No More Fossils! Photo Credit: Konrad Skotnicki/wschod Mídia NINJA/flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

COP and CARB: A California Ecosocialist Reflects

Official international, national, and local consortia are failing to act appropriately on climate change. It’s up to us. We already have the tools and organizations to respond.

“Climate Criminals Put Profits over Humanity.” So reads the title of the Indigenous Environmental Network statement on the 2023 Conference of the Parties in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. COP 28, the 28th United Nations summit on climate, ended late last year, repeating the international body’s decades-long failure to plan a disciplined global fossil fuel drawdown. Although long-held scientific consensus screams for that drawdown, the heads of powerful states and their minions who dominate the Conference are clearly more willing to preside over the end of the world as we know it than the end of carbon-dependent capitalism.

The early years of the COP, which first convened in 1995, held some promise as these gatherings seemed to address both the seriousness of the crisis and the need for global cooperation. This year, the empty and self-congratulatory concluding statements from COP28 president Sultan al-Jabar, head of the United Arab Emirates’ national oil company and echoed by other heads of petrostates, came as no surprise to climate activists protesting outside the decision-making spaces. With an ever-increasing number of fossil fuel lobbyists — more than 2,400 in Dubai — it’s no wonder that industry interests crushed any drawdown commitments that might have had teeth. 

Just More “Blah, blah, blah”

Missing from commitments needed in Dubai was a plan — with a budget — to take care of workers affected by fossil fuel phaseout. The UN’s own International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) demanded  “. . . adoption of a Just Transition Work Programme that ensures labour issues are central to climate policy.” That didn’t happen. 

Likewise, loss and damage compensation for most-harmed countries remains uncommitted. If the phrase “Just Transition” has any meaning, it requires a “polluters pay” framework in which the wealthy nations and corporations who have most benefited from fossil fuels provide the financial resources that most-affected workers, communities, and countries need on the path to climate mitigation and adaptation.

Absent these and any credible fossil fuel phase out plans, COP28 didn’t amount to much more than Greta Thunberg’s characterization of past COPs: just more “blah, blah, blah.”

In Our Backyard: California’s CARB

Having never attended a COP, I still find the dynamics in Dubai unpleasantly familiar from my close observation of California’s major climate planning process, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Scoping Plan. Though hosting fewer than the 475 carbon-capture lobbyists attending COP28, the state CARB hearings in 2022 reflected the outsized influence of the Carbon Capture and Storage Coalition on the planning board. With the fossil-fueled fantasy of unproven carbon removal technology, California’s oil and gas industries shoved the “real zero” demands of CARB’s own Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (EJAC) off the agenda to be replaced by a vague promise of “net zero,” requiring no production or extraction reductions. Like the Climate Justice Alliance and other frontline climate activists at COP 28, EJAC was marginalized and rejected. 

Though the International Trade Union Confederation at COP28 had way more standing than our ragtag committee with a petition from 135 unionists at the CARB hearings, we were both dismissed. Neither the ITUC demand for a labor-focused climate plan at COP28, nor our demand for inclusion of the CA Climate Jobs Plan in CARB’s blueprint made a dent in the industry-dominated agreements in Dubai or Sacramento. The only “union” mentioned in CARB’s draft plan was the “European Union.” 

In addition to the parallels between Dubai and Sacramento — capitalist capture on the inside and urgent protest on the outside — there was a new development at COP28. Remaining the elephant in the climate movement room for far too long, war became a central theme in the protests at this COP.  International outrage and organizing responding to the genocidal Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza brought the issue of war and militarism to the well-fortified gates of power, making the exclusion of this crucial global issue more visible.

Lessons and Strategies

What lessons can ecosocialists extract from global climate planning at COP28 and the similar dynamics in Sacramento? What strategies emerge now that climate denial is no longer a viable fossil fuel defense and our opposition now lobbies for ecomodern mirages to prolong their profits? How can we respond?

Capitalist control of the process, with big oil calling the shots, is enough to turn Pollyanna into a doomer. But as ecosocialists, we have a vision as well as existing organizations to build power for a future beyond capitalism and its carbon dependence. We can lend muscle to the antiwar, labor, and frontline groups currently barred from power and relegated to protest. 

There’s nothing positive about Israel’s war on Palestinians. But shared outrage has motivated new collaboration between climate justice and antiwar activists.This partnership, which has long been developing in such organizations as Veterans for Peace, is gaining popular understanding. 

Ecosocialists can help spread insight about the connections between climate and war and support campaigns targeting both fossil fuel and munitions industries.The union organizing for Labor for Palestine creates another bridge to connect antiwar, labor, and climate movements.

Although the national Green New Deal conversation has been muted by Biden’s anemic Inflation Reduction Act, federal funds from this and other legislation won by labor and environmental organizing are pouring into states and municipalities. Ecosocialist organizing can help build labor and community coalitions to keep those funds dedicated to union jobs for real climate mitigation.     

Less developed within some socialist and ecosocialist spaces is the potential to build working class power in coalition with climate-vulnerable communities. But the scourge that is environmental racism has formidable foes in California and around the world, and we can learn from them. 

We’ll have a chance this year in a California’s statewide referendum fight to defend (relatively mild) drilling restrictions passed by the state legislature in 2022 and now under attack by the Western States Petroleum Association and its astroturf creations. These groups have put a measure on the November state ballot to roll back the good legislation. 

And as usual, the fossil fuel purveyors seek to muddy people’s understanding and create confusion. Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods (VISION), a climate justice coalition, and its frontline allies,are working to defeat the measure. 

We’ve got to get the message across: Drawing down production is exactly what CARB and COP refuse to tackle, and organizing for that drawdown — in coalition with labor, environmental justice, and antiwar activists — is right where ecosocialists need to be. 

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Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from the original, published in California Red, the newsletter of California Democratic Socialists of America. DSA is one organization with the membership numbers and budget to affect serious change in governmental policies, and our readers should feel encouraged to become engaged with that large organization on the national or state levels. 

Meanwhile, other groups, including System Change Not Climate Change’s loose-knit network of individuals across North America, are also in need of your ideas, energy, talents, and time commitments. We know in our hearts that the ecosocialist principles and ideals we share are exactly what’s needed in response to the climate and natural-world crises that have been created and exacerbated by capitalism. 

The human race, we know, is facing an unprecedented existential crisis and causing the extinction of other species. It’s not time to wring our hands and stick our heads in the sand (or in an electronic device). It is the time to get together with other like-minded and big-hearted individuals and get to the task of creating the world we envision that is just and equitable and habitable for all, including the other species with whom we share Earth. 

We in System Change Not Climate Change also invite you to join us in our efforts not only to explain the many complex crises but also the solutions, as well as to inspire and excite more people to join our movement. Please get in touch with us at info@systemchangenotclimatechange.org if you can lend your time and talents.


Bonnie Lockhart is a member of the California Democratic Socialists of America Ecosocialist Working Group.

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1 comment
  • A lively and at times heated debate over participation in COP took place at the Global Ecosocialist Network meeting this morning. They are planning a public forum with panelists to debate this issue formally and I’ll keep SCNCC apprised as to date and time. GEN has previously called for an “inside / out” strategy of critical participation but I see opportunity costs to spending valuable time organizing around COP protest, time that should be spent movement building. COP sustains the illusion that governments can work against the interests of Capital and that relations of power between countries is consensual. US negotiators can agree to whatever reductions they want but they will never pass Congress.
    Alan Thornett also argued for an alliance between climate justice and “green capitalism”, a desperate and futile gambit were it to happen.

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On Sept 19, 2023 ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit in New York City, climate activists gathered for a rally and civil disobedience outside Bank of America Tower in Midtown Manhattan as part of the March to End Fossil Fuels wave of actions resulting in multiple arrests. Activists demand Bank of America to “Defund Climate Chaos and Defend Human Rights” Photo: Erik McGregor (CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed)

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