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Tag: Environment

One Question
Greta Thunberg and
the School Climate Strikes

One Question
Greta Thunberg and
the School Climate Strikes

One Question is a regular series in which we ask leading thinkers to give a brief answer to a single question.

This time, in reference to the title of Greta Thunberg’s book, No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, we ask:

How have Greta Thunberg and the school climate strikes made a difference?

With responses from: Simon Pirani; Johanna Fernández; Matthew Huber; Seema Arora-Jonsson; Hester Eisenstein; Steffen Böhm; Geoff Mann; Hannah Holleman; Julian Brave NoiseCat; Ashley Dawson; John Foran; Alison Green.

Greta Thunberg

Simon Pirani

Greta Thunberg and the school strikers are not trying to convince the world’s governments with good arguments in protest letters or petitions. Their starting point is that the governments have failed to act on climate change, despite scientists explaining the danger in the 1980s – more than two lifetimes ago, for school students. The strikers know they are dealing with hypocrites and liars, and the power relations of which they are part. Striking is their first, proportionate, response. In this way, they have shifted the narrative.

Since the international climate talks began in 1992, the rate at which fossil fuel burning pours greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has risen by more than 60%. One function of the talks has been to create a self-justifying discourse: governments would use ‘market mechanisms’ to deal with the problem (while subsidising fossil fuels to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars); civil society would be represented by NGOs protesting at the summits. This ‘dialogue’ was about patronising, incorporating and smothering social movements. Of course this is now being tried on Greta Thunberg and the school students. But it will be difficult to silence a movement of tens of millions of people that way.

The organisers of the strikers’ demonstration in London on 20 September focused on allying with movements in the global south, where flooding, drought and other climate change effects are already facts of life. The London crowd cheered the announcement that school strikers were on the streets of 40 cities in Pakistan, and welcomed Brazilian and Bolivian speakers. If ‘climate justice’ is seen in this way, as bound up with social justice, then those who propose individual sacrifice, or state-imposed austerity – rather than to change society – can be put in their place.

Can activists and radical thinkers of earlier generations contribute anything? Only if we learn how better to communicate our hard-won experience. It is not enough to turn up with placards saying ‘system change not climate change’. What system change? What types of technological change could break the fossil-fuel-dependent economy? Can they be achieved under capitalism?

Answers from the ‘Left’ are too superficial. For example: the Labour party conference declared for a ‘green new deal’, but some Labour politicians interpret this to mean investment in electric cars. This false techno-fix may help car manufacturing companies and their shareholders, but it will not substantially reduce carbon emissions. It certainly obstructs the necessary transition to zero-carbon cities where we live and work meaningfully, and where car-based transport systems, traffic jams and other fossil-fuel-intensive urban infrastructure are things of the past. The school strikers deserve more compelling, more coherent visions for the future. READ MORE

One Question
Gilets Jaunes

One Question
Gilets Jaunes

One Question is a regular series in which we ask leading thinkers to give a brief answer to a single question.

This time we ask:

What is the significance of the Gilets Jaunes movement?

With responses from: Nonna Mayer, Gabriel Rockhill, Samuel Hayat, Maia Pal, Philippe Marliere, Julian Mischi, Enzo Traverso, Aurélie Dianara, Prabhat Patnaik, Ivan Bruneau, Diana Johnstone, John Mullen, Richard Greeman, Sophie Wahnich, Joshua Clover.

Gilets Jaunes

Nonna Mayer

The trigger of the Yellow Vests movement, last November, was the 80km/h speed limit on country- side roads and the ‘carbon tax’ raising the price of the diesel fuel – the last straw in a country where 75% of the working population use their car to go to work. But the deeper undercurrent was social insecurity. The protesters are not the worst off. Most of them have a car, a job, a home, and they pay taxes, yet they struggle to make a living. While the elites focus on ‘the end of the world’, their concern, as their posters say, is ‘the end of the month’.

They don’t mobilise the have-nots and the wretched like the ‘poor people’s movements’ analysed by Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward. Rather they express the revolt of a lower middle class at risk of poverty, resenting the rich above, who do not fear tomorrow, as well as the ‘undeserving’ poor below, on social welfare, whose anger finds no outlet. The feeling that nobody hears them, that nobody cares, drives them against mainstream parties and elites, either towards the extremes or away from politics altogether. The same discontent fuelled the surprise victory of Brexit, the election of Donald Trump or the record score of Marine Le Pen in the 2017 presidential election. However different Brexiters, Trumpists and LePenists may be, they belong to a squeezed middle class afraid of losing the little it has, feeling at the edge of the precipice.

The declining numbers of the French Yellow Vest demonstrators and of their imitators in Europe (Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain), do not mean that the revolt is near its end. Its roots go back to the mid-70s. The end of the post war economic boom marked the return of social insecurity, with the development of mass unemployment, new forms of poverty and atypical precarious employment. Globalisation and then the Great Recession of 2008 exacerbated these trends. And a new risk is developing fast: automation. It first hit industrial blue-collar jobs that could be easily replaced by robots. Now intelligent machines and algorithms are threatening routine white-collar jobs.

These workers, with mid-level skills and education, could be a potential reservoir for future disruptive protests such as the Yellow Vests, and also, to a certain extent, to support the radical Right. Our study in eleven European countries shows that the electoral impact of automation is conditioned by the perceived economic situation. The most likely to vote for radical right parties are individuals in occupations at risk of automation who feel they are still coping financially with their present income, but fear status loss and downward mobility. While those who, facing the same risk of automation, say they cannot cope, do not even bother going go to the polls. READ MORE

One Question
Bernie Sanders

One Question
Bernie Sanders

One Question is a monthly series in which we ask leading thinkers to give a brief answer to a single question.

This month we ask:

Should the American Left unite behind Bernie Sanders?

With responses from: Doug Henwood; Judith Butler; Charlie Post; Bill Fletcher Jr; Zillah Eisenstein; Eric Mann; Lester Spence; Marina Sitrin; Eric Blanc; Juan Cruz Ferre; Eljeer Hawkins; John Bachtell; Rand Wilson and Peter Olney.

Bernie Sanders

Doug Henwood

Can we go mostly out for Bernie Sanders instead of all?

I completely understand the temptation to put all our eggs in the Bernie basket. With his 2016 campaign, he almost single-handedly introduced a seriously social democratic programme into American political discourse, and even made the word ‘socialism’ charming, no mean feat in this reactionary political culture. He inspired thousands of mostly young people to enter politics and caused the membership of the formerly moribund Democratic Socialists of America to soar. He forced mainstream Democrats to admit just how wedded to the corporate agenda they are.

Without his candidacy, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – who was largely responsible for getting people to talk about a Green New Deal and a top tax rate of 70% almost overnight – wouldn’t be in Congress, neither would her colleagues Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Ditto many fresh faces in state legislatures. Thanks to all these campaigns, there’s a serious left campaign infrastructure operating across the US – not merely around elections, but a variety of issues, from housing to wages to police brutality. For someone who matured in politics like me, when a meeting of the Left consisted of seven weirdos in a ramshackle space, the transformation feels other-worldly.

So, I completely understand the draw of trying to do it again. A second Sanders campaign could bring even more people into left politics, deepen the organising infrastructure for the future, and offer rich opportunities for political education. All true. But it still worries me.

It worries me for several reasons. One is that there’s a bit of a repetition compulsion about it – the Bernie campaign worked so well last time, why won’t it again? But things are quite different this time. He’s not coming out of nowhere, surprising an unprepared establishment. He’s running against a small army of other candidates, not just one who was a perfect symbol of a discredited status quo. Were he by some fluke to win, he would face a hostile Congress and ruling elite, who would frustrate him at every turn. It might be better to build strength from below, in city councils and state legislatures, and maybe even a governorship or two, before scaling the summit. It feels like people on the Left are looking to Sanders as some sort of magic, almost redemptive figure.

Which isn’t to say one shouldn’t work on Bernie’s behalf. It is to say, keep some powder dry. READ MORE

One Question
Economic Crash

One Question
Economic Crash

One Question is a monthly series in which we ask leading thinkers to give a brief answer to a single question.

This month, we ask:

Are we heading for another economic crash?

Economic Crash

Wolfgang Streeck

I’m not a prophet. But there is no capitalism without the occasional crash, so if you will we are always heading for one. Inflation in the 1970s was ended by a return to ‘sound money’ in 1980, which begot deindustrialization and high unemployment, which together with tax cuts for the rich begot high public debt. When public debt became too high, fiscal consolidation in the 1990s had to be compensated, for macro-economic as well as political reasons, by capital market deregulation and private household debt, which begot the crash of 2008.

Now, almost a decade later, public debt is higher than ever, so is private debt; the global money volume has been steadily increasing for decades now; and the central banks are producing money as though there was no tomorrow, by buying up all sorts of debt with cash made ‘out of thin air’, which is called Quantitative Easing. While everybody knows that this cannot go on forever, nobody knows how to end it – same with public and private debt, same with the money supply. Something is going to happen, presumably soon, and it is not going to be pleasant. READ MORE