by Michael Whitehead
The U.S. Occupy movement has waned from view, but there is increasing evidence of a new wave of American activism and energy building all year in response to the accelerating climate emergency, under the slogan “System Change Not Climate Change.”
In the face of the climate crisis, a coalition is developing between a traditionally fractious American Left, the Green Party USA, and other Left groups in a Green-Red “Ecology Solidarity” that bears watching in the coming months. Evolving from the historic February 11 protest in Washington, the latest manifestation of these activities was the Ecosocialist Conference 2013, Los Angeles, held on September 21, followed by a sister conference in Vancouver on September 23, both emerging from the highly successful April conference in NYC.
The Los Angeles event was held quite appropriately in a repurposed, (one could say recycled), former courthouse and police station, now a library and African-American history museum. In fact, I thought I had awakened in an alternate reality, seeing former police station walls now celebrated with the likes of Malcolm X and other liberation figures (not to mention showcases of not so liberating Obama campaign memorabilia).
Surrounded with a noble but motley crew of hundreds of socialists of differing stripes, Green Party members, Occupy LA-ers, labor unionists, aging and teenage ecosocialists, and more than a few former Democrats, all in numbers and with an energy and earnestness that one veteran activist, with personal experience going back to the sixties, told me he had not seen in LA in years.
In the old courtrooms turned political workshops, instead of 1960’s-era petty misdemeanor and traffic trials, conference attendees weighed topics of the upmost seriousness: How can we save humanity from the seemingly inexorable suicide train of looming climate catastrophe?
David Klein, director of Climate Science Studies at California State, Northridge, led the first plenary, with a sobering summary of the latest scientific climate model findings and a conclusion that cogently and glaringly expressed an opinion shared by most attendees about the futility of traditional reformist “green” activism in solving the global emergency:
“Global climate models predict a worldwide range of average temperature increase of between 2 and 6 or more degrees C by the end of the century. The upper end is potentially a mass extinction event.
“Keeping temperature increase to no more than 2° C is a generally agreed upon goal worldwide. It has been estimated that CO2 emissions between now and the end of the century need to remain below approximately 600 billion tons to achieve this goal. However, there is a CO2 equivalent of 2.8 trillion tons in known reserves of carbon in the form of petroleum, natural gas, and coal underground valued at roughly $27 trillion to Wall Street firms, and this is included in stock values.
“To meet the 2 degree C goal, the vast majority of the carbon reserves must remain underground, unburned, meaning that Wall Street would have to lose approximately $20 trillion to protect the planet from a devastating future.
“Humanity is thus faced with the ultimate Darwinian IQ test. It is a multiple choice question: Choose: a) capitalism or b) the planet. We can only have one or the other, not both.”
Lisa Ludow, historian, activist and professor at Glendale College, made a similar point in her presentation stating that:
“Radical changes are needed to save humanity and the planet: to leave fossil fuels in the ground; initiate an emergency program to convert fossil fuel systems to renewables; and radically reorganize our production systems overall for sustainability. The system itself is in direct conflict with the solution to the emergency. The capitalist imperative for unlimited growth through market-driven resource extraction, production, and consumption is leading us on a suicide mission. But the system is unwilling and unable to power down.”
In his talk, Pace University Professor Chris Williams, observed that:
“It is increasingly clear to a growing number of people that the ecological crisis is a direct outgrowth of the operation of our economic system; namely, capitalism. The crisis has many facets: environmental racism, energy production, pollution, gender oppression, biodiversity loss, agri-business and climate change to name only a few. But they can all be traced back to a singular cause: the relentless pursuit of profit and the accumulation of capital.”
Ben Manski, Green Party Presidential campaign manager and president of the Liberty Tree Foundation, eloquently took this idea further in his discussion, arguing that:
“The exploitation of human nature and the exploitation of nature are part of the same process. An injury to one is an injury to all — that injuries to oppressed people are borne by the Earth, and injuries to our Earth are suffered first by oppressed people.”
“Both practically and theoretically, in the long run there are no boundaries between jobs and environment. There are also no boundaries between class struggle and ecological resistance, and no boundaries between red and green.”
“’Ecology Solidarity’ requires a struggle for democracy — what Marx called the ‘species being,’ the natural essence, of humanity — so that working people can finally ‘become the human race,’ and self-organize to make the most of our species’ capacity to do good, to do right by the Earth, and to respect the rights of nature, so that we may all live in the prosperity that this living planet gives us.”
Green Party Presidential Candidate and physician Jill Stein in her rousing closing plenary proposed a concrete program of “next steps” for the System Change Not Climate Change/Ecosocialist coalition, outlining a proposal for an “Emergency Green Economic Transformation”, based, in her words, on “on the notion that the accelerating climate collapse intensifies all our struggles – for economic, racial and environmental justice, human rights, civil liberties, peace and democracy. While the climate crisis makes all of these struggles more difficult, it also provides unprecedented urgency and momentum for collaboration.”
She called for a “Emergency Green Economic Transformation” program – aka a “Green New Deal” for full employment, 100% clean renewable energy by 2030, demilitarization, and an economic bill of rights (including medicare for all, free pre K-through-college education as a human right, labor and immigrant rights, affordable housing, and abolishing student debt.
Michael Whitehead is a Solar Energy Engineer and Ecosocialist activist based in Pennsylvania and North Carolina