Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Fate of the Planet? A Minor Issue to Ruling Classes, a Major Issue for the People

A report of great importance to the earth and its inhabitants was released last week and promptly buried in U.S. media for events of "greater importance," or at least events that serve the two central purposes of mass media in capitalist countries, that is, to both make money by by presenting material that provokes interest and entertains but requires no understanding(a little bit like flavor enhanced potato chips and other junk food in comparison to a serious meal) and to sustain the dominant ideology, to "teach" the public the required lessons about the world they live in.

Another week passed with Hugo Chavez getting denounced in mainstream media for oppressing Venezuelan youth and moving in the direction of a "totalitarian" dictatorship, Vladimir Putin (still an anti-Communist in the real world) being portrayed as as a "neo Stalinist" suppressing intellectual and cultural freedoms while artists who were previously praised as anti-Soviet critics are now mocked for "selling out" as they become loyal Putin men (I guess these print and electronic propagandists never quite grasped that their Russian counterparts wouldn't see that the meaning of "freedom" for Russia as complete subordination, not a Russian capitalist regime, like Putin's with ambitions to become a business competitor and big power player, not a passive supporter of the U.S. NAT0 bloc, once the Soviet Union was destroyed and the anti-Sovietism which made them into "heroes" in capitalist media was no longer relevant).

The situation in Iraq is getting better one day and worse the next, Iraq government figures on "returnees" those who fled for their lives but are now coming back to the country) are hailed one day as tangible evidence of progress (a live version of the body counts of the Vietnam war) and disputed the next, the U.S. military plans to "rely more" on Iraq government estimates of the violence in the country, even though no one, including the U.S. military, if one reads the official record, trusts those figures. And these are the serious stories for the college educated sections of the masses.

The general population get sensationalistic reports of the murder of a professional football player, the adventures of the Republican candidates as they compete with each other to look like an Arnold Schwarzenegger action adventure movie hero in the "war against terrorism," human interest stories about Hillary and Obama (but virtually nothing about John Edwards, the former Vice Presidential candidate who has positioned himself to the left of the Hillary and Obama, has significant labor support, and is largely invisible in general media. As for Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the runaway favorite of serious progressives and the serious issues of the day (albeit a candidate with very limited resources and chances of getting the nomination, unlike Edwards) he is completely invisible.

Then of course there is the television writers strike, which may cut off new series programming, which might lead to panic attacks among segments of the population that really do use television the way of media critic once contended that millions do, as a plug in drug. Finally, there is the steroids investigation and the fate of Barry Bonds.

I have presented this extensive picture of events that most news paper readers and television watchers do know about in order to deal with the report that most have never heard of. Last week the United Nations released its annual Human Development report in Brasilia, Brazil. The report can be accessed at

The report makes the enormously important point that the increasing emission of greenhouse gasses that are central to the global warming crisis threatens to bring about increasing devastation for the poor countries of the world, particularly those in the Southern hemisphere and in equatorial regions. Droughts, floods, in effect, the equivalent of multiple Hurricane Katrinas for societies with a infinitely less resources to cope with such catastrophes than the U.S. (which turned Katrina into a far greater and continuing disaster than it could and should have been because of the Bush administration's policies, not a lack of resources).

Rather than smugly condemning India and particularly China for the greenhouse gasses emitted because of their increased industrialization, the report focuses on the rich countries failures to assist poor countries in adapting their infrastructures to the dangers they face through climate change which the Bush administration has spent six years largely denying. Specifically, a UN sponsored and internationally ratified agreement to provide such assistance which dates from 1992 has so far produced a very paltry twenty six million dollars in aid. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa noted, "people are left to sink or swim with their own resources," producing an "adaptation apartheid," meaning that the rich countries who have produced problem have the resources or at least think they do to protect themselves while the poor countries to whom the problem has been exported are given a policy which for all practical purposes wishes them good luck.

The usual talking heads of establishment conservative economists attacked the report for, in its call for international cooperative regulation and the development of alternative technologies to reduce emissions, undermining "growth" in the poor countries, advocating policies that would lead to greater poverty. not to mention the contention that increased population growth among the poor (which "growth" and a larger "middle class" would curb) is itself a major source of the increased environmental dangers, either as a substitute or a supplement to global warming, depending on how conservative the establishment economists are.

To dispense quickly with these criticisms, one might note that the last decades of the 20th century saw unprecedented "growth" on paper along with a huge increase in real poverty in the poor countries and income
stagnation in the rich countries. The argument that people are better off facing floods and droughts without serious protection rather than adapting through regulation their resources to protect themselves because it might lead to a decline in investment and "growth" reminds me of Herbert Spencer, the Social Darwinist philosopher of the 19th century, contending that while regulating through legislation conditions in coal mines might reduce the number of deaths among miners, it would ultimately lead to a reduction in coal production, which would lead to greater suffering for the poor. The argument that increased population not human economic activity and vast institutional inequalities is the source or a major part of the problem is of course, reminiscent of Thomas Malthus, whose world view, like Spencer's, led to the "adaptation apartheid" that Archbishop Tutu condemned.

Notwithstanding the establishment critiques that the plan would vastly too much money, create a global economic crisis, it is an important expression of progressive thought and policy planning on one of the central issues that humanity faces in the 21st century, one that deserves widespread discussion and support.

The report advocates an immediate and extensive investment global investment to begin to seriously reduce emissions in a planned way, rather than continued pious statements and inaction. Kevin Watkins, a United Nations official who is one of the principle authors of the study, summed it up when he said that "the bottom line is that the global energy system is out of alignment with the ecological systems that sustain our planet....realignment will take a fundamental shift in regulation, market incentives, and international cooperation."

One might note that the report and its policy suggestions are very much in line with the thinking of pioneering ecologist and socialist Barry Commoner, who began to make these arguments as early as the 1960s. They have now been widely accepted among scientists, social scientists, and large sections of public opinion through the world. Implementing them, cooperating with China especially and other developing nations rather than using them as scapegoats, is necessary today. However, implementing this report will require a "fundamental shift" away from the anti-regulation, anti-public sector policies and quasi-religious worship of "free markets" and "growth" as as the solution to all problems rather than their source. That "fundamental shift," although the authors of the report do not say it or I would imagine even consciously believe it, will have to be in the direction of global socialism.

Norman Markowitz

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