Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 17, 2015

Water, capitalism and catastrophism

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,fracking,Global Warming — louisproyect @ 2:47 pm

Living Under the Shadow of a Sixth Extinction

Water, Capitalism and Catastrophism


Two films concerned with water and environmental activism arrive in New York this week. “Groundswell Rising”, which premieres at the Maysles Theater in Harlem today, is about the struggle to safeguard lakes and rivers from fracking while “Revolution”, which opens at the Cinema Village next Wednesday, documents the impact of global warming on the oceans. Taking the holistic view, one can understand how some of the most basic conditions of life are threatened by a basic contradiction. Civilization, the quintessential expression of Enlightenment values that relies on ever-expanding energy, threatens to reduce humanity to barbarism if not extinction through exactly such energy production.

This challenge not only faces those of us now living under capitalism but our descendants who will be living under a more rational system. No matter the way in which goods and services are produced, for profit or on the basis of human need, humanity is faced with ecological constraints that must be overcome otherwise we will be subject to a Sixth Extinction. Under capitalism, Sixth Extinction is guaranteed. Under socialism, survival is possible but only as a result of a radical transformation of how society is organized, something that Marx alluded to in the Communist Manifesto when he called for a “gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.”

read full article

April 8, 2015

Naomi Klein, Jodi Dean and the debate over “Green Keynesianism”

Filed under: economics,Global Warming,Green Party,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 6:40 pm

this changes everything

Despite its obvious intention to challenge the corporate-dominated status quo, some Marxists fault Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything” for supposedly straddling two opposing and mutually exclusive systems: capitalism and socialism. For every criticism, there has been a defense of “This Changes Everything” from other Marxists, including those who have had long-standing affinities with the critics–thus demonstrating that deep divisions do not have to stand in the way of a unified movement. As such, the debate is a reminder that as long as our primary focus is on challenging capitalist rule, there is no reason why we cannot air out our differences in the public arena without the schisms that have harmed out movement in the past.

In a December 30, 2014 Jacobin article, Sam Gindin praises Klein for attacking capitalism as the source of climate change but faults her for leaving too much “wriggle room” for capitalist reform. By hammering away at “villains” such as the Koch brothers et al, the left can effectively let the system off the hook. While Gindin does not identify her as a Keynesian—the term that is widely identified with the leftwing policy studies base of the Democratic Party—he leaves the impression that she is not much different than Bill McKibben. When he writes that “It is one thing to ask how we can organize ourselves better to register our dissatisfaction and to pressure or lobby corporations and states to modify some of their ways within capitalism”, it is clearly a warning that Klein’s agenda is one of capitalist reform.

read full article

September 2, 2014

A Return to Rockaway

Filed under: Ecology,energy,fracking,Global Warming — louisproyect @ 10:45 pm

This is a video I recorded last weekend in Rockaway, Queens—the epicenter of Hurricane Sandy. It is a follow-up to the video I made in November 2012, shortly after the hurricane had inflicted major damage in Rockaway including the deaths of local residents.

It is a report both on how the peninsula has recovered as well as the threats now posed by a natural gas pipeline being installed underneath Rockaway as part of a nationwide network built by the Williams Company, an outfit that can be described as the BP of natural gas pipelines.

April 13, 2013

The Koch brothers hedge their bets

Filed under: energy,fracking,Global Warming — louisproyect @ 10:27 pm

Richard and Elizabeth Muller

There must be something wrong with me. Here I am at the age of 68 still getting worked up over some Koch brother’s funded op-ed piece in the NY Times. If I had stopped reading newspapers 33 years ago after dropping out of the SWP, maybe I could have launched a career writing fiction. What is it that they recommend for people like me? A chill pill?

The offending piece is titled “China Must Exploit its Shale Gas”. My first reaction was to wonder if it was some kind of onion.com spoof. Not a day goes by without a disaster in China attributable to some profit-driven shortcut. Some reminders. The 2008 Sichuan earthquake caused 7000 inadequately constructed schoolhouses to collapse, thus costing the lives of 5000 children and another 15000 injured. As predicted, the Three Gorges Dam has had a terrible environmental impact, producing erosion on 80 percent of the adjacent land. One last instance to dramatize how risky it is for China to “dig deep” for any resource, including coal. Although producing just 35% of the world’s coal, China is responsible for 80% of coal miner fatalities. For example, a gas explosion at the Nanshan mine on November 13, 2006 killed 24 people. The mine, like so many, was operating without any safety license.

The op-ed piece written by one Elizabeth Muller encourages Obama’s pro-fracking and pro-nuke (what? You were expecting a Green?) Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz to push China to go full blast in hydrocracking (ie., fracking) since this would alleviate global warming. As China’s chief energy source right now is coal, this would cut down on greenhouse gases. I guess that makes sense given China’s current situation–exchange air pollution and climate change for carcinogenic, flammable water.

At the bottom of the article, Ms. Muller is identified as the co-founder and executive director of Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit research organization focused on climate change. Gosh, as the head of something called Berkeley Earth, you’d expect her least of all to be wearing Birkenstocks and driving a Prius. But more importantly, that branding would ensure her to be Greener than Green, right?

Being an inveterate “cui bono” investigator, I went to the Berkeley Earth website and checked out the donor page, which is divided into three “phases”. Guess what? In phase one, they got $150,000 from the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the largest chunk. Bill Gates’s Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research kicked in another hundred thou. A brief search revealed that Gates’s main interest in all this is to promote geoengineering. An opinion piece by Naomi Klein on October 27, 2012 described Gates’s stake in this jury-rigged technology:

Bill Gates has funneled millions of dollars into geoengineering research. And he has invested in a company, Intellectual Ventures, that is developing at least two geoengineering tools: the “StratoShield,” a 19-mile-long hose suspended by helium balloons that would spew sun-blocking sulfur dioxide particles into the sky and a tool that can supposedly blunt the force of hurricanes.

She adds:

 The geopolitical ramifications are chilling. Climate change is already making it hard to know whether events previously understood as “acts of God” (a freak heat wave in March or a Frankenstorm on Halloween) still belong in that category. But if we start tinkering with the earth’s thermostat — deliberately turning our oceans murky green to soak up carbon and bleaching the skies hazy white to deflect the sun — we take our influence to a new level. A drought in India will come to be seen — accurately or not — as a result of a conscious decision by engineers on the other side of the planet. What was once bad luck could come to be seen as a malevolent plot or an imperialist attack.

 Ms. Muller’s husband Richard founded Berkeley Earth and now is the institute’s Science Director. Doing a bit of research on him, you discover from Wikipedia that he is the director of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project that Koch funds as well. But interestingly enough, that project confirmed that temperatures were rising despite suspicions that it would fall within the skeptic’s camp.

This of course has some bearing on Elizabeth Muller’s op-ed piece that accepts the science but proposes a remedy that will likely kill the patient—mother earth. The only conclusion you can be left with is that the Koch Brothers are hedging their bets. If governments move more and more in the direction of eliminating “dirty” greenhouse emitting energy sources like coal, then why not push natural gas and hydrocracking?

Tina Casey of Triplepundit.com ties everything together and puts a red ribbon around it:

 The green blogs were buzzing last week with news of a new bombshell report that affirms the role of human activity in global warming. Studies affirming climate science are nothing new to say the least, but this one was produced through the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project (BEST), under the auspices of well known climate skeptic Richard A. Muller. The kicker is that BEST is partly funded by the Koch brothers, who have become notorious for their financial support of the “climate change denial machine.”

Hence the bombshell, and with it a lesson in the perils of corporate funding  for scientific research. But is it really a bombshell? Take a closer look at some of the Koch brothers’ energy investments and pair that with another BEST funder, and it’s clear that the new study works in favor of the Koch interests, not against them.

The Koch brothers and natural gas

First off, it’s important to note that not all fossil fuels are due for a quick and brutal end once the so-called climate “skeptic” movement is neutralized.

Fossil fuels will continue to feature prominently in the U.S. energy landscape during a transitional period to low-carbon energy, and proponents of natural gas have positioned this particular fuel to play a key role in the transition, based on the idea that it is “cleaner” than other fossil fuels.

It’s also worth noting that natural gas is not necessarily deserving of this advantage, at least not when it is obtained through fracking.  Fracking is a highly controversial drilling method that involves pumping a toxic chemical brine underground. It has been linked to water contamination, greenhouse gas emissions, and even earthquakes.

Be that as it may,  Koch Industries is heavily involved in natural gas, as detailed in an article last spring by Lee Fang in the Republic Report. Its recent activities in the natural gas industry focus on services for fracking operations including pipelines, storage, processing, and supplies.

BEST, Novim and natural gas

That pretty much explains why the new report from BEST is not such bad news for the Koch brothers after all.

In fact, the report is not such bad news for the natural gas industry as a whole, judging by another major funder behind BEST, a non-profit organization called Novim.

According to its website, Novim initiated and sponsored BEST in line with its stated mission, which is “to provide clear scientific options to the most urgent problems facing mankind.” Novim’s mission also focuses on cost/benefit analyses, and it claims to report its findings “without advocacy or agenda.”

That’s all well and good, but Novim’s news page currently leads off with an Associated Press article asserting that evidence of water contamination and public health impacts from gas drilling is “sketchy and inconclusive.”

Other featured articles include a New York Times piece touting increased natural gas production (with a veiled reference to new fracking technology) as a critical factor in carbon emissions management, and a love letter to fracking in the form of a Yale study review published in Forbes.

Aside from BEST, Novim is also involved in at least one other research project with implications for the natural gas industry, an analysis of methane leakage from natural gas drilling. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and critics argue that the leakage effectively neutralizes the low-carbon advantage that natural gas is supposed to have over other fossil fuels.

He who laughs last, laughs BEST…

As for the methodology behind BEST, some critics are already lining up to shoot it down but according to a recent article in The Guardian, others are having themselves a bit of a chuckle over it. For all the media firestorm surrounding BEST, so far it pretty much confirms conclusions about global warming that had already achieved general acceptance back in the 1990′s.

At any rate, regardless of the science it’s a win-win for the Koch brothers. Either the critics are right and BEST contributes little or nothing to the body of climate science, or it is a valid study that happens to support Koch Industries’ investments in the natural gas industry.

Who’s laughing now?

November 8, 2012

A trip to post-Hurricane Sandy Rockaways

Filed under: disasters,Global Warming — louisproyect @ 7:45 pm

November 2, 2012

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Filed under: Global Warming,Green Party — louisproyect @ 3:08 pm

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March 21, 2012

The Island President

Filed under: Film,Global Warming — louisproyect @ 7:29 pm

My first inkling that there was something a bit “off” about The Island President, a documentary opening at the Film Forum in NYC on March 28, was when the opening credits revealed that the Ford Foundation was a co-producer. Since the film is a profile of recently deposed Maldives Islands president Mohamed Nasheed’s efforts to reverse the global warming that is threatening to turn his country into a new Atlantis, I had to wonder how such mainstream backing would influence the film’s editorial content.

The Island President is directed by Jon Shenk, who is best known for Lost Boys of the Sudan, a film that deals with the problems two Sudanese youth have adjusting to American life. This is a deeply moving film that thankfully eschews Nicholas Kristof moralizing about Sudan’s civil wars despite the fact that they were fleeing Janjaweed violence.

After seeing some of the obvious mainstream environmentalist bias of The Island President, I did a bit more investigation of Shenk’s previous work and was disconcerted but not that surprised to learn that he co-directed Democracy Afghan Style, a documentary shot in 2003-2004that features Larry Sampler, described on Shenk’s website as “a logistical expert whose military precision is balanced by a hard-won understanding of how things can go wrong in the field.” In fact Sampler is a long-time USAID functionary, part of the killing machine that has made life miserable for the average Afghan.

Notwithstanding all these warning signs, The Island President is a stunning look at what amounts to the canary in the coal mine when it comes to climate change. If there is a rise of three feet in sea level, the Maldives will be completely inundated. You can imagine the impact of a tsunami there, as the one that occurred in 2004. But even more threatening would be a “normal” rise in sea level that would have little impact on, for example, most cities in the imperialist North. But not every city would be immune, as President Nasheed pointed out when he arrived in New York for a speech to the United Nations. The island of Manhattan is at about the same sea level as his nation’s capital. Just this week the N.Y. Times reported about the danger that New York and other coastal cities faced:

About 3.7 million Americans live within a few feet of high tide and risk being hit by more frequent coastal flooding in coming decades because of the sea level rise caused by global warming, according to new research.

If the pace of the rise accelerates as much as expected, researchers found, coastal flooding at levels that were once exceedingly rare could become an every-few-years occurrence by the middle of this century.

By far the most vulnerable state is Florida, the new analysis found, with roughly half of the nation’s at-risk population living near the coast on the porous, low-lying limestone shelf that constitutes much of that state. But Louisiana, California, New York and New Jersey are also particularly vulnerable, researchers found, and virtually the entire American coastline is at some degree of risk.

“Sea level rise is like an invisible tsunami, building force while we do almost nothing,” said Benjamin H. Strauss, an author, with other scientists, of two new papers outlining the research. “We have a closing window of time to prevent the worst by preparing for higher seas.”

Mohamed Nasheed was Maldive’s Nelson Mandela, leading a 20 year pro-democracy movement against the brutal kleptocracy run by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. After suffering torture and repeated imprisonments with long periods of solitary confinement, he was elected president in 2008.

Of all the urgent tasks a reform administration was facing, catastrophic flooding was at the top of the list. In a cabinet meeting, he told his appointees that the world had to understand that Maldives was like Vietnam. Global warming was like communism. Unless it was stopped in the Maldives, dominoes would fall everywhere else—a remark that evoked embarrassed laughter from a top official who apparently had a better sense of recent history than the President. When Nasheed drew the same analogy in a speech to the United Nations, one could hardly escape the feeling that his worldview was far too much in line with Cold War mythologies, a weakness that would inevitably shape his approach to Climate Change.

This was confirmed by the role he played at the Copenhagen Conference that amounted to taking sides against India and China for selfishly putting their own development needs above those of the planet. While India and China’s rulers have as about as much regard for sustainable development as do the imperialist powers, they rightfully make the point that their nations are not nearly as responsible for greenhouse gases as the U.S. and other advanced countries. In an article titled Rich Countries Sabotaging Climate Talks that appeared in the October 5, 2009 Guardian, John Vidal observed:

The G77 plus China group is incensed that rich countries appear to be seeking to establish a new agreement that would force developing countries to cut emissions, but allow rich countries to do little.

In the talks, the US has said it wants a new approach which would move away from a legally binding world agreement to one where individual countries pledged cuts in their national emissions without binding timetables and targets. It is a change from the top down approach of Kyoto, in which total emissions targets are determined by the science, to one in which individual countries pledge their own emissions cuts.

This is seen as undermining the Kyoto framework, which took many years to build, and has until now been the foundation for committing all countries to cut their emissions. The US team in Bangkok declined to respond to today’s criticism.

Developed countries have so far refused to show their hand on what their emission cuts should be. The UN’s Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that to keep below a 2C rise in temperatures they need to cut their emissions by 25-40% by 2020, compared with 1990 levels. But developing countries are calling for an aggregate cut of at least 40%.

But with fewer than 10 days of formal negotiations left before the Copenhagen talks begin, poor countries are complaining that they are being expected to cut emissions but the US and others are being allowed to get away with minimal cuts.

The film is more urgent than ever in light of the coup that removed Mohamed Nasheed from office on February 7th this year. Although he was replaced by his vice president Mohammed Waheed Hassan, there are suspicions that the military was acting at the behest of the former dictator. Reporting in the N.Y. Times and Washington Post have been singularly useless at pinpointing the exact causes.

In one of the more spurious takes on the coup, the Wall Street Journal blamed Islamists:

This paradise for wealthy tourists has shown a very different face in recent days, where hard-line Islam is an increasing part of the political scene and played a role in overthrowing the democratically elected government.

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s ouster of President Mohamed Nasheed, his political adversaries fomented opposition among conservative Muslims by claiming Mr. Nasheed’s government was trying to undermine their faith.

A group of Islamist organizations organized a rally in December in Male, the capital, which was attended by thousands of people protesting against Mr. Nasheed for failing to defend Quranic law and calling for a ban on spas and liquor parlors catering to foreign tourists.

On Friday, after prayers at Male’s central mosque—a donation from Brunei—Ahmed Yusry, an eloquent 22-year-old with a bushy beard who works on a tourist boat, said he had attended the December rally because of fears Mr. Nasheed was pushing a Western secular agenda.

“We are a 100% Muslim county. We should go with all the rules of Islam,” he said.

Although the Wall Street Journal had a reputation for maintaining a firewall between its lunatic-right editorial pages and its impeccable reporting, one cannot help but feel that Murdoch’s ownership of the paper is eroding that firewall based on this unlikely scenario.

Haruge.com, a Maldives-based website committed to democracy and human rights, makes the case that the coup was orchestrated by some of the nation’s superrich hotel owners:

In the series of events that led to the 7 February 2012 coup in the Maldives that ousted the first democratically elected President of the country Mohamed Nasheed, several Maldivian businessmen joined the 200 or so protestors who gathered on the Republican Square, adjacent to Police and Defense Headquarters in Male for close to three weeks. The protest, and the ensuing coup, is believed to be funded by key businessmen in the Maldivian tourism industry as well as by a half brother of former president Gayoom, MP Abdulla Yameen. Both Gasim and Yameen were seen addressing the protesters as well as the Police and Defence officers attending them, offering them to ‘join with us in return for taking care of them’.

Meeting with the press yesterday, ousted President Nasheed said “at least four resort owners are heavily involved in this” but he mentioned only Mr Gasim Ibrahim, owner of the Villa Group, “only because he was seen in the protests and has been openly vocal about his support to topple the government”, and refused to comment further until an investigation was carried out. Mr. Gasim Ibrahim has been running a hate campaign on Villa TV, a local channel he owns along with several five star hotels in the Maldives, an airline, airport, as well as several other businesses. He fell out with President Nasheed soon after he lost the 2008 Presidential Elections to Nasheed. Although he was an initial coalition partner in the Nasheed Administration, he resigned within weeks into the new government citing dissatisfaction with President Nasheed. Both MPs Gasim and Yameen were also arrested in 2009 for allegedly attempting to ‘bribe’ Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentarians.

Not surprisingly, the United States was eager to embrace the undemocratic regime that ousted a popularly elected and widely supported reformer, as Agent Press Francais reported:

The United States on Thursday recognized the new government of Maldives President Mohamed Waheed as legitimate and urged him to fulfill a pledge to form a national unity government.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also said Robert Blake, the top US diplomat for south Asia, telephoned former president Mohamed Nasheed to tell him Washington backed a “peaceful resolution” of the crisis on the archipelago.

“We do,” Nuland told reporters when asked if Washington recognizes the new government as the legitimate government of the Maldives. She called Waheed the president and Nasheed the former president.

Blake, the assistant secretary of state for south Asian affairs, will travel Saturday to the Maldives to meet with both Waheed and Nasheed, who charges he was ousted in a coup, as well as civil society.

“He will be encouraging this national unity conversation,” she added.

In other words, another Honduras.

January 22, 2010

Alexander Cockburn and the Oregon Petition

Filed under: Ecology,Global Warming — louisproyect @ 6:59 pm

Alexander Cockburn, fading fast

Dr. Arthur Robinson: circulated Oregon Petition as well as publishing Dr. Edward Teller

In responding to Alexander Cockburn’s atrocious commentary on climate change over the past few years, my tone has been characteristically acerbic. Since Cockburn is one of my major writing influences, it should come as no surprise that I often take the same tone that he does. But all the while when I am responding to him, it is hard for me to suppress a feeling of sadness and worry that his outstanding mind is beginning to fade.

When I first ran into his writing in the Village Voice in the early 1980s, after having resigned from the SWP, I was amazed at his investigative reporting skills. Like a radical version of “Sixty Minutes”, he had a way of digging up the dirt on any number of malefactors. That’s why I am so dismayed by his seeming inability to check the sources he uses in writing about climate change. Perhaps he is unaccustomed to using search engines on the Internet but when he decided to cite Zbigniew Jaworowski as an expert on climate change, he apparently failed to turn up this character’s long standing relationship with the Lyndon Larouche cult, something I was able to do in less than 15 minutes. I fear that he is so into his climate change denialism that he lacks the ability to fact-check his own material. Since he is such a dominating figure, I doubt that his partner Jeff St. Clair has the backbone to take him on even though it is quite likely that he disagrees with him.

But more worrisome is the possibility that Alexander Cockburn has grown intellectually flabby over the years. I imagine that cranking out dozens of articles a year must take a toll on one’s mind. I have been programming for 42 years now and I know what it means to be burned out. Of course, I would switch jobs with him in a heartbeat even though I wouldn’t wish that disaster on the financial records at Columbia University.

The most recent occasion of Cockburn nuttiness was a January 4 Nation Magazine article titled “From Nicaea to Copenhagen” that is not worth reviewing in any kind of detail since it mostly rehashes old arguments with an aggressiveness buttressed by the British email hacks that were posted on the Internet. The opening sentences sets the blustering tone for the remainder of the article: “The global warming jamboree in Copenhagen was surely the most outlandish foray into intellectual fantasizing since the fourth-century Christian bishops assembled in 325 AD for the Council of Nicaea to debate whether God the Father was supreme or had to share equal status in the pecking order of eternity with his Son and the Holy Ghost.”

In the February 8th issues, there are a number of letters attacking this article that Cockburn responds to in his trademark supercilious fashion. One thing in his response did catch my eye: “More than 30,000 scientists have signed the Oregon Petition, which refutes the AGW theory.” (Anthropogenic global warming.) My first impulse was to find out more about the Oregon Petition, something apparently that Alexander could not be bothered with.

Perhaps he might have not heard about this very useful online resource called Wikipedia. If he had, he might have found an entry for “Oregon Petition” that reveals the following:

The original article associated with the petition (see below) defined “global warming” as “severe increases in Earth’s atmospheric and surface temperatures, with disastrous environmental consequences”. This differs from both scientific usage and dictionary definitions, in which “global warming” is an increase in the global mean atmospheric temperature without implying that the increase is “severe” or will have “disastrous environmental consequences.”

Well, what the heck. Who cares about scientific usage when you have bigger fish to fry? After all, Cockburn is dead set on establishing a vast conspiracy involving 99 percent of the world’s scientists and major corporations bent on developing nuclear power. When you are in the business of uncovering conspiracies, who wants to be bothered by petty details? Like the ability of jet fuel to melt steel?

The article that was attached to the petition also appeared to be damaged goods:

The article followed the identical style and format of a contribution to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a scientific journal, even including a date of publication (“October 26”) and volume number (“Vol. 13: 149-164 1999”), but was not actually a publication of the National Academy. Raymond Pierrehumbert, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Chicago, said that the article was “designed to be deceptive by giving people the impression that the article…is a reprint and has passed peer review.”

There were also problems with the signatories, some of whom appeared to have little connection with climate science as the Seattle Times reported in 1998:

Several environmental groups questioned some of the names in the petition. For instance: “Perry S. Mason”, who was a legitimate scientist who shared the name of a TV character. Similarly, “Michael J. Fox”, “Robert C. Byrd”, and “John C. Grisham” were signatories with names shared with famous people.

It also seems that Cockburn failed to check what www.sourcewatch.org had to say about the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM), the outfit that circulate the petition. One of its founders is Arthur Robinson, who was a biochemist not a climate scientist. Surprise, surprise. According to its website, it also markets a home-schooling kit for “parents concerned about socialism in the public schools” and publishes books on how to survive nuclear war. Like the Larouchite fellow traveler Zbigniew Jaworowski, the OISM tends to pooh-pooh the danger of nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Just the kind of people Alexander Cockburn would normally have a violent aversion to, unless of course they shared his screwy ideas about climate change. Sourcewatch reports:

It published two books, Nuclear War Survival Skills (foreword by H-bomb inventor Edward Teller), which argues that “the dangers from nuclear weapons have been distorted and exaggerated” into “demoralizing myths.” Robinson also co-authored another civil defense book titled Fighting Chance: Ten Feet to Survival, in collaboration with Gary North, who like Robinson is a conservative Christian. North is also a prolific author of doomsday books with titles such as None Dare Call It Witchcraft; Conspiracy: A Biblical View; Rapture Fever; and How You Can Profit From the Coming Price Controls. Following his collaboration with Robinson, North built a web-based marketing empire built around apocalyptic predictions that the Y2K bug would make the dawn of the 21st century “the year the earth stands still.

When I read about the shoddy reality of the Oregon Petition and the group that circulated it, I almost felt a tear coming to my eye as I considered the sheer fecklessness of one of America’s most respected radical journalists. How the mighty have fallen.

December 18, 2009

Alexander Cockburn’s latest nonsense

Filed under: Global Warming — louisproyect @ 7:44 pm

Alexander Cockburn in the December 18-20, 2009 Counterpunch Weekend Edition

“As for the nightmare of vanishing ice caps and inundating seas, the average Arctic ice  coverage has essentially remained unchanged for the last 20 years, and has actually increased slightly over the last 3 years.”

* * * *

April 29, 2008

In Defense of Marxism gets Spiked

Filed under: Global Warming — louisproyect @ 7:24 pm

The In Defense of Marxism website (IDOM) is associated with a small Trotskyist sect in Great Britain that was led by Ted Grant until his death 2 years ago. It is now led by Alan Woods who has done some good work in publicizing and defending the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, even if there is some sectarian baggage that goes along with it.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Grant-Woods tendency was its rather serious engagement with science, especially manifested in the two leaders’ book “Reason in Revolt: Marxism and Modern Science”. That legacy has been tarnished by the appearance of a 2-part article on global warming by one Brian J. Baker. Baker’s article is filled with the usual global warming skepticism found at places like Spiked and in Alexander Cockburn’s recent articles. It should be mentioned that IDOM has never published anything like this in the past. Only last December they were saying things like this:

The impact of climate change, says the report, will vary regionally but in an overall view it points out that even with temperatures rising only 3C there will be an important increase of mortality from heat waves, floods and droughts; reduced agricultural production in low latitude areas with important negative impact on smallholders, subsistence farmers and fishermen; 30% of the world species will be at risk of extinction and hundreds of millions of people will be exposed to increased water stress.

Those less able to adapt to these new circumstances will receive the heaviest blow. These are the poor of the world and it will matter very little whether they live in Burkina or in the United States of America, as the working class and poor of New Orleans learnt during and after Katrina.

Now we learn from Brian J. Baker that global warming is a capitalist plot against the working class:

“We are all going to fry,” a sentiment endorsed from the ex-public schoolboys from Eton, to the lofty heights of Rupert Murdoch and George Soros from the media and financial world. And at the same time are joined by various left and pseudo-socialist organisations the world over.

So what is it that unites such disparate class interests? A common understanding that industrialisation has destroyed the planet? But then the Victorian gentry had a disparaging attitude to the common men of trade. “Tradesmen’s Entrance” was always around the back. And we have always seen the religious fundamentalists parading along Oxford Street telling us to “Prepare to meet thy doom.”

Fred Weston prefaces Baker’s article by stating that it “is not the job of the Marxist.com Editorial board to develop a ‘line’ on climate change.” Maybe that is so, but it does strike me as a bit odd to see two so sharply opposed articles on global warming within a few months. He adds that he invites “any of our readers, comrades and supporters, especially the more scientifically qualified, to contribute to this debate with their opinions both for and against.” Well, that’s very generous of him, but until his website actually includes a place for comments or letters, the invitation seems pretty hollow.

Turning to Baker’s piece, we note that it shares Alexander Cockburn’s conspiracy theory approach to the problem. Global warming is a capitalist plot to step up the use of nuclear power and to deepen the exploitation of working people, especially in the Third World. If Cockburn’s favorite bogeyman is Al Gore, Baker is at least to be credited for inventing a new bogeyman, or bogeywoman to be exact:

As we shall see Anthropogenic Global Warming was an obscure scientific curiosity that was elevated by two factors to become the multi-billion dollar industry that it is today. The first was that Margaret Thatcher’s Tory Party wished to seek vengeance on the NUM for the crippling defeat inflicted on them by the miners’ strike in 1972 and 1974. So, early in her global warming campaign – and at her personal instigation – the UK’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research was established, and the science and engineering research councils were encouraged to place priority in funding climate-related research. This cost nothing because the UK’s total research budget was not increased; indeed, it fell because of cuts elsewhere. It also enabled Thatcher to propose the building of new nuclear power stations as an alternative to the “dirty, polluting” coal fired stations and thus destroy the political base of the miners as producers of necessary energy. We thus find it ironic that Greenpeace demonstrators can protest at power station plants and pitheads labelling the workers “climate criminals”. How far has consciousness travelled.

Let’s be clear. Thatcher was not bent on destroying Great Britain’s coal industry because it was “dirty” and “polluting”. She was mainly interested in profits. Coal was not profitable. Whether it was “dirty” or not was besides the point. The Globe and Mail (Canada) reported on October 23, 1992:

Because the industry is under government stewardship, its contraction has been far slower, more costly and more politically fraught than it should have been. With the exception of Germany and Spain, most European countries have wound down their coal production and switched to cheaper fuels. In England and Wales, by contrast, 78 per cent of electricity is still generated by coal-burning plants. Coal has kept that share because the British government supports the industry with subsidies of $2.4- billion a year – or about $50,000 per worker – while at the same time compelling electrical utilities to buy British coal at inflated prices.

Furthermore, Thatcher’s “environmentalism” was like Gore’s, all glitter and no substance. As an astute politician, she understood that lip-service must be paid to green issues as the May 10, 1989 NY Times noted: “Prime Minister Thatcher is a clever enough politician to try to keep the Green wave from washing away her support,” especially since West Germany’s Green Party had “grabbed a governing role in West Berlin and in the state of Hesse and may hold the balance of power in the next national election.”

After Baker is done with Thatcher, he lets some other members of the global warming conspiracy have it. He tells us that at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, Gavin Strong, the Assistant General Secretary of the UN, said, “Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring that about?” Now, that’s quite a statement coming from a UN official. I could find no evidence that he ever said such a thing except for Baker’s claim that he did on IDOM and in a comment on the London Telegraph.

A search on Lexis-Nexis for anything related to “Gavin Strong” and climate turned up nothing. I have written IDOM for a source and have not heard back from them yet. Frankly, I am not optimistic that anything is forthcoming since Brian J. Baker is not very scrupulous when it comes to these matters. After the rather odd attribution to Strong, we have his assurance that Christine Stewart, the Canadian Environment Minister, once said in reference to global warming: “Who cares if the science is phony, the collateral benefits are the main aim.”

Again, there is no citation for this, but apparently she was quoted as saying this in a meeting with the editorial board of the Calgary Herald on December 14, 1998 as was subsequently reported in the pages of the newspaper. Since the article is not available on Lexis-Nexis, all we have to go on is this quote attributed to her. Maybe she said this, maybe she didn’t. All we know is that the quote has gotten what the Deejays call “heavy rotation” on the rightwing of the Internet. If you google “Christine Stewart” and “phony”, you will find plenty of links, including one from Human Events, a publication that describes itself as “Leading the Conservative Movement since 1944”.

Stumbling along in his merry way, Baker next refers to “the previous French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing who stated that the Kyoto Treaty was the finest vehicle for World Governance to date.” Our intrepid expert on climate must have meant Jacques Chirac who said the following in a speech to a UN conference on climate change on November 20, 2000:

For the first time, humanity is instituting a genuine instrument of global governance, one that should find a place within the World Environmental Organisation which France and the European Union would like to see established.

How this gets turned into a statement that “the Kyoto Treaty was the finest vehicle for World Governance to date” is beyond me. Maybe Baker was trying to invoke fears about Black Helicopters and all that. If that is the case, I am surprised he didn’t publish his piece on Counterpunch where there is great receptivity to that line of reasoning.

After he has finished making his rather dubious case that global warming is a capitalist plot to plunge the working class into poverty, Baker next turns to scientific matters, where things take a turn for the worse.

As is the case with many global warming skeptics, Baker’s ploy is to look back at previous periods in history in order to show that there is no basis for alarm even if one of the periods in question dates 600 million years ago:

But in looking at the periods prior to the modern era, for example the Phanerozoic (the term is Greek for visible life) period that occurred 600 million years prior to the present era, CO2 levels 18 times higher than the present era are found but unfortunately this was the greatest period of the expansion of life on earth.

It is really difficult to figure out what this has to do with the situation we face today, but not so for Baker who finds the “expansion of life” 600 million years ago reason enough to plow ahead with the production of greenhouse gases. He assures us:

To believe as Dr Jim Hansen does that 385 ppm of CO2 represents a tipping point towards the extinction of life on earth shows nothing more than his ignorance of the entire history of the earth.

It is difficult to make any sense out of this statement. It is as if Baker sees the threat to life as CO2 displacing oxygen. Of course, if somebody drained the oxygen out of your apartment and replaced it with CO2, you’d become extinct as well, specifically by suffocation. But the real issue is not suffocation, but the loss of home and livelihood due to calamitous changes in sea levels, rainfall, intensity of storms, etc. This is something that apparently does not concern Baker, although it did get a rise out of Weston who muses:

If sea levels are going to rise, we will have to move millions, hundreds of millions of people across national boundaries to more inhabitable zones. Can capitalism plan for such a scenario? It cannot.

I have news for comrade Weston. When it comes to moving hundreds of millions of people across national boundaries, I doubt that socialism will be of much use either. Humanity has never faced such a challenge and there is no reason to entertain the idea that it can rise to the occasion. Our best bet is to reduce the threat to the best of our ability. Publishing tripe like Baker’s does not help things, needless to day.

After his brief visit to a period 600 million years in the past, Baker comes closer to home—the so-called Medieval Warming Period (WMP) that constitutes a key talking point for global warming skeptics. If temperatures rose from AD1000 to AD1300 in the absence of greenhouse emissions, then perhaps it is “bad science” to single out the burning of carbon-based fuels today as the culprit. Baker points to the research of U. of Michigan scientist Shaopeng Huang as his trump card:

Those wanting to “get rid of” the MWP run into the problem that it shows up strongly in the data. Shortly after Deming’s article appeared, a group led by Shaopeng Huang of the University of Michigan completed a major analysis of over 6,000 borehole records from every continent around the world. Their study went back 20,000 years.

I generally shy away from the more technical aspects of climate science and prefer to take my cues from professional scientists, including my fellow employees at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory but I for one would be cautious about including Shaopeng Huang in the skeptic’s camp in light of the following:

As global climate changes, atmosphere warming and ocean warming make frequent headlines. But less well known is that the lands are warming too. Based on world-wide meteorological and borehole temperature records, my recent study shows that the 20th century global warming had deposited about 1022 Joules of thermal energy into the continental landmasses. I show that if the observed global warming trend over the past 35 years were to continue over the rest of the 21st century, the continents would gain additional thermal energy more than five folds the amount they acquired over the 20th century. Even if the global surface temperature would stabilize at the current state throughout the rest of the 21st century, the continental landmasses will continue to acquire heat from the atmosphere. At this stage of global climate change, stopping atmosphere warming is not sufficient to stop the lithosphere warming. An overall 0.7 K cooling at the global ground surface over the 21st century is required to avoid further heating of the continents.

The extraordinary 20th century warming is an evidence of anthropogenic forcing in the recent global climate change. Human activities including industrialization and urbanization not only increase greenhouse gases and aerosols in the atmosphere which affect the radiation balance of the climate system, but also change the thermal environment at the surface and subsurface. Over the past decade, tremendous efforts have been devoted to improve our understanding of the anthropogenic effects on the atmospheric temperature change. In comparison, little has been done in understanding the human impacts on the subsurface temperature and their environmental consequences.

As part of the industrialization and modernization process, the population of the world is increasingly concentrated in urbanized environment. In the United States, nearly eighty percent of the population lives in the urban areas. Urbanization alters the thermal properties of the land, changes the energy budget at the ground surface, changes the surrounding atmospheric circulation characteristics, and introduces a great amount of anthropogenic waste heat into the urban climate system.

This is from the page titled Shaopeng’s Research Interests on the scientist’s website. If his research into the Medieval Warming Period is supposed to encourage us to go full-blast ahead with the creation of greenhouse gases, his website does not reflect this at all.

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