RCJGC Panel 1

Alliance Building and Root-Cause Analysis Toward Fundamental Systemic Transformation

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Larry Lohmann, The Corner House; Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project; and Orin Langelle, documentary photographer, movement strategist

5 replies
  1. David Jones
    David Jones says:

    Try as I might, I could not deduce the logic in Larry Lohmann’s argument. Far from dismissing the relevancy of carbon molecules, I would argue they have replaced the proletariat as capitalism’s grave digger. Where workers could be co-opted into the algorithm of techno capitalism, carbon molecules resist all forms of persuasion. They don’t care about the big Other. And as much as I appreciate Zizek’s provocations, I can’t see how his analysis of ideology has anything to do with externalities and CO2. Let’s save the biosphere then worry about our desire.

  2. Ryan Connor
    Ryan Connor says:

    While I see the value behind Mr. Lohmann’s examination of western Green New Deal policies, I believe that it represents a noble concept. Government intervention, though currently misguided, can be extremely beneficial to the climate justice movement. Therefore, though it may be ineffective in its current reality, I wouldn’t label it as a failed policy/belief.

  3. Richard Widick
    Richard Widick says:

    Thanks to David and Ryan both for zeroing in on Larry Lohmann’s point that climate movements will be stronger if they can escape the fantasy terms/policies of the UNFCCC — tacitly acknowledging at least that it’s crucial to recognize that the Paris Process and all that came before really do exclude or at very least elide the political question of endemic carbon extractivism in favor of policing carbon once it escapes the ground and invades our human spaces.

    All the offset market nonsense and REDD+ and all of the so-called nature-based solutions might be in the best instances capable of producing certain economic, social and cultural values, but they are not climate action, they do not mitigate CO2 pollution — on the contrary they exist as a kind of complicated life support system for carbon extractivism, for which the real solution is leaving it in the ground.

    Injecting carbon in to the atmosphere and then policing its movement with ever more complicated schemes truly is a dangerous fantasy that’s helping prevent or delay the real reckoning for the fossil fuel companies, private and state both.

    I very much like David’s metaphor of carbon replacing the proletariate as the grave digger of capitalism, but sadly the fact that carbon resists all forms of persuasion goes hand in hand with the fact that it cannot become conscious of it’s own role and therefore cannot become the new subject of a new history that we need to get busy and write right now — therefore it’s up to the movements to take up that role.

    But how can they do that if they’re caught up in and blinded by the fantasy? which blocks them from engaging the local politics required to stop fossil fuel development.

    I also appreciate Ryan’s comment and agree both that the GND is a noble concept and that state intervention is necessary, currently misguided, beneficial to CJ movements, and still not yet a totally failed policy — but I suggest that this is precisely why Larry would be engaging in this conversation — there must be something of value in a thing if one critically engages it in a caring fashion (this is the Hegelian injunction, right? to go into the strength of your opponent’s argument and show how it breaks down on its own terms [immanent critique]).

    Close study of the UN discourse over decades can only conclude that the focus on carbon borders and incarceration is failing and sucking the life out of movements that really should be focused on keeping the oil in the soil.

    The UN discourse in general and the Paris Process in particular has succeeded in helping to Call the climate movements in to being, but they get too much transfixed by the fantasy, too easily co-opted into the carbon market nonsense, too much enthralled with the lingo of ‘cooperative methods’ and ‘nature-based solutions,’ too much distracted from the front line of climate justice where the real struggles to beat back carbon mal-development are taking place right now, for example consider the current unfolding failure of the movements to block the completion of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline, which is set to open another spigot of tar sands from Canada for US processing.

    There is simply no way to coherently stand for Climate Justice and Human Rights while devoting your working life to the Paris Process and still signing off on that pipeline, hoping that you can offset that by planting some trees in South America or whatever.

    30 years of UN climate negotiations have brought us now to this decisive decade in which emissions are spiraling upwards, not decreasing (!!!), and these false, fantasy solutions, put forward by the nations that signed the Paris Agreement and backed by the Fossil Fuel Majors (corporations), are sapping the strength of the movements get their heads straight on this and figure out where the Front Lines of Climate Justice really are.

    The seductions of these false solutions are precisely the realm of ideology.

    We need more, not less, ideology-critique focused for example exactly on the Neoliberal fantasy that the market is always our savior, a fantasy that has largely captured the Paris process and is spreading of the emergent policy domain of climate governance.

    We should therefore really consider one of Zizek’s greatest provocations: Don’t Act! Think!

    [To see a version of this provocation, look up this Zizek clip on YouTube: “Slavoj Žižek: Don’t Act. Just Think. | Big Think”]

    (unfortunately the conference website rejects comments that include links, so I can’t post the link).

  4. Richard Widick
    Richard Widick says:

    Having just listened to Anne Peterman’s short introduction to the above panel for the 3rd time, I’m compelled to say how happy I am that it occupies the first slot in our unusual, pre-recorded format.

    Disclosure: I’m on the conference organizing committee. I watched it and argued for it to occupy that position.

    As I see it, Peterman’s essential point, most relevant for the climate movements, is simply put: Mass Direct Action is required to confront the unfolding climate crisis.

    If there’s one message I would hope conference participants and audiences come away with — that’s it!

    And that’s why our conference Call for Participation requested ‘Concrete Proposals” for radicalizing the movements over the course of this dawning, decisive decade at the climate crossroads.

    Decades of climate negotiations have provided climate movements with a time and place to gather every year, meet each other and celebrate resistance — OK.

    For that alone I’m a great fan of the COPs — for each one is a pedagogical Spectacle of Power & Counter-Power that socializes all of us, brings us together for self-education and for self-development of the tools we’re going to need to survive and continue to resist the insane planet-killing carbon capitalists whose deeply ideological ‘business as usual’ schemes, whether conscious and/or unconscious, have delayed and displaced real climate action for three decades now, bringing us to the brink of the current (not s0?) slow moving climate catastrophe that we’re facing in the 2020s, and beyond.

    As I see it, from my position on the left-coast of California, mass direct action in defense of planetary climate and all of the species that depend on it means figuring out and confronting the Gravest Obstacle to real climate action here at home, in the US.

    And that obstacle can be named simply: accumulated fossil fuel capital, the political power it represents, the politicians it funds via it’s wealthy patrons and its industrial associations (American Petroleum Institute; the Heritage Foundation; the Bush dynasty, etc), and now, especially now, the ongoing Southern Strategy of repressing the black vote by any means possible in order to protect and extend the Republican lock on US political power.

    Make no mistake — white nationalism in the US in general, and anti-black racist voter suppression in particular, today represent the most noxious, immediate threats to the climate system, precisely because these are, among other things, very powerful means to the end of limiting big “D” Democratic power and policy, as well as preventing little “d” democratic renewal of the US body politic — a political body increasingly affected and concerned with the climate crisis, but which concern is prohibited from actualizing policy by the Republican minoritarian lock on power (by which I mean that Republican presidents and office holders at every state level keep getting elected while losing the popular vote; Republican Senators representing sparsely populated rural states represent tens of millions of voters less than Democratic Senators representing coastal urban centers with much higher state populations, etc.)

    Republicans win with racist voter suppression — that’s the lesson of the last 50 years (roughly 1970-2020; the decades of unfettered fossil-fueled globalization).

    And when Republicans win, they serve their oil-capital-masters well.

    Remember the 2016 Republican presidential candidate’s campaign rally cry: Drill Baby Drill!

    It’s who they are. It’s what they do.

    And so the stakes are, at present, unimaginably high, for in the US elections will be held in November of 2022 that will determine the fate of the Biden Administration, and thus the Biden Climate Plan, and ultimately the US role in the Paris process of UN.

    And if it seems that the Biden administration is letting the climate movements down OK — but follow the threads of the Republican opposition back, back through the last administration and through the 2nd Iraq war to the election of Bush 2 over Gore, Bush 1’s invasion of Kuwait, Bush 1’s vice presidency under Reagan and all the way back to Bush 1’s role of Director of the CIA under Ford, the energy crisis, and so on and so on …

    Yes, both parties are implicated in the ascent of American oil capital to entrenched US political power — but one party more than the other, one party providing true leadership to the cause, one party still carrying the torches (so to speak!).

    Our world today cannot be understood without this deep historical-political context.

    Today, climate justice movements must assemble real substantive electoral black power in defense of the actual US body politic, lest it squander that body’s concern for the climate system.

    At least through 2022, and likely through 2024 and beyond, the Front Lines of Climate Justice must include and maybe even prioritize the defense of US democracy from the new (same old same same old) and increasingly authoritarian white petro-nationalist forces that dominate the Republican Party.

    It’s no great leap to think that what worked for achieving formal Voting Rights in the 1960s might be the best approach to achieving substantive voting rights in the 2020s — mass direct action.

    And if this is indeed the case, then…. how best to make this apparent to the masses indicated, and how best to get this ball rolling ahead of the 2022 elections?

    As we have seen in the Case of Chile, well introduced by Orin in the last presentation of the above panel, the power and potential of mass direct action is evident.

    But every case is different, so … presently, in the US case, What is to be done?

  5. Larry Lohmann
    Larry Lohmann says:

    Thanks, everybody, for the comments. I’m happy to give my all to engaging with them in the caring fashion that Richard rightly advocates.

    David’s comment helped remind me that carbon can be fetishized not only as criminal immigrant but also as anticapitalist savior. In my view, both fetishes are equally getting in the way of climate action and the project of “saving the biosphere”.

    As I suggested in my talk, the view of capital (and of most IPCC scientists, the UNFCCC and, unfortunately, countless Northern climate activists) is that the cause of the climate crisis is rogue carbon dioxide molecules crossing the border into the atmosphere. Accordingly, they hold that cracking down hard on molecule immigration will solve the problem, whether through renewable energy, net zero schemes, or whatever, without our having to bother our heads about capital accumulation. I find myself unable to agree with this view. As Richard nicely puts it, merely setting up vast arrays of militarized border posts to restrict the movements of carbon compounds is nothing more than a “complicated life support system” for the colonialist extractivism that has been intrinsic to industrial capitalism since the 19th century. Which is why capital favors the idea. Actually-existing, industrial-scale renewable energy, meanwhile, remains, in the words of Alexander Dunlap, merely “fossil fuel plus”.

    Unfortunately, carbon dioxide molecules, if they are not the villains of the piece, can’t be converted into anticapitalist warriors, either. Capital qua capital doesn’t care about carbon building up in the atmosphere, about global warming, nor about the end of earthly life as we know it. What concerns it, as capital, is the ability to accumulate surplus for a little bit longer via the degradation of successive frontiers of living work. Capital qua capital is not worried about the immutable physics and chemistry of climate change, nor about incorruptible carbon dioxide molecules zipping around with imaginary fierce frowns on their faces. It is worried about what it has always been worried about: the resistance of labor, the resistance of antiextractivist movements, the resistance of women, alliances between black and white, alliances between ordinary people in the South and the North, and all the other forms of resistance that are an inescapable part of the capacity to perform work that it needs to exploit. Slighting this resistance in favor of a faith in the persuasive powers of fetishized carbon compounds can only undermine climate action.

    Richard is also correct to suggest that I am not dismissing the Green New Deal, as Ryan implies, so much as trying to engage with its presuppositions and social bases in a way that might help push its proponents toward a more constructively movement-building path. The point is that the GND, as currently conceived, is an essentially unilateral initiative that that has yet to engage meaningfully with thermodynamics, with critical commentary on its historical precedent in the old New Deal, with the critique of the commensurated Big-E Energy that was developed in the 19th century, and above all with the views of communities in the global South and elsewhere who are bearing the brunt of the reloaded extractivism and labor exploitation that is central to the current GND’s plan to advance an essentially fossil capitalist energy economy, only without fossils. As it stands, that is, the GND remains as of 2021 a “white” project being developed in extreme isolation from the global technopolitical realities that are most relevant to it.

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