The Climate And The Commons: The Case For a Great, Green, Society
Abigail Disney, the grand-niece of Walt Disney, was arrested at East Hampton Town Airport, New York, in July along with 13 other protesters for blocking cars from entering or exiting the parking lot.
It was one of eight actions carried out in the exclusive Hamptons resort area.
The new breed of protestor is extending the environmental message to target the luxury practices that are “disproportionately contributing to the climate crisis at this point,” according to American University social scientist Dana Fisher.
We have all seen the shocking headlines:
We have just lived through the hottest summer ever recorded on Earth.
For the first time ever, Category 5 storms have occurred in each ocean basin in one year.
America has set the record for billion-dollar weather disasters…and the year still has three months to play out.
A new global wave of disease and death linked to climate change is sweeping across a globe that is ill-prepared for the insidious risks to almost every facet of human health.
How does all this climate news link to the “commons” – the campaigns for social equality?
Greenpeace has been saying that the climate and the commons are two sides to the same coin. This is a good observation, but it does not go far enough. Greenpeace is talking about the ability of the lower wage-earners to be able to afford to adapt to climate change.
My meaning is that the social structure we have today – with its continuing concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands – needs to be completely overhauled, and that the climate cause is the sharp edge of change’s razor.
I am not proposing to unify the two; only to use the anger generated by climate change to effect a revolution in social equality. Once that is done, and our society is more equal, climate change will be tackled by everyone, because everyone will have an identifiable stake in the outcome.
According to a report by nonprofit Oxfam, if all planet-warming emissions were attributed to the people producing them, the richest 1% will be responsible for around 16% of emissions by 2030. “It makes a lot of sense for these activists to be calling out this toxic behavior.”
One luxury yacht emits more carbon dioxide than 1,500 family cars. Private aircraft in Europe emit CO2 amounts equal to more than half-a-million residents.
There is a problem with this kind of protest, some warn. Pointing the finger at the rich could give an ‘out’ to the carbon producers by distracting people from their own consumption practices.
Nevertheless, they are evidently moving the needle toward behavior change. France is cracking down on the use of private jets for short journeys, and earlier this year, the Netherlands’ Schiphol Airport also announced plans to ban private jets.
American environmentalist Amy Westervelt makes connections between fossil fuel companies and policy actions, citing for example the fact the six such companies funneled more than $700-million into 27 American universities in the past decade. Such funding can shift research agendas and policy directions.
She made the following observation about the need today for ‘radical’ change on climate policy:
In a nutshell, she observed that if those in power refused to make incremental change over the past 20 years, we are now forced to make radical change.
She makes an interesting link to the cause of wage control, which is now at the same bump-up point of radical change that action is. And the same forces suppressed wage raises over the past 40 years has have been suppressing climate change.
Consider this parallel:
For 40 years the CEOs of the Business Roundtable have fought unions tooth-and-nail, outsourced jobs abroad, abandoned communities when they could make things cheaper elsewhere, cut their own taxes, and opposed legislation that would give everyone better access to health care.
Whole Foods, for example, owned by Jeff Bezos, cut medical benefits for its entire part-time work force to deliver a savings that Bezos makes in two hours of income.
As the bank failures have shown, when a crises occurs the state bails out the financial institutions; when profit occurs, they keep the money. Further, fewer social goods are available to society as corporations have taken them over to sell them to the well-off, that America’s rich have been getting wealthier while paying less in taxes to support the common good.
Inequality is now far wider in America than it is in any other advanced country.
Socialism only happens for the rich in America – the gain is privatized; the risk is nationalized.
The problem the rich have now, is that there are an increasing number of poor people banging on the gate.
And the same is true of climate change.
The storms have been getting fiercer, the temperatures more severe. The world has just gone through the hottest July on record. This is the result of an increase in global warming that has risen at an unprecedented rate of more than 0.2°C per decade, since the start of the industrial revolution.
While that revolution brought many worthy changes to humankind, it also brought C02 emissions and industrial economic concentration.
Many of the environmental protests have seemed futile but public protest has been seen by environmental defenders as being among the most effective and sometimes indispensable tools for raising public awareness in the hope of effecting change. Our social masters frown on it so it must be effective.
There is a burgeoning sentiment of frustration and powerlessness, especially among the youngest generations, at the apparently inadequate government action over climate change. There have been increasing incidents in Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, for example, where protesters blocked streets, motorways, railway tracks, construction sites, and an airport runway.
In India, in line with the G20 Summit, Prime Minister Modi has put climate change front and centre on the agenda – but denies that India has any role in climate change: “India has not caused any problems to the environment.”
Disha Ravi, a 24-year-old Indian climate activist, has a different view. She co-founded Fridays for Future India and participated in the 2021 protests that eventually led to her arrest, imprisonment, and indefinite wait for trial.
Her arrest is just one example in a country that has effectively criminalized climate dissent. Indian officials have raided nonprofits that oppose the country’s coal mines, blocked environmental websites, and criminally charged journalists covering the 2021 farmer protests. Such prosecution is taking place around the world, in the US, Europe, Asia and Africa.
People who perpetrate climate injustice are treated far better than the people who protest it.
In America, older activists blockaded branches of banks that finance fossil fuels, cutting up their credit cards in protest and holding rallies featuring everything from flash mobs to papier-mache orca whales.
Climate activists have massed in front of the White House in “Fight For Our Future” rallies to press the government to cut pollution. Protesters sprayed painted graffiti on Citigroup Inc and Bank of America Corp. offices in New York accusing the banks of being "climate criminals" by investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure. One of the protesters outside the Citigroup office in midtown Manhattan said "I'm not generally a person that likes to go out in the street and do things like this, but I have grandkids and I'm terrified for their future."
There is even a climate protest tracker, which lists the events and objectives of the protests.
The point is that otherwise ‘ordinary’ citizens are getting fired up and are beginning to take to the streets.
That kind of activity has been rarer (thus far) among wage and economic protesters, but it seems to be starting.
In 2022, for the first time, economic protests dominated global protests worldwide.
Amid evidence that protests can influence economic redistribution, rallies are increasing. The formative protest was probably the Occupy Wall Street rally in 2011, triggered by Canadian activists, that is credited with raising the wages of some workers in the food sector. Protests were critiqued by business publications on the grounds that they could negatively impact markets. I’ll leave that with you.
The fact is that the-thirds of Americans today feel that their rights are under attack. Some 70% of adults feel stressed over money. More than half (58%) are living paycheck-to-paycheck. People are in survival mode.
And economists and many millionaires are calling on governments to impose taxes on the world’s superrich, warning of an unfolding “economic, ecological and human rights disaster” caused by escalating wealth inequality.
This demand was made by more than 300 people in an open letter ahead of a summit of the Group of 20 (G20) richest countries in India recently.
Taxing the ultrarich by 5 percent could raise $1.7 trillion a year, enough to bring two billion people out of poverty, according to a report by Oxfam.
Even a tax rate of 3 to 4 percent would generate significant revenues because wealth concentration is so extreme and has grown so dramatically in the past few years.
In Australia a law has come before Parliament that would throw bosses in jail and fine companies $5-million if they deliberately underpaid workers. It is called “wage theft” and it is the most common form of theft in America. It was triggered by the story of a café owner who was badly underpaying staff, and abusing some of them, and who just walked away and left the business and the debt behind. This solution has a nice feel to it…remember the time someone used a mass assault rifle, and it prompted an immediate ban on the sale of such weapons in Australia – a measure that was so effective there has not been a similar assault to this day.
The main obstacle to the implementation of a global tax system for the mega-rich, however, is political, of course.
Frank Stronach – the Canadian founder of Magna International Inc, a multibillion-dollar company operating in 29 countries – has developed a unique “corporate constitution” that shares profits among employees. It could be a model to follow elsewhere. He advocates an economic charter of rights, whereby “companies with more than 300 employees would be required to share 20 percent of their annual profits with employees. A country adopting an economic charter would create a much fairer and broader-based distribution of wealth than any system that has previously existed … The extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of a few inevitably leads to economic domination. We need to break those chains.”
It would be a cause worthy of a few supportive rallies.
And in forming these rallies, my question is this: are the climate change activists of today the same people as those who want wage and social changes?
Are the environmentalists the “sharp edge” of an economic revolution?
I know that people are sometimes discouraged about the size of the challenge when we are talking about climate change.
Do we gain anything by increasing the size of the challenge to include economic equity?
It is truly a fearsome prospect.
But on the flip side: do we have a choice?
Do we have a chance of making serious climate change adjustments unless we include the economic component – tame the beast of corporate greed to re-create our fair society from the 1930’s, and add needed environmental adjustments to it?
Make it a Great, Green Society.
It could fit together so well.
The “Great Society” motif of course refers to Lyndon Johnson’s program of the same name, with aid to education, help for healthcare, urban beautification, conservation, development of depressed regions, a wide-scale fight against poverty, and prevention of crime.
Is this happening anywhere else?
India plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2070. India is the world’s largest country by population and its third-biggest polluter. India’s net-zero achievement could reduce warming by 0.2 degrees Celsius, a remarkable figure for the efforts of just one country.
By putting the challenge to its business community – and by enabling funds to help meet the challenge – India is doing a classic piece of innovation-boosting. Innovation does not happen in a vacuum; it happens when a challenge needs to be met. Far from hobbling India’s industries, the task of becoming a green super-power will propel them forward.
I am going to start a blog next week, dedicated to cases where the Great Society and the Green Society can be shown to be working together - models of how to re-make America in one package.
Can it be done?
There is one guy who thinks the causes are unified:
His announcement was greeted in some quarters with disdain and a call to pay his workers a living wage. So even the well-intentioned CEOs need our help!
Your input would be appreciated on the unity (or not) of “climate and commons” - climate change and social equality.
This article was created and published by Barry Gander, who is completely responsible for its content and images.
To help do something about the climate change and global warming emergency, click here.
Sign up for our free Global Warming Blog by clicking here. (In your email, you will receive critical news, research, and the warning signs for the next global warming disaster.)
To share this blog post: Go to the Share button to the left below.