Protect Planet Earth
Capitalism is a dying system. But like a fatally wounded beast, it is attacking the hands that once fed it. As new electronic means of production throw more workers out of the system and into destitution, capitalists are forced to invent new ways to further exploit both human and natural resources for profit. Corporations are using the State as a battering ram. Most laws passed today by state or federal legislators are actually written by corporate lobbyists for the benefit of corporate shareholders and Wall Street.
Elected officials today no longer pass regulations to protect the health of workers, their communities, or our land, water, air, and other precious natural resources for the benefit of the public. Instead, politicians from both major parties serve capital by sacrificing every last remnant of “the commons” upon the altar of corporate profit and Wall Street speculation. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the fossil fuels corporate-industrial-financial complex.
Since the first Earth Day in 1971, any gains made to protect the environment and restrict corporate polluters have now been reversed or are under serious attack. From the 1989 Exxon-Valdez spill to the 2010 BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, heavily subsidized oil and gas industries have spent a fortune attempting to preserve their profitability. They fund studies to influence scientists and they buy Democratic and Republican legislators alike. The Republican-dominated American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the bipartisan Council of State Governments (CSG) are equally active, corporate-funded bill mills. CSG’s budget is roughly $30 million a year while ALEC’s is around $6 million a year. Both draft model bills and present them to state legislatures to vote on.
As a result, many bills that claim to regulate industry are actually written by the very companies they are supposed to govern. ALEC, for example, promoted a bill to address the issue of public disclosure of chemicals in the drilling fluids used in fracking (extracting natural gas through unconventional hydraulic fracturing). Sponsored within ALEC by ExxonMobil, it was based on a Texas law that allowed energy companies to withhold the names of chemicals to “protect trade secrets.” This bill became a model for states all around the country.
Democrats as well as Republicans collude in this process. CSG modeled the above bill before ALEC picked it up, and the disclosure standards found in both the CSG and ALEC bills were developed by the Obama administration’s DOE “Fracking Safety Panel” formed in May 2011. The panel was stacked with oil and gas industry insiders. The sole “environmental” representative was Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an NGO based in New York. EDF’s senior energy policy advisor and spokesman on hydraulic fracturing is a member of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, which opposes applying the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to fracking. He also is a former executive Vice-President and general counsel for the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association. With friends of the environment such as EDF, who needs enemies?
Working People Lead Grassroots Upsurge
Increasing fossil fuel extraction has led to well-water contamination in fracked areas as well as a rise in cancer, asthma, and other illnesses. As a result there has been an upsurge in grassroots opposition across the United States as well as the entire world. This is not coming from NGO’s, but from working people who have never been activists before. Josh Fox’s 2010 documentary, “Gas Land,” originally filmed to share with neighbors in Pennsylvania, contributed to the groundswell as the destruction spread to Wyoming, Texas, and elsewhere.
This year grassroots groups in Illinois made a last-ditch effort to lobby Democratic Governor Pat Quinn and members of the regulatory committee against passage of Illinois’ fracking bill. They argued that the Illinois law, simply a tweaked version of the ALEC-written Texas law, was far from being the toughest regulation on fracking to date, as the committee claimed. Not satisfied, the groups occupied the governor’s office and pressed for a moratorium until impact studies could be conducted. Nevertheless, the bill passed easily, supported by national “green” organizations, in particular the national Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
In California, a coalition of farmers, nurses and labor (Californians Against Fracking) attempted to present Democratic Governor Brown with a petition for a moratorium with over 100,000 signatures. They were ignored. The moratorium bill was voted down, a fracking bill was passed, and a subsequent poll indicated that most Californians believe the legislature is run by a few looking out for themselves. Coalition leaders have used this legislative process as a first step to build awareness.
In Pennsylvania, two-thirds of voters oppose fracking, causing the Democratic State Committee to support a call for a moratorium. Josh Fox indicates the movement is stronger than ever in Pennsylvania, and stresses the imperative that we present a vision of another way. Actor Mark Ruffalo, member of the Green Shadow Cabinet, is working on green energy banks as part of a “Solutions Project” campaigning for renewable energy.
Other motions such as the anti-Keystone XL pipeline have drawn indigenous communities into the fight to protect the land and water, including the Idle No More movement in Canada and the Lakota and others in the U.S. In the Four Corners area of the Southwest, indigenous members of the Dine and Hopi have organized to stop wholesale destruction of water and land in the Big Mountain and Black Mesa areas by Peabody Coal. Members of the Black Mesa organization have traveled to St. Louis to receive training and present Peabody’s CEO with a list of grievances. They demanded an end to the impact of coal and uranium mining on the native population and the miners’ health, and requested that profits be used to develop solar energy in their area. They also voiced support and solidarity with United Mine Workers miners facing loss of pension and health benefits from the bankruptcy decision favoring Patriot Coal, a subsidiary of Peabody.
Many of these indigenous groups have involved the youth in particular, who have become quite effective in organizing. Protection of water and the public’s right to water are at the heart of these struggles. Water privatization is central to corporate profit plans in the future, especially the use of water for shale oil, natural gas, and coal production, which is increasing exponentially. Governors of several states, including Texas and Illinois, have signed bills essentially to privatize water supplies to ensure industries have first use. In Texas alone, during a serious drought, 30 towns are running out of water as farmers sell their supplies to oil and gas companies.
Alliance of Environmental and Economic Survival Struggles
More and more, these environmental battles against corporate power are gravitating toward alliances with the basic economic struggles of people for survival. In North Dakota resisters to the Bakken Shale drilling are reaching out to homeless people pushed out of their homes by rising rents. In North Carolina, defenders of the environment have joined the 2013 Moral Monday protests against austerity programs imposed by the right-wing legislature. Protection of the environment is seen as a crucial protection of the rights of the poor. Reverend William Barber, one of the movement’s leaders, points out that he is not wedded to the Democratic Party but rather to coalitions that are willing to fight for just causes. “Narrow-minded, isolated agendas aren’t going to hold themselves up as meaningful in the changing demographics of our country,” he said. “A regressive agenda doesn’t fit.”
The people are rising and moving to put their class interests out front. As the grassroots members are organizing against environmental devastation in their backyards, and fighting “eminent domain for private gain” which is destroying or taking their land and homes, many of the major “green” NGOs continue to emphasize an incremental “push back” strategy with Democratic politicians. This tactic is questionable, in light of the fact that the gas industry gave $3.5 million to the Democratic Governors’ Association!
As some leaders pursue the legislative path, there is a growing urgency pushing the movement toward direct action, only increasing when demands for moratoriums and bans are not met. While third party motion is barely beginning within the grassroots environmental movement, there is Green Party involvement. In Richmond, California, for example, the fight for working class demands such as housing and jobs are inseparable from the fight for the environment.
Recent polls indicate the public’s concern for climate change and global warming has declined over the years; however, when a study by Stanford University’s Woods Institute posed the question in May 2010 “What do you think the most important problem will be in the future if nothing is done to stop it?” 25% said the environment or global warming as opposed to only 10% naming the economy. Clearly, we dare not underestimate concern about the economy and its interconnection to environmental degradation.
Protection of Environment Requires End of Capitalism
As new leaders emerge from the grassroots movements, some are questioning the system of capitalism itself. They look for solutions in sustainable agriculture and renewable energy forms such as wind and solar. Recycling, conservation, and anti-consumerism are their mantras.
But as Richard Smith notes in his 2011 Real-World Economics Review article “Green Capitalism: the god that failed”, “…the problems we face cannot be solved by individual choices in the marketplace. Most of the ecological problems …from global warming… to species extinction, are way beyond the scope of companies, industries, even countries. They require concerted, large-scale national and international action. And they require direct economic planning at global, national and local levels. The world’s climate scientists tell us we’re doomed unless we sharply reduce our consumption of all fossil fuels. But even the world’s largest corporations, such as Exxon Mobil, can’t afford to take such losses…Corporations can’t make the socially and ecologically rational decisions that need to be made to save the humans because they represent only private particular interests, not the social and universal interests of humanity, the environment, and future generations.”
Only by abolishing capitalist private property and making it public property will we be able democratically to create the kind of society that produces for the needs of the people, while protecting the environment for future generations. A step towards that goal is to fight for nationalization of the corporations and demanding a government that runs them in the interests of we, the people.
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011