Are Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaigns Working? A Conversation With Economist Robert Pollin

Prof.dr. Robert Pollin

Is fossil fuels divestment an effective strategy in tackling climate change? A newly released study by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst suggests that this strategy is not sufficient on its own in affecting the global battle against climate change and that new approaches are needed. Robert Pollin, a distinguished professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, co-director of PERI and co-author of the study spoke to C.J. Polychroniou about the limits of the movement to divest from fossil fuels and the need for fresh approaches and a more holistic type of action for combatting climate change.

C. J. Polychroniou: Climate change is one of the most significant threats facing human civilization today. According to some projections, there is a very high probability that temperatures will rise by several degrees in less than 100 years. In that context, and given that the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions stems from burning fossil fuels, mitigating the effects of climate change demands a transition to clean energy sources. Yet adapting to climate change does not seem to be an easy undertaking for modern societies, although the hidden costs of climate change run already into hundreds of billions of dollars a year. In your view, why is it that we are ignoring the costs associated with climate change?

Robert Pollin: I don’t think it is accurate to say that “we” are ignoring the costs associated with climate change. The evidence on the effects of climate change are widely known and are getting increasingly understood with time. Millions of people around the world are committed to disseminating valuable information and advancing policies to dramatically cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which is the most significant factor driving climate change. Certainly, the experience in the US and the Caribbean last summer and fall, with three severe hurricanes in short order — i.e. Harvey, Irma and Maria — made even more people aware of the reality that we are playing Russian roulette with the climate.

There is, rather, one fundamental reason why policy makers in most countries throughout the world are unwilling to cut their CO2 emissions sufficiently, notwithstanding the ever-mounting ecological threat. It is because the only way countries can achieve serious CO2 emissions cuts is to stop burning so much oil, coal and natural gas to produce energy. Confronting this reality in turn creates three problems that are distinct but interrelated.

The first is that workers and communities throughout the world whose livelihoods depend on people consuming fossil fuel energy will face major losses — layoffs, falling incomes and declining public-sector budgets to support schools, health clinics and public safety. The second is that profits will fall sharply and permanently for the colossal fossil fuel companies, such as Exxon-Mobil, Shell and the range of energy-based businesses owned by the US mega-billionaires David and Charles Koch. The world’s publicly owned energy companies — such as Saudi Aramco, Gazprom in Russia and Petrobras in Brazil, which together control about 90 percent of the world’s total oil reserves — will take still larger hits to their revenues. The third problem pushes us beyond the fossil fuel industry itself and into broader issues of jobs and prospects for economic growth. According to most analysts, economies will face higher energy costs when they are forced to slash their fossil fuel supplies. It will therefore become more expensive to operate the full gamut of buildings, machines and transportation equipment that drive all economies forward. Read more

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Noam Chomsky On Donald Trump And The “Me First” Doctrine

Noam Chomsky ~ Photo:

President Trump’s sudden cancellation of the upcoming denuclearization summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is just the latest example of Trump’s wildly erratic approach to foreign policy.

While Trump’s domestic policies seem to be guided by clear objectives — increasing corporate profits, undoing every policy made by the Obama administration, and appeasing Trump’s anti-immigrant base — the imperatives driving US foreign policy under Trump remain something of a mystery.

In this exclusive interview, renowned linguist and public intellectual Noam Chomsky sheds light on the realities and dangers of foreign relations in the age of “gangster capitalism” and the decline of the US as a superpower.

C. J. Polychroniou: Noam, Donald Trump rose to power with “America First” as the key slogan of his election campaign. However, looking at what his administration has done so far on both the domestic and international front, it is hard to see how his policies are contributing to the well-being and security of the United States. With that in mind, can you decode for us what Trump’s “America First” policy may be about with regard to international relations?

Noam Chomsky: It is only natural to expect that policies will be designed for the benefit of the designers and their actual — not pretended — constituency, and that the well-being and security of the society will be incidental. And that is what we commonly discover. We might recall, for example, the frank comments on the Monroe Doctrine by Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State, Robert Lansing: “In its advocacy of the Monroe Doctrine the United States considers its own interests. The integrity of other American nations is an incident, not an end. While this may seem based on selfishness alone, the author of the Doctrine had no higher or more generous motive in its declaration.” The observation generalizes in international affairs, and much the same logic holds within the society.

There is nothing essentially new about “America First,” and “America” does not mean America, but rather the designers and their actual constituency.

A typical illustration is the policy achievement of which the Trump-Ryan-McConnell administration is most proud: the tax bill — what Joseph Stiglitz accurately called “The US Donor Relief Act of 2017”. It contributes very directly to the well-being of their actual constituency: private wealth and corporate power. It benefits the actual constituency indirectly by the standard Republican technique (since Reagan) of blowing up the deficit as a pretext for undermining social programs, which are the Republicans’ next targets. The bill is thus of real benefit to its actual constituency and severely harms the general population.

Turning to international affairs, in Trumpian lingo, “America First” means “me first” and damn the consequences for the country or the world. The “me first” doctrine has an immediate corollary: it’s necessary to keep the base in line with fake promises and fiery rhetoric, while not alienating the actual constituency. It also follows that it’s important to do the opposite of whatever was done by Obama. Trump is often called “unpredictable,” but his actions are highly predictable on these simple principles. Read more

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‘Be Realistic, Demand The Impossible!’ ~ How The Events Of 1968 Transformed French Society

France. Paris et Banlieue. Graffiti, bombages, inscription et affiche dans les fac et les rue autour de mai 1968

This week, 50 years ago, France was going through the biggest labour strike in its history. Two-thirds of its labour force were out in the streets demanding better working conditions. Workers had taken control of factories, set up barricades, organised sit-ins and fought off attempts by the police to disperse them. Thousands of students who had rebelled against conservative university administrations had also joined them.

By the end of the week, French President Charles de Gaulle would disappear from Paris, seeking support from the French army for a military intervention against the strikers.
Tanks, however, would not roll down the streets of Paris that year. De Gaulle would decide instead to dissolve the parliament and call for general elections. Although the crisis would subside by June, the events of May would have a major ripple effect in space and time.

Today, 50 years later, we can honestly say that what happened in May 1968 – from Paris to Prague, and from Mexico to Madrid – was the most significant political development that took place in the West during this tumultuous decade.

The 1960s witnessed the emergence of the second chapter of the civil rights movement in the US, the re-radicalisation of the labour force throughout Western Europe, women’s rights, and gay rights. But the political scene in the 1960s was marked above all else by the Vietnam War and the protests of 1968 against political elites, authoritarianism, and the bureaucratisation of everyday life.
They were spontaneous, explosive protests of rebellious spirits that changed fundamentally the political, social and cultural landscape of entire nations, although no revolution ever occurred
The May ’68 protests had the most dramatic impact in the country that had experienced one of the greatest social upheavals in western history, the French Revolution. Read more

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May Day 2018: A Rising Tide Of Worker Militancy And Creative Uses Of Marx

Prof.dr. Jayati Ghosh – Photo:

International Workers’ Day grew out of 19th century working-class struggles in the United States for better working conditions and the establishment of an eight-hour workday. May 1 was chosen by the international labor movement as the day to commemorate the Haymarket massacre in May 1886. Ever since, May 1 has been a day of working-class marches and demonstrations throughout the world, although state apparatuses in the United States do their best to erase the day from public awareness.

In the interview below, one of the world’s leading radical economists, Jawaharlal Nehru University Professor Jayati Ghosh, who is also an activist closely involved with a range of progressive and radical social movements, discusses the significance of May Day with C.J. Polychroniou for Truthout. She also analyzes how different and challenging the contemporary economic and political landscape has become in the age of global neoliberalism, examining the new forms of class struggle that have surfaced in recent years and what may be needed for the re-emergence of a new international working-class movement.

C.J. Polychroniou: Jayati, each year, people all over the world march to commemorate International Worker’s Day, or May 1. In your view, how does the economic and political landscape on May Day, 2018, compare to those on past May Days?

Jayati Ghosh: Ever since the eruption of workers’ struggles on May 1, 1886, commemorating May Day each year reminds us of what organized workers’ movements can achieve. Over more than a century, these struggles progressively won better conditions for labor in many countries. But such victories — and even such struggles — have now become much harder than they were. Globalization of trade, capital mobility and financial deregulation have weakened dramatically the bargaining power of labor vis-à-vis capital. Perversely, this very success of global capitalism has weakened its ability to provide more rapid or widespread income expansion. As capitalism breeds and results in greater inequality, it loses sources of demand to provide stimulus for accumulation, and it also generates greater public resentment against the system.

The trouble is that, instead of workers everywhere uniting against the common enemy/oppressor, they are turned against one another. Workers are told that mobilizing and organizing for better conditions will simply reduce jobs because capital will move elsewhere; local residents are led to resent migrants; people are persuaded that their problems are not the result of the unjust system but are because of the “other” — defined by nationality, race, gender, religion, ethnic or linguistic identity. So this is a particularly challenging time for workers everywhere in the world. Confronting this challenge requires more than marches to commemorate May Day; it requires a complete reimagining of the idea of workers unity and reinvention of forms of struggle. Read more

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Trade Wars Are Never “Easy to Win”: Economist Robert Pollin On Trump’s China Policy

Robert Pollin ~ Photo: UMass Amherst

Before the election, presidential candidate Donald Trump promised voters across the country that he would turn the tables on foreign competitors to reverse US trade deficits. Last month, President Trump invoked a 1974 trade law and launched a trade war against China by announcing tariffs on more than $150 billion of Chinese goods and products. Trump has argued that the move might cause “a little pain” but that the US will benefit from it in the long run. But are tariffs good for economic policy? And whom do they benefit most — capitalists or workers?

C.J. Polychroniou spoke to Robert Pollin — a distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst — about the impact of tariffs and trade wars on national economies and the labor market.

C.J. Polychroniou: Bob, let’s first of all get some things straight about Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on Chinese goods and products. Is the US in an actual trade war with China? Trump says it is not, yet he has also gone on record saying that trade wars are “good, and easy to win.”

Robert Pollin: One never knows exactly what Trump is really up to. Whatever policy pronouncements he may have made on day one, there is a good probability that by day four or five, he will have reversed himself. That said, since his 2016 campaign, Trump has been denouncing Chinese trade practices. His main adviser on trade, Peter Navarro, has long been a vehement opponent of US trade relations with China, having authored books titled Death by China and The Coming China Wars.

Since January, Trump has certainly started aggressive actions against Chinese imports into the US. It started with tariffs of 30 percent on imported solar panels, most of which come from China, then moved on in early March to a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum. Predictably, China then retaliated with tariffs on US imports, including aircraft, automobiles, and chemicals,worth about $50 billion. Trump then shot back on April 5, proposing another $100 billion in tariffs on a range of Chinese imports. I wouldn’t yet call this a “war,” but the threats and skirmishes are intensifying.

Are trade wars “good and easy to win?” Taking the second part of Trump’s pronouncement first, it is clear already that they are not “easy to win.” China has the capacity to retaliate if provoked excessively. Are trade wars “good?” As with other kinds of war, we are opening ourselves up to all kinds of uncertainties. Trump’s latest overture to re-enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership — after he had also repeatedly denounced this trade agreement and in fact had already pulled out of it — no doubt reflects his utterly incoherent attempt at keeping up alliances with the rest of East Asia while he is roughing up China. Who knows where it will lead? Certainly not Trump or his advisers. Read more

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“A Complete Disaster”: Noam Chomsky On Trump And The Future Of US Politics

Noam Chomsky ~ Photo:

Just how bad are things with Donald Trump in the White House? And what does having a racist, misogynist, xenophobic and erratic president who continues to enjoy unquestionable support from his base tell us about the state of US politics and the dangers to the future of democracy in the US and in the world on the whole? Noam Chomsky shares his thoughts on these and other related questions in an exclusive interview with C. J. Polychroniou for Truthout.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, it’s been already 14 months into Donald Trump’s turbulent White House tenure, but sometimes we still need to pinch ourselves to make sure that it’s not a nightmare that a racist, misogynist, homophobic man who apparently cares only about himself runs the world’s most powerful nation. But, really, how bad is it having Trump in the White House?

Very bad. As Trump began his second year in office, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced their Doomsday Clock to two minutes to midnight, citing increasing concerns over nuclear weapons and climate change. That’s the closest it has been to terminal disaster since 1953, when the US and USSR exploded thermonuclear weapons. That was before the release of Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review, which significantly increases the dangers by lowering the threshold for nuclear attack and by developing new weapons that increase the danger of terminal war.

On climate change, Trump is a complete disaster, along with the entire Republican leadership. Every candidate in the Republican primaries either denied that what is happening is happening or said … we shouldn’t do anything about it. And these attitudes infect the Republican base. Half of Republicans deny that global warming is taking place, while 70 percent say that whether it is or not, humans are not responsible. Such figures would be shocking anywhere, but are remarkably so in a developed country with unparalleled resources and easy access to information.

It is hard to find words to describe the fact that the most powerful country in world history is not only withdrawing from global efforts to address a truly existential threat, but is also dedicating itself to accelerating the race to disaster, all to put more dollars in overstuffed pockets. No less astounding is the limited attention paid to the phenomenon.

When we turn to matters of great though lesser import, the conclusion is the same: disaster. While Trump’s antics occupy the attention of the media, his associates in Congress have been working intensively to advance the interests of their actual constituency — extreme wealth and corporate power — while dismantling what is of value to the general population and future generations. With justice, the Republican leadership regard the tax bill as their greatest triumph. Joseph Stiglitz rightly describes the triumph as “The US Donor Relief Act of 2017,” a vast giveaway to their actual constituency — and to themselves. As he points out, the Republican leaders “are stuffing themselves at the trough — Trump, Kushner and many others in his administration are among the biggest winners — thinking that this may be their last chance at such a feast.” And “Après moi, le deluge” — literally in this case. Read more

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