Susan George is president of the board of the Trans National Institute, an international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world. She spoke at the Seminar of the International Center for the promotion of Human Rights [CIPDH] and Unesco titled “Interreligious and inter cultural dialogue: consciences and climate change” in September in Buenos Aires. Find the video here.
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The International Centre for the Promotion of Human Rights has given me the honour of closing this seminar and I’m extremely grateful to the CIPDH for including me in this important event. We could compare this seminar to one part of the long road on a kind of modern pilgrimage; one stage of a difficult but infinitely rewarding journey. We’ve shared part of this road towards what we all hope will be a stable, sustainable world, fit for human habitation.
We hope this pilgrimage will lead to the success of the COP22 in Marrakech and then continue well beyond, until we reach that far-off goal of halting, then reversing climate change.
We know that the earth and all the myriad forms of life living on its land and under its seas are unlikely to withstand an increase in temperatures beyond 2 degrees. We have already reached more than one degree above the historical average and have been dangerously slow to take this road. Now it is crucial that we continue.
It strikes me that all religions have their pilgrimages, whether to Mecca, Saint Jacques de Compostelle, the place in India of the Buddha’s Enlightenment, the holy Hindu cities of India or the sacred sites of Jerusalem. The people who set out on these pilgrimages of faith are usually seeking forgiveness or salvation, enlightenment, healing or perhaps the granting of a special wish.
Our common pilgrimage is of a different nature. We do not seek personal blessings but salvation and hope for all peoples and for our home, the earth. All are under tremendous threat. We have embarked on this journey because we recognise that humanity has never been in greater danger than at this moment.
I try not to speak of “saving the planet”. Whatever human beings may do, the planet will continue to rotate on its axis and to orbit the sun as it has done for some four and a half billion years. Planet earth, which we think of as “ours”, is not really “ours” at all. It could perfectly well continue, utterly changed, to move along its prescribed path without us. Indeed, one could easily argue, as the so-called “deep ecologists” do, that the planet would be far better off without us, since they stress that we humans are the most predatory, wasteful and destructive species ever to have lived on earth in those four and a half billion years.
I am not here to promote the deep ecology view. I am here rather to introduce and define what I see as a new phenomenon in the history of humankind. I call it Geocide. Geocide is the collective action of a single species among millions of other species which is changing planet Earth to the point that it can become unrecognisable and unfit for life. This species is committing geocide against all components of nature, whether microscopic organisms, plants, animals or against itself, homo sapiens, humankind.
Homo sapiens has only existed for roughly 200,000 years. The time we’ve spent one this planet compared to its total age is infinitesimally short, just the tiniest sliver of geological time. It amounts to a mere 0.00004 percent of earth’s existence. And although any given species of plant or animal–vertebrate or invertebrate– tends to last on average about ten million years, our species seems determined to cause its own extinction, along with the rest of creation, long before it allotted time.
The death of an entire species is, geologically speaking, a common occurrence. Some extinctions are spectacular—think of the dinosaurs—most are quiet disappearances that leave few traces. Several species will have disappeared forever between the time we arrived and the time we leave this seminar. Scientists tell us that the “background rate” of extinction is approximately a thousand times greater than average and some have begun to call our era the “sixth great extinction.” The previous one, the Permian extinction, occurred about 250 million years ago. Some 95 percent of all species then on earth were wiped out, probably because of volcanic activity and warming causing huge releases of methane from the oceans.
Species disappear massively because they cannot adapt fast enough to rapidly changing conditions. Some, humans included, can adapt to a broad set of environments and wide divergence of temperature, from Siberia or Greenland to Pakistan or the Sahel, but no species is infinitely adaptable and all have their limits.
Ours is the only species among millions that has been gifted with language, tool-making skills, and above all consciousness, the capacity for imagination, thought and spirituality. And yet, the end of our own existence seems beyond our collective comprehension: too terrible and too definitive to contemplate. Extinction can’t possibly happen to us—we humans are too technologically brilliant, we can find the solution to any problem, we are the lords of creation and we cannot fail, much less disappear.
No one except a few eccentrics now denies that humans are capable of committing genocide; we have witnessed horrible episodes of mass murder in our own lifetimes and, because we have recognised this horror, we are able to name it. All languages have been obliged to add this terrible word, genocide, to their vocabularies.
Are we even capable of imagining, much less recognising that we are also capable of committing geocide? In my mind, this term goes beyond “ecocide” which so far seems limited to specific environments or geographic locations such as the razing of a forest or the massive pollution of, say, the Gulf of Mexico. Geocide is alas more general: it is a massive assault against nature of which we are only a part, against all earthly life and against Creation as well as the complete denial of human rights; I submit that this ultimate act of destruction is underway and that we need a name for it. Without a name, we have no concept and without a concept we cannot combat it. This is why I searched for a new word.
Election night put most progressives into a state of shock and disbelief – a metaphysical body blow to all the values and ideals to which we are committed. Even though we knew intellectually that Trump might win, we didn’t really believe it would happen. The pollsters said it would not happen. Most of the corporate media said it would not happen. Most of the power structure was committed to preventing it. Who imagined that a crude narcissistic loud-mouthed bigot could win a national election for the highest office in the land! But that’s what happened.
The day after, the enormity of what had happened started to sink in. Trump’s promised Supreme Court appointments alone could reverse decades of hard fought victories, most especially in relation to human rights and civil liberties. Agencies like the NLRB, EPA, FDA and more could be gutted and regulatory protections they were established to enforce evaporate overnight. He’s already said he intends to move forward to deport two to three million immigrants. Racists, bigots and reactionaries of all sorts have been emboldened and attacks on Muslims, immigrants and people of color have escalated. Trump’s retrograde climate denial and commitment to his fossil fuel industry backers puts the population of the entire planet into peril as a consequence of unchecked global warming.
Trump, a man with a world-sized ego but virtually no experience in foreign relations or governing, will turn running the country over to a band of neocons and social reactionaries – like Vice President Mike Pence – who now see the opportunity to complete the revolution they started when George W. Bush held office. (Imagine a cabinet composed entirely of Dick Cheney clones.) It’s the stuff nightmares are made of.
With all three branches of government in the hands of the GOP, Trump will seek to dismantle the funding restrictions imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 that capped spending and requires that any increases in military spending be matched by equivalent increases in domestic funding. Once that is accomplished, the sluice gate between the Treasury and Pentagon will be lifted. Domestic programs that provide what’s left of a social safety net and social programs that serve working people and the poor will be drained into the swamp of the military-industrial complex.
As dire as the threats that Trump represents are, for me they have a ring of familiarity. Although the politics, social composition and economics of the U.S. are dramatically changed, I hear an echo of an earlier era – one of which an overwhelming majority of those who voted this month have no memory.
I am a child of the Cold War, born on the early side of the baby boom generation in 1944. I am just old enough to remember the McCarthy era of the 1950s. Living in Milwaukee, for my family the witch hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy were very real. Because my father was a leader in the Wisconsin Communist Party, the FBI was a haunting presence in my family’s life. “Better dead than red” characterized the political climate in which the left strived to remain true to its progressive values. Being labeled a “red” meant being fired, blacklisted, threatened, harassed, and in some cases physically assaulted.
Then came Tricky Dick Nixon, an arch reactionary who made his reputation as one of the Cold War’s ugliest witch hunters. On the day that Nixon was elected, alarm bells sounded not unlike those that are ringing now. There was once again the sniff of fascism in the air.
They rang again when Ronald Reagan, former president of the Screen Actors Guild who led the purge of the left in his union, took office. Prior to switching from B-films to politics, he had appeared weekly on TV as the huckster for General Electric, one of the most prominent and powerful advocates for militarism and an aggressive foreign policy throughout the Cold War.
In the darkest days of the McCarthy era, it was hard to imagine that within a decade we would see the birth of new civil rights, women’s and antiwar movements that would transform the social order and the popular culture of the nation. On the morning after the Nixon and Reagan elections, the future looked grim and threatening. The prospect for progressive change appeared to be fading from the horizon.
I can recall how frightened people were at the prospect of what lay ahead for themselves, their family, community and the nation. Those were decades in which the arms race and threat of all out nuclear war stoked fears of global annihilation. With the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still fresh in the collective memory of the country, the fear of a nuclear holocaust was very real.
But there is an important lesson embedded in that history. Most of the American people actually believe in democracy, freedom, justice and fairness. As dark and threatening as conditions might have appeared in the moment, the fundamental instinct for goodness of a majority of people ultimately surfaced.
Donald Trump’s being elected the 45th President of the US has sent shock waves through the climate change community worldwide. Examining some recent energy and emission trends in the US would contribute to our understanding of what Trump might or might not undo. And while our initial shock and dismay is totally warranted, it would be short-sighted of us to ignore deeper drivers of global warming that will persist even after Trump comes and goes.
Her work has appeared in numerous publications on subjects including imperialism and colonialism, political economy ecology, ecological justice, feminism, advertising and propaganda, financialization, mass incarceration, and social theory.
She is a featured speaker at a regional socialist educational conference, The Solution is Socialism, to be held at Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, Connecticut on October 22.
David Kiely, a socialist youth organizer in Connecticut, interviews Hannah Holleman on the ecosocialist imperative.
Many focus on environmental injustice as the unequal distribution of outcomes of environmental harm. Colonized or formerly colonized peoples are homogenized and described as “stakeholders” in environmental conflicts. Mainstream environmental organizations, those on the privileged side of the segregated environmental movement globally, and more linked to power, are encouraged to diversify their staff and memberships and pay attention to issues of “justice.” However, the deeper aspects of social domination required to maintain the economic, social, and environmental status quo often are denied, minimized, or simply ignored.
Ignoring the systemic and historical injustice that makes current inequalities possible allows environmentalists and other activists, as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes, “to safely put aside present responsibility for continued harm done by that past and questions of reparations, restitution, and reordering society,” when discussing current, interrelated environmental and social problems.[i] Superficial approaches to addressing racism, indigenous oppression, and other forms of social domination preclude the possibility of a deeper solidarity across historical social divisions. However, this kind of solidarity is exactly what we need to build a movement capable of challenging the status quo and making systemic, lasting change that is socially and ecologically restorative and just.
Our planet’s climate crisis is intensifying, but many in industry, government and even the advocacy community have turned to market mechanisms to alleviate climate change instead of regulating the pollutants that cause it. These free-market approaches rely on putting a “price” on climate change-inducing emissions — such as imposing taxes on carbon — as an indirect method to reduce these pollutants.
US agriculture giant Monsanto has agreed to a US$66 billion takeover by German chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer. If the deal is approved by international regulators, Bayer-Monsanto will become the world’s biggest agribusiness, controlling 29 percent of the global seed market and 24 percent of pesticides.
The companies have dismissed widespread concern about the deal among farmers and environmentalists as fearmongering. Separately, they claim, their products have contributed to a significant boost in crop yields over the past few decades. Together, they’ll be able to increase investment in research and development, driving the agricultural innovation necessary to meet the demands of a growing world population.
We can only imagine what kind of new health and environmental threats may lurk in the “step change” a company like Bayer-Monsanto will make in an effort to restore profits.
In assessing the claims and counterclaims, we would do well to heed the words of radical US historian Howard Zinn: “If you don’t know history, it is as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, anybody up there in a position of power can you tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it”.
Climate change is often chalked up to “market failure.” We’re told that, despite prevailing assumptions that prices accurately transmit “signals” about the costs of goods and services, emitters like power plants, refineries, automobiles, and households simply do not pay the full ecological costs of their emissions. Hence, the market has failed.
To fix the problem, the argument goes, we must internalize the costs of emissions into the price mechanism so that emitters pay the full costs of their actions. If we could craft a policy that accurately monetized the ecological costs of emissions — a carbon tax, or fee and dividend scheme — fossil fuels would become costlier and renewables would be more competitive and cost effective. The failure could be corrected, and the market would succeed in guiding us to a clean energy future.
Accounting for ecological costs has become the primary way of crafting environmental policy for public officials and legal experts. But the rhetoric of cost internalization is a political dead end for a left climate politics.
Focusing on getting the price right, and thereby assuming the market can be corrected, allows right-wing and fossil-fuel interests to effectively argue that any and all climate policy will be a cost to working people. Recently, the CEO of Chevron put it bluntly “I’ve never had a customer come to me and ask to pay a higher price for oil, gas, or other products.” Indeed, while many on the climate left attribute slow movement on climate to a problem of education and denial of climate science, popular opposition to climate policy is more often framed in economic terms, focusing on costs to the economy and to everyday people’s lives.
In an ideological landscape dominated by an obsession with accounting for and trimming costs, environmental policy proposals often advocate raising costs—costs that are likely to end up being passed down to working people. Opponents of climate justice easily argue that any tax or cost will end up percolating throughout the economy and hitting ordinary people: wealth doesn’t trickle down, but costs do.
A left climate politics must move beyond a language of cost-internalization, and emphasize the real material benefits for a society beyond fossil fuel: not only in terms of a cleaner environment, but also cheaper energy and green jobs. This requires a language of public goods and collective action, not a language of markets and costs. If the Left must speak of costs at all, it needs to be framed in class terms — costs that the wealthy and corporations must pay to fund a better energy economy.
Capitalism's four-century obsession with finding a more profitable route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is finally satisfied. The voyage of the Crystal Serenity through the Northwest Passage proclaimed the route open for routine, if still risky, commercial shipping. The ship left Vancouver on 10 August 2016, arriving in New York on 16 September. The Northwest Passage reduces the voyage by 7,000 kilometers and an average of 14 days, compared to the Panama Canal route.