Here Comes the Flood: Capitalism Causes Climate Chaos

hurricane-harvey-flood-victims

Hurricane Harvey, which has all but devastated Texas, is on record to be the worst “natural” disaster in U.S. history. I put “natural” in quotation marks, because while the storm itself cannot be blamed solely on climate change, there is little doubt the warming oceans and wetter atmosphere caused by global warming, augmented Harvey’s strength and power.

Harvey has left 50 people dead, 30,000 Texas residents seeking shelter, and about 100,000 homes damaged or destroyed by flooding. Indeed, the storm is almost Biblical in the amount of rain it has produced: 24.5 trillion gallons of water, according to the Washington Post.

We are seeing many of the same socio-economic discrepancies playing out with Harvey as we did in Hurricane Katrina, which wreaked a similar path of destruction in New Orleans in 2005, and New York’s Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The rich and those with the means to evacuate have managed to escape the worst destruction, while the poor, the infirm, and people of color have been left to drown.

(In a twisted irony of Trumpian nationalism, many undocumented immigrants in Houston and other flooded areas are afraid to seek out help and shelter for fear they will be deported.)

In the end, it is the poor and working class who will bear the brunt of climate catastrophe. The wealthy will escape into their sheltered enclaves, in a scenario reminiscent of the Neil Blomkamp sci-fi film, Elysium.

And it is not just Texas that is underwater. Less reported on in the corporate media have been the equally horrific monsoons in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, which have left more than 1,200 dead.

Welcome to life in the Anthropocene. And, unless we take action now to radically reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, climate-charged hurricanes like Harvey are only going to become stronger, deadlier, and more frequent.

Climate scientists warn we are perilously close to reaching key planetary “tipping points.” Passing these thresholds could trigger a procession of warming “feedback loops,” wherein warming increases, thus further exacerbating the climate crisis. The most alarming of these tipping points is the potential release of methane gas stored in the permafrost of the rapidly melting Arctic. Methane has about 30 times the heat-trapping potential as carbon dioxide.

Additionally, because greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane linger in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, any warming beyond two degrees Celsius—itself widely regarded as a “catastrophic” increase in planetary warming by the scientific community—would be “locked in” for at least a century—perhaps longer.

And all of this—the melting Arctic, the rising sea levels, the increase in cataclysmic storms like Hurricane Harvey—is happening much faster than the climate models predicted.

As Naomi Klein warns in her latest book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, “We are almost at midnight on the climate clock.”

But, as important as it is that those of us on the left are clear about the science and the urgency about climate change, we must also be unambiguous about its cause: Capitalism.

While liberals tend to point to the excesses or the short-sightedness of the system—arguing those excesses could be tamed through market-oriented solutions like cap-and-trade legislation, or with more “capable,” “enlightened” leaders in government—this view fails to accurately account for the nature of capitalism. It is an economic system that views everything—including human lives, and the ecosystem that supports all life on Earth—as a commodity. Exploitation and unceasing economic expansion are built into capitalism’s DNA.

As such, there is no harmonious balance where capitalism and a sustainable, habitable environment can co-exist. There is no such thing as “green” or “ethical” capitalism. Indeed, the choice humanity now faces is quite stark: We can, in the words of eco-socialist, Fawzi Ibrahim, “Save the planet and ditch capitalism, or save capitalism and ditch the planet.”

Does this mean we must wait for a working-class revolution before we can adequately address climate change? Of course not. Given the current weakness of the U.S. left and its overall lack of organization, this is simply untenable. The urgency of the crisis demands that we push for whatever environmental gains we can get out of the system that currently exists, in the here and now—however minimal they may be.

But pointing out both the scope of the climate crisis and its primary driver (capitalism) is not meant to disempower or overwhelm citizens concerned about the future of the planet. It is merely to illustrate the task we are up against.

“If we are to save our world,” writes Chris Williams, author of the book, Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis, “it will not be enough to chip away at the walls; the people of the world must take a hammer to the entire foundation.”

Yet all is not lost.

I, for one, am encouraged by the degree of radicalization the environmental movement has undergone within the last decade. Many of the leading environmental advocacy groups (The Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and 350.org, to name just a handful) have largely dropped the individualist-oriented approaches to combating global warming that have characterized much of the environmental movement for the last two decades.

These individualist “strategies” for fighting climate change include using energy efficient lightbulbs, driving less, biking to work, eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, and the ultimate petit bourgeois con—shopping local. These are all noble endeavors in and of themselves, which nobody concerned about the environment or just living a healthier lifestyle should be discouraged from undertaking. But, given that oil companies and corporations are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, even if every U.S. citizen ditched their cars tomorrow, it would still make little overall impact.

In place of these individualist lifestyle measures, groups like Greenpeace and 350.org have engaged in more militant, activist oriented campaigns aimed directly at the fossil fuel industry—and oil giants like ExxonMobil, and the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, in particular. Leading environmental activists like Bill McKibben have even been arrested, protesting the Keystone XL pipeline in front of the White House, in 2014.

Obviously, the left still has a lot of work to do. But this burgeoning radicalization—much of it encouraged by the young people and college students that constitute a major part of the environmental left—is certainly an encouraging sign.

We have the technology to begin the transition to a green economy right now. What we lack is not the “political will” to tackle global warming, as liberals often claim.

It is, rather, the fact that working-class people have no control over implementing the transition to wind, solar, and tidal power, and other forms of renewable energy on the mass scale needed. Such decisions are instead in the hands of a tiny group of wealthy business executives and CEOs–the very people who caused the climate crisis, in the first place. And the nature of the profit-driven capitalist system demands they focus more on maximizing profits than on saving the planet. Yet we are routinely assured this warped way of organizing society is the “best we can do”–that there is “no alternative.”

As Paul D’Amato writes in his socialism primer, The Meaning of Marxism:

The very advances made in human productive powers under capitalism that have brought us the possibility of a world without want are also altering our environment in ways that threaten the future viability of life on planet earth. As the renowned environmentalist and activist, Bill McKibben notes, “We’re moving quickly from a world where we push nature around to a world where nature pushes back–and with far more power.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

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Say Yes to Socialism

Klein in Conversation
Authors Michelle Alexander, Naomi Klein, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (left to right) in conversation at Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, on May 9, 2017. Photo from Haymarket Books.

One of the lessons that has become increasingly clear for those of us on the left since Donald Trump’s election is that it is not enough to simply be against Trump. We must also stand for something. We must put forward a radical yet convincing alternative for how society could be organized—an alternative rooted in Marxism that speaks to working-class Americans’ economic grievances as well as their aspirations for equality and social justice.

In other words, we should not merely settle for impeaching Trump (though I am completely down with that goal). We must dismantle the entire racist, sexist, xenophobic capitalist system that gave rise to Trump and his swamp monster administration of billionaires and bigots.

Liberals and leftists have largely neglected this second part of the equation—articulating what we are for—in recent decades.  And, in many respects, the Democrats’ 2016 election loss was a reflection of that neglect. Bernie Sanders received some 13 million votes in the Democratic primary not only because his democratic-socialist ideas are extremely popular among voters. But his success is also due to the fact that he actively campaigned for something—a vision of a better, more equitable and sustainable future for working-class people.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, campaigned on the vapid, decidedly uninspiring idea that America is “already great.” Her electoral platform was essentially a continuation of Barack Obama’s neoliberal, warmongering agenda. And as dire as things are now with the Predator-in-Chief in the White House, we cannot delude ourselves about the shortcomings and missed opportunities of the last eight years under Obama.

“The alternative is socialism,” writes Paul D’Amato in his socialism-primer, The Meaning of Marxism. “Shorn of the baggage that socialism never asked to carry, it is an attractive idea. It is not a dream concocted in the head of a utopian thinker: It was born in the collective action of workers themselves…”

This is the central argument of Naomi Klein’s latest book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need.

The book is, as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s blurb on the back states, “an urgent intervention” by one of the most prominent and intellectually sophisticated voices on the left. And it is an argument that is clearly resonating with readers: No Is Not Enough is a New York Times bestseller, and the first book by Chicago-based publisher, Haymarket Books, to achieve such status.

Klein’s latest book—which she admits to urgently banging out in a few months as opposed to the five years she typically spends researching and writing—is in many ways a synthesis of her previous material—No Logo (1999), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014).

Klein views Trump as the inevitable outcome of all the late-stage capitalist trends she documents in those previous works. In fact, Trump is, Klein argues, a monstrous amalgamation of those capitalist developments, “sewn together out of the body parts of all of these and many other dangerous trends.”

“… Trump, extreme as he is, is less an aberration than a logical conclusion—a pastiche of pretty much all the worst trends of the past half century,” she writes.

Trump is the product of powerful systems of thought that rank human life based on race, religion, gender, sexuality, physical appearance, and physical ability—and that have systematically used race as a weapon to advance brutal economic policies since the earliest days of North American colonization and the trans-atlantic slave trade. … Most of all, he is the incarnation of a still-powerful free-market ideological project … that wages war on everything public and commonly held, and imagines corporate CEOs as superheroes who will save humanity.

Klein’s central premise, however, draws heavily from The Shock Doctrine. In that book, Klein traces the history of the right’s frequent exploitation of national “shocks,” whether they come in the form of a natural disaster, an economic crisis, or a terrorist attack.

While citizens are still reeling from the shock or tragedy, right-wing elites seize the opportunity to ram through extreme, free-market policies—measures they never would be able to pass under normal conditions. Under the cover of darkness, when the “normal rules of democracy” do not apply, the right can remake the world per their Chicago School-style, free-market utopian dreams. Schools become privatized, public services are decimated or abolished, entirely, and democracy is traded for a police state.

Klein points to the U.S.-backed 1973 coup in Chile, the fall of the Soviet Union, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the neoliberal gentrifying of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, as prime examples of this “shock doctrine.”

Trump’s election, Klein argues, was the ultimate shock—one which we are still recovering from. His whirlwind barrage of executive statements signed within the first few weeks of his presidency, was the ultimate “shock tactic.” It was designed to keep progressives so overwhelmed as to leave them disoriented and demobilized—if not, indeed, demoralized.

And, Klein warns, the worst shocks are likely yet to come.

Indeed, the first half of the book–in which Klein soberly assesses the rapidly narrowing time-frame remaining to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change–is quite dire. Klein recalls a recent visit to the Great Barrier Reef, which has been besieged by a record-breaking global bleaching event, due to rising ocean temperatures. Large sections of the Reef are now dead, according to scientists.

“It’s worth underlining how little warming it took to bring about such a radical change,” writes Klein. “Ocean temperatures went up just one degree Celsius higher than the levels to which these incredible species are adapted, and that was enough for a massive die-off. Unlike many other climate change-related events, this wasn’t some dramatic storm or wildfire–just silent, watery death.”

But, as Klein’s own reporting in disaster-affected areas attests, the shock doctrine “can be resisted.” (Emphasis hers.)

Indeed, we have already seen an incredible initial surge of resistance to Trump’s presidency. There was the Women’s March on Washington–the largest single day of protest in U.S. history; the airport strikes against Trump’s Muslim travel ban; and the marches to address climate change and in defense of science, respectively.

And hundreds of activists have been arrested picketing outside their senators’ offices in opposition to the GOP’s barbaric health care replacement bill. (As of this writing, that bill seems to be D.O.A.)

But resistance alone is not enough. As Klein argues, this resistance must be combined with the left’s ability to tell “a different story from the one the shock doctors are peddling, a vision of the world compelling enough to compete head-to-head with theirs.”

“This values-based vision must offer a different path,” she writes, “away from serial shocks—one based on coming together across racial, ethnic, religious, and gender divides, rather than being wrenched further apart, and one based on healing the planet rather than unleashing further destabilizing wars and pollution.”

Klein later writes:

“No—to Trump, to France’s Marine Le Pen, to any number of xenophobic and hypernationalist parties on the rise the world over—may be what initially brings millions into the streets. But it is yes that will keep us in that fight.” (Emphasis hers.)

Throughout the book, Klein stresses the “intersectionality” of both class and identity-based forms of oppression–a point I, too, have tried to highlight on this blog. She chastises Clinton’s reliance on empty, “trickle-down feminism,” which, in the words of Sanders, amounted to little more than a rallying cry of, “I’m a woman! Vote for me!”

No Is Not Enough is an excellent addition to the growing cannon of “anti-Trump resistance” literature. At a time when much of the initial opposition to Trump has subsided, and many progressives have seemingly resigned themselves to voting for Democrats in 2018 (or, perhaps worse, pinning their hopes on the overblown, unverified allegations of “Russiagate” leading to Trump’s impeachment), Klein offers us a road-map for how to resist both Trump and the capitalist system that spawned him.

This will require, she argues, the left reclaiming its tradition of “dream[ing] big, out loud, in public–explosions of utopian imagination.”

Klein writes:

With unleashed white supremacy and misogyny, with the world teetering on the edge of ecological collapse, with the very last vestiges of the public sphere set to be devoured by capital, it’s clear that we need to do more than draw a line in the sand and say “no more.” Yes, we need to do that and we need to chart a credible and inspiring path to a different future. And that future cannot simply be where we were before Trump came along … It has to be somewhere we have never been before.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!