|Something is so deeply wrong in the U.S. that we can no longer ignore it. GETTYIMAGESBANK|
By Emanuel Pastreich, Jonathan Mintram
Their ideas are certainly better than the full-throttle push for fossil fuels of the Trump administration, or the fracking rampage of the Obama administration. But if we assess the economic and security issues for the U.S. today in a scientific manner, we must come to the distasteful conclusion that this "Green New Deal" has been overinflated and is sadly insufficient for the task at hand.
Of course, the progressive media have highlighted for educated upper-middle class readers the corruption of politics and of media by big oil, but it has not even started to scratch the surface of the twisted economic system we live in that forces us to use plastic, gasoline or coal at every turn in our daily lives, while we are fed vague tales of foreboding, and polar bears, that offer no options for action other than waiting for the next election or carrying a tumbler around.
Something is so deeply wrong in the U.S. that we can no longer ignore it. It is like feeling sick after eating spoiled food. You can try to ignore the pain in your stomach, but eventually you are going to have to throw up if you want to get it out of your system.
We must face the truth, and recognize that despite the impressive photo ops for the "Green New Deal," its content is not aimed at immediately ending the use of fossil fuels, or even at giving citizens the means to move their communities to renewable energy on their own. To date, we have not seen a serious effort to refute Naomi Wolf's questions about the gaping holes in the Green New Deal, big enough to guide a supertanker through. If we adhere to the current system, it will be massive corporations and investment banks that will make best use of such legislation, if it is ever passed, to fund pet projects, or even to promote dangerous geo-engineering.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Democrats friends remain dependent on corporate money (if not directly, then through foundations and NGOs) and they refuse to work with more aggressive organizations because they are not loyal to the Democratic Party.
But there is another political response out there. We have seen in the protests of Extinction Rebellion, taking place in London and around the world, the emergence of an honest political stance about climate change that addresses the issue head-on and that assumes that unless politics is grounded in action and in the pursuit of truth, it is not politics at all.
Extinction Rebellion focuses on the climate catastrophe, the massive crisis of our age, and makes human extinction the central issue for its global campaign. Extinction Rebellion is not about flattering politicians, or about schmoozing with corporate CEOs and lobbyists. This political movement is not concerned about hurting people's feelings and it is not trying to tone down its message to meet requirements for coverage in the corporate media.
The priority for Extinction Rebellion is shutting down the carbon-based economy immediately and bringing major cities around the world to a standstill in order to do so.
Extinction rebellion demands that carbon emissions be reduced to zero within six years through a complete remaking of the global economy, and through the creation of a new culture in which consumption is dramatically reduced and basic economic and social values redefined. It would be accurate to describe such policy demands as revolutionary.
Unlike the feckless Democratic Party, Extinction Rebellion features a section on its webpage "The Truth" that pulls no punches regarding the likelihood of extinction for our children and the destruction of oceans, forests, the Arctic and Antarctic, and humanity itself, that lies before us in the decades ahead
Although Extinction Rebellion's approach is dismissed by many as extreme, it is, in fact, the only rational political movement out there, the only major one that promotes policies on the basis of scientific evidence, not hopeful thinking. Its legitimacy is increased by the abject failure since the Kyoto Protocols of politicians, intellectuals, and that pathetic institution known as the media, to tell the bitter truth about the mushrooming catastrophe best known by the understatement "climate change."
In effect, Extinction Rebellion is saying what should have been said 20 years ago: this entire culture, seeped in petroleum from the beginnings of the consumption economy in the 1950s, must end.
All of us are guilty. Every time we check our email, every time we take a hot shower, every time we drive to the market or fly to see relatives, we are hammering another nail into the coffin of humanity, into the coffins of our children and grandchildren, not to mention into the innumerable unmarked coffins of other species.
The Peculiar Institution
We are struggling to come to terms with the need for radical action, as opposed to the "progressive" approach that we have been brainwashed to embrace by media sources like "Common Dreams" or "Truthout," or dishonest intellectuals like Robert Reich, who refuse to acknowledge the scale of the crisis, or its dire implications for humanity.
We are struggling to acknowledge that the Paris Accords, commonly held up by the progressives as a breakthrough ― from which Trump foolishly walked away ― was never intended as a solution to the impending crisis, but rather as a face-saving political ploy.
Survival demands that we reduce fossil fuels to zero, starting tomorrow, not that we slowly increase renewables to 40 percent by 2030. At this point in the game, donating to progressive causes and waiting for the next election would be a suicidal.
Nothing less is required than ending this culture of consumption, overturning the assumption that production, consumption and growth are necessities, and asserting that every aspect of our consumption has a direct impact on our planet.
Equally important, we must make sure that our youth are not misled into accepting dangerous half-measures and bad policies that are being promoted by the very banks and corporations that benefit from the fossil-fuel economy, whether carbon trading, hybrid cars, geo-engineering or next-generation nuclear energy.
The response of citizens to the inaction of all institutions in the U.S. on climate change (local and central government, corporations, NGOs and educational organizations) must be massive and immediate. We recognize, painfully, that the watchdogs we counted on have become lapdogs in search of ample funding, and are incapable of taking on the fossil fuel powers, no matter how green their rhetoric may sound.
We must engage in governance ourselves.
350.ORG is a major NGO that provides critical information for the policy debate on climate change. It sent out an email to members on April 23, 2019 that states,
"On Friday, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren announced a bold climate commitment: if elected, she would sign an executive order on Day One halting all fossil fuel drilling on our public lands."
350.ORG praised Warren's words as an "incredible step," but although Warren may be a step ahead of the other candidates running for president, from the perspective of a species facing extinction her call sounds hopelessly weak.
Halt all drilling on public lands? That step is so obvious that we should demand that a candidate who does not support such a policy pull out of the race immediately. A real demand would be a permanent halt to all drilling for oil in the U.S. and in the world. A more substantial, and more convincing, demand would be to make the use of petroleum illegal within a year.
There is a helpful precedent for such an action (nationally and internationally) in the 1987 Montreal Protocol which banned internationally the use of chlorofluorocarbons that were destroying the ozone layer. We need a "London Protocol" that bans the use of petroleum, coal and natural gas because of the damage to the atmosphere caused by their production and their consumption. Such an international agreement with parallel national bans makes perfect sense and it would be the first step towards forcing a rapid end to their use globally for the generation of energy.
The political mythology employed by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders is that we are confronting conservatives with different values, men who are greedy and whose limited perspective must be overcome gradually through a political process.
But the reality is that we are confronting not "conservatives" but rather a massive criminal enterprise that has seized control of our economy, and our culture, and that is destroying, using illegal and immortal tactics, what few institutions remain to regulate its actions.
The apt analogy for how vested interests have made us addicted to fossil fuels, and encourage us to remain addicted to them, can be found in the morally corrupt use of slavery to drive the American economy in the 19th century.
Slavery exploited unpaid labor without limit to power the economy and to increase profits for southern planters and for the northern banks that financed them. In a sense, slavery provided seemingly cheap energy to power manufacturing and agriculture at a horrendous price that was hidden from view.
The human qualities of the African Americans who served as "slaves" were denied by a false legal system reinforced by fraudulent science that "proved" racial inferiority. Altogether, slavery debased the politics and the culture of the U.S., creating a society in which criminality was set on a pedestal and worshipped as a unique culture. But the genteel families of the southern states leaned over backwards to avoid seeing this reality.
The term coined to describe this horrific system was the "peculiar institution," an expression that suggested the south had some distinctive habits that set it apart. But the "peculiar institution" was only a dishonest manner of referring to a criminal system of exploitation that no healthy society could support.
The response of many progressives (abolitionists) in the 1850s was to fight tooth and nail to keep slavery from spreading to newly admitted states, and to try, through reform, to reduce the cruelty shown to slaves in the south ― and to permit them freedom if they escaped to the free states. But the basic assumption among most reformist "abolitionists" was that slavery was a bad policy that should be slowly reformed.
Similarly, the political debate today in the U.S. is about how to increase the use of wind and solar power, how to make renewable energy financially attractive to corporations, and how to end the extreme policies of the Trump administration of subsidizing coal while taxing renewable energy.
But this political argument only makes sense if one closes one's eyes to the fact that fossil-fuel companies are engaging in a massive criminal effort to make us dependent on fossil fuels, a source of energy that not only creates enormous profits, but that is destroying the environment and condemning much of humanity to death. In other words, one must first deceive oneself for the argument to make sense.
We do not find different perspectives or philosophies among the lobbyists and the politicians who support fossil fuels, or the CEOs and billionaires who derive their wealth from them. We simply are looking at a morally bankrupt drive for profit, a massive criminal conspiracy that seeks to destroy our planet for the sake of profits.
Extinction Rebellion wants to seize control of the economic system itself and to leave behind the middlemen, the class of educated people who make their living writing articles describing long-term progressive responses, lobbying congressmen with softball proposals that appeal to corporate profits, suggesting that wind power can be "competitive" with coal, and playing down the threat of ecological collapse in the United Nations reports so as to be sure that their research institutes continue to receive funding from organizations dependent on corporations and banks that have an interest in fossil fuels.
Our John Brown moment
If we are looking for a moment in the battle against slavery that parallels Extinction Rebellion's decision to mobilize on a massive scale against fossil fuels, the most apposite example is the actions of John Brown and his followers to rebel against slavery. Just as Extinction Rebellion decided to move beyond "progressive" arguments for the elimination of fossil fuels in light of the threat of human extinction, John Brown and his followers declared that because the government promoted the immoral practice of slavery it had no legitimacy.
John Brown was dismissed by most as the leader of a rebellion and vilified as a rebel and a lunatic by southerners for a century afterwards. But one need only read Brown's writings to see that his actions were impeccably supported by logic and informed by moral insight. When Brown launched his raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in October 1859, the intention was to end the institution of slavery by establishing a new government that would forsake the entire corrupt economic system. Brown's forces were quickly overwhelmed. He was then tried, found guilty of treason (the first such conviction in American history) and hanged.
Those who derived their wealth from slavery (the Democratic Party) condemned Brown's action as a dastardly attack on their way of life. Most progressives in the North (the Republican Party) distanced themselves from the incident, stating they would not interfere in the affairs of slave states.
But let us look at the opening of the "Provisional Constitution and Ordinances" that Brown drafted:
"Whereas slavery, throughout its entire existence in the United States, is none other than the most barbarous, unprovoked and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens against another portion, the only conditions of which are perpetual imprisonment and hopeless servitude, or absolute extermination, in utter disregard and violation of those eternal and self-evident truths set forth in our Declaration of Independence. Therefore, we, citizens of the United States, and the oppressed people who, by a recent decision of the Supreme Court, are declared to have no rights which the white man is bound to respect, together with all other people degraded by the laws thereof, do, for the time being, ordain and establish for ourselves the following Provisional Constitution and Ordinances, the better to protect our persons, property, lives, and liberties, and to govern our actions."
Let us revise this text so that it describes the current crisis and our addiction to petroleum and coal:
"Whereas forcing on us the use of fossil fuels is none other than the most barbarous, unprovoked and unjustifiable war of a small portion of citizens against the great majority, creating conditions of perpetual imprisonment in a catastrophic system that will render the Earth uninhabitable, leading to extinction, in utter disregard and violation of those eternal and self-evident truths set forth in our Declaration of Independence.
Therefore, we, citizens of the United States, as an oppressed people who have been declared by the Supreme Court to have no rights to resist that the fossil-fuel industry come together with others degraded by the laws thereof, do, for the time being, ordain and establish for ourselves the following Provisional Constitution and Ordinances, the better to protect our persons, property, lives, and liberties, and to govern our actions so as free ourselves from the death march of a fossil-fuel-driven economy."
The moral authority is the same.
Extinction Rebellion takes a non-violent position, which Brown did not. Yet the analogy still holds for Extinction Rebellion in that its members take actions that entail the risk of imprisonment, violence and death.
Turning the tables on institutionalized criminality
Extinction Rebellion makes a demand for a solution, as opposed to the weak reform proposals floated by Democrats that assume from the start that we must compromise with a powerful "conservative" element as part of the democratic process.
In a sense, Extinction Rebellion harkens back to Frederick Douglass's warning in the struggle against slavery: "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue until they are resisted with either words, or blows, or both."
Douglass's words suggest that is not enough to make abstract suggestions about the long-term negative impact of fossil fuels. Rather we must make demands that are uncompromising and concrete about what must be done now. We must insist that this entire criminal and lethal energy system be dismantled immediately.
John Brown changed the rules of the game when he referred to slavery not as a "peculiar institution" but rather as a criminal action, a "war" on the population. We too must take control of the discourse on energy and start to define the terms of discourse. Carbon emissions are not little inconveniences to be traded away, but rather a direct threat to our survival.
In other words, rather than responding quickly to the latest atrocity committed by the right wing, we must proactively present to as many people as possible of an entirely new culture and economy that must be implemented in toto now. We cannot support a piecemeal attempt to achieve change while depending on billionaires like Bill Gates and others who are deeply invested in the current economic system, or on Democratic politicians who have a long history of supporting fossil-fuel interests.
There are numerous "conservative" politicians in the U.S. Congress who make statements in committee that dismiss the threat of climate change and even assert that climate change is a fraud. They are funded by the fossil-fuel industry and they frequently call in expert witnesses who have been cultivated by fossil-fuel conglomerates like Koch Industries to provide evidence in support of the claim that fossil fuels are safe. Their research is largely fraudulent and their claims fly in the face of scientific evidence.
The current response of progressive politicians is to bemoan the ignorance, the selfishness, and the short-sightedness of these "conservative" politicians, their "foolish" experts and their "stupid" followers. This attitude is similar to that of Republicans who wanted to limit the use of slavery to the southern states in the 1850s, rather than abolish it.
The issue of climate change is not one of opinions, or of interests, but of law and scientifically verified truth.
What does the law say?
The law is quite explicit. If a congressman gives testimony in committee, or brings in an expert to give testimony, that suggests that climate change is a fiction or that is not a serious threat, that act is not the expression of a conservative perspective, but is rather the presentation of false testimony. Such actions, according to the law, form a felony offense. At the minimum, the congressman should be forced to resign from his or her office for doing so, and he or she should face jail time. Any expert presenting such false evidence should face similar charges.
And yet there is not a single Democrat with the guts to bring such an entirely logical and perfectly legal charge against the congressmen and expert witnesses who engage in such blatantly criminal activity on Capitol Hill. The fact that this criminal practice has gone on for decades is not an excuse, just as the fact that slavery was practiced for hundreds of years was not an excuse for its immorality.
If no one in the Congress, if no one among the insider lawyers, lobbyists, consultants and staff who run it, is willing to take such a moral and legal stance, the people must rise up and demand that such criminal activities be punished and the perpetrators should be banned. If enough people protest, politicians will feel the pressure and change their behavior.
Some might say that taking such a hard line would be the equivalent of demanding that hundreds of congressmen, thousands of staffers and lobbyists, resign from office and face prison for their actions. If we want to survive as a species, we should not shy away from such a scenario. We should be ready to embrace it. If the process requires us to press criminal charges against numerous Democrats as well, so be it.
For that matter, if we find that all the members of Congress are engaged in such criminal actions, at some level or another, it is not only our right, but our moral responsibility, to demand that they all step down and that we be allowed to hold elections that are free from the interference of any organizations linked to these immoral fossil fuel interests.
It is currently accepted practice for congressmen to take contributions from fossil-fuel corporations, and from investment banks that promote fossil fuels. But the promotion of fossil fuels over the last 70 years, often with federal subsidies for refineries and highway systems, was a criminal conspiracy from the start, not a democratic process that represented the will of the people. Whether it was the purchase and destruction of public transport by General Motors, Standard Oil and Phillips Petroleum (operating through front organizations) to increase the dependence of our citizens on the dangerous chemical compound petroleum, or the restructuring of the U.S. military so as to be deeply dependent on petroleum and to be employed primarily to secure supplies of petroleum, there has been a series of policy decisions made that must be recognized as criminal in nature.
We now know that corporations like Exxon and Shell that provide petroleum were fully aware of the phenomenon of global warming, and of the dangerous impact of their toxic product on the environment, from at least the 1980s, if not earlier. They hid such scientific results and instead hired experts and public relations firms to present misleading and dishonest information to the public through advertising, through doctored academic research and through lobbying while they were fully aware of the scale of the threat. Yet the best that progressive Democrats can do is to grumble about the selfishness of these corporations, and ask struggling citizens for contributions to their campaigns for the next election, or for the election after that.
Ask yourself, what would happen to you if you sold a product that was extremely dangerous to the environment and that killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people globally, and that was likely to lead to the deaths of billions due to global warming? What if you had known since the 1980s about the dangers of your product and had hidden that information, using your tainted wealth to bribe politicians and to promote fake science experts who lied to Congress in order to defend your illegal activities?
Your fate would be quite certain. You would be jailed immediately on conspiracy charges and your entire assets would be seized. You would be criminally liable to pay for the cost of paying for the clean-up of the damage you had wrought far beyond what assets you possessed.
So what should we do to the fossil-fuel companies that have behaved in precisely this manner and the investment banks and other financial institutions that support them in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence of the danger of this product? The situation is absolutely identical. Citizens must demand that these corporations be treated as criminal organizations and that they be stripped of the right to use those ill-gotten funds to defend themselves. Those responsible must be jailed immediately and prosecuted for their crimes over the last four decades. The politicians and lobbyists who assisted them should be subject to the same treatment.
The assets of corporations like Exxon and Koch Industries, and those of individuals who own those corporations, should be seized in total for the purpose of cleaning up the damage and compensating victims around the world.
There is no need to mope about how much money fossil-fuel companies have to contribute to the election of "conservative" candidates, or how much harder "progressives" must work to win elections in this unfair political environment. Once the assets of these fossil-fuel companies have been seized, once all lobbyists and experts who worked for those companies in their criminal campaigns are blocked from participation in politics (like the disenfranchisement of former Confederate leaders during Reconstruction), we will be in a position to determine what is appropriate policy for the response to climate change based on scientific consensus and in accord with the Constitution.
We have the right, and the obligation, to demand that politicians who have been bought off by fossil-fuel companies, or by banks and by billionaires linked to fossil-fuel companies, be blocked from testimony to Congress and from participation in the political process. In many cases, we should demand that they resign from their positions immediately. The same applies to think-tank researchers, professors, lawyers, lobbyists and other public personalities who have been involved in this massive fraud.
The debate in politics must be grounded in unbiased scientific findings, not in opinions. We have allowed corporations to be treated as people and we have allowed fraudulent arguments about the climate to be treated as worthy of attention because they were backed by money. That must all end now. If a small group of citizens effectively articulates a logical position, that can start to transform opinion in the U.S. Without the pursuit of truth as a fundamental principle for politics, however, democracy will be reduced to a farce.
But there is more that we must do. We must condemn advertising in general as a criminal effort to mislead Americans about the dangers of industrial society, specifically about the impact of cars, planes and coal and natural gas dependent industrial production on the environment and on our citizens.
Advertising is employed as a means of bribing the media, and of undermining its critical role: presenting citizens with the truth. Advertising, and the public relations industry, has rendered journalism a farcical sideshow that distracts us at the very moment citizens must mobilize. As long as the commercial media feeds citizens doctored and distorted information so they cannot make objective decisions, democratic politics is impossible.
We must actively counter this advertising complex that tries to convince us that everything is fine, that suggests that ownership of cars is essential for freedom and that promotes selfishness and self-indulgence, rather than cooperation. We must do so through direct actions such as creating our own citizens' newspapers, holding teach-ins in public spaces where we explain to citizens exactly how climate catastrophe will destroy our world, and what we must do.
We must also recognize that the underfunding of public education is not the result of philosophical differences between "liberals" and "conservatives" but rather an intentional effort to dumb down the people so they cannot comprehend the scale of the economic and political?crisis, or find the means to respond.
We must demand that academic research (and journalism as well) be funded by transparent government grants supported by taxes and that other self-interested "research" with hidden agendas be eliminated from the debate on policy in government and among citizens. This is essential for the response to climate change.
Above all, young people must be trained to think scientifically for themselves and to understand the hidden forces that threaten humanity ― we must make sure that they are not seduced by video games, Youtube videos and pornography into overlooking the danger signs that are all around.
Taking on the false ideologies of free trade and military security
If we want to launch a nationwide campaign to address the terrible truth, rather than the limited messages that the "progressive" media feels comfortable with, we will need to take on the two big monsters that politicians tiptoe around: free trade and military security.
The myth that the international trade of goods is a positive for the citizens of the U.S., and for the world, and that trade should be constantly increased to help us prosper, has been embraced by both political parties, and by most intellectuals in the U.S. since World War II.
But the massive promotion of trade means not only that corporations can move factories abroad ― and threaten workers and communities with the closure of local factories as a means of obtaining government subsidies, they can offer cheap products to Americans that made abroad and thereby hide the horrific impact that such manufacturing has on the local environment and our shared climate. Every Styrofoam box, every nylon sweater, every plastic toy is not only poisoning our soil, our rivers and our oceans when it is disposed of, but its manufacture did tremendous damage to our climate that has been hidden from us because the manufacturing is in India or Thailand.
Free trade has seized control of our economy, forcing us to buy products that were made far away, and shipped using tremendous amounts of fossil fuels (often at a cost of local jobs). The pollution created in the manufacture of throwaway products has the exact same impact on the climate over there than it would if the factories were in Kansas or Mississippi. Moreover, transporting goods over oceans for thousands of kilometers produces tremendous emissions. Yet a discussion of this terrible consequence of free trade is avoided even by leftist organizations.
Moreover, progressive and leftist journals readily accept the deeply flawed systems of measurement for economics like GDP (gross domestic product), "consumption," "growth" and "development." The fact that these measurements leave out ecological, social and cultural impact of economic policies and practices, that they make no account for long-term degradation of the soil, water and air are rarely pointed out by intellectuals. Although there have been proposals for alternative systems of measurement, they are hardly discussed, let alone adopted.
The military has emerged as the massive part of the U.S. domestic economy that is linked at every level to the exploration for, the production of and the consumption of fossil fuels. It is also the world's greatest polluter and a far larger contributor to climate change than many countries.
The U.S. military is grossly overextended, with hundreds of bases around the world. More often than not, its primary role has become promoting the extraction of fossil fuels and other minerals to power the consumption economy that is destroying our climate. This military has nothing to do with "defense" or "security."
The U.S. cannot start to adapt serious climate policy until it undertakes a revolutionary change in the military's role. That change must be grounded in a shift in the definition of security to make mitigation of climate change the highest security concern. Such a shift will not be easy, but it is theoretically possible, and, granted the scale of the crisis, it is absolutely critical.
Ironically, even as we move away from weapons, we will need the bravery and the discipline of warriors as we go forward to confront the fossil fuel powers. With inspired imagination and steely courage, we can transform the role and the nature of the military from within and from without so that it focuses exclusively on climate change.
Ultimately, the Department of Defense must be transformed into a "Department of Human Security" or even into a "Department of Climate Change."All of its corrupt spending on weapons must be eliminated following a carefully organized plan. Whether that is achieved by an institutional transformation, or by shutting down the existing system completely and starting anew, will be decided in the process.
The word "revolution" comes up in the speeches of Democratic and Republican candidates so frequently these days that it draws nothing but yawns.
But the abject failure of American lawmakers to postulate a long-term national policy for the response to climate change suggests that U.S politics is mired in mythology and delusions.
The scientific predictions about how climate change will unfold suggest that we will not have any money left for fighter planes, or aircraft carriers, or even for highways and stadiums. We will have to make a greater commitment of resources to surviving climate change than even the Green Party's presidential candidate Jill Stein thought necessary when she proposed a mobilization on the scale of that for World War II.
Sadly, there is a revolution is taking place right now in the U.S., but it is happening in all the wrong places. The government is undergoing revolutionary change as the Trump administration strips departments of expertise, punishes those with a sense of responsibility and quickly privatizes functions so that government serves only to increase the wealth of the elite and can no longer serve our citizens.
We have no time to debate the merits of revolutionary transformations. They are being undertaken right now by the Trump administration. Revolutionary shifts like taxation of renewable energy, subsidization for coal and oil and the removal of science from the policy formation process are taking place right now.
To suggest that we must wait until the next election, or that we must compromise our goals and support Democratic candidates who make lukewarm statements about climate change is to miss the whole point. A reactionary revolution is already taking place. The only question is what we will do in response.