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Why is the green movement so lily white?

Van Jones, Common Ground
…The climate crisis is galloping from the margins of geek science to the epicenter of our politics, culture and economics. As the new environmentalists advance, only two questions remain: whom will they take with them? And whom will they leave behind?

We know that climate activists will convince Congress to adopt market-based solutions (like ‘cap and trade’). This approach may help big businesses do the right thing. But will those same activists use their growing clout to push Congress to better aid survivors of Hurricane Katrina? Black and impoverished victims of our biggest eco-disaster still lack housing and the means to rebuild. Will they find any champions in the rising environmental lobby?

We know that the climate activists will fight for subsidies and supports for the booming clean energy and energy conservation markets. But will they insist that these new industries be accessible beyond the eco-elite – creating jobs and wealth-building opportunities for low-income people and people of color? In other words, will the new environmental leaders fight for eco-equity in this ‘green economy’ they are birthing? Or will they try to take the easy way out – in effect, settling for an eco-apartheid?

The sad racial history of environmental activism tends to discourage high hopes among racial justice activists. And yet this new wave has the potential to be infinitely more expansive and inclusive than previous eco-upsurges.

…The first wave was about preserving the natural bounty of the past. The second wave was about regulating the problems of the industrial present. But the new wave is different. It is about investing in solutions for the future: solar power, hybrid technology, bio-fuels, wind turbines, tidal power, fuel cells, energy conservation methods and more.

The green wave’s new products, services and technologies could also mean something important to struggling communities: the possibility of new green-collar jobs, a chance to improve community health and opportunities to build wealth in the green economy. If the mostly-white global warming activists join forces with people of color, the United States can avoid both eco-apocalypse and eco-apartheid – and achieve eco-equity.

Discussions of race, class and the environment today can go beyond how to atone for past hurts or distribute present harms. Today we can ask: how do we equitably carve up the benefits of a bright future?

And that kind of question gives a powerful incentive for people of color, labor leaders and low-income folks to come back to the environmental table. At the same time, for all their present momentum, the newly ascendant greens cannot meet their short-term objectives or their long-term goals – without the support of a much broader coalition.

Van Jones is the president of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, in Oakland, California ( and a National Apollo Alliance steering committee member.
(April 2007)
Also at Znet.

Filipino Poor to Suffer Most from Brownouts, Climate Change

Aubrey Makilan and Lisa Ito, Bulatlat
It’s the ‘little people’ in the Philippines who suffer most from heat spells and extreme weather conditions caused by climate change: those who do not have access to electricity, let alone the luxury of air conditioning and other amenities or travel to cooler climates.
(22-28 April 2007)

‘Green Nobel’ Winners Noted for Fighting Extractive Industries, Defending Wildlife

Eli Clifton, Inter Press Service
The common denominator of all six winners of this year’s Goldman Prize, often referred to as the “Green Nobel”, is their effectiveness in fighting big fights to protect the environment despite their relative anonymity. The 2007 Goldman Prize recipients include a farmer jailed for opposing Shell Oil’s natural gas pipeline in Ireland and an Icelandic entrepreneur who brokered innovative fishing rights buyouts to help save North Atlantic wild salmon. 0424 04

“This year’s prize recipients have succeeded in combating some of the most important environmental challenges we face today,” said the award’s founder Richard N. Goldman. “Their commitment in the face of great personal risk inspires us all to think more critically about what ordinary people can do to make a difference.”

The winners, who were chosen from the world’s major geographical regions, include activists from Canada, Zambia, Mongolia and Peru. Each will receive 125,000 dollars.

Winner Willie Corduff of Rossport, Ireland, along with fellow local residents, forced Shell Oil to halt construction on an illegally-approved pipeline through their land.
(24 April 2007)
Also at Common Dreams.

Environmental Justice Stalled, Report Finds

Cindy Skrzycki, Washington Post
Federal regulations have an impact on the development of technologies, the finances of companies, the competitive playing field and how many lawyers are on a company’s staff to interpret the rules. These are the practical, known effects of regulations on business.

The rules also have an effect on communities when it comes to important decisions about where to locate a hazardous-waste facility, an industrial plant or a refinery, especially if race is involved.

A recent report by the United Church of Christ in Cleveland suggests that decisions made by federal, state and local governments, as well as by companies, have penalized minority groups. The evidence: There are a disproportionate number of hazardous-waste facilities near where they live.

The report, a reprise of a 1987 examination of the problem, found that over the past 20 years, minorities have been subjected to excessive levels of toxic pollutants from sites that have negatively affected their health and, often, property values.
(24 April 2007)

Ecuador Seeks Compensation to Leave Amazon Oil Undisturbed

Environment News Service
The government of Ecuador will wait up to one year to see if the international community offers to compensate the country for not developing a major oil field in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon, Energy Minister Alberto Acosta says. The area of lush, primary rainforest shelters a unique diversity of animals and plants.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and his government say that if the international community can compensate the country with half of the forecasted lost revenues, Ecuador will leave the oil in Yasuni National Park undisturbed to protect the park’s biodiversity and indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation.

“The first option is to leave that oil in the ground, but the international community would have to compensate us for immense sacrifice that a poor country like Ecuador would have to make,” said Correa in a recent radio address.
(2X April 2007)
Contributor MC writes:
An article on a project we’re working on with the Ecuadorian government to forgo oil production in Yasuni National Park. Could be the first debt-for-carbon sequestration swap.

Capital and Nature:
An Interview with Paul Burkett

João Aguiar, MR Magazine
…Marxism provides insights into how capitalism’s specific metabolism generates crises in the natural conditions of human development.  One insight involves what the leading ecological economist Herman Daly has termed the “breaking of the solar budget constraint” through the utilization of fossil fuels, especially starting with the industrial revolution. 

The causes of this development are highly relevant to any serious discussion of today’s global warming problem, not to speak of contemporary “oil shocks.”  Here, ecological economists basically take the discovery of fossil fuels as a given “original sin” and blame it — together with exogenous cultural factors such as the “ideology of growth” — for the system’s shift onto an ecologically unsustainable path.  (See especially the work of the late great Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen.) 

Marx’s analysis is quite different.  In Capital‘s chapter on “Machinery and Modern Industry,” he shows that an essential precondition for greater use of fossil fuel-driven steam engines was the separation of workers from control over the tools used in production and the installation of these tools in machines which could then be powered not just by human and other animate energy but by inanimate “motive forces.”  In other words, it was capitalism’s specific production relations that generated the break with the solar budget constraint.  (See the article co-written by John Bellamy Foster and myself in the journal Theory and Society (February 2006).)

…In sum, what Marxism provides that other theories can’t is precisely a demonstration that capitalism does have its own specific metabolism with nature — one shaped by its profoundly anti-ecological separation of workers from conditions of production and its corresponding forms of market exchange and monetary valuation. From this perspective, any solution for contemporary ecological crises must be explicitly anti-capitalist, that is, based on the democratic socialization of nature and other conditions of production by workers and communities.

…To solve the global warming problem would require, at minimum, a clean break with the current fossil-fuel based regime of capital accumulation. … It remains an open question whether capitalism is capable of such a clean break.

…This background helps explain the yawning gap between the grim diagnoses and the glib policy prescriptions that characterize Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” and other ruling-class reports on global warming. They want to do something about the crisis but without addressing the fundamentally anti-ecological character of the system of capital accumulation that generated it. They talk as if the GGE problem was simply a matter of faulty lifestyle choices made by people in general, or a generic cultural shortcoming of some sort. Hence, the initiatives based on this elite approach make heavy use of market incentives that do not touch, and even reinforce, the exploitative and alienated class and competitive relations in and through which capitalism uses and abuses natural wealth. As noted above, this approach is likely to fail even on its own limited terms. And precisely because they are unwilling and/or unable to “name the system” and confront its historically specific power relationships, the elite discussions of GGE reduction treat global warming and other environmental crises as separate, discrete issues.
(24 April 2007)
Jargon alert! The article will be heavy going without some background in theoretical Marxism.

The Marxist approach is out of fashion right now. However, if capitalism is unable to make headway against global warming and it is perceived to be to blame for the ensuing crises, then work such as that by eco-Marxist Paul Burkett will move into the mainstream. -BA