CitizenMetz

Carbon Consciousness & Action

Archive for the month “October, 2014”

Is Naomi Klein Right–Do We Have to Take on Capitalism to Address Climate Change?

This Changes EverythingNaomi Klein argues in This Changes Everything that capitalism and the environment are on a collision course and that narrow measures to address climate change will be inadequate if free-market, corporate-dominated structures and political ideologies remain dominant.  She writes that the Right fully grasps the latent threat that climate change poses to the existing capitalist order, and that its need to squelch this threat explains the lavish financing it bestows on the climate denial movement.

Klein says that in the early stages of battling the present corporate-dominated order to address climate change, “a fight for a minimal carbon tax might do a lot less good than, for instance, forming a grand coalition to demand a guaranteed minimum income,” and that “Fundamentally, the task is to articulate not just an alternative set of policy proposals but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis—embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy.”

Klein would thus set the bar for an effective response to climate change much higher than most climate activists presently do. Rather than simply institute a worldwide climate pricing regime and other measures to favor renewable energy over fossil fuels (a tremendous feat in itself!), she argues that it is necessary to form an alliance with other social movements to tear down much of the capitalist order and replace it with a more centrally-planned, collectivist economy dedicated not only to environmental sustainability but also to income redistribution and equal rights for all.

Is Klein right?   Is working towards an environmentally-oriented socialism the most efficient path to reversing the disastrous carbon-spewing road we are on?  Or can the existing capitalist order be tamed sufficiently with narrowly-tailored regulatory and tax measures to achieve the carbon reductions necessary to preserve the planet in livable form?   The latter road would seemingly be much easier given the status quo of free-market ideology buttressed by vast rivers of unrestricted money in politics, and the antipathy many people feel towards government, socialism, and collectivist solutions.  The significant gains the free-market-oriented, climate-denying Republican Party is poised to make in the 2014 midterm elections is evidence of the continued hostility of the political system towards restraints on corporate dominance.

Because the task of dismantling corporate dominance of the economy and the urgency to address the climate crisis is so immediate, I wish that Naomi Klein were wrong about the need to aim beyond climate policy fixes. But I fear she isn’t.  People concerned about climate are overwhelming white, highly-educated and middle class, and therefore a group without the numbers to hold sway over the American and world economy.  Climate change is still too remote and abstract an issue to really move large numbers of people.  In a recent Gallup poll, climate change was identified as number 14 of the nation’s 15 most important problems.

The environmental movement must join the fight against our society’s pervasive income and social inequality, not only to broaden the coalition in favor of climate-friendly policies, but also to help redefine how people can live together peacefully in harmony with their fellow human beings and with the Earth and its creatures.   A society built on narrow pursuit of self-interest and the domination of a small number of rich people over vast numbers of poor people will never achieve a healthy equilibrium with Nature.

The environmental movement has yet to forge a durable alliance with the vast numbers of people discontented with and disenfranchised by the present political order, in part because until recently we believed that the political system could and would make the changes necessary to address our pressing environmental issues. But it is now becoming clear that the oil-and-cash-soaked political system is not any more open to effectively addressing climate change than it is to addressing income inequality, racial inequality, or other pressing issues that affect vast numbers of Americans.

The inflexibility of the present political system is allowing social pressures to build that can ultimately overwhelm it.   The question is whether we can channel these pressures peacefully and positively to create a movement capable of building a world we want our children and grandchildren to live in.

Building such a movement will require that we find new ways of getting people out of their homes and activated as citizens. It will require using public spaces such as streets, parks, and sidewalks to gather and educate one another about overcoming obstacles to a better future.  It will require finding artists, performers, and orators to help us honestly reflect on where we truly are as a people, and to inspire us to reach a higher level of consciousness.  It will require us disentangling ourselves from the corporate-fomented consumerism that ensnares us. The Obama Campaign of 2008 and the Occupy Movement of 2011 both provided us with glimmers of the power that such campaigns can have and the speed with which they can develop.  They also provide us with a reminder that such efforts can be fleeting if not supported with long-term planning and resources and a fierce commitment to keep going to the end.

Only by developing, propagating, and implementing a broadly shared vision of how we can live better with one another and with Nature will we achieve a sustainable balance on this Earth. Creating such a movement will require enormous patience, hard work, and creativity, but it is the most noble work we can do and the best hope that we have to preserve our Earth and its creatures.

Advertisements

Platinum Polluters: The relation between carbon emissions, and income.

american-cash

By Guest Blogger Will Deacon

Is there a relationship between carbon pollution and income? Do the wealthy pollute more? What does this mean for carbon policy? These are fair questions when we are asking everyone to change their consumption habits in order to fight climate change.

For starters let’s look at the largest contributor to consumer carbon emissions, automobiles. Wealthy Americans will often own two or more cars. They drive more and are not as worried about how much money they spend on gasoline. On the other hand, low-income Americans tend to drive less, and are much more careful on how they use fuel. The urban and suburban poor may not even own a car, and will likely rely more on alternative means of transportation such as bicycling, walking, and public transit.

The rich also fly more and take more out-of-state and out-of-country vacations. The top earners may even own a private jet. If you’re wealthy in the United States it’s also likely that you own a larger home. More square footage to your house means more space to heat in the winter and cool in summer.

It is not hard to see that the wealthy consume more and therefore contribute a greater amount of CO2 to the atmosphere. If those of greater means pollute more, is it not fair to ask them to sacrifice more for the sake of the planet and our future?

Some climate activists, and advocates of economic justice, have asked for a wealth tax. They believe that part of the revenue could be used to fight global climate change and lift some of the burden the poor will face because of it. But the amount of influence the rich in this country have over our politics makes such a proposal impossible and doesn’t address the fact that the rich will continue to pollute on a higher level.

To be fair, not every wealthy individual mindlessly emits a megaton of carbon dioxide. Some of the most notable of the upper class are fierce climate activists. On December 23, Leonardo DiCaprio, a Hollywood actor with a net worth of $220 million, spoke before the UN. He proclaimed that climate change is real and that the world must act to stop it.

Mr. DiCaprio is not the only celebrity to vocally state their support for the fight against climate change. Actress Cameron Diaz, singer Will.i.am, and, the richest of them all, Bill Gates, have all been active in the climate movement.

What if wealthy celebrities, such as those I’ve mentioned, showed off and bragged about how they use their wealth to reduce their carbon footprint. They could have tours of their homes in the style of MTV’s “Cribs”. The camera would follow them through their house as they show off their solar panels, their bamboo hardwood, their $100,000 Tesla electric car, etc…

There could also be campaigns where the wealthy compete for who can get their carbon emissions the lowest. They could brag about who gave more money to put solar panels on schools, as well as other carbon offsetting causes.

If we could make having a low carbon footprint just as much of a status symbol as owning a Gulfstream jet, the implications could go far beyond the wealthiest among us. Everyone at least once in their lifetime has dreamed of being rich and what that could mean for them. What if that also meant being able to do more to stop climate change?

Is it Time to Send in the Clowns?

1-mockus1-450

How can deeply ingrained civic habits be changed?  How can the pessimism inherent in collective action problems be overcome?

Antanas Mockus, upon becoming mayor of Bogota, Colombia in 1995, confronted Bogota’s epidemic levels of traffic fatalities with a unique blend of statistical analysis, street and performance art, and civic education.  Statistical analysis told Mockus that the key to reducing traffic deaths (and improving traffic circulation) was getting drivers to stop before reaching crosswalks and getting pedestrians to only cross in crosswalks.   Rather than hiring legions of traffic police to write tickets to drivers and pedestrians who violated these norms, Mockus hired 40 made-up street mimes to stop cars and buses from entering crosswalks, and to poke fun at offenders of crosswalk rules.  The streets became a massive stage for lighthearted education about traffic norms, with jay-walkers,  crowds on the street, and the mimes all engaged in the performance, and television and other media drawn to the spectacle and amplifying its message. Bogota pedestrians and motorists adopted the norms promoted by the mimes, and traffic deaths began to fall, successes widely reported by the media. The mimes proved so successful that Bogota’s ranks of mimes increased to 400, and traffic deaths in the city plunged by more than 50%.

The injection of mimes into Bogota’s traffic mess has become a famous example of “cultural acupuncture”–a shot of art/culture used to change behavior and heal social problems. Read more…

Post Navigation