Radical Political Action Is Our Only Hope To Stop Criminal Negligence Of Climate Emergency

CJ Polychroniou

It can be done. It must be done. For there is no tomorrow if we fail to decarbonize and thus rescue the planet from a climate catastrophe.

Planet Earth is on fire because of global warming, yet there are still untold numbers of climate deniers in our midst, including over 130 elected officials in the U.S. Congress, and the global community’s response to the climate crisis continues to be not merely unacceptably slow, but borders on criminal negligence.

Economic, political, and even psychological factors are at play as to why humanity refuses to move away from a “business-as-usual” approach when it comes to taking the drastic but ultimately necessary steps needed to tame global warming, which are none other than complete independence from fossil fuels. Yet, we must direct immediately all political energy towards this goal, otherwise complete climate collapse with apocalyptic consequences is inevitable and irreversible. We know the facts and have the know-how to save the planet. Indeed, human activities are destroying planet Earth, but political action can stop the destruction before it’s all over.

The belief that human activity could change temperatures and somehow alter a local climate has been around since antiquity. Of course, ancient civilizations didn’t know anything about climate science. We first learned about Earth’s natural “greenhouse effect” sometime in the early 1820s, thanks to Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier, a French mathematician and physicist who was the first person to recognize that the Earth’s atmosphere retains heat radiation. Then in the late 1850s the Irish scientist John Tyndall provided the explanation for the phenomenon of the “greenhouse effect” via his discovery that certain gases such as water vapor and carbon dioxide trap heat and warm the atmosphere. And in the late nineteenth century, the Swedish chemist/physicist Svante Arrhenius discovered that various human activities, including fossil fuel combustion, were contributing to the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Moreover, Arrhenius was able to determine through a numerical computation that the temperature in Europe could be lowered by between 4 and 5 degrees Celsius if the levels of carbon dioxide were cut in half, and inversely, if levels of carbon dioxide were to be increased by 50 percent, there would be a warming of between 5 and 6 degrees Celsius.

Still, climatology did not emerge into a major scientific enterprise until after World War II, and it was only in the 1950s when researchers began measuring carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, thanks to David Keeling, a pioneer in modern climate science.

Indicative perhaps of how slow politics and societies in general react to scientific discoveries, the cause-and-effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and global warming does not emerge in public consciousness as a major issue—at least in the United States—until NASA scientist James Hansen’s seminal testimony in front of a U.S. Senate Committee on June 23, 1988. This was the first warning to the world at large that the age of global warming had arrived. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s most authoritative voice on climate crisis, was also created in 1988, which, incidentally, was the hottest year on record since the beginning of the century. Since the 1980s, each decade has been warmer than the previous one, with 2020 being one of the hottest years on record. In fact, and while as of this writing the Pacific Midwest is experiencing an unprecedented heatwave, with hundreds of deaths, “there is a 90% likelihood of at least one year between 2021-2025 becoming the warmest on record,” according to the WMO Lead Centre for Annual-to Decadal Climate Prediction.

Yet, very little has been done since the late1980s to combat global warming. The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997 and entered into effect in 2005, was the first legally binding agreement (pdf) on the climate crisis. But the treaty had severe limitations. First, it applied only to industrialized countries, requiring them to reduce greenhouse gases on average by 5 percent below the 1990 levels from 2008 to 2012. Major emitters like China and India were left out, and the treaty was never ratified by the United States. The Kyoto Protocol was obviously inadequate in addressing global warming, but it was reservedly hailed as a “reasonable first step” (pdf), which was really another way of saying that climate crisis was a problem to be solved by future generations.

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement that was adopted by virtually every nation in 2015 seemed to offer greater hopes for combating global warming. The primary aim of the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming in this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. However, the treaty not only allows individual countries to determine themselves their preferred course of action for reducing greenhouse gases, but it is not even legally binding. In sum, it is a treaty for combating global warming without any teeth. Hardly surprising, therefore, that a recent Nationally Determined Contributions synthesis report found that “current levels of climate ambition are not on track to meet our Paris Agreement goals.” The report corroborates the view of Princeton University environmental scientist Michael Oppenheimer who marked the progress made five years after the signing of the Paris Agreement in terms of the prospect of meeting a 2 degrees Celsius target with a grade of D or F.

The emissions reduction process is indeed moving at a very slow pace when we consider the fact that we need to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 in order to avoid the worse possible effects of global warming. The Covid-19 pandemic did produce a relatively sharp decline, approximately by 5.8 percent, in global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. But this does not constitute a “success story” given that at some point more than half of the world economy had come to a forced standstill. Destroying economic activity is not the way to combat global warming. Moreover, as the pandemic experience has shown, even with more than half of the world economy in a lockdown, the reduction in carbon emissions was not as huge as one might have expected, and carbon emissions are now again on the rise. Demand for oil has surged even in the midst of new worries about Covid-19, a development which stresses the point rather forcefully of how addicted the world remains to the fossil fuel economy.

Nonetheless, all is not yet lost. The Green New Deal is gaining traction as more and more people become aware of the way that global warming plunders the planet and affects their very own existence. Green parties across Europe are making huge gains in local, national, and European parliament elections, all while grassroots responses to the climate crisis are growing worldwide and climate lawsuits are becoming a global trend themselves.  As a case in point, a Belgian court ruled recently that state authorities have shown negligence in tackling the climate crisis and “breached the European convention on human rights.” Germany’s highest court found that the country’s climate law is unconstitutional, a decision that has been heralded as a “historic” victory for youth. In the U.S. over fifty organizations have called for a Green New Deal plan for Pacific Northwest Forests as part of a response to the growing threat the climate crisis. And Robert Pollin, professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, has designed scores of commissioned state-level Green New Deals aiming towards a transition to a net-zero emissions economy.

But we are still at the beginning of the war against global warming and the fossil fuel economy and its allies. Powerful interests will continue to stand on the way to saving the planet as long as profits are to be made from any activities associated with fossil fuels. This includes not only the fossil fuel industry itself, which has spent many billions of dollars so far in the U.S. alone opposing clean energy policies and even undermining climate science, but other corporate and financial entities such as banks. Governments too. We need greater public mobilization to exert influence on policymakers. We need many more Sunrise Movements, strong coalitions among civil rights groups, environmental groups, and progressive political forces, and intensification of campaigns and protests against investment in fossil fuels.

It can be done. It must be done. For there is no tomorrow if we fail to decarbonize and thus rescue the planet from a climate catastrophe. Humans are responsible for the impending climate apocalypse, but we also have the power to stop it. All it takes is true commitment and concerted action.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Source: https://www.commondreams.org/radical-political-action

C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in numerous universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His latest books are Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change” and “Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet (with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin as primary authors).

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The Differences Between Fascism And Trump(ism)

CJ Polychroniou

Trump’s policies were brutally neoliberal, racist, nativist, authoritarian, narcissistic — but fascist?

Donald Trump will go down in history as the president responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans due to the criminal negligence in his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and for pushing the world closer to a precipice with his denialism of our climate crisis; yet, he may ultimately be best remembered for having decidedly transform American political culture with the theatricality of his proto-fascist politics.

Trump emerged on the political scene at a time of increasing contradictions ­in the American system of economic organization and distribution, with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, and growing divisions within society at large over race, ethnicity, and culture. While he had no previous political experience, his instincts told him that the route to power in a highly divided society was to double down on those divisions–a tactic that had been employed quite successfully in the past by various extreme political figures all over the world, including the likes of Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolph Hitler in Germany, respectively.

Indeed, Trump’s stratagem of tapping into a huge reservoir of racism and nativism through the use of white identity politics and exploiting public discontent associated with America’s economic decline through a standard repertoire of ultranationalist rants and transparent scapegoatism was key to his rise in power. Moreover, rather than aiming to unify a divided country while holding the nation’s highest office, he continued to act more like the leader of a political party bent on cementing the ideological and cultural divisions in American society, all while implementing economic policies that would lead to further inequality and the expansion of the power of the plutocracy.

Trump’s transformation of American political culture consisted in the unleashing of dangerous forces–arch-enemies of the open and diverse society–that posed an internal threat to liberal democracy. His refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 election, and subsequent attempts by him and his allies to overturn the election, was indeed the culmination of four years of proto-fascist political rhetoric and authoritarian grandstanding.

Subsequently, Trump’s politics has led many to conclude that the alleged billionaire entrepreneur is a fascist and that the United States was actually on the verge of becoming a fascist country during his four-year tenure in power. It is a belief that continues to hold sway over the minds of many progressives, especially since the GOP is officially now Trump’s party and Republicans are fighting as dirty as they can to return to power, with or without Trump at the helm.

However, as I will argue below, and without any intention of downplaying the dangers that Trump and Trumpism represent for a dysfunctional democracy like the one that prevails in the United States, this is a belief based on a misunderstanding of fascism both as a movement and as a regime. Fascism has specific politico-economic properties, even though there are some subtle differences between Italian fascism, German Nazism, and Spanish Francoism, and is defined by a unique philosophical worldview regarding the relationship between state and individual. Fascism is an extreme right-wing authoritarian form of government, but not all authoritarian governments qualify as fascist, and the term in connection with Trump is quite misleading. In fact, hardly any expert on fascism thinks that what Trump practiced fits with the political ideology behind fascism.

The differences between fascism and Trump(ism) are quite striking. Trump and the political movement that he created do share certain traits with fascism, such as reliance on hate, fear, and conspiracy theories, along with the rejection of reason, to deepen social divisions and to create a sense of an imminent collapse as part of a strategy whose aim is to change the political environment by bringing about a change in the existing balance of social forces. But these are tactics that have been widely used by authoritarian leaders and extreme populist movements throughout the modern era of politics. Moreover, while the characterizations of Trump as an authoritarian figure with an utterly narcissistic personality or as a dangerous con artist who manipulates people to believe in lies and “alternative facts” are totally, unmistakably true, the orange maniac is not an ideologue by any stretch of the imagination; instead, he will gladly say whatever he feels is necessary to please his base.

What is fascism?

First, fascism represents one form of “exceptional capitalist state,” as the Marxist political sociologist Nicos Poulantzas had argued, and reflects the breakdown of social order as a result of a severe capitalist crisis and the ensuing confrontation between different classes and ideological groups for political hegemony.

Fascism emerged in Europe during the interwar years (1919-1939) and was first established in Italy under Benito Mussolini (1922-1945) and then in Germany under Adolph Hitler (1933-1945). Italian fascism and German National Socialism represent “classical fascism” and rest on similar belief systems and regime properties, with one possible exception: the “biological” state did not figure as prominently in Italian fascism as it did under the Third Reich.

Fascism relies on paramilitary squads to spread terror and pursues relentless raids against socialists, communists, and other arch-enemies of fascism. This was typical of the role of Mussolini’s paramilitary squads, known as the “blackshirts,” whose activities covered all regions of the country, including the peninsula and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, and constituted an integral component of the fascism’s march to power and the establishment of a dictatorship.

The Nazi rise to power followed a similar path. In 1921, Hitler formed the paramilitary organization Sturm Abteilung (SA), more commonly known as the “brownshirts.” The purpose of the “Sturm Unit” was none other than to intimidate political opponents. In 1925, Hitler established a sub-division of the SA, the Schutzstaffel (German for “Protective Echelon”), otherwise known as the SS, which served as Hitler’s personal bodyguards. The SS, Hitler’s “master race,” would eventually see its role and size expanded dramatically after 1929 when Heinrich Himmler was put in charge. By the start of World War II, the SS consisted of more than 250,000 members that had a hand on virtually all major Nazi activities, including running concentration camps.

Unless I am mistaken, there were no signs of “blackshirts” or “brownshirts” engaging in thuggish vigilantism before Trump’s rise to power.

Fascist political ideology is also unmistakably unique. Fascism strips away individual rights and glorifies the state. The organic state is typified by the fascist regime, which assigns the state complete control over every aspect of national life. For Giovanni Gentile, the philosopher and political theorist of Italian fascism, “state and individual are one,” while “the authority of the state is not subject to negotiation, or compromise, or to divide its terrain with other moral or religious principles that might interfere in consciousness.”

Fascism bans political opposition, ends constitutional rule, enforces censorship, and imprisons political opponents.

Indeed, as Benito Mussolini’s own formulation of fascism has it, “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.”

It is worth quoting at length the fascist conception of the state, as articulated once again by Mussolini himself:
Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal, will of man as a historic entity. It is opposed to classical liberalism which arose as a reaction to absolutism and exhausted its historical function when the State became the expression of the conscience and will of the people. Liberalism denied the State in the name of the individual; Fascism reasserts.

Totalitarianism and state terrorism are defining attributes of fascism. Trump’s administration, horrific as it was, exhibited no such features.

There are also striking differences between fascism and Trump(ism) when it comes to the economy.

Fascists do not oppose private property but believe in taming capitalism by forming a specific relationship between state and big business or monopoly capital, with the state having the upper hand. Mussolini identified the economics of fascism as “state capitalism.”  Fascism also intervenes in the overall workings of the economy through coordinated actions of some central planning board to attain a set of “fixed objectives,” even if those actions tended at times to involve “dis-organic intervention,” as Mussolini himself had once complained. Fascism also controls the monetary system, sets prices, and promotes large government projects and all sorts of public works as part of the pursuit of its alleged “full-employment” economy. Hitler’s autobahn construction (though plans for the autobahn date to the 1920s and construction had actually begun before Hitler came to power) was undertaken under that pretext. Nonetheless, it was rearmament that helped the Nazis achieve economic recovery in the 1930s.

Trump’s economic policies, on the other hand, were brutally neoliberal in origin and scope. The war alone that his administration launched on regulations clearly testifies to Trump’s commitment to free-market fundamentalism. As far as his opposition to “free trade” is concerned, it was initiated by his belief that other countries were bending the rules at the expense of the United States, not because he was in principle against the idea of “free trade.”

Trump’s policies sought to enhance even further the power of the plutocracy in the United States. And he accomplished this through the pursuit of extreme neoliberal policies, not through a corporatist model. On the other hand, to keep his fanatical base loyal, he employed a standard repertoire of proto-fascist rhetoric and challenged as far as he could the foundations of liberal democracy, which, according to his followers, had set rules that cater to the whims of the “detestable elite.”

In this manner, Trump was not alone. Virtually all authoritarian political figures out there today (Orban in Hungary, Erdogan in Turkey, Bolsonaro in Brazil, to name just a few) use similar tactics, exploit the vulnerabilities in the political culture in which they operate and exhibit disdain for the rule of law. Do they all, with Trump together,  belong to the fascist camp? Not unless the aim is to reduce fascism to a meaningless political ideology and forget the sickening atrocities committed by fascist regimes in the most murderous century in recorded history.

Source: https://www.commondreams.org/

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in numerous universities and research centers in Europe and the United States.  He has published scores of  books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers, and popular news websites. His latest books are Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change, an anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthout and collected by Haymarket Books;  Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet (with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin as primary authors);  and The Precipice: Neoliberalism, the Pandemic, and the Urgent Need for Radical Change, an  anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthout and collected by Haymarket Books (scheduled for publication in June 2021).

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Noam Chomsky: To Retain Power, Democrats Must Stop Abandoning The Working Class

Noam Chomsky

The U.S. political system is broken, many mainstream pundits declare. Their claim rests on the idea that Republicans and Democrats are more divided than ever and seem to be driven by different conceptions not only of government, but of reality itself. However, the problem with the U.S. political system is more profound than the fact that Democrats and Republicans operate in parallel universes. The issue is that the U.S. appears to function like a democracy, but, essentially, it constitutes a plutocracy, with both parties primarily looking after the same economic interests.

In this interview, Noam Chomsky, an esteemed public intellectual and one of the world’s most cited scholars in modern history, discusses the current shape of the Democratic Party and the challenges facing the progressive left in a country governed by a plutocracy.

C.J. Polychroniou: In our last interview, you analyzed the political identity of today’s Republican Party and dissected its strategy for returning to power. Here, I am interested in your thoughts on the current shape of the Democratic Party and, more specifically, on whether it is in the midst of loosening its embrace of neoliberalism to such an extent that an ideological metamorphosis may in fact be underway?

Noam Chomsky: The short answer is: Maybe. There is much uncertainty.

With all of the major differences, the current situation is somewhat reminiscent of the early 1930s, which I’m old enough to remember, if hazily. We may recall Antonio Gramsci’s famous observation from Mussolini’s prison in 1930, applicable to the state of the world at the time, whatever exactly he may have had in mind: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

Today, the foundations of the neoliberal doctrines that have had such a brutal effect on the population and the society are tottering, and might collapse. And there is no shortage of morbid symptoms.

In the years that followed Gramsci’s comment, two paths emerged to deal with the deep crisis of the 1930s: social democracy, pioneered by the New Deal in the U.S., and fascism. We have not reached that state, but symptoms of both paths are apparent, in no small measure on party lines.

To assess the current state of the political system, it is useful to go back a little. In the 1970s, the highly class-conscious business community sharply escalated its efforts to dismantle New Deal social democracy and the “regimented capitalism” that prevailed through the postwar period — the fastest growth period of American state capitalism, egalitarian, with financial institutions under control so there were none of the crises that punctuate the neoliberal years and no “bailout economy” of the kind that has prevailed through these years, as Robert Pollin and Gerald Epstein very effectively review.

The business attack begins in the late 1930s with experiments in what later became a major industry of “scientific methods of strike-breaking.” It was on hold during the war and took off immediately afterwards, but it was relatively limited until the 1970s. The political parties pretty much followed suit; more accurately perhaps, the two factions of the business party that share government in the U.S. one-party state.

By the ‘70s, beginning with Nixon’s overtly racist “Southern strategy,” the Republicans began their journey off the political spectrum, culminating (so far) in the McConnell-Trump era of contempt for democracy as an impediment to holding uncontested power. Meanwhile, the Democrats abandoned the working class, handing working people over to their class enemy. The Democrats transitioned to a party of affluent professionals and Wall Street, becoming “cool” under Obama in a kind of replay of the infatuation of liberal intellectuals with the Camelot image contrived in the Kennedy years.

The last gasp of real Democratic concern for working people was the 1978 Humphrey-Hawkins full employment act. President Carter, who seemed to have had little interest in workers’ rights and needs, didn’t veto the bill, but watered it down so that it had no teeth. In the same year, UAW president Doug Fraser withdrew from Carter’s Labor-Management committee, condemning business leaders — belatedly — for having “chosen to wage a one-sided class war … against working people, the unemployed, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old, and even many in the middle class of our society.”

The one-sided class war took off in force under Ronald Reagan. Like his accomplice Margaret Thatcher in England, Reagan understood that the first step should be to eliminate the enemy’s means of defense by harsh attack on unions, opening the door for the corporate world to follow, with the Democrats largely indifferent or participating in their own ways — matters we’ve discussed before.

The tragi-comic effects are being played out in Washington right now. Biden attempted to pass badly needed support for working people who have suffered a terrible blow during the pandemic (while billionaires profited handsomely and the stock market boomed). He ran into a solid wall of implacable Republican opposition. A major issue was how to pay for it. Republicans indicated some willingness to agree to the relief efforts if the costs were borne by unemployed workers by reducing the pittance of compensation. But they imposed an unbreachable Red Line: not a penny from the very rich.

Nothing can touch Trump’s major legislative achievement, the 2017 tax scam that enriches the super-rich and corporate sector at the expense of everyone else — the bill that Joseph Stiglitz termed the U.S. Donor Relief Act of 2017, which “embodies all that is wrong with the Republican Party, and to some extent, the debased state of American democracy.”

Meanwhile, Republicans claim to be the party of the working class, thanks to their advocacy of lots of guns for everyone, Christian nationalism and white supremacy — our “traditional way of life.”

To Biden’s credit, he has made moves to reverse the abandonment of working people by his party, but in the “debased state” of what remains of American democracy, it’s a tough call.

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Humanity Needs To Declare Independence From Fossil Fuels

CJ Polychroniou

The Declaration of Independence, the work of a five-person committee appointed by the Continental Congress, but with Thomas Jefferson as the most vocal figure of the values of the Enlightenment on this side of this Atlantic being the primary author and upon the insistence of none other than John Adams himself, is one of the most important documents in the history of democracy and of political progress.

Built around Locke’s political epistemology, the Declaration of Independence signaled to the world that the old political order based on the divine right of kings and political absolutism in general was illegitimate and that, subsequently, people have the right to overthrow a regime that fails to protect the “self-evident” rights of every individual, which are “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

The Declaration of Independence, the official birth certificate of the American nation and the most progressive document of its time in support of popular sovereignty, was officially approved by the Congress on July 4, 1776, but eventually it would end up becoming an inspiration to future generations both in the United States and around the world. For example, the “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions” issued by early feminists at the July 1848 Seneca Falls Convention was modelled after the Declaration of Independence.  Ho Chi Ming’s speech on September 2, 1945, proclaiming the Independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam, began with nearly an exact quote from the second paragraph of America’s 1776 Declaration of Independence.

Today, the United States and the world at large need a new declaration of independence—a declaration of independence from fossil fuels.

The planet is on the verge of unmitigated disaster due to global warming. The Industrial Revolution, which began in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, brought about a series of major transformations in energy usage– first from wood to coal and then to oil and gas. And, to be sure, for more than a century, from the 1870s to the 1970s, to be exact, the world experienced unprecedented economic growth, although the relationship between economic growth and fossil fuel energy consumption is not straightforwardly linear for both developed and emerging economies.

However, for several decades now, we have also known of the effects of fossil fuels on the environment and climate change. The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gasses trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere, causing global warming. The Earth’s average global temperature has risen by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NASA’s Godard Institute. Some regions of the world, however, have already seen average temperatures rise by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit because temperatures increase at different speeds, with land areas warming faster than coastal areas.

Global temperatures matter. Rising global temperatures have major effects on numerous fronts, ranging from air quality and rising sea levels to the frequency of environmental events such as forest fires, hurricanes, heat waves, floods, droughts, and so on. The climate crisis also impacts on human rights and becomes a driver of migration. And last but not least, there are economic costs associated with the climate crisis as rising temperatures affect a wide range of industries, from agriculture to tourism. It’s estimated that the economic damage caused by natural disasters for the most recent decade (2000-2009) was approximately $3 trillion–more than $1 trillion increase from the previous decade.

Make no mistake about it. The world’s most authoritative voice on the climate crisis, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ICPP), has been warning us for several years now that the world is at serious risk, and that time is running out to save the planet. Yet, very little has been done so far to address our climate crisise, although we know what needs to be done.

What needs to be done is to move the world economy to net-zero emissions and 100 clean energy. This requires, starting immediately, to implement a radical plan for the phasing out of fossil fuels and the concomitant implementation of a green global infrastructure development plan. In this massive undertaking, the public sector needs to become the vanguard of the transition to clean and renewable energy, with the citizenry fully on its corner and against those greedy capitalists who continue to put profits ahead of people and the planet’s future.

We have the technical know-how as well as the available economic resources to make the transition to a clean energy future. Details of this undertaking are spelled out, for instance, in the recent publication of Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet (Verso 2020) by Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin.

Moreover, the transition to a clean energy future does not mean the end of economic growth. On the contrary, a Global Green New Deal, as University of Massachusetts-Amherst economics professor Robert Pollin has sketched out in the aforementioned book, will generate millions of new and good-paying jobs in both the developed and the developing countries.  The economic benefits of a green new deal are quite significant, while the costs of not doing a green new deal are catastrophic.

In sum, the time has come for the people of the United States—and indeed of citizens all over the beautiful blue planet—to announce a new Declaration of Independence: a declaration of independence from fossil fuels. This is our only chance to move towards a sustainable future, our only chance to avoid the highly likely probability of a return to barbarism due to the collapse of organized social order brought about by mitigating global warming.


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Degrowth Policies Cannot Avert Climate Crisis. We Need A Green New Deal

Robert Pollin

The Green New Deal is the boldest and most likely the most effective way to combat the climate emergency. According to its advocates, the Green New Deal will save the planet while boosting economic growth and generating in the process millions of new and well-paying jobs. However, a growing number of ecological economists contend that rescuing the environment necessitates “degrowth.”

To the extent that a sharp reduction in economic activity is a positive goal, “degrowth” requires overturning the current world order. But do we have the luxury to wait for a new world order while the catastrophic impacts of global warming are already upon us and getting worse with each passing decade?

World-renowned progressive economist Robert Pollin, distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, is one of the leading proponents of a global Green New Deal. In this interview, he addresses the degrowth vs. Green New Deal debate, looking at how economies can grow while still advancing a viable climate stabilization project as long as the growth process is absolutely decoupled from fossil fuel consumption.

C.J. Polychroniou: Since the idea of a Green New Deal entered into public consciousness, the debate about climate emergency is becoming increasingly polarized between those advocating “green growth” and those arguing in support of “degrowth.” What exactly does “degrowth” mean, and is this at the end of the day an economic or an ideological debate?

Robert Pollin: Let me first say that I don’t think that the debate on the climate emergency between advocates of degrowth versus the Green New Deal is becoming increasingly polarized, certainly not as a broad generalization. Rather, as an advocate of the Green New Deal and critic of degrowth, I would still say that there are large areas of agreement along with some significant differences. For example, I agree that uncontrolled economic growth produces serious environmental damage along with increases in the supply of goods and services that households, businesses and governments consume. I also agree that a significant share of what is produced and consumed in the current global capitalist economy is wasteful, especially much, if not most, of what high-income people throughout the world consume. It is also obvious that growth per se as an economic category makes no reference to the distribution of the costs and benefits of an expanding economy. I think it is good to keep in mind both the areas of agreement as well as the differences.

But what about definitions: What do we actually mean by the Green New Deal and degrowth?

Starting with the Green New Deal: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that for the global economy to move onto a viable climate stabilization path, global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) will have to fall by about 45 percent as of 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050. As such, by my definition, the core of the global Green New Deal is to advance a global project to hit these IPCC targets, and to accomplish this in a way that also expands decent job opportunities and raises mass living standards for working people and the poor throughout the world. The single most important project within the Green New Deal entails phasing out the consumption of oil, coal and natural gas to produce energy, since burning fossil fuels is responsible for about 70 – 75 percent of all global CO2 emissions. We then have to build an entirely new global energy infrastructure, the centerpieces of which are high efficiency and clean renewable energy sources — primarily solar and wind power. The investments required to dramatically increase energy efficiency standards and to equally dramatically expand the global supply of clean energy sources will also be a huge source of new job creation, in all regions of the world. These are the basics of the Green New Deal as I see it. It is that simple in concept, while also providing specific pathways for achieving its overarching goals.

Now on degrowth: Since I am not a supporter, it would be unfair for me to be the one explaining what it means. So here is how some of the leading degrowth proponents themselves describe the concept and movement. For example, in a 2015 edited volume titled, Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era, the volume’s editors Giacomo D’Alisa, Federico Demaria and Giorgos Kallis write that, “The foundational theses of degrowth are that growth is uneconomic and unjust, that it is ecologically unsustainable and that it will never be enough.” More recently, a 2021 paper by Riccardo Mastini, Giorgos Kallis and Jason Hickel, titled, “A Green New Deal without Growth?,” write that “ecological economists have defined degrowth as an equitable downscaling of throughput, with a concomitant securing of wellbeing.”

It is instructive here that, in this 2021 paper, Mastini, Kallis and Hickel do also acknowledge that degrowth has not advanced into developing a specific set of economic programs, writing that “degrowth is not a political platform, but rather an ‘umbrella concept’ that brings together a wide variety of ideas and social struggles.” This acknowledgement reflects, in my view, a major ongoing weakness with the degrowth literature, which is that, in concerning itself primarily with very broad themes, it actually gives almost no detailed attention to developing an effective climate stabilization project, or any other specific ecological project. Indeed, this deficiency was reflected in a 2017 interview with the leading ecological economist Herman Daly himself, without question a major intellectual progenitor of the degrowth movement. Daly says in the interview that he is “favorably inclined” toward degrowth, but nevertheless demurs that he is “still waiting for them to get beyond the slogan and develop something a little more concrete.”

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American Democracy Will Remain A Mirage Without A Dramatic Overhaul Of The Political And Economic System

CJ Polychroniou

The progressive forces fighting for a democratic future have a truly herculean task ahead of them.

It is no longer an unknown fact or a view propounded by a handful of radical historians and political scientists: the American political system has such severe structural flaws that it is potentially antithetical to democracy and surely detrimental to the promotion of the common good.

Consider the following stark realizations about the condition of American democracy as evidence of the changing times:
The United States has been rated for a number of consecutive years by the Economist Intelligence Union as a “flawed democracy.”

Scores of highly respected mainstream scholars have analyzed massive amounts of data showing that public opinion counts very little in US policymaking (see, for example, Larry Bartels, Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age; Princeton University Press, 2nd ed., 2016) to conclude that the American political system works essentially in a manner that actually subverts the will of the common people.

Others, like Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, have argued that, because of rules set in the political system, the American economy is rigged to favor the rich, a view that is obviously wholeheartedly endorsed by Kishore Mahbubani, Distinguished Fellow from Asia Research Institute, at the National University of Singapore, when he declares that the US functions like a democracy but is actually a plutocracy.

And Timothy K. Kuhner,  Professor of Law at the University of Auckland, has gone even further by arguing most convincingly in King’s Law Journal that the United States isn’t only a plutocracy, but the only plutocracy in the world to be established by law.

To a large extent, of course, the structural flaws in the American political system have their origins in the many anti-democratic elements found in the Constitution. This is the view of eminent constitutional scholars such Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law at Berkeley Law School, and Sanford Levinson,  W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair in Law at the University of Texas Law School, and author of Our Undemocratic Constitution (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Let’s start with one of the basic principles of democracy which is “one person, one vote.” It is not applicable to the case of American “democracy” where US presidents are chosen by electors, not by popular vote. Hence the “democratic” anomaly of a candidate elected to become the 45th president of the United States after having lost the popular vote by a bigger margin than any other US president. Indeed, Donald Trump was elected president by trailing Hillary Clinton by nearly three million votes.The same thing happened in 2000, when Al Gore won nearly half a million more votes than George W. Bush, but it was Bush who won the presidency by being declared winner in the state of Florida by less than 540 votes.

In any other modern democratic system, such electoral outcomes would be imaginable only if democracy was crushed by some kind of a military coup with the aim of installing in power the “preferred” candidate of the ruling class.
To be sure, there is nothing in the Constitution that grants American voters the right to choose their president. When American voters go to the polls to vote for a presidential candidate, what they are essentially doing is casting a vote for their preferred party’s nominated slate of electors.
The electoral college system is democracy’s ugliest anachronism. It was designed by the founding fathers in order to prevent the masses from choosing directly who will run the country, and it’s simply shocking that it still exists more than two hundred years later.
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