Climate change, militarism, and the 2014 elections

I was really proud to participate in the massive People’s Climate March, along with hundreds of thousands of others. I was struck by the incredible breadth and grassroots depth of this sea of humanity streaming through the streets of New York. A mass movement has emerged, whose impact will only grow in the politics of the nation.

“The only recognizable feature of hope, is action,” said poet Grace Paley. And so this is a movement of hope for the future of humanity.

New alliances are being built around this issue; just think of the Cowboys and Indians encampment. People’s consciousness is changing rapidly in response to extreme weather events, massive tornadoes and hurricanes, droughts covering half the country, wildfires, floods, and the rapid extinction of species and destruction of habitat. It reminds me of the rapid change in public sentiment toward marriage equality that occurred over the span of a few years.

A delegation of 24 people came from Moore, Okla., representing the 24 people killed by a monster Category 5 tornado that destroyed much of the town in 2013.

A similar group came from New Orleans that suffered that horrendous tragedy from Hurricane Katrina in 2006.

Tens of thousands turned out from New York City, which experienced the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. That catastrophe has literally transformed its residents and led to a grassroots mobilization in every neighborhood. The labor movement was deeply involved in every aspect.

Big-tent coalition

The march was a united front, if you will, against the fossil fuel industry.

Before the march, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who walked in the lead contingent, announced his administration’s plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. New York becomes the largest city in the world to commit itself to this goal, one projected by climate scientists as necessary to avoid the worst-case scenarios of climate change.

Since the greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions in NYC are buildings, the plan calls for retrofitting all public buildings to conserve energy. Incentives will be offered to private building owners to do the same. This will also create thousands of new jobs.

There are new possibilities of growing the movement to divest city and state pension funds from the fossil fuel industry, building on what is happening on the campuses.

This opens a new front of struggle – utilizing the power of city and state governments to address the climate crisis. It shows the importance of electing progressive, pro-reform, pro-climate governments at every level.

Only a movement of previously unseen magnitude, of the vast majority of people crossing class, race, gender and national boundaries, of all sorts of class and social forces, including governmental entities and institutions, can counter the obstruction of the fossil fuel industry.

Capitalists worry

A couple of months ago a group of Wall Street leading lights rang the alarm bell on the climate crisis – Robert Rubin, Hank Paulson, Democrats and Republicans, including EPA administrators in Republican administrations and others in the Risky Business Project. They represent very powerful sections of the capitalist class and are calling for radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Objectively, this puts them at odds with the fossil fuel industry, which along with the military industrial complex is the support base of the extreme right and Tea Party. It puts them in the broad multi-class climate justice movement. But that does not mean they will advocate sustainable, public-oriented solutions.

On Sept. 22, Google quit the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), following Yelp, Facebook, and Microsoft. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said ALEC was “literally lying” about climate change. The Koch Brothers and other fossil fuel companies including Exxon Mobil, TransCanada, and Peabody Energy fund ALEC.

While those calling for greenhouse gas emission reductions are concerned about the future of humanity, their own class interests also motivate them. They fear for the stability of capitalism, the status of Wall Street investments in the fossil fuel industry and the massive resources that will be diverted to protect against its effects.

And they are right, as author Naomi Klein has so eloquently observed: The climate crisis is a fundamental threat to the existence of capitalism.

Anti-capitalist sentiment and demands

I was struck by the anti-corporate and anti-capitalist sentiment throughout the People’s Climate March. This movement has the potential to challenge the capitalist system and in that sense has revolutionary implications. It can deepen the already growing sentiment that sees socialism as more attractive than capitalism. This should be fertile ground for the CPUSA vision of Bill of Rights sustainable, democratic, and demilitarized socialism.

The scientific community is united in its belief that humanity is on the clock. And while capitalism and sustainability are incompatible, we can’t wait for socialism or even radical anti-monopoly reform governments to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Even a movement to save humanity can’t escape the class struggle. But who will decisively imprint it – Wall Street or the working class and its allies?

For example, Rubin, Al Gore, et al, believe greenhouse gas emissions can be lowered through market forces. They envision sustainable capitalism.

Certainly market forces will play a role, but we must demand an expansion of the role of the public sector, stronger regulation of corporate polluters, progressive public policy such as New York’s, restrictions on capital including investment, protecting the health of workers, etc.

How will the working class and communities of color, which suffer additionally from the effects of environmental racism, be protected against the ravages of climate change? How will incomes of millions of workers in the fossil fuel industry be protected whose jobs will be eliminated?

How will poor and developing countries be assisted in the transition to green economies and protected from the ravages of climate change?

Who will pay for this transition – the people or Wall Street?

The CPUSA and the left have to put an imprint on this movement too. For example, we explain the incompatibility of capitalism with sustainability and offer a longer-term solution of socialism. We bring a strategy and broad flexible tactics that can achieve this transition. We identify all the key class and social forces that need to be assembled, work to bring the labor movement to the forefront of this struggle, build broad unity of the working class and its allies, including labor with environmentalists and peace activists.

Elections matter: militarism, regulations, and radical reforms

We also understand the decisive importance of the electoral arena and defeating the right wing and the climate deniers as a precondition for advancing.

We offer innovative programmatic demands. We envision changes going far beyond mere technological fixes – changes that will affect every area of life and society.

For example, we advocate a guaranteed social wage for all unemployed, including those workers displaced by the transition to renewables until they can be retrained for new careers and find new jobs. No worker will be left behind. After all, the federal government pays farmers not to plant crops, so why can’t miners be paid not to mine coal?

One of the greatest sources of unity of labor and environmental movements are the immense number of jobs that will be created in the transition to renewable energy sources and conservation measures.

We envision more radical reforms like curbing the power of the energy monopolies, making all natural resources and energy utilities a part of the public domain.

We advocate redistribution of the wealth of the 1 percent and cutting the military budget to pay for the transition.

Just the other day the New York Times ran a front-page story about the Pentagon’s plans to modernize the nuclear weapons arsenal. A recent federal study put the collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars.

“It will soar after 10 years as missiles, bombers and submarines made in the last century reach the end of their useful lives and replacements are built,” the Times said.

That’s on top of current military spending, which is over 50 percent of the federal budget. And as we might expect, the military industrial complex is pressuring to grow the military budget in light of the current fight against ISIS, salivating over big profits.

No way! Our nation needs to make a fundamental choice – guns or butter and saving humanity.

Because the climate crisis is with us for the foreseeable future, it will increasingly become a decisive issue determining who gets elected at every level. It could be a major issue in the 2014 elections on November 4.

In June, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared at a Koch Brothers event at California’s St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort. McConnell pledged that if the Koch Brothers help Republicans take control of the Senate, he’ll return the favor by using the appropriations process to “go after” the EPA.

McConnell’s promise is a stark reminder of the dangerous consequences of a Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate and domination of Congress: The Affordable Care Act defunded, EPA and Consumer Financial Protection Agency gutted, abortions banned after 20 weeks, a national right to work law, accelerated deportations, and more attacks on basic democratic rights including the right to vote.

If we thought gridlock has been bad, it will be ten times worse going forward. It will be obstruction and an assault on democratic rights on steroids.

Of course the Koch Brothers are among the biggest funders of ALEC and the climate deniers. To elaborate on the well-known expression by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Where you have a race baiter, you have a labor hater,” and a climate denier.

Inspiring voter turn out

This should motivate us to work tirelessly from now until November to elect pro-labor and pro-climate advocates. Victory is possible. Many contests remain very close. In 2010 there was a surge in support for the Tea Party, and Democratic base voters stayed home, with truly tragic consequences for our nation. A similar surge has not taken place this year. It’s still a matter of turning out the vote.

The thinking of the American people has shifted. On many issues the Republican right is increasingly on the defensive: climate change, minimum wage, marriage equality, immigration reform, women’s rights, student loan debt and voting rights. The old wedge issues don’t work like they once did. If we sharply define the debate, we can win.

As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in his brilliant speech on racism, class and solidarity to the Missouri AFL-CIO convention, “Black and white, immigrant and native born, gay and straight. Where your picket line is my picket line. And my picket line is your picket line. Shoulder to shoulder. Arm-in-arm. All day. Every day. As long as it takes. Standing together. Fighting together. Voting together. Winning together. Winning for working families! Winning for America!”

Photo: Representatives of Indigenous and Native peoples begin to line up for the People’s Climate March step off, New York City, Sept. 21. (Teresa Albano/PW)


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.