Panel 2

ACTIVISTS, ARTISTS, AND ACADEMICS

BUILDING JUST CLIMATE FUTURES TOGETHER

A NEARLY CARBON-NEUTRAL CONFERENCE

Panel 2: The Global Climate Justice Movement in the Age of Crisis, Part Two

Climate justice in the era of Trumpism (and capitalist crisis)

Patrick Bond

View slides.

The transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa has lessons for those concerned about Donald Trump’s climate politics and progressive responses – in part because Nelson Mandela’s call for sanctions against the Pretoria regime helped to financially destabilise and morally delegitimise the white power structure. That strategy, fuelled by local protests, ultimately split away major corporations from the racist state in 1985, leading to democracy in 1994. Aware of this legacy, Naomi Klein and Joseph Stiglitz (amongst others) have called for sanctions against the United States on grounds of climate irresponsibility. There are a great many reasons to establish a sanctions movement against not only Trump (for he may be impeached in coming years) but also the politics of proto-fascist ‘Trumpism’, for this regime is genuinely a threat to humanity:

accelerated climate change caused by relaxation of environmental regulations

Pentagon’s ‘first-strike’ nuclear capability amidst worsening North Korea and Iran conflicts

extreme military aggression in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan – including rising Islamaphobia

heightened tension with China

renewed US alliances with authoritarian regimes

trade wars, corporate investment deals, tax dodging and reactionary fiscal policy

macro-economic mismanagement in an era of stagnation yet high volatility

new restrictions to immigration, refugees and development aid

fusions of reactionary socio-cultural, political tendencies in US society with a charismatic state leader backed by most mega-corporate interests

the need for solidarity with US peoples, especially along racial, ethnic, gender and class lines.

To be sure, the July 2017 G20 Hamburg meeting essentially gave Trump a pass. And most importantly, US social movements have not yet asked for sanctions solidarity (although wide-ranging Trump-related micro-boycotts are emerging). But since his rule threatens planetary survival, we are obliged to contemplate what aspects of global capitalist crisis might make Trumpism more vulnerable to global people’s sanctions, as a precursor to the rest of the world lowering our vulnerability levels to environmental, economic and geopolitical catastrophes in the period immediately ahead.

Patrick Bond is professor of political economy at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and honorary professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society which he directed from 2004-16. He is the author of Politics of Climate Justice (UKZN Press, 2012) and he edited several other books on climate policy. His publications mainly document neoliberalism, sub-imperialism and political ecology in South Africa, e.g. Elite Transition (2014), South Africa – The Present as History (with John Saul, 2014), Talk Left, Walk Right (2006), Against Global Apartheid (2003), Unsustainable South Africa (2002) and Cities of Gold, Townships of Coal (2000). His PhD research was conducted at the Johns Hopkins University Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering under David Harvey’s supervision during the early 1990s. Since then he has also taught or researched at Johns Hopkins (public health), York University (politics, environment), California-Berkeley (geography), Gyeongsang University (political economy) and Africa University (development studies).

“The Confluence of Alternatives” – An Indian Initiative

Pallav Das

Contemporary India is going through a perplexingly critical time in its economic development. The neoliberal fundamentalist agenda being foisted on the Indian people by its power elite has inflicted the worst forms of inequality on the society. Today, the richest 1% of the country accounts for nearly half of the country’s total private wealth, about $1.75 trillion! The story of the underprivileged, however, is quite different. Thirty years ago before the country opened up its economy, India accounted for about one-fifth of the world’s poorest. Today, close to one third of that category, or about 400 million, live in India. These economic choices have also had a disastrous impact on India’s environment. Home to six of the ten most polluted cities in the world, its natural resources being plundered rapaciously and its weather patterns becoming increasingly erratic, unreliable and often lethal, the country seems to be hurtling ever forward towards ecological mayhem.

Despite this bleak and overwhelming picture, however, there are significant efforts being made by the civil society to construct alternative paradigms and pathways towards a world that is sustainable, equitable and just. Vikalp Sangam, or the Confluence of Alternatives, is one such initiative, which is trying to explore and understand alternative thinking and organizing on a large spectrum of economic, social and environmental issues in India. The chief aim of the endeavor is to create a platform where alternatives, which take the earth away from ecological self-destruction and the bitter calcification of economic inequality, reach a large audience and become viable for discussion, analysis and eventual replication in other places. This paper will discuss how the Vikalp Sangam vision is unfolding in India.

Pallav Das has pursued a unique twin track career in environmental conservation and creative communications. As a conservation professional and activist, Pallav has spent years exploring the Himalayan wilderness, researching and writing on the ecology of wetlands and alpine areas, building grass-roots networks to promote sustainable environmental policies, and analyzing and advocating public policies for biodiversity and habitat conservation. Pallav’s involvement with environmental campaigns goes back to the late seventies when he co-founded one of the first environmental action groups in India, called Kalpavriksh (www.kalpavriksh.org)

As a communications expert, Pallav has designed and launched innovative campaigns, produced incisive documentaries, developed communications strategies, and founded and led both private and non-profit organizations. Pallav has documented some of India’s most pressing development challenges through his film work, including films on violence against women and the threat of HIV/AIDS among street children. As a student of politics and social anthropology, Pallav is keen to help build a productive space at the confluence of ecology, politics and communications. He is currently in the process of launching a website (www.radicalecologicaldemocracy.org) with Ashish Kothari, his colleague from Kalpavriksh, India. The website is an attempt at providing a platform for exchanging analysis, ideas, activist initiatives and news etc. on next systems and attempts at creating alternatives world wide, which challenge the current neo-liberal orthodoxy.

Militant Particularism and Ecosocialism

Brad Hornick

For Ecosocialists, ecological alternatives are not possible within the framework of capitalism, so the climate movement must articulate socialist demands alongside transitional concrete ecological demands and reforms. The intellectual’s role within movements is both to engage with and empower local militancy, but also maintain theoretical distance in order to direct movements strategically. I discuss recent debates within the ecosocialist community featuring Richard Smith and John Bellamy Foster, using David Harvey’s concept of “militant particularlism” to elaborate the paradoxes of ecosocialist organizing (see attached).

Brad Hornick has been a climate justice activist in Vancouver, Canada and is presently organizing with systemchangenotclimatechange.org. He is a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University working on a dissertation entitled: “Climate, Capitalism, Existentialism: Observing the Movement.” His discussion piece is entitled “Harvey, Klein, Smith, Foster: Militant Particularism and Ecosocialism,” published in New Politics, Summer 2017.

Climate Justice as Climate Realism

Tom Athanasiou

This video (and sorry if it’s a bit long) presents a draft summary of a book in progress.  In it, I attempt to lay out the basics of what I see as true climate realism.  To wit, this is an argument for a justice-forward strategy aimed at stabilizing the climate system within capitalism.  The argument, to be explicit, is that we haven’t the time to “get past capitalism” before we can stabilize the climate.  This argument, of course, is based on the climate science.

My core claim is that at the highest level, we only need two things to save ourselves.  The first is indeed a thoroughgoing green technology revolution, but the second is a high-cooperation world, and it’s long past time to focus on the second.  And on the unforgiving fact that a high-cooperation world is not and will never be possible at anything like today’s obscene level of economic and social stratification.

Along the way, I try to hit a lot of bases.  One key section – though it doesn’t work that well without slides – attempts to lay out a typology of the climate justice challenges that are now before us.

Tom Athanasiou is a climate-equity specialist.  He founded and coordinated the international Climate Action Network’s Equity Working Group, which was active in the years before Paris.  Currently, he co-directs the Climate Equity Reference Project, a long-term modeling and policy initiative designed to advance equity as a driver of extremely ambitious global climate mobilization, and is also one of the organizers of the Civil Society Equity Coalition, which remains active within the climate negotiations.

Tom’s principle interest is distributional justice, in the context of an emergency global climate mobilization, which he hopes to live to see.  As a writer, he is the author of Divided Planet: the Ecology of Rich and Poor and the co-author of Dead Heat: Global Justice and Global Warming and Greenhouse Development Rights: The Right to Development in a Climate Constrained World.  He is now writing a new book, tentatively titled Fair Enough? Justice and Technology in the Greenhouse Century. 

How the Unist’ot’en are arresting Pipelines and asserting sovereignty

(Please view both the above introduction and documentary film.)

Leah Temper

Since 2011, The Unist’ot’en camp in North-Western British Colombia, Canada, have been maintaining a check-point controlling access through their territory to stop government and industry plans to build several gas and oil pipelines through their territory. These pipelines form part of an energy corridor that aim to unlock the vast energy reserves of the tar sands and transport fracked gas with disastrous implications for the climate. The camp was established to oppose these projects, to defend the sacred headwaters, the salmon that spawn there and to maintain their autonomy over their unceded lands.

In this presentation I will present a video I directed and filmed at the camp in 2013. It shows how against all odds, the Unist’ot’en camp is succeeding in stopping up to 7 pipelines, holding up billions in investment and keeping millions of barrels (and cubic metres) of fossil fuels under the ground. It also shows how the camp, beyond being a simple movement of resistance, is creating a new intentional community, informed by a millennia old relationship with the territory and natural law, but through a constant process of re-imagination.

The Unist’ot’en camp interrupts the flows of capital and goods, however it is also a space for enactment of a living anti-capitalist and post-petroleum alternative, informed by an ancient system of values on how to create sustainable relationships with the material world and  transformative politics of decolonisation that revalue, reconstruct, and redeploy Indigenous cultural practices through a transformative praxis. This includes the recent establishment of a healing center for indigenous youth and experimentation into low-carbon technologies and ways of being.

Welcome to the gateway of meaningful decolonization.

Corridors of Resistance is an EJOLT Video directed by Leah Temper, edited by Siobhan McKeon and Claudia Medina with camera by Fiona Becker and Leah Temper. It accompanies a report on Climate Justice: Refocusing resistance for climate justice. COPing in, COPing out and beyond Paris Including an article on the camp with the title: Decolonising and decarbonising: How the Unist’ot’en are arresting pipelines and asserting autonomy (Leah Temper and Sam Bliss).

Leah Temper is a trans-disciplinary scholar-activist specialized in Environmental Justice Politics, Ecological Economics and Political Ecology based at the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology (ICTA) at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.  She is the founder and co-director of the Global Atlas of Environmental Justice (www.ejatlas.org) and is currently the principal investigator of ACKnowl-EJ (Activist-academic Co-production of Knowledge for Environmental Justice), a project looking at how transformative alternatives are born from resistance. Previously, she was the Director of USC Canada’s Seeds of Survival Program International, and the scientific coordinator of the EJOLT Project, where she co-edited several reports on Climate Justice and Leaving Oil in the Soil. She has directed and shot several short documentary films about Degrowth, recycler’s movements and climate artivism and resistance.

Q & A


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9 replies
  1. bhornick says:

    Hi Tom, Thanks for your great thoughts. Here’s a passage that piqued my interest.

    “George Orwell wrote a column entitled “In Front of Your Nose” The title is self-explanatory. The big challenges are not difficult to find. They’re like the desperate and the homeless. They’re everywhere. We step over them averting our eyes to get on with our daily lives and now if we would face the real conditions of our lives our real conditions of our existence we have to learn to see them again. The challenge of cooperation is in front of our noses in just this way.” Reading this I think, the way forward is not really thinking up a new “strategy,” It’s more like turning our thinking up-side-down and approaching the world in a transformed way A little like the Gandhi admonition:

    “I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away.”

    Seems to me this expresses the climate justice sentiment. It is both spiritual and strategic at the same time. It refocuses our activism not on a reductionist environmentalism, but prods us to reprioritize, to turn our approaches up-side-down. Move from end goals to process. Without a sensibility conscious of the potential injustice “in the next step we take” at the micro level, we cannot effect the big scope issues, we cannot stabilize the climate system. So our tactics change from zeroing in on “climate policy” to towards confronting power and social injustice in our midst.

    To act narrowly as “environmentalists” without a robust focus on justice is self-defeating. We have been socialized to disregard the emphasis on process. You and I and everyone go about our day, professional life, activist life, being strategic, trying to instrumentally move the agenda forward, while in a material sense, we reproduce capitalist relations in multiple acts, in our privileges, along the way compounding the problem.

    The radical refusal to participate in neoliberalism or capitalism, as you say is robust cooperation, the reinventioin of the collectivity, ‘society’, which in its fundamentals is pursuing equality, democracy. This all provides the basis for the coming together of the climate and social justice movements, as social revolutionaries, anti-capitalist and socialist.

  2. John Foran, UC Santa Barbara says:

    My hope in setting up this part of the conference is to ignite a deep discussion of what ideas might work as we move forward as a movement.

    I reached out to a wide variety of almost fifty activists from over a dozen countries for these panels, and it is my hope that many of those who could not commit to sending in a talk will make contributions to the discussion over the next four weeks. And this includes YOU!

    I’d like to open this discussion by inviting Q and A from or for anyone on any of the talks on panels 1 and 2, which together constitute a multisided exploration of where we might go in the global climate justice movement at this juncture.

    Here’s a question I ask of everyone in the audience: what is YOUR best idea for the movement to consider?

  3. David Jones says:

    Brad’s article is an amazing confluence with my own recent thinking (and that of our loosely organized climate justice collective here in the hinterlands). A quote from Oscar Wilde has inspired some deep reflection and seems to relate to the problem Harvey confronts, as well as Smith and Foster. He wrote: “It is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than sympathy with thought.” The criticism of “abstraction” is part of a long, anti-revolutionary polemic going back to Burke, and I think it coincides with a contemporary anti-intellectualism prevalent here in the States. The very antagonism “free floating (objective) intellectual” vs (particularist/subjective) “lived experience” is rooted in this conservatism; as is the notion such an intellectual might not have a “right” to intervene. Says who?

    I was particularly struck by a sign I saw at Standing Rock which said simply: “No Isms” , as if to say, we don’t require theory, all we need are bodies and activity. As if intellectuals just add unnecessary layers to a simple formula. I heard this same sentiment at a recent round-table organized by Sierra Club, where activists rolled their eyes at our “overly abstract or theoretical” constructions, claiming that “in the real world, we have to deal with such and such….” The current movement paralysis, IMO, has much to do with a rejection of the very notion of praxis.

    I feel there is a fatal condescension on the part of “progressive”, educated activists who will tell you they themselves “get it” ( radical language and theory) but the general masses will reject it due to lack of ability to understand. To my mind, a lame excuse so as not to offend their foundation funders. And I think Naomi Klein displays a bit of this attitude with her dancing around all Marxian analysis. She implies that “Blockadia gets it” ( capitalist crisis) but all those workers/ farmers/ “regular folk” will be turned off, flustered, etc.. Maybe this a Cold War hang-over, maybe too many years of Democratic Party. But I think Richard Smith (himself a carpenter) has the right idea- give it to them straight up, no chaser.

    On the

  4. John Foran, UC Santa Barbara says:

    Looks like you got cut off in mid-sentence, Dave.

    I guess you won’t be too happy with a saying attributed to Bill McKibben that I pull out every now and then: “An ounce of action is worth a pound of theory.”

    Please don’t take that too seriously, it’s not the end of the world (oh, wait, it is). It’s just that some of us DO overdo theory at the expense of grounded activism (I know this isn’t true of you).

    The fact is, in the midst of this crisis in humanity’s affairs, we don;t know what to do. So I guess we ought to be thinking about it (aka theorizing, aka trying t figure out what is necessary, etc.).

    Maybe it’s a storm in a teacup, a bit of extreme weather we don’t need to worry too much about, and let’s all do what we think best, but in a conversation from which we all learn something.

    John “Pollyanna” Foran

    • David Jones says:

      May be regional differences involved as well? It just seems to me that at this critical juncture, we want to make sure there is space for honest evaluation – reflection on whether our actions (and activist playbook more generally) are still effective. I think there is some wisdom in the reversal: “don’t just do something- stand there! (and ponder for a minute). This from a hopeless theory geek ….

  5. toma says:

    Patrick,

    Interesting talk. I like your proposal about a sanctions regime. Have made myself a note to read up on the debate around it. That said, I would add that sanctions have to be seen as fair or they could backfire. In other word, the sanctions should not be against the US, they should be against rogue states, which the US under Trump has become.

    But how should a rogue state be defined? To a first approximation, the question is if it should be a country that reneges on its pledges (a position that Naomi Klein has supported) or if it should be a country that has not pledged to do anything that plausibly amounts to its fair share in the first place (a position that Joe Stiglitz seems to support).

    This would be very interesting to debate.

  6. David Jones says:

    I want to explore a point in Tom’s talk on climate realism, specifically where he says “we don’t have time to”- and here he holds up scare quotes- ” get past capitalism BEFORE we can stabilize the planet.” So we are confronted with a temporal dimension, a time -line, wherein we “make the turn within capitalism”.

    He then offers another piece to this unfolding scenario where “on the other hand, capitalism will not survive the transition”. So- capitalism/rising emissions- then a “turn” – presumably toward lowered emissions and concurrently away from the profit system/ fatally undermining the profit system(?) – and then onward to the Next System.
    So if I have this sequence unfolding correctly, it seems there is a point where global capital is like the coyote in the cartoon who runs off the edge of the cliff and is hanging suspended in non-realization of his predicament. That perhaps capitalism as we know it is finished right now, has run off the cliff- but just hasn’t looked down yet.
    In this sense it seems the revolution is less a question of “before” or after, but of when we set the plan in place and mobilize to “make the turn”.

    • toma says:

      Hey David;

      Thanks for the comment. Let me clarify my position:

      1) We don’t, as a matter of carbon budgets and rising impacts – as a matter of science – have time to get past capitalism. Think about it. The Paris targets imply a pathway in which we global emissions are falling, hard and globally towards zero by mid century. We many have a global war before them, and we may have a major political ruction, but we are not going to have a systemic revolution in which we get past capitalism by the middle of the century. It’s just not going to happen.

      2) Therefore, we have to make the climate turn within capitalism. In some ways this is easy to imagine (creative destruction) but at the same time it’s clear that capitalism as we know it is not up to the challenge. Grantham gives as good a guide to the reasons why as anyone, and this is particularly true because he emphasizes the weaknesses of Anglo-American style, market fundamentalist capitalism. Neoliberalism, in the common argot. In particular the need for a governance system that is capable of rational long-term planning and, at the same time, and economy that is fair enough to actually be, well, steerable.

      3) Would this be enough? Maybe not. It’s possible that the left pessimist (e.g. the Endnotes group) and the green pessimists (e.g. the Dark Mountain people) are right, and that all we can really do is witness the coming catastrophes, as honestly and as innocently as possible. But I don’t buy it. I see no evidence that this is anything other than a political challenge – a massive political challenge to be sure, but one that can, in principle, be met.

      4) Be clear about this, if we cannot stabilize the climate system within capitalism, then we are doomed. But there is, actually, no good reason to think that this is true. What we know is that the world in which we can stabilize the climate system will be profoundly different than this one. This leaves a lot of questions open. In particular, it tells us little about the big political and strategic choices that are now before us. But it is, nonetheless, a decisive social point, because it means, frankly, that another world is possible.

      5) The priority, now, is to understand the key changes, the ones that are necessary if we’re going to survive the great derangement. And to think strategically about how to win them.

      Comments would be much appreciated.

      • David Jones says:

        Thank you Tom, for fearlessly prying open the difficult reality behind much of our abstraction, such as a plausible sequence for how events might unfold. I am old and realist enough to see how deeply embedded the current political economy is on a global scale and have few illusions about the fraught nature of revolution or counter-revolution, though I need to learn more ( here John could help out!) But I also call myself a revolutionary.

        As for “key changes”, I saw Al Gore’s new movie last night with two hundred mostly white, middle class Sierra Club/350.org liberals. Two high school students (just graduated, John would recognize them) were on a panel following and had the courage to point to the fact that the word capitalism was never mentioned and the word democracy was used hesitantly at best, ambiguously, procedurally. The somewhat stunned audience (trained to love Al Gore) applauded loudly, as if released from a weighty taboo. A veil was lifted and for a moment they “looked down”.
        My point is, out here in Montana we are still working on the discursive level, on a critique of ideology, trying to give folks some new language and de-constructing some of the myths embedded in the old. How it translates to on-the-tracks-struggle is, when radicals and liberals unite to stop a coal train, we fight to insert our language in the messaging, to use the organizing space for debate and challenge green capitalist solutions.

        And when we challenge the state of global democracy, we run deeper into the murk, and into the conundrum you also highlight: Is there an actual “politics” wherein we can make that “challenge”? Al Gore, Michael Moore, even Naomi Klein all go back and forth over this sticky question. Did the election of Trump also lift a veil and work to de-legitimize a Spectacular illusion? Or is it the only game in town for creating change, no matter how corrupt? Same with the COP process and Al Gore “saving” the Paris agreement. Does this empower people or have the opposite effect?

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