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Eve's Review

Big Oil's Big Lie About Who Caused the Climate Collapse

We're All Climate Hypocrites Now

Sami Grover

New Society Publishers, 162 pages

 

 

 

Eve Ottenberg

Veganism isn't the answer to climate change, nor is eschewing air travel. Both help, but don't tackle the problem systemically. Ending drilling oil and gas wells would zap emissions much more effectively, but since every little bit counts, it's a good idea to encourage people to reduce their carbon footprint. Encourage, not shame. And renouncing shaming especially goes for those who insist that having children unacceptably raises a person's carbon footprint to the level of a climate problem. It doesn't. And the word for the harangue that it does is eco-fascism.

 

The very problematic concept of one's carbon footprint is the subject of Sami Grover's new book, We're All Climate Hypocrites Now. Who kicked the carbon-footprint-individual-responsibility-for-climate-change bandwagon into gear? None other than the guilty parties, the oil companies. BP to be exact. Fossil fuel companies love it when ordinary people blame themselves for the climate collapse, for an obvious reason: it gets them off the hook to keep raking in profits, receiving mega-subsidies from government and polluting the atmosphere with carbon without getting fined for it – as they would in any sane world.

 

"BP's championing of carbon footprints should be viewed not simply as a naïve and imperfect effort at corporate responsibility," writes Grover, "but rather as a direct and calculated attempt to shape discussion of the problem in BP's favor." Oil companies, Grover notes "are actually all too happy to talk about the climate crisis. They just want you to know that it's mostly your fault." And they've succeeded remarkably with this subterfuge. Lots of people dither about eating a cup of yogurt when they could be joining Extinction Rebellion. Some benighted souls have even been hoodwinked into foreswearing children.

 

It's no news that oil companies curate their image. But in recent years, they've taken it to new extremes. As Brian Kahn noted November 17 in earther, they even recently had the chutzpah to publicly bemoan "cancel culture on hydrocarbons." As Kahn comments, that takes some nerve, "as if this is somehow a real problem and not the fact that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction tied to said hydrocarbons." But their obsessive focus on image has paid off.

 

Fossil fuel corporations deceived as many people as they could for as long as they could. Their own scientists told them decades ago that their product was cooking the earth. Did that lead them to change course? No, it did not. It led them to suppressing the science, lying about it and seeding that monstrosity called climate denial. So now half the rulers of the U.S., one of the most powerful, violent, extensive and carbon polluting empires in human history, parrot idiotic talking points about burning oil, gas and coal supposedly NOT warming the earth. And until recently, the U.S. was the world's worst polluter of greenhouse gases. Now it's got the distinction of being the second worst. But with congressional suzerains denying the damage, how can anyone compel the U.S. to pay its fair share for mitigation?

 

The only solution is a mass movement. Grover's book argues for this, as do lots of other folks, and given what a bust the recent world climate summit was, I would add, take a leaf out of the Trump playbook and clog the courts with lawsuits. Sue these criminal oil, gas and coal plutocrats until something sticks, they get the message and cease their global pyromania.

 

But oh yes – someone did that: Attorney Steven Donziger won over $9 billion in an Ecuadoran court from Chevron for its pollution of the pristine Amazon wilderness of Lago Agrio and the cancers Chevron thus inflicted on indigenous children. And guess what? Chevron said it wouldn't pay, went judge shopping, found a compliant jurist, Lewis Kaplan, in New York, took its case there and schemed to get Donziger thrown in jail, where he now resides.

 

So never forget that fossil fuel mega-corporations play as dirty as their product. After all, way back in the 1960s, Shell reportedly got Ogoni protesters arrested, tortured and executed in Nigeria. The Ogoni were upset about Shell coating their tribal lands in oil, transforming a once fertile region into a toxic cemetery. Shell struck back, making an example of activist and novelist Ken Saro-Wiwa, hanged by the Nigerian military junta. So this is nothing new. It's a real, blood-drenched fight.

 

You wouldn't know that, however, from privileged westerners who argue about straws. Yes, the cardboard kind are better, because the world is drowning in plastic, but get real. The most powerful man on the planet, Joe Biden, has dozens of fossil fuel projects on his desk with emissions roughly the equivalent of 400 coal-fired plants annually. The U.S. also subsidizes fossil fuel corporations, already swimming in money, to the tune of $20 billion per year. These facts should loom front and center in everyone's mind – not policing whether or not an acquaintance has a baby or ate their whole wheat bread with butter on it.

 

But speaking of butter, meat and dairy conglomerates are in fact a huge problem. Grover records one expert source: "The world's top 20 meat and dairy producers alone emitted 932 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions." He quotes more: "If these companies were a country, they would be the world's seventh largest greenhouse gas emitter."

 

In addition, there's the gruesome matter of animal cruelty. The world is not only awash in the blood of animals, but it also resounds with their screams of agony, as they are tortured for human pleasure. Just because you don't hear what's going on in the slaughterhouse doesn't mean it ain't happening.

 

So definitely become a vegetarian, and a vegan if you can. But do more; find other ways to extinguish fossil fuel arson. If enough people try that, we might actually keep these poisons in the ground and give those children fascists don't want you to have a livable planet.

 

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Migrants: The Case for Amnesty

The Border Crossed Us: The Case for Opening the U.S.-Mexico Border

Justin Akers Chacon

Haymarket Books, 293 pages

$19.95

 

 

Eve Ottenberg

For those horrified by U.S. belligerence toward independent nations, particularly economically independent ones, like China with its hybrid socialism/state capitalism, it doesn't help to know that exactly this has happened before. It happened south of the border. Mexico, too, had state capitalism, with lots of nationalized industries and something of a social safety net and, in the 1970s and '80s, the U.S. government, hand in glove with American corporations, destroyed it. Of course state capitalism ain't perfect, but it's a whole lot better than the oligarchic financial capitalism that manipulates the state like a puppet and that Washington's so intent on forcing down the throats of, well, everyone.

 

The role of NAFTA in this story was highlighted last week in CounterPunch by Ron Jacobs, reviewing Justin Akers Chacon's new book, The Border Crossed Us: The Case for Opening the U.S.-Mexico Border. So here, let's look at the destruction of Mexico's state capitalism, the ensuing impoverishment of millions of its people and the case for an amnesty for immigrants in the U.S., referencing Chacon's book. Amnesty first.

 

 The 1986 amnesty for migrants in the U.S. taught capitalists a lesson they never forgot: newly minted Mexican and Central American citizens joined unions in droves. The owning classes lost their leverage over workers, namely keeping them immobilized and super-exploited by criminalizing them, as the formerly undocumented left for better jobs with higher pay. This ate into profits. After all, having an enormous pool of labor terrorized into accepting miserable compensation, dangerous and squalid working conditions, endless unpaid overtime, wage theft, abuse, humiliation and sexual assault, all due to the looming threat of arrest and deportation – such a sweet deal for capitalists was worth billions of dollars. After they lost it in 1986, they decided, never again.

 

"The future of organized labor is dependent on expanding rights for migrants, while the future of capitalism is dependent on curtailing them," writes Chacon. Labor, he argues, learned this lesson the hard way. "By 1986 [the AFL-CIO] maintained enthusiastic support for employer sanctions and border enforcement…Its disastrous support for migrant labor criminalization and border closure positioned it directly against the fastest growing segment and most inherently prounion sector of the working class."

 

Ironically, the new, increasingly neofascist law enforcement squadrons arrayed against migrants deliberately fail at keeping workers out of the U.S.; after all, corporations want those employees. What the militarized anti-migrant police do succeed at is trapping these workers into accepting super-exploitation. And lots of companies angle for that. "The largest, richest and most powerful sectors of capitalism are now invested…in the illegalization of labor…Auto production, agriculture, meat packing, construction, hospitality and other forms of service and manufacturing…have restructured…to access and exploit undocumented labor." These industries prefer that their employees be undocumented. Even citizen workers in the South, though hardly assertive, could still conceivably cast a vote for a union, a risk corporations see no need to take.

 

There exists a huge army of surplus, undocumented labor. That's because five decades of neoliberal plunder by U.S. corporations and local oligarchs, backed up by the lurking menace of U.S.-trained death squads and paramilitaries and, more recently, accelerated by free trade agreements like NAFTA, pauperized millions of Mexicans and Central Americans. They can stay home and starve or head to the border. International financial capitalism crushed these people and their countries.

 

To focus on Mexico: Its state capitalism, which developed after the 1910 revolution, entailed official unions in the government, many nationalized industries and a fairly resilient social safety net. Mexican capitalists did well, the urban proletariat got by, and state-run ejidos  distributed lands to peasants, with the benefit, from the government's perspective, of containing agrarian radicals. In the ejido system, the state retained land ownership but allowed collective farming and production for national markets. Unluckily for all of these arrangements, U.S. capital looked at Mexico and licked its chops.

 

Then Washington went about smashing the Mexican system, using the IMF, the World Bank and its chief tool, the free trade agreement. This culminated in "the dismantling of the nationalist capitalist project that emerged victorious from the Mexican Revolution. The birth of state-managed capitalism in Mexico was the result of a radical and impulsively nationalist uprising," after which "an ascendant middle-class coterie was able to divide, defeat and co-opt mass popular movements."

 

By 1990, U.S. neoliberalism utterly demolished this state capitalism. The idea was "capital has a right to cross borders to exploit Mexican labor, but Mexican workers do not have the right to migrate." It is "free trade without free people." Not surprisingly these changes engendered a new, modernized colonialism. Chacon argues that the breadth, totality and speed of Mexican state capitalism's collapse matched that of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, which crashed around the same time.

 

In short, the '80s and early '90s were a lousy time for workers, planet-wide. And now North American financial capitalism wants to do the same to China: "open it up," or, more accurately, loot it (think, also, Russia under Yeltsin in the '90s; U.S. financial marauders made out like bandits there). After all, the Mexican caper was so dazzlingly lucrative, U.S. plutocrats attempted to mimic it all over the world.

 

Fast forward to 2021, and 30 years of "free trade" have emaciated the Mexican peasantry and dispossessed the urban proletariat. They flee to Texas and other points in the American Southwest, where, without rights, criminalized, hunted by ICE, they form a reservoir of easy, cheap, precarious labor for numerous predatory American corporations. This has gone on in attenuated form for over a century, but accelerated vastly in the decades since NAFTA starved Mexican farmers off their land by underselling them, flooding their country with cheap corn and other food products.

 

Fascistic, racist, rightwing hysteria over Mexican immigration serves a purpose, unbeknownst to the blockhead nativists. It is useful for the owning classes, useful as a means of oppressing and controlling an army of destitute workers, which they have no intention of ever preventing from coming here and toiling. Business lures and wants undocumented labor; the less documented, the better, because without any rights, these workers are easy victims, while the threat of deportation scares them into avoiding unions.

 

Thus the need of a general amnesty for the 11 million undocumented Latino workers living in the U.S. First, because this is the right thing to do. Second, because the rest of the American working class will suffer until that happens. American wages will remain depressed, until people who can be exploited with pitifully low pay become no longer "illegal," but recognized for what they are – workers who belong in unions and who will only get that right once they cease inhabiting the shadows of a criminalized, exploited underclass. They need to become citizens. And though the capitalists will scream even louder than the nativists, this nation and American working people acutely need an amnesty.

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