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Eve's Review

Climate Change Is Genocide

"The Future Earth"

Eric Holthaus

HarperCollins, 247 pages

$22.99

 

 

Eve Ottenberg

The only good thing to say about covid is that it caused carbon emissions to drop. Not enough to save humanity from catastrophic climate change, but significantly. At the height of the global lockdown, carbon emissions fell 17 percent – when the whole world basically stopped driving and flying. According to Eric Holthaus' new book, "The Future Earth," by 2035 the United States must have a carbon neutral economy or face utter disaster. That, folks, pretty much means the end of capitalism as we know it.

 

Indeed, that's what "The Future Earth" advocates. A planet of vegan eco-socialists – sounds good to me, though I think the ExxonMobil ceo might stand in the way. With such opposition and other, more ordinary lukewarm opponents in mind, Holthaus himself carefully avoids terms like socialism or eco-socialism, but that's what his proposal amounts to. And even that won't save us from the warming we've already locked in.

 

"Reducing emissions to zero is the best way to slow down climate change…what if after already greatly reducing our global emissions, the climate tipping points we previously set in motion are triggered anyway?" So even if we transform our economies, stop burning any fossil fuels, put the brakes on the disaster of animal agriculture (it consumes "half the world's arable land and uses 80 percent of the world's fresh water supply") and so forth, by mid-century parts of the inhabited earth could still occasionally reach 170 degrees Fahrenheit in summer, coastal cities will be submerged, island nations will drown, megastorms and category 6 hurricanes will still tear up our countries, droughts will displace tens of millions of people and wild-fires will empty places like California and much of Australia. That this is our best scenario even when we go all out and totally redo our societies tells you a lot about how much damage we've already inflicted on the planet. And this list of what's coming regardless of our best efforts looks like a walk in the park if we don't cut emissions to zero by mid-century, when the effects of runaway climate change will be unimaginably awful. We don't have time – we must de-carbonize at once.

 

"Climate change is not a war," Holthaus writes. "It' is genocide. It is domination. It is extinction. It is the most recent manifestation of how powerful men throughout history have sought to steal from the less powerful and dismiss them as merely inconvenient." More specifically the problem is growth. Capitalism depends on endless growth. So does cancer. In fact, cancer is an apt metaphor for capitalism. Of course plutocrats, confronted with this comparison, opt for chemotherapy, which is what Holthaus calls techno fixes like geo-engineering. But he argues convincingly that given the very real dangers, those should be a last, not a first, resort. Indeed, if Newt Gingrich supports geo-engineering, and he does, you can be pretty sure it's a bad idea. "We need to become a society with a cultural focus on repair and maintenance," Holthaus writes, "rather than innovation and efficiency." The lunacy of planned obsolescence should be tossed into the insane asylum and left there.

 

"The Future Earth" sketches what must be done between now and 2050. It is a tall order. It includes: "carbon-free electricity generation through a blend of wind, solar, geothermal and hydro-power…phasing out petroleum-powered engines from all cars, trucks, trains, ships and aircraft…finding alternatives to fossil-fuel based chemical fertilizers…and finding new processes for cement production." But all of this is doable – if we don't have leaders like Trump, Bojo and Bolsonaro. Holthaus quotes folksinger Utah Phillips: "The earth is not dying, it's being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses." One address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Along with our so-called leaders, planet killers include fossil fuel corporate executives and investors. So: corporations, banks, Wall Street, political elites, basically the people an older generation of leftists called the ruling class.

 

Holthaus' plan to limit the damage is wonderful; the problem is prizing the oligarchs' fingers off the levers of power. They will not go willingly. They do not care if they render the earth uninhabitable for the next generation. They don't care what happens after they die. They never did and never will. And if the catastrophe comes in their lifetimes, they delude themselves with the notion that they have a plan. They mistakenly believe they can flee climate change to their gated estates in New Zealand (billionaire Peter Thiel) or to a new abode on Mars (billionaire Elon Musk). Disabusing them of these fantasies is probably a waste of time, but still it's worth noting that if climate change goes unchecked, typhoons and wild fires will ravage New Zealand. Even if terraformed, Mars will remain less hospitable to human life than a climate-scorched earth.

 

The only way to change our rulers is to make their current business model unprofitable. That means court cases for millions or billions of dollars in damages. It means legislation that zeros out subsidies for fossil fuel companies. It means the Green New Deal and Holthaus' idea for an environmental global Marshall Plan. In other words, it means a fight, a huge fight against the ruling class, because that class has no intention of yielding power – environmental apocalypse or no. They would rather life on earth perish, with them in charge than survive, with them losing power.

 

"If what you've been doing for hundreds of years has brought you to the brink of extinction, maybe it's time to try something new," Holthaus writes. Most of his readers will agree. It's that sliver, the one percent who hold power, who disagree and see no reason to alter business as usual. Their current attempts to suppress or ignore the truth about climate change condemns hundreds of millions of people to forced migration, homelessness and premature death. But truth will out. And truth can galvanize millions of ordinary people into taking matters into their own hands, ignoring their rulers and stopping more global warming once and for all.

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Re-Organizing Labor

"Tell the Bosses We're Coming"

Shaun Richman

Monthly Review Press, 246 pages

 

 

Eve Ottenberg

  U.S. labor is in bad shape. Unions have long been on the decline, and the Supreme Court rules against them regularly. So do lower courts. Much of the problem, writes Shaun Richman in his newly published "Tell the Bosses We're Coming," is that labor law is rooted in the Commerce Clause. "Tying the NLRA [National Labor Relations Act] to the Commerce Clause was a conscious 'pragmatic' decision of progressive lawyers [in the 1930s] to reject a half-century of a rights-based campaign for labor law…" The tactic was to get the patrician courts out of the labor law process. But, Richman argues, it has not succeeded. Employers love to have their grievances moved to the courts and this happens regularly. So now unions are stuck with decades of lousy court decisions and a playing field sharply tilted against them.

 

  The solution, Richman argues, is to anchor labor rights in fundamental constitutional rights – the first, fifth and thirteenth amendments. His book's appendix lists a labor bill of rights, 10 of them: Free speech; the right to self-defense and mutual aid [solidarity strikes]; the right to strike; freeing labor organizing from unreasonable search and seizure; the right to dues processing; the right not to be locked out for exercising labor rights; the right to your job; freedom from cruel and unusual regulation; the right to make demands and bargain freely; and that powers not exercised by unions are reserved to workers who act in concert.

 

  It all sounds reasonable, but just try getting such labor rights through congress. Unions haven't even managed to repeal the wildly reactionary 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. And they've been trying for decades. As a result, "unorganized workers at non-union firms experience hair-raising abuse on a daily basis." Also, union membership continues to decline, because of simple unfairness: "much of the worst of the restrictions on union activity [are] plainly unconstitutional…It is time for unions to return to rights-based rhetoric and strategy."

 

  Employers have constitutional rights, but unions do not. Take the secondary boycott. Under Taft-Hartley, union members cannot boycott or picket "a company they do not work directly for but which has significant…business dealings with their employer, with whom they do have a contractual dispute." So when Nabisco shut down a unionized plant to move Oreo cookie production abroad, Richman writes, grocery store workers could not engage in the solidarity activity of leaving "unopened boxes of scab cookies," pressuring supermarkets to tell Nabisco of "their intention of no longer buying Oreo cookies as long as they remained the subject of a labor controversy." Such solidarity is illegal. But corporations use secondary boycotts all the time. Cable companies, for instance, "leave television consumers in the dark" when they don't want to pay "a rate increase for the corporate owners of the blacked-out network." Regarding the first amendment, employers have the right to coerce workers to attend anti-union informational meetings, but unions lack such rights to present their opposing views.

 

  Richman also argues that workers lack a right to strike in the U.S. "A true right to strike would include the right to return to the job after the strike is over." A related problem is that intermittent strikes and partial strikes are illegal. What helped "get a union at General Motors in the 1930s is illegal today." Effective picketing is also illegal. To correct these ills, Richman argues for industrial labor boards, first proposed in the 1930s. These would create a non-bargaining dynamic by "carving up the economy into distinct industries" and with rule-making on matters like minimum wages and paid family leave. Richman also approves of the German works council model. Both would help "normalize a system of employee rights across all work places."

 

  To restore the right to strike, Richman says unions should file "a ton of unfair labor practice charges," and should insist that they "have a constitutional right to strike based on the first and thirteenth amendments." This would counter the many difficulties caused by the Supreme Court's "Mackay" Doctrine, which robbed unions of the right to strike. This doctrine   "gave employers the legal right to permanently replace striking workers." In so doing, the Supreme Court ignored NLRA language: "nothing in this Act shall be construed so as either to interfere with or impede or diminish in any way the right to strike." In 1983, Richman writes, the Phelps-Dodge Corporation "weaponized" "Mackay," creating a blueprint for "the de-unionization of American industry…in the Reagan-Bush (and Clinton) era." And speaking of unions' constitutional rights, the Supreme Court's public-union-busting rule in the fairly recent "Janus" decision probably violates them. "How is forcing unions to represent workers they don't want to, that is, to represent workers who don't want to vote for or join a union, not compelled speech?"

 

  This book cites other court decisions against labor, which have piled up so high that today very little of the U.S. workforce is unionized. Clearly the NLRA worked for a while, in the mid-20th century. It doesn't anymore. Richman's call for constitutional rights for workers and their unions is a way around this. Such a long-overdue move will require concentrated, relentless effort against predictably fierce resistance. Much of case law has roots in the idea of unions as criminal conspiracies. Much of the judiciary is virulently biased against labor. So are reactionary Republicans in congress and the white house, including Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, a friend of large corporations if there ever was one. Labor has a big fight ahead of it, but as this book makes clear – now is the time.

 

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