Earth News: More than News of the World

July 1, 2016

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

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Neil Young’s new album is titled simply, “Earth.” Source. Creative Commons 2.0.
This all started as a link or two for students in my two spring classes at UC Santa Barbara, Sociology 130ST:  The World in 2050 – Sustainable Development and Its Alternatives, and Sociology/Environmental Studies 134CJ:  Climate Justice.
But as I caught up with the various blog posts I had opened over a few days in May, there turned out to be more and more materials to share, from a wide variety of sources, angles, and struggles.
So now, here’s a neither random nor comprehensive compilation of climate justice happenings and musings from the middle of May to the end of June 2016. 
Starting with the backdrop of a major world event, we move on to some climate movement wins and developments, touch on the health of the Earth (not good), and concludes with links to some longer pieces of analysis and debate that I took note of and consider relevant, important, provocative, and worth a quick look to see if you agree!
So go the section that draws you first – I urge you to read any of the stories that look intriguing or valuable to you.
Who knows?  With issue number 2, we may be at the start of a regular monthly briefing!
With gratitude to all of you,
NOTE:  If you have no interest in this, just skip down to “Climate Justice” below.
Of course, the big news of June was the unexpected and potentially Earth shattering Brexit vote in the UK, where 52 percent of the voters asked that the UK leave the European Union.  There has been a ton of analysis already, and there is no way to go into it here.
Kate Aronoff, one of my favorite climate writers, sounds the alarm in the context of the terrain of struggle for climate justice in a piece titled “As Britain Exits, the Need for a Strong Climate Movement Remains:”
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Once Brexit goes into effect, whatever formation takes hold of the government will enjoy free reign to scale back the environmental regulations they were roped into by the European Union….
UKIP’s victory on Brexit emboldens the worst of the world’s racist and authoritarian right. Allowed to take power, those same forces could doom us all to a world warmed beyond reversal, leading their governments even farther away from course-corrections on climate than they already are. As rising tides loom, far-right responses to them – for many communities – could prove as dangerous as the crisis itself.
Brexit is by no means game over for the climate. It does, however, make the challenge for progressives in a warming world eerily clear. A low-carbon future can also be a more inclusive and democratic one. But not without one hell of a fight. If the atmosphere at Trump rallies – or leading up to the E.U. referendum – is any indication that will be harder now too.
Like most other changes for the better through history, progress on the environment thus far has been the result of sustained pushes from below, whether the campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline or the wave of global marches and blockades that made the Paris Agreement – however modest – possible. Now, more than ever, the fight for a better environment is a fight against an ascendant far right – not the working-class Leave voters that registered their disaffection with austerity, but men like Farage and Trump, who twist pain into violence and division.
At the same time, I take note of the view, also expressed by some on the left, that there is a progressive, radical analysis which sees Brexit as (at least partially) a good thing.  For one, it was a repudiation of both major parties in Britain, the Conservatives and Labour (the neoliberal and imperialist wing of the latter party represented by the Blair years was repudiated, the new leftward tilt of Jeremy Corbyn less so), and it led to the resignation of David Cameron, which cannot be a bad thing.  Secondly, it adds to a movement (started by the brave people of Greece) for civil society to turn its back on Europe’s political and economic elites, unelected liberal capitalist bureaucrats, bankers, and the like, and lighten the weight of the wealthy nations, especially Germany and France, on the backs of everyone else.
Boris Kagarlitzky, Director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements in Moscow, an implacable critic of the Soviet and contemporary Russian elites, also recognizes the political possibilities opening up, and put it this way in a piece titled “Great Day in European History” at
The British referendum marks the beginning of a new politics in Europe, a politics of new opportunities, in which the masses are beginning to play an independent role. Yesterday, the idea of exiting from the European Union was deliberately excluded from the list of “serious” possibilities, its supporters ridiculed and marginalized. The fact that this “fringe”, turned out to enjoy the support of society forces us to reassess our idea of what is possible and what is impossible, in the modern world.
Neoliberal reformers – from Maggie Thatcher to Anatoly Chubais [a key figure in the days of Yeltsin who led the privatization of the former Soviet economy] always insisted on the “irreversible nature” of the measures they carried out. It did not matter what people thought, or how institutions work. Decisions are irreversible, reforms are irrevocable. Any political, social, economic or even personal strategy must from now on be built within these narrow limits. Most “serious” left intellectuals and politicians adopted the same logic, because otherwise the establishment would not recognize them as “serious.” The manipulation of mass consciousness through propaganda is an essential element of this order. Despite the intensity of the debate, the really important issues remain outside the public discourse.
But supporters of the EU could not offer anything other than maintaining the status quo. And people accept this state of affairs less and less every day. The system accumulates problems, and defiantly refuses to address them, since any attempt to really fix something by changing the direction of development, would create a meaningful precedent, overturning the logic of irreversibility.
So in a general way, the Brexit will unfold as one more battle in the long struggle of our times between the forces of the 99 percent and the 1 percent, and, like the Paris Agreement, its outcome is ambiguous, but the fact of it is a sign that the status quo cannot hold indefinitely, and that is a good thing, as I see the state of the planet.

Climate Justice

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The biggest global action this spring was the “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” campaign in the middle of May, organized in part by, and involving many separate actions devised by local communities in many countries. 
The campaign website assessed the outcome this way:
Break Free shows what the climate movement can do in 2016: Unwavering resistance. Fierce solidarity. Courage by the gigaton.
In the midst of the hottest year in recorded history, tens of thousands of people on 6 continents did something that politicians have not: they took bold, courageous action to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
Each action was unique: from the coal fields of Germany [pictures above], to the oil wells of Nigeria, to defiant actions against new coal power plant in Indonesia and the Philippines – and many places beyond.
But the purpose was the same: keep fossil fuels in the ground. Build a just transition to a new kind of 100% renewable economy. Do it now.
During Break Free, people tried new things, pushing the boundaries of what movements had done before. Or they did old things bigger than ever, putting more people in the streets (or in the way of the industry) to show that the time for action is now.
There has never been a better time than now to break free from fossil fuels. Coal, oil and gas companies are in a financial crisis, the planet is overheating, and – thanks to you, a global resistance is growing to confront the industry wherever they turn.
As with the Brexit, much much more can be said.  Jeremy Brecher sees it as part of a global uprising of climate resistance.  A labor historian who wrote the celebrated book Strike! in the early 1970s, Brecher has turned his attention to the climate crisis, like so many of us in the past decade  He is the author of the excellent and innovative little book, Climate Insurgency, whose main ideas are summarized in the essay, “Climate Protection:  The New Insurgency.”
Here’s the conclusion to Jeremy’s take on the Break Free campaign:
The call to Break Free from Fossil Fuels envisioned “tens of thousands of people around the world rising up” to take back control of their own destiny; “sitting down” to “block the business of government and industry that threaten our future”; conducting “peaceful defense of our right to clean energy.” That’s just what happened.
Such a “rising up” amounts to a global nonviolent insurgency – a withdrawal of consent from those who claim the right to rule – manifested in a selective refusal to accept and obey their authority [JF:  Brexit, anyone?]. Break Free from Fossil Fuels represented a quantum leap in the emergence of a global nonviolent climate insurgency – its nonviolent “shot heard around the world.” It was globally coordinated, with common principles, strategy, planning, and messaging. It utilized nonviolent direct action not only as an individual moral witness, but also to express and mobilize the power of the people on which all government ultimately depends. It presented climate protection not only as a moral but as a legal right and duty, necessary to protect the Constitution and the earth’s essential resources on which we and our posterity depend. It represented an insurgency because it denied the right of the existing powers and principalities – be they corporate or governmental – to use the authority of law to justify their destruction of the earth’s climate.
The full article is called “This Is What Insurgency Looks Like” and found at
The end of June witnessed further important victories to juxtapose against the continuing bad news of the accelerating deterioration of the climate, covered below. 
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A singular major victory occurred in Oakland, where the building of the largest coal-exporting facility on the west coast of North America had been proposed.  This story is just breaking as I “go to press.”  No Coal in Oakland, the coalition of forces who brought it about, announced the 7-0 vote by Oakland’s City Council members to reject the project on June 27, 2016.
One of the key arguments made by opponents of the terminal was on health grounds: 
The Public Health Advisory Panel on Coal in Oakland report offers 145 well-researched and footnoted pages of reasons to distrust assurances that grievous hazards can be magically neutralized by technology that is unproven, uneconomic, or ‘optional’ at the discretion of profit-motivated coal proponents.
There is only one way to protect our workers and communities from coal hazards: banning its transport through Oakland and its port.
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A seven-year-old coal opponent addresses the City Council early in the meeting, 2016-06-27; her mother thanked the council for allowing her to speak before bedtime.  Source:  No Coal in Oakland.
Libby Schaaf, the Mayor of Oakland, said in a statement, “Oaklanders know that it’s a false choice to say we have to pick between jobs and this community’s health and safety. We can, and we will, do both.”
And in Diablo Canyon, closer to where I live (I recall being marginally involved in the mass movement to prevent Diablo from being built in the late 1970s/early 1980s), more great news (though deferred for a couple of years, it seems):
Diablo Shutdown Marks End of Atomic Era
Harvey Wasserman | June 23, 2016 | Comments
As worldwide headlines have proclaimed, California’s Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) says it will shut its giant Diablo Canyon reactors near San Luis Obispo, and that the power they’ve been producing will be replaced by renewable energy.
PG&E has also earmarked some $350 million to “retain and retrain” Diablo’s workforce, whose union has signed on to the deal, which was crafted in large part by major environmental groups.
On a global scale, in many important ways, this marks the highest profile step yet towards the death of U.S. nuclear power and a national transition to a Solartopian green-powered planet….
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Diablo Canyon is located a stone’s throw from the Pacific, and an active earthquake fault lies just offshore.  

Organization of the Month:  The Climate Mobilization
In the short period of little more than a year, The Climate Mobilization [TCM] has grown from an idea in the heads of a few friends to an organization that is contributing fresh ideas and strategies to the fight for climate justice in the United States.  Their “Pledge to Mobilize” campaign, whose centerpiece is a massive effort to “Reduce our country’s net greenhouse gas emissions 100 percent by 2025” has attracted the support of fifteen Congressional candidates, and other elected officials and candidates across the country;  Bernie Sanders talked about the need for such a mobilization in a debate with Hilary Clinton on April 14. 
One of the center-pieces of the strategy is a call for a “world-war II style” mobilization of this country’s resources and institutions to fight the climate crisis. Written by Founding Director Margaret Klein Salamon, this is how its most recent position paper “Leading the Public into Emergency Mode:  A New Strategy for the Climate Movement,” opens:
Imagine there is a fire in your house. What do you do? What do you think about?
You do whatever you can to try to put out the fire or exit the house.  You make a plan about how you can put out the fire, or how you can best exit the house.
Your senses are heightened, you are focused like a laser, and you put your entire self into your actions. You enter emergency mode.
The climate crisis is an unprecedented emergency. It is, far and away, the United States’ top national security threat, public health threat, and moral emergency. Humanity is careening towards the deaths of billions of people, millions of species, and the collapse of organized civilization. States under severe climate stress, such as Syria, are already starting to fail, bringing chaos, violence, and misery to the region and political instability to Europe. America’s political system is also starting to convulse as the two-party system is showing signs of fragility.
How we react to the climate crisis will shape centuries and millennia to come. Given the stakes, and the extremely short timetable, it is imperative that we strive to maximize the efficacy of our actions – from ourselves as individuals, from our nation, from the global community of nations, and from the organizations that are trying to avert this catastrophe. 
In this paper, I will introduce the concept of “emergency mode” which is how individuals and groups function optimally during an existential or moral crisis – often achieving great feats through intensely focused motivation. I will argue that the goal of the climate movement must be to lead the public out of “normal” mode and into emergency mode. 
This has huge implications for the climate movement’s communication style, advocacy, and strategy. Because emergency mode is contagious, the best strategy is for climate activists and organizations to go into emergency mode themselves, and communicate about the climate emergency, the need for emergency mobilization, and the fact that they are in emergency mode, as clearly and emphatically as possible.
On July 10, TCM has planned demonstrations and other events in ten cities across the U.S.
Here’s a video of an action by TCM supporters that took place on the occasion of the gathering of world leaders at the UN on Earth Day to sign onto the Paris Agreement, setting in motion the process that will lead to its adoption as the global climate treaty in the next year or so.  The protestors deliver a theatrical critique of the Agreement.
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And now, for the bad news
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Since this compilation has so far consisted mainly of good news, it’s time to rain on the parade (actually some rain right now here in Santa Barbara would be a good thing), with a sample of Earth news, although I doubt that many readers need this reality check…

Analysis: Only five years left before 1.5C carbon budget is blown
Carbon Brief
May 20, 2016
In its most recent synthesis report, published in early 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) laid out estimates of how much CO2 we can emit and still keep global average temperature rise to no more than 1.5C, 2C or 3C above pre-industrial levels.
That same year, Carbon Brief used these estimates to calculate how many years of current emissions were left before blowing these budgets.
Updating this analysis for 2016, our figures suggest that just five years of CO2 emissions at current levels would be enough to use up the carbon budget for a good chance – a 66% probability – of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5C….
More bad news:
First Mammal Goes Extinct Due to Human-Caused Climate Change
Lorraine Chow | June 14, 2016 | Comments
Image RemovedThe Bramble Cay melomys have vanished from its 350m-long cay home in the Torres Strait due to sea-level rise and weather events. Photo credit: Queensland Government.

bad news:
May Shatters Yet Another Monthly Heat Record as CO2 Levels Soar
Climate Nexus | June 14, 2016 9:13 am | Comments
Even more bad news:
Carbon Dioxide Levels Set to Pass 400 ppm and Remain above Symbolic Threshold Permanently
Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams | June 14, 2016 10:03 am | Comments
“We won’t be looking at below 400 ppm in our lifetimes,” said Richard Betts, an author of the study and scientist at the UK Met Office.
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Concentrations must be kept below 450ppm to keep global warming below 2 C. Photo credit: NASA
And as the U.S. election season (which has been running since late 2014) swings toward the Republican and Democratic national conventions this summer, here is part of Noam Chomsky’s assessment of the big picture situation of American/U.S. politics:
The Doomsday Clock Is Nearing Midnight
Yet there was little expectation that world leaders in Paris would “act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe.” And even if by some miracle they had, it would have been of limited value, for reasons that should be deeply disturbing.
When the agreement was approved in Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who hosted the talks, announced that it is “legally binding.” That may be the hope, but there are more than a few obstacles that are worthy of careful attention.
In all of the extensive media coverage of the Paris conference, perhaps the most important sentences were these, buried near the end of a long New York Times analysis: “Traditionally, negotiators have sought to forge a legally binding treaty that needed ratification by the governments of the participating countries to have force. There is no way to get that in this case, because of the United States. A treaty would be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill without the required two-thirds majority vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. So the voluntary plans are taking the place of mandatory, top-down targets.” And voluntary plans are a guarantee of failure.
“Because of the United States.” More precisely, because of the Republican Party, which by now is becoming a real danger to decent human survival.

Capitalism, ecology, Marxism
Capitalism in the Web of Life:  Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital is one of the more discussed works of climate criticism in my circles to come out in the past year.  What follows puts you in the heart of an ongoing debate about how useful its approach is, beginning with a defense of Moore by Fred Murphy, a historical sociologist who leads a study group at the Marxist Education Project in Brooklyn, and a rebuttal by ecosocialist scholar-activist Ian Angus. Angus takes up arguments expressed in an interview, “In Defense of Ecological Marxism,” by the doyen of Marxist ecological thought John Bellamy Foster, professor of sociology at the University of Oregon and editor of Monthly Review.  Having tried reading Moore’s book, I tend to side with Ian Angus and John Bellamy Foster in this exchange, which is going to be continued by others, no doubt.
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Incidentally, the best radical book on the state of the planet I have read in the past year is Ian Angus’s just published Facing the Anthropocene:  Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System[for an excellent recent interview with Ian, see “Explaining the Anthropocene”].
Two Views on Marxist Ecology and Jason W. Moore
Fred Murphy argues that John Bellamy Foster misrepresented and unfairly criticized Jason W. Moore in a recent C&C interview about ecological Marxism.
Ian Angus disagrees, and explains why he thinks Foster’s remarks were measured and accurate.
An Aside on Marxism and Ecology
I love and admire Marxist political economist Samir Amin although I don’t read hardcore political economy much (I used to teach sociology of development and in the early 1990s did a modes of production analysis of Iran’s last half millennium in Fragile Resistance:  Social Transformation in Iran from 1500 to the Revolution, available for free at
When my attention was drawn by some ecosocialist comrades on the occasion of Samir’s 85th birthday to his 2013 book The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism, it came with this description:
Renowned political economist Samir Amin, engaged in a unique lifelong effort both to narrate and affect the human condition on a global scale, brings his analysis up to the present – the world of 2013. The key events of our times – financial crisis, the emerging nations, globalization, financialization, political Islam, Eurozone implosion – are related in a coherent, historically based, account….
Ultimately, Amin demonstrates that this system is not viable and that the implosion in progress is unavoidable. Whether humanity will rise to the challenge of building a more humane global order free of the contradictions of capital, however, is yet to be seen.
I was puzzled by the lack of any sign of an ecological analysis, and a quick perusal of the book on Amazon confirmed what the description above led me to think:  namely, there is no mention of climate change or global warming in the whole book!
Here is the e-mail I then sent to the list:
This is not cool, in my opinion (pun intended).
Ecosocialists (and others), we need a new and up to date political economy, one that completely takes on board and centers the facts of the anthropocene – this, in fact, is why ecosocialism has been elaborated, in my view.
We face complex, interconnected crises now:  unprecedented global inequality and economic instability driven by global capitalism, a lack of faith in most existing (and certainly all governing) political parties, a culture of violence marked by militarism at the summit and domestic violence at the base – and now – the wild card of climate change, which puts us on a tight timeline.
Yikes!  We better get going on the building the biggest, broadest most radical global movement for climate justice that we can!
Let’s use our imaginations, experiences, emotions, and ideas to help build that.
This is the most pressing task of the twenty-first century.  We must rise to it.
A Haunting Conclusion
Today, we need a new political economy that centers the climate crisis and, to be sure, capitalism’s central role in both causing the Great Acceleration after 1945 and its capture of the UNFCCC climate negotiations and the Paris Agreement, but we also need all manner of new analyses that go further.  In this, the humanities and humanistic social sciences will be indispensable.
You’ve heard of cli-fi, climate art, and now … here’s an example of climate music that I find powerful enough to close this month’s news of the planet with.
Piano performance next to a crumbling glacier will give you chills
By Kate Yoder on Jun 21, 2016
The Arctic Ocean may not be a typical venue for a piano performance, but it’s a prime setting for making a point about climate change. Ludovico Einaudi, an Italian composer-pianist, performed an original piece while stranded on an “artificial iceberg” (or rather, a floating platform made of white, wooden triangles) as Norway’s Wahlenbergbreen glacier collapsed in the background.
Greenpeace shipped the baby grand piano from Germany to the Arctic for the stunt, which was meant to draw attention to a proposal to create a sanctuary in 10 percent of the Arctic Ocean, protecting it from oil drilling, fishing trawlers, and other exploitation.
There are no promises it will work, but enjoy the exciting performance on a stranded iceberg – no polar bears needed.
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Movements are as eloquent as words. ~ Isadora Duncun


Tags: climate justice, climate justice movements