Friday 31 August 2018

The Tory Party is Ripe for Entryism by the Alt-Right

Throughout my political lifetime, the term ‘entryism’ has only ever been applied in relation to the Labour party being infiltrated by far-left organisations and individuals. In the 1970s and 1980s there were constant media stories about groups such as the Communist party and Militant Tendency taking over the Labour party. Which led to, particularly with Militant Tendency, so called ‘witch hunts’ and mass expulsions from Labour.

The familiar narrative has of course been played out recently with an influx of new members to the Labour party leading, in part anyway, to Jeremy Corbyn winning the leadership of the party, twice.

Faceless individuals were said to be ‘organising and exploiting’ na├»ve new, younger members for the purposes of pushing Labour to the ‘far-left.’ The truth of the matter is that these younger members were sick of the Tweedle Dum, Tweedle Dee routine of the Tories and new Labour, and wanted a more radical and fairer politics, from the Labour party especially. Corbyn represented an opportunity to achieve this aim.

This battle rages on in Labour, as the right-wing comes up with more ways of smearing Corbyn, the latest being the summer long campaign of anti-Semitism accusations. Out of the media spotlight though, an organised move to infiltrate the Tory party has been taking place. Encouraged by people like Aaron Banks, the multi-millionaire who previously bankrolled UKIP and its Leave.EU campaign group, ex UKIP members and assorted right-wing racists and Brexit fanatics have joined the Tories. Banks himself has apparently been refused membership by the Tory party. 

Thursday’s London Evening Standard reveals that it ‘spoke to a number of Tory MPs who admitted that over the summer the memberships of local parties have increased by double figures. One in a South East constituency said membership had increased by about 30 members this summer. Another in the North said they had seen 20 to 30 people join.’

‘One Remain-backing MP said their membership has increased over the summer by double figures to over 200, and from meetings with their association executive they know that some people who have joined are hard Brexit entryists.’

Under Tory party rules you need to have been a member for at least three months to be eligible to vote, and with a strong possibility that there will be a leadership challenge to the prime minister, Theresa May, in the autumn, this may have been a well timed tactic. Recent reports, although the Tories have been unwilling to release figures, suggested that membership had fallen to under 100,000, perhaps as low as 75,000.

Which means that only a fraction of the membership surge that followed Corbyn’s candidature for the Labour leadership, could tip the Tories into alt-right mode. Existing Tory members were already moving in this direction in any case so it really wouldn’t take much to complete the process.

We have seen something similar in the US Republican party, with first the ‘tea party’ faction and then Donald Trump’s winning of the Republican nomination for president, and subsequent US presidency. Mainstream Republicans are being pushed to the margins as the combination of small government libertarians, the Christian right and racist organisations like the Ku Klux Klan, has captured the party.

The problem for Conservatives is, in many ways, that Conservatism is difficult to define, and varies from one country to another. As Paul Goodman puts it in a thoughtful piece for Conservative Home, the problem is that ‘a socialist in one country will share an ideology with one in another. By contrast, conservatism differs hugely even between neighbours. A British and French Conservative are very different animals.’

With the UK Tories, even their pro-business ideology appears to be waning, and the old ‘one nation’ Tories are becoming an engendered species these days in the party. All that remains is a nasty patriotism and xenophobia, again as Goodman says, ‘the Conservative Party’s main problem isn’t being infiltrated by the wrong members. It is having too few of the right ones in the first place.’

The only people attracted to joining the Tories these days are exclusively from the far-right of the political spectrum.

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Would Another Referendum on Brexit Really lead to Civil Unrest?

Nigel Farage, the ex-UKIP leader, has been warning ever since the 2016 referendum that civil unrest would result from the failure of the British government to fulfil his particular version of (hard) Brexit. In 2017, he went further saying he would "don khaki, pick up a rifle and head for the front lines."

More recently, Labour front bench MPs appear to be echoing Farage’s threat, with both Barry Gardner (shadow International Trade secretary) and John McDonnell (shadow Chancellor), opining on the issue, with Gardner predicting:

"If people want to be able to achieve change through democratic means, if they feel that that is being denied to them, they then turn to other more socially disruptive ways of expressing their views, and that is the danger here."

McDonnell added “we have to be extremely careful. A number of us now are worried about the rise of the far right in this country and elsewhere," when commenting on the possibility of another referendum on Brexit. Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary has been more positive about holding another referendum though.

Tory MP, Priti Patel went further writing on the Conservative Home website, that the prime minister’s Chequers compromise plan, would lead to people seeking “alternative ways to express their views and frustrations with those who have the privilege of governing our country.” She, like McDonnell, linked Brexit to the rise of the far right in Europe, although there doesn’t appear to be a clamour to leave the European Union in the rest of the bloc.

It is a possibility that some people might feel justified in causing trouble, including violence, if they perceive their wishes are being ignored. On the other hand, there is just as much chance, even more so, I think, that a disastrously chaotic exit, which people like Patel want, with shortages of medicines, food and other things, could lead to widespread civil unrest. Either way, we should plan for civil unrest.

As always with the Brexit debate, there are reflections on the other side of the Atlantic. US President, Donald Trump, has warned that his policies will be "violently" overturned if the Democrats win November's mid-term elections. He told Evangelical leaders that the vote was a "referendum" on freedom of speech and religion, and that these were threatened by "violent people,” meaning anti-fascist protesters, like when Heather Heyer was killed in Charlottesville last year, by a far right supporter driving his car into the crowd.

You have to admire the chutzpah, at least, of a Republican president, accusing the Democrats of frustrating the will of the voters, after all the trouble Republicans gave Barak Obama over his health care proposals, and even further back to the ‘gridlock’ in Congress of Bill Clinton’s Democrat presidency. And, lest we forget, Hillary Clinton, got 3 million more votes than Trump at the presidential elections of 2016.

It appears that democracy only comes into things when certain votes have gone your way in the past. Clearly, more self-seeking than noble intention. The mid-term Congressional elections in the US are just part of that country’s democratic checks and balances, existing for centuries, just like the presidential electoral college system, which handed victory to Trump in 2016.

Likewise, in the UK, as ex-foreign secretary David Miliband has said, and I hasten to say I’m not a fan of Miliband senior, by any stretch of the imagination, when he wrote in The Guardian that “democracy did not end on 23 June 2016.” If the Leavers are so confident that they represent the ‘people’s will,’ why are they so afraid of reconfirming this important decision?

There is another possibility, that a sensible compromise can be reached, but the Chequers plan is not it. I have argued before that joining the European Economic Area, perhaps for a temporary period, is the most sensible thing to do, outside of another referendum. Sensible, doesn’t come into it though, for some people.

Sunday 26 August 2018

Yet Another Appeal for “Green” Capitalism, Annotated

Written by Stan Cox and first published at Green Social Thought

The Guardian recently published an opinion piece by its economics editor in which he argued that capitalism can rescue civilization from the global climate emergency. Here is the full article, interrupted by my responses:

This summer’s heatwave has provided a glimpse of the future, and it is not a pretty one. On current trends, the years to come will see rising temperatures, droughts, a fight to feed a growing population, and a race against time to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.

The struggle to combat climate change brings out the best and worst of capitalism. Decarbonisation of the economy requires alternatives for coal and cars that run on diesel, and that plays to capitalism’s strengths. Innovation is what capitalism is all about, and there has been staggeringly rapid progress in developing clean alternatives to coal, oil and gas. 

The cost of producing solar- and wind-powered electricity has collapsed. Great advances are also being made in battery technology, which is vital for the new generation of electricity-powered vehicles. . . .

This is an often-heard argument: that capitalist economies are going to prevent climate catastrophe because “green” technologies are becoming cheaper thanks to innovation. But all this innovation we’re seeing has only one goal, and that’s to generate profits. And while capitalist economies are able to spin off improved renewable-energy systems or energy-efficient technologies, they’re even better at producing new energy-consuming technologies and products—and those are getting cheaper, too.

Furthermore, those analyses purporting to show that 100 percent of current and growing energy demand can someday be satisfied with renewable sources are based on bad assumptions and flawed models, but even if the “100%” vision were achievable, it would leave stranded billions of people around the world who already suffer energy poverty. Back to Elliott: 

Humans are endlessly creative. In the end, they will crack climate change. But by the time they do, it could be too late. Capitalism – especially the dominant Anglo-Saxon variant of capitalism – has trouble thinking beyond the here and now. People running big corporations see their job as maximising profits in the short term, even if that means causing irreparable damage to the world’s ecosystem. What’s more, they think they should be free to get on with maximising profits without any interference from politicians, even though the fight against climate change can [only be won only] if governments show leadership, individually and collectively.

People running big corporations—indeed, those running businesses of all sizes—seek to maximize profits not because they are misguided, but because that’s their job in a capitalist economy. The common goal of both the private and public sectors is rapid, sustained GDP growth, so the only climate actions that companies or governments are willing to take are those that will not risk slowing wealth accumulation. (When Elliott says capitalism must take risks, he doesn’t mean that kind of risk!) This is why no governments have yet taken the actions that will be necessary to steeply reduce carbon emissions.   

The economist Joseph Schumpeter talked about the process known as “creative destruction” – the way in which inefficient producers are put out of business by disruptive new technologies and that, as a result, transformation happens. During wars, the best brains are employed by governments to produce more efficient killing machines.

But normally creative destruction takes time, especially if the old guard can marshall sufficient resistance to change – something the fossil fuel industry has been adept at doing. 

It is vital that capitalism’s Dr Jekyll emerges victorious over its Mr Hyde. More than that, it needs to be an immediate knockout blow.

Whoa, there’s a lot going on here. He seems to be recognizing that disruption can have both desirable and undesirable results (although it’s not clear to me on which side of the ledger he puts those efficient killing machines.) We often see it argued or implied in the mainstream climate movement that if only we could take down the fossil-fuel companies, the pipeline builders, and the armament makers, the way would then be clear for the good side of the business world, the Jekylls, to lead us into a green future. But the only direction the Jekylls plan to lead society is toward whatever generates the most profit, whether or not it’s good for the climate (and it’s usually not).

In the past, politicians have [only tended to focus only] on climate change when they think there is nothing else to worry about. Tony Blair, for example, commissioned a report from the economist Nick Stern into climate change during the years before the global financial crisis, when growth was strong and wages were rising. Margaret Thatcher only started to talk publicly about protecting the environment when the economy was booming at the end of the 1980s.

That is an interesting observation that warrants further discussion.

When policymakers have other things to worry about, tackling climate change drops down the list of things to do. The Paris agreement in 2015, which committed the international community to restricting global warming to well below two degrees centigrade, shows that the issue is taken more seriously than it was two or three decades ago, but that doesn’t mean that it is a top priority.

The Paris Agreement contains no commitments that would reduce warming to 2 degrees, only wishful thinking. And even a 2-degree increase would be catastrophic.

When times are tough, politicians are suckers for the argument that there is a trade-off between growth and greening the economy. There isn’t. Companies account for capital depreciation when they draw up their profit and loss accounts. If governments adopted the same principle and accounted for the depletion of natural capital when drawing up their national accounts, growth would be lower. In countries such as China and India – where the cities are dangerously polluted – it would be markedly lower.

Here we come to a myth that lies at the core of this essay: the notion of “natural capital.” The great ecological economist Herman Daly has debunked that myth, for example, when he responded to this statement by Dieter Helm, chair of the UK Natural Capital Committee: “. . . [T]he environment is part of the economy and needs to be properly integrated into it so that growth opportunities will not be missed.” Daly wrote, “If the Chairman of the UK Natural Capital Committee gets it exactly backwards, then probably others do too. The environment, the finite ecosphere, is the Whole and the economic subsystem is a Part—a completely dependent part. It is the economy that needs to be properly integrated into the ecosphere so that its limits on the growth of the subsystem will not be missed. Given this fundamental misconception, it is not hard to understand how other errors follow, and how some economists, imagining that the ecosphere is part of the economy, get confused about valuation of natural capital.”

The good news is that in Beijing and New Delhi, policymakers have woken up to the idea that green growth is better growth. China is committed to phasing out coal, in part because it is worried about climate change and in part because it sees an opportunity to be a world leader in green technology. India, although slower to act, is also starting to take advantage of collapsing prices for electricity generated by solar and wind, and has set itself demanding renewables targets.

India and China, already plagued by chronic power outages, are aiming to satisfy rapidly growing energy demand in the coming decades. In India, energy demand for buildings alone is projected to almost triple by 2050 (with a huge share going for air conditioning), while it will rise by 75% in China, which already has the highest energy consumption by buildings in the world. All of that new renewable energy capacity being built in the two nations will supplement, not replace, fossil and nuclear capacity. Emissions will continue.  

But the bad news is that progress towards decarbonisation is still not fast enough. As things stand, fossil fuels will still account for more than 50% of energy consumption by 2050. CO2 emissions will carry on rising and global warming will continue.

Stern says technological progress has been much faster than he thought possible when his report was published in 2006, and he thinks it is quite something that all the major car-makers now accept that the era of the internal combustion engine is coming to an end. “But the speed of action is still far too slow,” Stern warns. “Emissions have to be peaking now and turn down very sharply. We have not yet acted on the scale needed, even though the ingredients are there.”

Stern is right that emissions have to be reduced “very sharply,” but for that to happen, there will have to be an immediate, declining cap on the quantities of fossil fuels being extracted and burned, years before we have enough renewable capacity to substitute significantly for fossil energy. That will mean a steep decline in society’s overall energy consumption, and an even steeper decline in production of consumer goods and services, because a significant share of the fossil fuels still being burned will have to go to building renewable energy capacity.

So now that “all the major car-makers” have accepted that “the era of the internal combustion engine is coming to an end,” we’re going to have to give them the bad news that the era of personal car, however it is powered, is going to have to come to an end. There will not be enough renewable electricity in America to satisfy an energy demand at today’s level, let alone the additional burden of 100 million or so electric vehicles. And, no, ride-hailing and autonomous cars won’t solve the problem.

Winning the race against time requires political leadership. It means acknowledging that the Chinese model of managed and directed capitalism might be more appropriate than the Anglo-Saxon model.

Very true that decision-making can no longer be left to the market, that economic planning will be essential. But if we look to Chinese capitalism as a practical strategy, it will indicate that we’re running out of ideas. Chinese government and business talk a good ecological game, but they also won’t take any action that might slow economic growth. Go to page 10 of this issue of CounterPunch for an interview with environmental historian Donald Worster in which he discusses the current state of China’s “greening” in historical context.

A massive scaling up of investment in clean technology is needed, because the $300bn spent on decarbonisation worldwide last year merely matched the cost of the losses in the US from climate and weather-related events. It also means scaling up the lending of the World Bank and the regional development banks to help poorer countries build wind and solar capacity. And a global carbon tax set high enough so that fossil fuels remain in the ground must be implemented.

A carbon tax is not even close to a panacea. It would simply be an attempt to reduce consumption indirectly by making it more costly. The tax would have to be extremely high if it is to achieve the necessarily steep emissions reduction, and that would place an insupportable burden on the world’s poor majority.

Even if some of the revenue from the tax were redistributed, everyone but the rich would suffer under shortages and inflation, while the rich could afford to maintain their accustomed lifestyles. The only fair alternative to a carbon tax—rationing—would, unlike taxes, directly reduce emissions while ensuring sufficiency for all. But it would have to apply not only to consumers. Production would have to be rationed, too.

And, more than anything, it means accepting that the world needs to wage war against climate change. Powerful vested interests will say there is plenty of time to act, and they are aided by climate-change deniers who say there is nothing to worry about. These people need to be called out. They are not deniers, they are climate-change appeasers. And they are just as dangerously misguided as fascism’s appeasers in the 1930s.

Some climate activists as well have been advocating a climate “war”. (Bill McKibben went so far as to write that we must “literally declare war” on climate change.) What they, and presumably Elliott, mean by “war” is that we should launch a renewable-energy buildup analogous to the rapid development of war production capacity in the 1940s. They tend to skip over the more important features of the World-War-II-era economies in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries: central planning of production and rationing of many essential goods.

Note how in Elliott’s formulation, the war-on-climate-change metaphor allows us to single out as climate-change appeasers a narrow slice of the capitalist world: the coal and petroleum interests and their abettors. Then we can imagine that once those Hydes and Chamberlains are taken down, the rest of the business world can get on with saving the Earth.

But while you’re waiting for that to happen, don’t hold your CO2.

Stan Cox is on the editorial board of Green Social Thought He is the author of Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing and co-author, with Paul Cox, of How the World Breaks: Life in Catastrophe’s Path, From the Caribbean to Siberia.

Sunday 19 August 2018

What Happens When the Alt-Right Believes in Climate Change?

Editors note: This is relevant for UK readers, as some years ago, Nick Griffin, then leader of the British National Party, spoke about the opportunities climate change would bring in terms of challenging immigration for the far right.

Written by Casey Williams and first published at Jewish Currents

Last September, as record-breaking hurricanes thrashed the Caribbean and south-eastern U.S., the white nationalist magazine American Renaissance (AmRen) asked its readers a question: “What does it mean for whites if climate change is real?”

In its bombastic response, the magazine bucked two decades of conservative dogma to offer an ethno-nationalist take on planetary warming. Conceding that scientists might be right about climate change, it worried that shifting weather patterns could drive more black and brown people to the Global North, where whites will face a choice: stem the migrant tide, or die.

“The population explosion in the global south combined with climate change and liberal attitudes toward migration are the single greatest external threat to Western civilization,” AmRen wrote. “[It’s] more serious than Islamic terrorism or Hispanic illegal immigration.”

The magazine’s editor-in-chief, influential white nationalist Jared Taylor, doubled down on AmRen’s position in an email to Jewish Currents. “If continued global change makes the poor, non-white parts of the world even more unpleasant to live in than they are now, it will certainly drive more non-whites north,” Taylor said. “I make no apology for… urging white nations to muster the will to guard their borders and maintain white majorities.”

From Fringe Views to the White House

These are fringe views. But they’re becoming less so. Hyper-conservative immigration policies have drifted from the populist periphery to the White House in a few short years, and conservatives, from racist reactionaries to Rockefeller Republicans, are starting to talk openly about how planetary warming might affect their agendas. In a world where doubting climate science remains something of an 11th commandment for the American right, this shift is significant. Climate change gets a little harder to deny every day, and it’s only a matter of time before mainstream conservatives are forced, by a growing incongruence between their words and the weather, to abandon hard-core denialism.

Right now, a handful of Congressional Republicans, some libertarian think tanks, and a few on the alt-right are the only ones on the right taking climate change seriously, giving them a head start in shaping conservative climate policy in the coming decades.

Liberal lawmakers, meanwhile, seem ill-prepared to go toe-to-toe with conservatives on climate policy. For two decades, denialism has been climate enemy number one. The Democrats’ strategy has mostly involved trying to convince people that planetary warming is real, pillorying deniers as fools, cynics, and oil company shills. 

Perhaps this made sense in the mid-2000s, when “merchants of doubt” were seeding skepticism about climate science to protect fossil fuel interests and stave off liberal reforms. It probably still makes sense as part of a broader climate agenda on the left. After all, it’s a huge problem when top lawmakers refuse to acknowledge the existence of the potentially civilization-ending catastrophe sweeping across the planet.

But it’s not the only problem, and a singular focus on combating denialism has left Democrats and their liberal backers unprepared to do battle with a conservative movement armed with real and dangerous policy proposals on climate change.

The Far-Right

The alt-right is a contested category, and groups typically arrayed under its banner – fascists, white nationalists, right-wing populists, etc. – lack a unified position on climate change: its existence, causes, and effects. Some self-described members of the alt-right accept that industrial capitalism is largely responsible for spiking greenhouse gas emissions. Others blame growing populations in the Global South for rising global emissions, even though there’s little evidence to support this view. Others still continue to question the science of climate change, or downplay its significance.

What far-right climate realists seem to agree on is this: rising global temperatures and changing regional weather patterns threaten to release a flood of migrants from increasingly inhospitable parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East to the U.S. and Europe, causing what AmRen describes as a “climate-driven demographic catastrophe.”

“If you believe in global warming, the obvious implications are that global migration must be shut down,” one commenter recently posted on a Reddit forum devoted to discussing the alt-right’s position on climate change. “All the quickly growing populations must be quarantined or ‘encouraged’ to stop having children.”

Taylor put it (only a little) more delicately. “If human activity causes undesirable climate change, we should not promote global population growth,” he told Jewish Currents, arguing that lawmakers should “promote intensive family planning in the south, especially in Africa, because an exploding African population will… drive more Africans north in search of a better life.”

Nothing scares ethno-nationalists more than “demographic change” – the probability that, in a few decades, more Americans will be black and brown than white. They hyperbolize this shift as “white genocide” (a term with a bloody history), and lament what they see as the loss of white structural power. It’s not surprising, then, that climate change – which indeed affects the poor, marginalized, and dispossessed more severely than most white Americans – inspires racists to fear white decline, and to seek control over the bodies and movements of non-white people.

Actual Climate Change

Climate change is here, and it’s bad. Fossil fuel emissions hit an all-time high last year, which is unfortunate because countless studies have shown that burning fossil fuels spews heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, causing average global temperatures to rise. Indeed, average temperatures have already jumped about one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and we’re on track to exceed 1.5 degrees of warming by 2040, according to a leaked report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

So far, planetary warming has weakened Antarctica’s ice sheets, worsened flooding in coastal cities like Miami, contributed to deadly heat waves in India, and upped the odds of Sandy-like superstorms smashing major urban centers. Study after study shows such catastrophes worsening and happening faster than previously thought, and they’re mostly hurting people who lack wealth and political power.

Among conservatives, climate realism is still a minority view. Republicans are largely deniers, doubters, or cynical backers of the fossil fuel industry. Only 28 per cent of white Christians, who overwhelmingly voted for Trump in 2016, believe in anthropogenic warming, according to a Pew Research Center poll. Trump himself, who once called climate change a “hoax,” not only continues to deny the existence of global warming, but has also pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, opened huge tracts of ocean to oil and gas exploration, and stuffed his administration with climate deniers and champions of the fossil fuel industry.

Doubting climate change remains a constitutive part of right-wing identity, like pandering to the gun lobby or opposing abortion rights. It telegraphs distrust of the “administrative state” – scientists, bureaucrats and “liberal elites” who tell people what cars to drive and how much soda to drink – and preemptively opposes decarbonization policies that would threaten fossil fuel and related industries, which conservative lawmakers often rely on for campaign contributions. 

Indeed, the billionaire donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer, known for bankrolling the Trump campaign and sinking millions into Breitbart and other far-right websites, continue to finance climate denial. Maybe this makes business sense: as political theorist and activist Naomi Klein has observed, cutting carbon emissions enough to keep planetary warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius (the more ambitious goal set by the Paris Climate Agreement) would probably require abandoning neoliberal capitalism. This is not something Republicans are likely to do.

But climate change is now, like gravity, indisputable. The most pragmatic conservative institutions, like the Defence Department, have long accepted the reality of climate change, appreciated its seriousness, and begun preparing. 

Capital, too, understands there’s more money to be made planning for climate change than ignoring it. Insurance companies are “adapting in order to profit from climate risk,” according to a 2017 Harvard Business Review analysis, for instance, by charging more to insure houses located in low-lying areas vulnerable to sea-level rise. Tellingly, Exxon Mobil Corp., which conducted some of the earliest studies on the greenhouse effect, has publicly backed the Paris Agreement and called for a carbon tax.

Some Republican lawmakers are starting to flip, too. Congressional Republicans are stacking the House Climate Solutions Caucus (though critics say they’re just “greenwashing” their resumes ahead of the midterms), and The Atlantic reported last year that a group of Republican House members led by Congressman Bob Inglis is promoting free-market responses to greenhouse gas emissions. Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo, who represents a South Florida district that could see sea levels rise between 10 and 30 feet by the century’s close, unveiled a carbon tax bill in July. 

These members of the “eco-right” argue, contrary to Klein’s hypothesis, that tackling climate change is perfectly compatible with capitalism. They support scrapping emissions regulations in favor of a carbon pricing system – an idea that’s popular with some libertarian groups, like the Niskanen Center.

If denialism is on the way out, can the alt-right influence the nascent conservative climate agenda? It certainly seems possible. Right-wing populists like Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, who rub right up against the ethno-nationalist fringes, have had incredible success smuggling nativist immigration policies from the vanishing edges of conservatism to the Oval Office. 

Xenophobic populism has taken even firmer hold in Europe, where populist governments and vigilantes have met growing numbers of migrants from Africa and the Middle East with tightened immigration controls, harassment and death. If their influence persists, it does not require a great imaginative effort to picture far-right views on climate change leaching into the federal climate agenda.

While the Trump administration has been transforming its “America First” immigration platform from white populist pipe dream to federal policy, shameless racists have been winning airtime and influence. Ethno-nationalist influence on the Trump White House is contested, and of course not all Trump supporters are out-and-out white nationalists. But the two groups overlap on immigration, and Trump’s own rhetoric is often a brackish mixture of dog-whistle nativism and more overt forms of racist hate (Trump once retweeted an account called “white genocide,” for example).

It seems plausible, then, that ethno-nationalist climate proposals could go mainstream. While the Congressional “eco-right” is taking on mitigation, pushing for a free-market approach to emissions cuts, alt-right thinkers are some of the only right-wing voices discussing the ways America will adapt to a changing climate. And they’re doing so by framing climate change as an immigration issue, a strategy that’s likely to play well with Trump and his base.

The latter point is crucial. Immigration and climate change were once seen by conservatives as something like conceptual opposites. The idea was that fretting about rising temperatures was either a liberal conspiracy to swell the size of government or pointless hand-wringing by tree-hugging snowflakes, a distraction that obscured truly pressing threats like illegal immigration and Islamic terrorism. 

Summing up conservative priorities in 2015, Mike Huckabee declared that “a beheading is a far greater threat to an American than a sunburn.” But if conservatives start to believe (wrongly, obviously) that sunburns will lead to more beheadings – or more immigrants taking American jobs – it’s not hard to imagine the right not only ditching denialism, but also using the fact of climate change to whip up support for more draconian immigration measures.

The populist right, in the U.S. and elsewhere, seems primed to accept this kind of thinking. The migrant crisis in Europe, sparked by conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Africa (conflicts rooted in histories of European colonialism, extractive capitalism, and Western military intervention), has been met with a vicious and sometimes deadly xenophobic backlash. There have been good faith efforts to link the Syrian war to climate change. But it’s easy to picture this work getting co-opted by nationalists looking for excuses to halt immigration. 

Similarly, North Africa from Morocco to Nigeria has been called an “arc of tension” – a band of earth so battered by drought, famine, desertification, internal conflict, and centuries of colonial and neo-imperialist violence that it’s ready to snap, pushing more people north. I doubt it would take much for climatic shifts in North Africa, a region already seen as dangerously other and tarred by the right as a terrorist “breeding ground,” to serve as pretexts for far-right efforts to close borders and boot migrants seeking shelter from the global storm.

The Left and Climate Realists

The liberal left isn’t prepared for any of this. Emphasizing climate denial has, paradoxically, been a way to depoliticize climate change, framing it as an empirical problem instead of a contest over competing visions of the future. But the odd fantasy, widespread among the #resistance, that getting everyone to acknowledge the existence of climate change would also get them to support the right kinds of climate action has always been just that: fantasy. It reflects a stubborn faith in both the wisdom of technocrats and the tired liberal belief that knowing better leads to doing better.

It rarely does.

The left, from liberals to Leninists, now have an opportunity to look past deniers and skeptics, and study the ideas and actions of climate realists across the conservative spectrum. Some are doing this, of course. Several scholars have flagged “eco-apartheid” as a likely consequence of climate change in a staggeringly unequal world. Naomi Klein, though understandably concerned about climate denial, has argued that capital is agnostic about rhetoric so long as it can turn socio-environmental crises to its advantage. And the climate justice movement, powerfully articulated by activists and intellectuals from Bangladesh to Standing Rock, has emphasized the unevenness of climate impacts and the need to prepare equitable responses to their many horrors.

Progressive cities, states and environmental organizations are basically ignoring conservatives and pushing aggressive mitigation and adaptation measures, while eco-socialist thinkers like Kate Aronoff and John Bellamy Foster are suggesting ways of folding climate action into broader efforts to redistribute wealth and re-democratize the political system. If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the only American politicians to back plans to keep warming under 1.5 degrees, wins a Congressional seat in November (which she is almost guaranteed to do), proposals for ambitious and equitable climate policy will head to Congress.

In five short years, right-wing populists have marched hardline immigration policies from the periphery of mainstream U.S. conservatism to the Oval Office. Now they’re talking about climate change. If their influence persists, it is not hard to picture rank xenophobia – in the form of stricter immigration quotas, more militarized borders, and tighter restrictions on women’s fertility – taking over the federal climate agenda. The results would be nightmarish. If the left thinks a just response to climate change is still possible, it should take notice of these nativist believers, and prepare to push back. 

This article first published on the Jewish Currents website.

Casey Williams is a writer based in Durham, North Carolina. His work covers environmental politics and culture, and has appeared in The New York Times, HuffPost, The Nation, and other national and local outlets.

Thursday 16 August 2018

Tory Brexiteers Finally Come Up With Alt-Brexit Plan

It is more than two years now since the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU), where of course we voted to leave. It has been a feature, during the referendum campaign itself and in the period since, that those who advocated Brexit haven’t come up with any sort of plan for life outside of the union. What kind of relationship with the EU do they want, if any at all?

Lofty talk of global trade deals and vague sloganising like ‘take back control’ have been the order of the day, but no specifics have been put forward by the loudest cheerleaders for Brexit in the Tory party. At long last, the penny seems to have dropped with these people, that it might be a good idea to have one. However, this plan looks to be purely cosmetic.

I suspect that this has been forced on the Brexiteers for two main reasons. Firstly, they don’t like the prime minister’s Chequers plan, as they see it as not really leaving the EU. Secondly, public opinion in Britain seems to be shifting to favour either a ‘soft’ Brexit or another referendum on the final agreement between the UK and EU, which could well result in a vote to remain in the EU.

Whatever the motivation, the Sun reports that the European Research Group (ERG) of Tory MPs are to ‘ambush’ Theresa May with a plan for a ‘clean Brexit’ just days before the Tory conference in September. A source told the paper: "This is about delivering the clean Brexit that people voted for. No concessions."

The plan is for the UK to have a Canada-style free trade agreement with the EU. But get this, only if the EU drops its objections to having a border on the island of Ireland. If the EU will not agree to this there will be no deal at tall, and the UK will trade on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms, with the bloc.

Canada and the EU have signed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which is essentially a free trade agreement, removing most tariffs on trade in goods between the two trading partners and some more limited access for services. Border controls are still in place for people and goods, so if the UK were to adopt such an agreement, it would not solve the problems of delays with imports at UK and exports at EU ports or the situation with the border in Ireland.

I think the plan is hypothetical anyway, because I can’t see any way that the EU will back down on the Irish border issue. We could have a CETA type deal otherwise, but the ERG have ruled this out for some reason. So, we are basically back to a no deal Brexit, and falling back on WTO trade rules. Hardly much of a plan?

I don’t think any country in the world trades on WTO rules only, but of course in the longer run trade deals can be negotiated, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership which the government has explored joining or bi-lateral trade arrangements with other nations. All of which takes time and skilled trade deal negotiators though, neither of which we have much of.

Under WTO rules, each member must grant the same ‘most favoured nation’ market access, to all other WTO members. This means that exports to the EU would be subject to the same customs checks, tariffs and regulatory barriers that the UK and EU currently charge on trade with countries such as the US. The UK’s exports to the EU and other WTO members would also be subject to the importing countries’ most favoured nation tariffs. But tariffs all the same.

EU tariffs on WTO goods range from zero to 45%, with the average tariff being 4.8%, making British goods under such arrangements, less competitive in the EU marketplace. Of course, costs could be reduced by UK exporters, to cover the difference, but this will almost certainly mean cutting the wages of British workers. Alternately, businesses may relocate to the EU, where it is feasible and advantageous, taking British jobs with them.

The Alt-Brexit plan turns out to be really no plan at all, with even a Canada style deal out of the question if there is no agreement on keeping the Irish border open. It is just a long winded way of crashing out of the EU with no deal whatsoever, with all of the problems that will bring for the UK. And more time wasted on pointless negotiations.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Local Government Finance Proposals Favour Tory Councils at the Expense of the Rest

The government is planning its next change to local government funding in England, with the intention of further reducing the Revenue Support Grant (RSG) and increasing the amount of local business rates that are retained locally to 75% (currently 50%). The RSG is the amount of money that central government gives to local authorities, based on a formula that sees different areas getting different amounts of money, depending on social indicators, things like population, deprivation and so forth.

The aim in the longer term for this government is to abolish the RSG altogether and have 100% of business rates retained where they are collected, but it is debatable whether this is ever likely to happen. The problem is that business rates, although fairly constant, in a recession would impact on local finances directly, as well as more generally. But in any case, the immediate problem now is how to compensate councils for what is called ‘negative RSG.’ This means council’s that will get less money after the changes.

Something I think will need to be put in place to even out regional differences, but perhaps called something else? Given the choppy Brexit waters we sail in, this could become a big problem, especially in places that might fare worse than others. In the interim of 75% locally retained business rates, the sharing out plan looks to favour Tory governed areas, over those run by other parties.

Analysis by the Local Government Chronicle (LGC) (subscription), shows that the preferred new system will see the lion’s share of compensation payments going to rural councils, which are predominantly Tory run.

Negative RSG compensation beneficiaries by political party

Political party          Total due

Conservative            £129.8m

Labour                      £2.9m

Liberal Democrat      £12.8m

No overall control      £7m

The 10 councils which will receive most negative RSG compensation 2019-20

Surrey          £17.3m                Conservative 

Buckinghamshire £10.9m        Conservative            

Dorset              £10.1m            Conservative

Richmond upon Thames £7.5m Liberal Democrat

Cambridgeshire  £7.2m          Conservative

Wokingham           £7.1m        Conservative           

Oxfordshire     £6.2m              Conservative 

North Yorkshire £3.7m            Conservative 

West Berkshire  £3.5m           Conservative 

Cheshire East   £2.6m            Conservative

As you can see, 9 of the top 10 gaining councils under the preferred compensation scheme are Tory.

Concerns about the way negative RSG is being dealt with comes two years after the government’s transition grant controversially distributed £300m funding mostly among Conservative-led councils. Surrey was also the biggest winner under that scheme which sought to smooth the path for councils facing the steepest cuts to revenue support grant, and address concerns about delivering services in rural areas. It followed threats from Tory MPs to vote down the whole local government finance settlement.

Nottingham City Council will see RSG cut by £10m to £25m next year but does not qualify to receive any compensation funding. Deputy leader Graham Chapman (Lab) told LGC: “[The ministry’s proposal for dealing with negative RSG] is a scandalous abuse of public money under the guise of objectivity.”

In its technical consultation the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government said it had “explored a number of possible options for addressing” negative RSG and found using some of the government’s share of business rates income to compensate affected councils “represents the most direct and simple solution to the problem.”

Cllr Chapman said it was “frankly outrageous that the government is once again choosing to bail out councils in better-off areas”, largely in the south, “when poorer councils in the North and Midlands, in areas with higher need, are losing out”.

This comes on top savage cuts to local government grants for the last eight years, which has led to Northamptonshire County Council becoming insolvent and preparing to cut all but statutory services. Other council’s are said to be struggling too, but the government will not change course from the austerity induced cuts to local services.

Sir Stephen Houghton (Lab), chair of the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities, told LGC: “If government are now minded to put additional funding into local government that should be a cause for celebration but when this is done for the benefit of the wealthy few, rather than being allocated where funding is most needed, it brings the whole system into disrepute.”

The government says its plan is the fairest and easiest way to address the result of negative RSG compensation. The technical consultation on changes to local government finance can be found here.  

Sunday 12 August 2018

Capitalism, not human nature, blocking climate action

Written by Naomi Klein – an abridged version first published at The Intercept

The entire August 5 New York Times Magazine was composed of just one article on a single subject: the failure to confront the global climate crisis in the 1980s, a time when the science was settled and the politics seemed to align. The novella-length piece represents the kind of media commitment that the climate crisis has long deserved but almost never received.

Written by Nathaniel Rich, this work of history is filled with insider revelations about roads not taken that, on several occasions, made me swear out loud.
And lest there be any doubt that the implications of these decisions will be etched in geologic time, Rich’s words are punctuated with full-page aerial photographs by George Steinmetz that wrenchingly document the rapid unravelling of planetary systems. These range from the rushing water where Greenland ice used to be to huge algae blooms in China’s third largest-lake.

We have all heard the various excuses for why the small matter of despoiling our only home just doesn’t cut it as an urgent news story: “Climate change is too far off in the future”; “It’s inappropriate to talk about politics when people are losing their lives to hurricanes and fires”; “Journalists follow the news, they don’t make it — and politicians aren’t talking about climate change”; and of course: “Every time we try, it’s a ratings killer.”

None of the excuses can mask the dereliction of duty. It has always been possible for major media outlets to decide that planetary destabilisation is a huge news story, very likely the most consequential of our time. They always had the capacity to harness the skills of their reporters and photographers to connect abstract science to lived extreme weather events.

And if they did so consistently, it would lessen the need for journalists to get ahead of politics because the more informed the public is about both the threat and the tangible solutions, the more they push their elected representatives to take bold action.

Which is why it was so exciting to see the NYT throw the full force of its editorial machine behind Rich’s opus — teasing it with a promotional video, kicking it off with a live event at the Times Centre, and accompanying educational materials.

That’s also why it is so enraging that the piece is spectacularly wrong in its central thesis.

Getting it wrong

According to Rich, between 1979 and 1989, the basic science of climate change was understood and accepted, the partisan divide over the issue had yet to cleave, the fossil fuel companies hadn’t started their misinformation campaign in earnest, and there was a great deal of global political momentum toward a bold and binding international emissions-reduction agreement.

Writing of the key period at the end of the 1980s, Rich says: “The conditions for success could not have been more favourable.”

And yet we blew it — “we” being humans, who apparently are just too short-sighted to safeguard our future. Just in case we missed the point of who and what is to blame for the fact that we are now “losing Earth”, Rich’s answer is presented in a full-page callout: “All the facts were known, and nothing stood in our way. Nothing, that is, except ourselves.”

Yep, you and me. Not, according to Rich, the fossil fuel companies who sat in on every major policy meeting described in the piece.

Imagine tobacco executives being repeatedly invited by the US government to come up with policies to ban smoking. When those meetings failed to yield anything substantive, would we conclude that the reason is that humans just want to die? Might we perhaps determine instead that the political system is corrupt and busted?

This misreading has been pointed out by many climate scientists and historians since the online version of the piece dropped on August 1. Others have remarked on the maddening invocations of “human nature” and the use of the royal “we” to describe a screamingly homogenous group of US power players.

Throughout Rich’s accounting, we hear nothing from those political leaders in the Global South who were demanding binding action in this key period and after, somehow able to care about future generations despite being human.

The voices of women, meanwhile, are almost as rare in Rich’s text as sightings of the endangered ivory-billed woodpecker — and when we ladies do appear, it is mainly as long-suffering wives of tragically heroic men.

My focus is the central premise of the piece: that the end of the 1980s presented conditions that “could not have been more favourable” to bold climate action. On the contrary, one could scarcely imagine a more inopportune moment in human evolution for our species to come face to face with the hard truth that the conveniences of modern consumer capitalism were steadily eroding the habitability of the planet.

The late ’80s was the absolute zenith of the neoliberal crusade, a moment of peak ideological ascendency for the economic and social project that deliberately set out to vilify collective action in the name of liberating “free markets” in every aspect of life. Yet Rich makes no mention of this parallel upheaval in economic and political thought.

Real discussion

When I delved into this same climate change history some years ago, I concluded, as Rich does, that the key juncture when world momentum was building toward a tough, science-based global agreement was 1988. That was when James Hansen, then director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified before Congress that he had “99% confidence” in “a real warming trend” linked to human activity.

Later that same month, hundreds of scientists and policymakers held the historic World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere in Toronto, where the first emission reduction targets were discussed. By the end of that year, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the premier scientific body advising governments on the climate threat, held its first session.

But climate change wasn’t just a concern for politicians and wonks — it was watercooler stuff, so much so that when the editors of Time magazine announced their 1988 “Man of the Year,” they went for “Planet of the Year: Endangered Earth”. The cover featured an image of the globe held together with twine, the sun setting ominously in the background.

“No single individual, no event, no movement captured imaginations or dominated headlines more,” journalist Thomas Sancton explained, “than the clump of rock and soil and water and air that is our common home.”

When I surveyed the climate news from this period, it really did seem like a profound shift was within grasp. Then, tragically, it all slipped away. The US walked out of international negotiations and the rest of the world settled for non-binding agreements that relied on dodgy “market mechanisms” like carbon trading and offsets.

So it really is worth asking, as Rich does: What the hell happened? What interrupted the urgency and determination that was emanating from all these elite establishments simultaneously by the end of the ’80s?

Rich concludes, while offering no social or scientific evidence, that something called “human nature” kicked in and messed everything up.

“Human beings,” he writes, “whether in global organizations, democracies, industries, political parties or as individuals, are incapable of sacrificing present convenience to forestall a penalty imposed on future generations.”

Neoliberal revolution

When I looked at the same period, I came to a very different conclusion: that what at first seemed like our best shot at lifesaving climate action had in retrospect suffered from an epic case of historical bad timing.

Because what becomes clear when you look back at this juncture is that just as governments were talking about getting serious about reining in the fossil fuel sector, the global neoliberal revolution went supernova. That project of economic and social reengineering clashed with the imperatives of both climate science and corporate regulation at every turn.

The failure to make even a passing reference to this other global trend that was unfolding in the late ’80s represents an unfathomably large blind spot in Rich’s piece. After all, the primary benefit of returning to a period in the not-too-distant past as a journalist is that you are able to see trends and patterns that were not yet visible to people living through those tumultuous events in real time.

One thing that becomes very clear when you look back on the late ’80s is that, far from offering “conditions for success [that] could not have been more favorable,” 1988-89 was the worst possible moment for humanity to decide that it was going to get serious about putting planetary health ahead of profits.

Recall what else was going on. In 1988, Canada and the US signed their free trade agreement, a prototype for countless pro-corporate deals that would follow. The Berlin Wall was about to fall, an event that would be successfully seized upon by right-wing ideologues in the US as proof of “the end of history” and taken as license to export the Reagan-Thatcher recipe of privatisation, deregulation, and austerity to every corner of the globe.

It was this convergence of historical trends — the emergence of a global architecture that was supposed to tackle climate change and the emergence of a much more powerful global architecture to liberate capital from all constraints — that derailed the momentum Rich rightly identifies.

Because, as he notes repeatedly, meeting the challenge of climate change would have required imposing stiff regulations on polluters while investing in the public sphere to transform how we power our lives, live in cities, and move ourselves around.

All of this was, and is, possible. But it demands a head-on battle with the project of neoliberalism. Meanwhile, the “free trade” deals being signed in this period were busily making many sensible climate initiatives — like subsidising and offering preferential treatment to local green industry and refusing many polluting projects like fracking and oil pipelines — illegal under international trade law.


I wrote a 500-page book about this collision between capitalism and the planet. I’ll quote a short passage here:

“We have not done the things that are needed to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism.

“We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe — and would benefit the vast majority — are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets;

“It is our great collective misfortune that the scientific community made its decisive diagnosis of the climate threat at the precise moment when those elites were enjoying more unfettered political, cultural, and intellectual power than at any point since the 1920s.

‘Indeed, governments and scientists began talking seriously about radical cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in 1988 — the exact year that marked the dawning of what came to be called ‘globalisation’.”

Why does it matter that Rich makes no mention of this clash and instead, claims our fate has been sealed by “human nature”? It matters because if the force that interrupted the momentum toward action is “ourselves”, then the fatalistic headline on the cover of New York Times Magazine – “Losing Earth” — really is merited. If an inability to sacrifice in the short term for a shot at health and safety in the future is baked into our collective DNA, then we have no hope of turning things around in time to avert truly catastrophic warming.

If, on the other hand, we humans really were on the brink of saving ourselves in the ’80s, but were swamped by a tide of elite, free-market fanaticism — one opposed by millions of people around the world — then there is something quite concrete we can do about it.

We can confront that economic order and try to replace it with something that is rooted in both human and planetary security, one that does not place the quest for growth and profit at all costs at its centre.

The good news

And the good news — and, yes, there is some — is that today, unlike in 1989, a young and growing movement of green democratic socialists is advancing in the United States with precisely that vision. And that represents more than just an electoral alternative — it’s our one and only planetary lifeline.

Yet we have to be clear that the lifeline we need is not something that has been tried before, at least not at anything like the scale required. When the NYT tweeted out its teaser for Rich’s article about “humankind’s inability to address the climate change catastrophe,” the eco-justice wing of the Democratic Socialists of America quickly offered this correction: “*CAPITALISM* If they were serious about investigating what’s gone so wrong, this would be about ‘capitalism’s inability to address the climate change catastrophe.’ Beyond capitalism, *humankind* is fully capable of organizing societies to thrive within ecological limits.”

Their point is a good one, if incomplete. There is nothing essential about humans living under capitalism; we humans are capable of organising ourselves into all kinds of different social orders, including societies with much longer time horizons and far more respect for natural life-support systems.

Indeed, humans have lived that way for the vast majority of our history and many Indigenous cultures keep Earth-centred cosmologies alive to this day. Capitalism is a tiny blip in the collective story of our species.

But simply blaming capitalism isn’t enough. It is absolutely true that the drive for endless growth and profits stands squarely opposed to the imperative for a rapid transition from fossil fuels.

It is absolutely true that the global unleashing of the unbound form of capitalism known as neoliberalism in the ’80s and ’90s has been the single greatest contributor to a disastrous global emission spike in recent decades, as well as the single greatest obstacle to science-based climate action ever since governments began meeting to talk (and talk and talk) about lowering emissions. And it remains the biggest obstacle today, even in countries that market themselves as climate leaders, like Canada and France.

But we have to be honest that autocratic industrial socialism has also been a disaster for the environment, as evidenced most dramatically by the fact that carbon emissions briefly plummeted when the economies of the former Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s.

We can conclude that socialism isn’t necessarily ecological, but that a new form of democratic eco-socialism, with the humility to learn from Indigenous teachings about the duties to future generations and the interconnection of all of life, appears to be humanity’s best shot at collective survival.

We aren’t losing Earth — but the Earth is getting so hot so fast that it is on a trajectory to lose a great many of us. In the nick of time, a new political path to safety is presenting itself. This is no moment to bemoan our lost decades. It’s the moment to get the hell on that path.