent survey of a number of leading climate scientists and analysts by author Andrew Simms found that not one thought the 2°C target would likely be met. Speaking last year to the Morning Star top climate scientist Professor Kevin Anderson said the pledges made by nations at Paris would likely lead to a catastrophic 3-4°C rise in global temperatures (“and probably the upper end of that”).

Asked by Hertsgaard in 2014 how history will judge the 44th president on climate change, senior Obama adviser John Podesta replied that while his boss “tried to address the challenge… fifty years from now, is that going to seem like enough? I think the answer to that is going to be no.” Writing in The Nation earlier this month, Hertsgaard reconfirmed Podesta’s conclusion: “Obama did more in his second term, but nowhere near enough. The climate emergency is still advancing faster than the world’s response, not least because of the United States’ inadequate actions.”

Two lessons about climate change can be taken from the eight years of the Obama Administration. First, it is clear the liberal media such as the BBC and the Guardian cannot be trusted to give an accurate picture of what Obama actually did in office – what George Orwell called the “power of facing unpleasant facts”. Second, many of the positive steps Obama took on climate change were arguably down to grassroots pressure. For example, the Obama Administration’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline which was going to transport oil from the deadly Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico was, as McKibben and Hertsgaard have argued, a victory for the indigenous-led grassroots resistance movement.

With the climate change-denying President Donald Trump and his powerful supporters threatening a bonfire of US environmental regulation and international climate agreements, it is essential the US and global green movements grow substantially and become more active and effective. Terrifying though it is to contemplate, it is no exaggeration to say that the very future of humanity rests on the outcome of this struggle.

Heathrow, The Guardian and the Propaganda Model

Heathrow, The Guardian and the Propaganda Model
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
25 October 2016

Setting out their Propaganda Model of the Mass Media in 1988, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky explained the media “serve to mobilise support for the special interests that dominate the state and private activity” – that is, large multinational corporations. They set out a number of caveats to their model, explaining the media are not a solid monolith. “Where the powerful are in disagreement, there will be a certain amount of tactical judgements on how to attain generally shared aims, reflected in the media debate.” In contrast, “views that challenge fundamental premises… will be excluded from the mass media even when elite controversy over tactics rages fiercely.”

The recent reporting by The Guardian of the on-going debate about the expansion of Heathrow airport is a perfect illustration of the continuing relevance of Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model.

Between Saturday 15 October and Thursday 20 October five news reports appeared in the newspaper about the story. The first report sets the tone – a survey of parliamentary opinion, noting the MPs who are “plotting to undermine the anticipated government approval of the third runway at Heathrow”. The report is anchored around the findings of the Airports Commission led by Sir Howard Davies, a former Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry, which backs Heathrow expansion, and whether the expansion of Gatwick airport is a viable alternative. It also explains that the Scottish Government (Scottish National Party), trade unions, business, airlines and many MPs support Heathrow expansion. In opposition are MPs representing constituencies close to Heathrow (though no reason is given for their opposition).

The subsequent reports highlight the cabinet split on the issue and the Labour Party’s support for Heathrow expansion despite the opposition of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. “Our livelihoods depend on the jobs and economic prosperity Heathrow expansion will bring”, explained a letter the Unite union delivered to Downing Street. Issues with noise pollution and local air quality are mentioned.

As the Propaganda Model predicts, driven by a huge intra-aviation industry public relations struggle, The Guardian’s reporting reflects the assumption that airport expansion is needed, and the heated debate about how best to do this – Heathrow or Gatwick? – is extensively covered. Powerful actors such as MPs, business, unions and the commission headed by the pro-business Davies, are given space to put forward their views. All this will come as no surprise to Labour MP Chris Mullin, who said of his time as aviation minister from 1999 to 2001: “I learned two things. First, that the demands of the aviation industry are insatiable. Second, that successive governments have usually given way to them.”

However, as Herman and Chomsky predict, “views that challenge fundamental premises… will be excluded from the mass media even when elite controversy over tactics rages fiercely.” Thus, when it comes to airport expansion, voices concerned about climate change – a global crisis that, if taken seriously, is a direct challenge to the pro-growth, neoliberalism that dominates political thinking in the West – are marginalised.

Yes, climate change is mentioned in The Guardian reporting – in three of the five articles – but its placement and frequency is telling. As Herman and Chomsky argue, the fact awkward information appear in the media “tells us nothing about whether that fact received the attention and context it deserved, whether it was intelligible to the reader or effectively distorted or suppressed”. Climate change is not mentioned in the headlines or the introduction paragraphs – the most paragraph of any news story – of any of the five reports. For example, alongside sections on “the political issues” and “the economic issues”, chief environmental correspondent Damian Carrington is given space to talk about “the environmental issues”, though he chooses to focus on local air and noise pollution. A quote from Greenpeace’s UK Executive Director in the 18 October article saying “a third runway at Heathrow would be an air pollution and carbon timebomb” is relegated to the last sentence of the half page report. The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas is also quoted in the 20 October Guardian report – but in the penultimate paragraph.

So, how important is climate change to the debate on airport expansion?

With the first six months of 2016 breaking global temperate records, Professor Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research warned “we are on a crash course” with the 2015 Paris Agreement target of keeping global temperatures to under 2oC “unless we change course very, very fast.” Professor Kevin Anderson, the Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, broadly concurs, telling me a few months after Paris that it is “reasonable to say 3-4oC is where we are heading, and probably the upper end of that”. Important point: previously Anderson has said a 4oC temperature increase will be “incompatible with organised global community”. More worrying still: Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, sees climate change “an existential crisis for the human species”.

Aviation is set to make up a quarter of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to Friends of the Earth. Writing in The Guardian’s comment pages, George Monbiot – opposed to all airport expansion in the UK – notes that the Climate Change Act means the UK needs to reduce carbon emissions by a steep 80 percent by 2050. If flights increase at the level Davies’s Commission expects those cuts would have to rise to 85 percent. Alice Larkin, Professor of Climate Science & Energy Policy at the University of Manchester, is clear: “Policy measures aimed at increasing capacity and supporting further growth in air travel such as new runways, particularly within richer nations, are at odds with the Paris Agreement.”

What all this very obviously means is, contrary to The Guardian’s woeful news coverage of the issue, the earth’s climate should be at the centre of the debate on airport expansion in the UK.

As the Green Party’s Rupert Read tweeted recently: “In an age of rising manmade climate chaos, it is ludicrous that the debate is ‘Heathrow or Gatwick’, when what the future needs is: NEITHER.”


Here are links to the five Guardian news reports published on Heathrow between Saturday 15 October and Thursday 20 October (NB the online version of articles are often different to the article that is published in the newspaper):

Saturday 15 October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/14/anti-heathrow-mps-plan-undermine-government-third-runway-approval
Monday 17 October 2016:  https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/16/heathrow-airport-expansion-third-runway-labour-decision
Tuesday 18 October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/oct/17/heathrow-third-runway-close-to-getting-government-green-light
Wednesday 19 October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/18/airport-expansion-vote-put-on-hold-for-more-than-a-year-by-theresa-may
Thursday 20 October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/19/cameron-aide-said-government-was-exposed-on-heathrow-over-air-quality

Heading for 4oC: interview with Professor Kevin Anderson

Heading for 4oC: interview with Professor Kevin Anderson
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
13 February 2016

Amid all the backslapping and self-congratulation by governments and commentators about the December 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the most famous climate scientist had an altogether different take. “It’s a fraud really, a fake”, argued James Hansen, the former NASA scientist who brought global warming to the world’s attention in 1988. “It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises.”

Professor Kevin Anderson, in London to give a lecture at the London School of Economics, has a more nuanced take on the 21st conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “From a diplomatic point of view I think it was a huge triumph”, Anderson, the Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, tells me. He believes it was very important the agreement agreed to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2oC – and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5oC. 2oC is the global temperature increase world leaders in the West agree we cannot exceed if we wish to stop dangerous climate change. “I also think it really undermined a lot of the credence the sceptics have had unreasonably for far too long”, he adds. “Every world leader says climate change is important now. And every world leader has tied themselves, to some extent, to these temperature thresholds.”

However, Anderson, 53, is “very concerned” because while “the headline message was appropriate and sound” the rest of the final document is “just fluff and eloquence.” He goes further: “I would argue Paris locks out the success of its own targets, locks out the ability to achieve its own targets.” For example, the agreement omits any mention of aviation and shipping, two high emitting sectors which anticipate huge increases in their carbon emissions going forward. More importantly, Anderson notes the agreement includes hidden assumptions “that we will have negative emissions technology that will suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere” in the near future, such as Carbon Capture and Storage.

Similarly, Anderson notes that the pledges nations submitted before Paris to reduce their future carbon emissions – Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – are also based on these hidden assumptions. So while the consensus is these INDCs will lead to a 2.7oC temperature rise, Anderson believes these calculations are “extremely misleading” because there is only a small chance these “non-existent, highly-speculative technologies will actually work at scale”.

Rather, he says it is “reasonable to say 3-4oC is where we are heading, and probably the upper end of that”, though he is keen to stress the science is not precise. 2100 is the year usually given for when we could expect to hit 4oC, but Anderson warns that modelling work by the Met Office found that high emissions combined with being “unlucky with some of the uncertainties around the science” could lead to 4oC as early as 2060.

What would a 4oC temperature increase mean for the world? Noting this figure will probably translate to a 5.5oC increase on land (the oceans tend to take longer to warm), Anderson lists a number of likely impacts: sea level rise of one metre by 2100; an increase in the frequency and severity of storms; reduction in staple crop yields by 40 percent (“at the same time the population is heading towards nine billion”); dramatic changes in rainfall patterns; large refugee flows. While these effects will likely be felt hardest in the Global South, Anderson notes that work done by the Hadley Centre shows the consequences will be serious for the West too, with a 4oC rise leading to additional warming during heatwaves. “If you take the 2003 heatwave in Europe where 20-30,000 died, you add eight degrees on top of that”, he explains. “Our infrastructure simply isn’t designed for that.”

At this point I interrupt Anderson, repeating back to him his belief a 4oC world will likely be “incompatible with organised global community”. “Yes, global chaos and collapse I think would be a fair assessment”, he replies. “I’d say it is a different planet. It is not the one we live on.”

I push him further, asking if he agrees with the author Naomi Klein that “climate change is an existential crisis for the human species”.

“If we don’t respond soon I think yes”, he says.

Such a frightening future has led Klein and others to argue that we need a radical transformation of society on the scale of the national mobilisation during World War Two or the Marshall Plan. When I mention the latter, Anderson demurs. “Even the World War Two Marshall Plan is not as significant as what we would need now. We have to transition every part of our infrastructure to address climate change”, he says.

“We sit in this room and everything about how we are here, why we are here relates to carbon”, he elaborates. “I’ve got a plastic bottle here – made out of carbon. The varnish on this table? Made out of carbon. We travelled here using carbon. The carpet is synthetic and made out of carbon. My jacket’s dye will be made out of carbon, probably some of the materials will be carbon. Oil and carbon infuses every facet of our lives. We’ve never had to change something quite like that before.”

In response, he believes the West needs to dramatically reduce our carbon emissions as soon as possible – by 10 percent a year. Making reductions as early as possible is key, he notes, “because that means we will burn less fossil fuels and that means we will not use the carbon budget up as quickly which gives us slightly longer to put the low carbon supply in place.”

He is particularly keen to stress the global and national inequities surrounding carbon emissions, citing work done by Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty from the Paris School of Economics that shows about 50 percent of emissions come from just ten percent of the world’s population. “The top one percent in the US have carbon footprints that are about 2,500 times the bottom one percent globally”, he adds.

As with politics generally, arguably the media play a central role in climate change. Does he see the media as having a positive or negative influence? “My immediate take on that is that it has historically been part of the problem. But I think going forward it has to be part of the solution.” Why has the media been part of the problem? “It has been a significant part of driving a particular approach towards consumption” which is “one of the reasons we find it difficult to address the issue of climate change”, he says. “It has helped reinforce a political message which is one where we value ourselves by the material consumption that we have. We don’t tend to use other forms of value. To the extent it is how big our house is, how big our car is, where we go on holiday, what we can choose.”

Anderson ends by turning his attention to the role of his own profession when it comes to the threat of climate change. “I have quite a simplistic view of this”, he says, noting that scientists have two jobs: “To do careful, robust analysis but with a sense of humility that we get things wrong” and then “to communicate those findings clearly, directly and vociferously. And if anyone tries to misuse the information I think we should counter them very directly.”

As his extensive academic work and public outreach implies, Anderson is communicating evidence-based information and arguments that are of the upmost importance to humanity and the planet. The question is this: are we, as a society, really listening? And, more importantly, are we living and acting in ways that are consistent with the deeply alarming science?

Kevin Anderson blogs at www.kevinanderson.info

 

Book review: This Changes Everything. Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein

Book review: This Changes Everything. Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
December 2014

With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently warning that global warming is on course to inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on the planet, Naomi Klein’s new book couldn’t be more timely or important.

To make the necessary reduction in carbon emissions, Klein explains the world need to institute immediate, transformational change on the scale of the American New Deal of the 1930s or the national mobilisations during World War Two. Unfortunately, historical chance means our realisation about the dangers of global warming has coincided with the crowning of unregulated capitalism as the reigning economic paradigm. Built on economic growth, extractive ideology and relentless consumption “the culture that triumphed in our corporate age pits us against the natural world”, Klein argues.

She is hopeful that there is still time to stop the worst effects of global warming but argues that this will involve “challenging the fundamental logic of deregulated capitalism”. Interestingly, she notes the corporate-sponsored climate denier think tanks and pundits understand the real significance of climate change much more than liberal centrists who accept the scientific consensus. So while the latter naively believe “the response can be gradual and painless and that we don’t need to go to war with anybody, including the fossil fuel companies” the former realise, correctly, “if climate justice carries the day, the economic costs to our elites will be real”.

Klein’s introduction arguing that climate change is an “existential crisis for the human species” will certainly frighten readers but the sections on possible solutions are far more positive and inviting. She argues that as part of the project to reduce emissions we “have the chance to advance policies that dramatically improve lives, close the gap between rich and poor, create huge numbers of good jobs, and reinvigorate democracy from the ground up.” She doesn’t mention it but this argument fits neatly with the UK’s ‘one million climate jobs’ campaign (PN 2545).

How do we get from the inaction of the present to a safer future? Klein is keen to highlight that the answer doesn’t lie in green organisations working with big business, with millionaire philanthropists or the techno fix of geo-engineering. Rather she argues “only mass social movements can save us now.” What she calls “Blockadia” has caught her attention – the global, increasingly interconnected resistance to extractive projects like fracking and mountain top removal coal-mining. She writes about local grassroots campaigns battling corporate behemoths around the world, though she is naturally most at home discussing the burgeoning opposition in her native North America, in particular against the Canadian tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline, in which indigenous groups have played a leading role.

Like Klein’s previous books No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, This Change Everything is set to become an era-defining manifesto. This is journalism at its very best – cogently argued and clearly written, making complex issues accessible to the general reader. It’s a big book in every sense, channelling a huge amount of information (there are 57 pages of detailed footnotes). It’s hard going at times, though Klein does her best to keep things fresh and interesting.

Klein has said the book “is not written for the environment movement” but “for people who would never read a book about climate change but are engaged with economic justice of other kinds.” As this quote and the book’s title suggests, global warming changes everything in terms of activism, with Klein arguing it should become the issue that unites all the other activist campaigns.

Peace News favourite George Lakey understands this, telling me a couple of years ago that his main concern today is climate change “because it is so overarching – if we don’t solve that one there is a whole lot else we won’t get much space to work with. We will be on such a survival level. It will be very, very tough.”

Podemos and radical change in the UK

Podemos and radical change in the UK
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
17 November 2014

Though it’s been ignored by the British media, the explosive new poll showing the continuing rise of the new Spanish political party Podemos has huge ramifications for politics in the UK and across the world.

The El Pais survey found that Podemos has become the most popular party in Spain, gaining 27.7% of the potential vote, ahead of the ruling conservative party (20.7%) and the opposition Socialist Party (26.2%). What’s particularly impressive about this result is Podemos was only formed in January 2014, and are unapologetically leftist, or as a Financial Times blog warns, ‘Podemos policies are vague, populist, anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation’.

‘Podemos’ should be the one word response to political apathy and resignation, to anyone who says ‘Nothing ever changes’ or argues that votes can only be won in the neoliberal, soul-destroying space between New Labour and the Tories or the Democrats and Republicans.

However, it’s important to understand this isn’t an isolated event. If you have your political antenna tuned to the right frequency, hopeful moments when politics makes a radical jump beyond previously accepted norms and assumptions, or at least has the potential to do so, pop up all the time.

If I had written an article in 2003 saying a Black man will be the President of the United States in five years I would have been ridiculed. In Greece, the left-wing Syriza party went from receiving 4.6% of the vote in the 2009 general election to achieving 26.6% of the vote in 2012, becoming the main opposition party. In Canada, the New Democratic Party moved from being the progressive party with no chance of getting a whiff of real power, to unexpectedly leap-frogging the Liberal Party in the 2011 general election and becoming the nation’s second party. And let’s not forget UKIP who, by coming first in the 2014 European elections, became the first party in over a century other than Labour or the Conservatives to come first in a nationwide election.

Obvious and trite it may be, but it bears repeating: things do change. Often for the better, sometimes for worse – usually frustratingly slowly. But under the right conditions, change can be rapid and unexpected – even to those involved in pushing for the political change themselves. ‘I was in Leipzig on the afternoon of November 9th 1989 with the leaders of the East German opposition’, former New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges related in 2012. ‘And they said “Well maybe within a year they’ll be free passage back and forth across the Berlin Wall”. Within a matter of hours the Berlin Wall at least as an impediment to traffic no longer existed. That was a huge lesson for me. Even those closely associated with these movements don’t know where they are going and often times don’t know what their potential is.’

The fall of the Soviet Union, the end of Apartheid, the Arab Spring – all blindsided many of the top experts who had spent their entire professional lives studying these countries.

In terms of UK politics, Podemos’s stratospheric rise gives succour to all those hoping to break the power of the ossified three party system. And it also puts a huge dent into the popular argument that all progressives should rally around the Labour Party to keep the Tories out. As the internet-based media watchdog recently tweeted, ‘The UK Podemos could be eight months away from being the most popular party in Britain’.

Furthermore, it gives a huge boost to everyone pushing for radical change – especially in the face of the looming climate crisis. As Naomi Klein explains in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, because of endless delays in addressing rising emissions, only an immediate, massive transformation will now save us from levels of climate change that will pose an existential threat to humanity. And by ‘massive transformation’, Klein means something on the scale of the Marshall Plan or the national mobilisation during the Second World War.

None of this will happen of its own accord. I’m no Hispanophile but Podemos will have only reached its current level of popularity through the daily toil of thousands of activists and millions of supporters. ‘If you want to make changes in the world, you’re going to have to be there day after day doing the boring, straightforward work of getting a couple of people interested in an issue, building slightly bigger organizations, carrying out the next move, experiencing frustration, and finally getting somewhere’, American dissident Noam Chomsky argues. ‘That’s how you get rid of slavery, that’s how you get women’s rights, that’s how you get the vote’.

Sounds bloody hard work to me. But as freed slave Frederick Douglass famously said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will’.

Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He tweets @IanJSinclair.

The joined up policies of the Green Party

The joined up policies of the Green Party
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
1 November 2014

With two recent national polls on voting intentions showing the Green Party ahead of the Liberal Democrats, it can only be a matter of time before the latter disappear into the oblivion of the “Other parties” category.

These results can only strengthen the Greens’s call to be included in the 2015 televised general election debates, which, if successful, will give the Greens the opportunity to reach millions of voters. And presuming party leader Natalie Bennett does her job what viewers should hear about is the party’s holistic policies that have countless positive, and sometimes surprising, knock-on effects on the rest of society.

Take the Green Party’s manifesto commitment of making 35-hours the standard full-time work week in the UK. Most obviously, as the UK has some of the longest full-time working hours in Europe, this would reduce the amount of hours people spend in paid work. Who could possibly object to this? More seriously, there are many more important spin-offs as well. Ill health and stress from overwork would likely reduce. The New Economics Foundation argues moving towards a shorter working week “would help break the habit of living to work, working to earn, and earning to consume.” This, in turn, would give people an opportunity to focus on friends and family, voluntary work, pastimes and other non-paid activities. From a feminist perspective, less hours at work would make it more likely domestic labour and childcare could be more evenly balanced between women and men. A move away from earning to consume would also help to address the climate chaos that is already engulfing the global. “A number of studies have found that shorter work hours are associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions and therefore less global climate change”, noted a 2013 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “The relationship between these two variables is complex and not clearly understood, but it is understandable that lowering levels of consumption, holding everything else constant, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Another key Green Party concern is to reduce private car use and increase funding for public transport. First, this would lead to a reduction in exhaust pollution that contributes to thousands of deaths a year. Fewer cars would also mean less traffic noise, which can have a negative effect on stress and sleep quality. Fewer cars on the road means a safer road environment which would lead to more people cycling and walking. And more people cycling and walking means more people will be getting more exercise. And people who take regular exercise are less likely to be overweight and depressed. And less overweight and depressed people means a reduction in numerous associated health problems, which will mean less stress on the NHS.

And like the 35-hour week, a reduction in private car use helps to address the Green Party’s core concern – climate change. And addressing climate change itself has many welcome spin offs – from consciously weaning the world off fossil fuels before they run out at a time and place not of our choosing to all the positive social impacts I mention above. Taking a global view, Naomi Klein argues in her incendiary new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate “Many of the changes that need to be made to dramatically cut emissions would also materially benefit the quality of life for the majority of people on the planet.”

In contrast to the Green Party’s joined-up thinking, arguably the headline policy for all the three main parties is austerity (the Greens are in favour of a Green New Deal). And using the same ‘dropping a pebble in a pond’ logic, we know this (highly ideological, counterproductive) belt-tightening has had, and will continue to have, a never-ending stream of negative consequences for wider society. Rather than being ‘all in this together’, austerity politics have led to increased levels of inequality, which Professor Richard Wilkinson and Professor Kate Pickett have shown has a deleterious effect on a whole range of issues from social mobility to mental health, drug use, obesity and trust of other people.

Austerity means more people living in poverty, more people visiting food banks, more depression and more suicides, as Dr David Stuckler explains in his 2013 book The Body Politic. More broadly, the political elite’s austerity obsession pushes society closer towards social breakdown, leading to both organised, overtly political resistance and more spontaneous, often criminal mass actions like 2011’s nationwide riots.

With the possibility of millions of voters being presented with these radically different political visions of the future, is it any wonder that much of the mainstream media and political elite are attempting to exclude the Green Party from the television election debates?

Obama’s Insanity on Climate Change

Obama’s Insanity on Climate Change
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
December 2012

Observing the US presidential race from the UK, on election night Joss Garman, Greenpeace UK’s Policy Director, tweeted “Fingers crossed America votes for enlightenment values/sanity #fourmoreyears #Obama2012”. A Twitter-addict, I challenged Garman on Obama’s environmental record, to which he replied: “Relative to the unhinged leadership of the US Republican Party, Obama is pretty much the definition of sanity”.

Obama, of course, has long been making the right noises about climate change. “This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet”, the then Democratic presidential candidate warned the world when he spoke in Berlin in 2008. “Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands.”

However, as US dissident Noam Chomsky wryly notes about Brand Obama, “It is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric” because “deeds commonly tell a different story.” So what exactly is Obama’s record on climate change?

Although forgotten by most people today, it is important to remember that in 2010 the US President reversed his campaign promise to retain a ban on offshore exploration. His decision to open up over 500,000 square miles of US coastal waters to the oil and gas industry was “cosmic bad timing”, according to author Naomi Klein. Three weeks later the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, releasing around 4.9m barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico before it was capped in July.

Since then Obama has certainly angered the fossil fuel industry by pushing renewable energy but, as CNN reported in the summer, “there is no evidence that he is trying to ‘shut down’ traditional energy.”

Infact, Obama’s inability or unwillingness to take climate change seriously was already clear from the way he approached the December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference. For UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown the meeting in Copenhagen was “the most important conference since the second world war.” Not so for Obama, who only confirmed he would be attending the summit two weeks before the start of the talks (just two months before he had enthusiastically travelled to Denmark to support Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympic Games). The President further compounded the negative feelings directed at the US by turning up with a paltry offer to make 17 percent reductions in carbon emissions on 2005 levels by 2020. In comparison the European Union pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent on 1990 levels by 2020. For Peter Brown, Assistant Director of the Quinnipiac University polling institute, this obstructionism was further proof Obama was “a conservative voice among world leaders” on climate change. Predictably, the talks were a failure, with 350.org’s Bill McKibben explaining Obama “has wrecked the UN and he’s wrecked the possibility of a tough plan to control global warming.”

The increasingly terrifying backdrop to all of this inaction is a hardening of the scientific evidence for man-made climate change. Furthermore, a new report by the US National Center for Atmospheric Research found it has been the more extreme predictions about global warming that appear to be the most accurate. It is frightening facts like these that led PricewaterhouseCoopers to recently note “Governments’ ambition to limit warming to 2°C appear highly unrealistic.” According to the accountancy firm the glacial level of global action on climate change means that even doubling the world’s “current rate of decarbonisation, would still lead to emissions consistent with six degrees of warming by the century end.” If temperatures soar by six degrees by 2100, climate change expert Mark Lynas warns we will “face nothing less than a global wipe out.”

Following the precautionary principle, in 2009 the American Nobel Peace Prize economist Paul Krugman wrote “In a rational world… the looming climate disaster would be our dominant political and policy concern”. But US politics are very far from the rational world. Accordingly, climate change was virtually invisible in the 2012 Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns. There were certainly differences between the candidates – Romney ridiculed the idea of man-made climate change, while Obama accepts it as scientific fact – but, as Chomsky noted, in practice the differences were “about how enthusiastically the lemmings should march toward the cliff.”

And herein lies the problem for those, like Garman, who frame Obama’s politics solely in terms of how they compare to his GOP challenger: if you view US politics through the prism of this simplistic, media-driven binary opposition you will fail to see that both Democrats and Republicans pursue policies that are clearly insane for the future of the planet.

Turning to the future, the first major climate change test of Obama’s second term will be his decision on the proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada’s hugely polluting tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico. “If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate”, argues James Hansen, the Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Science. “If this sounds apocalyptic, it is”, added Hansen. “Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilisation would be at risk.” According to a Financial Times report earlier this month “oil executives and analysts expect the president to give the plan… the go-ahead in the first half of next year.”

Only a large and boisterous social movement exerting huge amounts of pressure on Obama will be able to stop the pipeline and force him to support effective policies to combat climate change. As the great, late left-wing historian Howard Zinn wrote during the 2008 US Presidential Election: “Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House”. And to be most effective this resistance needs to be informed by an accurate analysis of the Obama Administration record, rather than what we all wished the record was. Zinn himself, like Garman, supported the better candidate on election day but warned “Even when there is a ‘better’ candidate, that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore.”