Occupy Denialism

Occupy Denialism: Toward Ecological and Social Revolution

This is a reconstruction from notes of a keynote address delivered to the Power Shift West Conference, Eugene, Oregon, November 5, 2011.

All of us here today, along with countless others around the world, are currently engaged in the collective struggle to save the planet as a place of habitation for humanity and innumerable other species.  The environmental movement has grown leaps and bounds in the last fifty years.  But we need to recognize that despite our increasing numbers we are losing the battle, if not the war, for the future of the earth.  Our worst enemy is denialism: not just the outright denial of climate-change skeptics, but also the far more dangerous denial — often found amongst environmentalists themselves — of capitalism’s role in the accumulation of ecological catastrophe.1

Recently, climate scientists, writing in leading scientific journals, have developed a way of addressing the extreme nature of the climate crisis, focusing on irreversible change and the trillionth ton of carbon.  Central to the scientific consensus on climate change today is the finding that a rise in global temperature by 2° C (3.6° F), associated with an atmospheric carbon concentration of 450 parts per million (ppm), represents a critical tipping point, irreversible in anything like human-time frames.  Climate models show that if we were to reach that point feedback mechanisms would likely set in, and society would no longer be able to prevent the climate catastrophe from developing further out of our control.  Even if we were completely to cease burning fossil fuels when global average temperature had risen by 2° C, climate change and its catastrophic effects would still be present in the year 3000.  In other words, avoiding an increase in global average temperatures of 2° C, 450 ppm is crucial because it constitutes a point of no return.  Once we get to that point, we will no longer be able to return, even in a millennium, to the Holocene conditions under which human civilization developed over the last 12,000 years.  Many of you are aware that long-term stabilization of the climate requires that we target 350 ppm, not 450 ppm.  But 450 ppm remains significant, since it represents the planetary equivalent of cutting down the last palm tree on Easter Island.2.

Continue reading ‘Occupy Denialism’

Power Shift: To Whom and From Whom Pt3

by Ryan Wishart and R. Jamil Jonna (authors are doctoral students in Sociology at the University of Oregon).

Two years ago we went into Power Shift with a lot of hope. The keynote speakers gave passionate addresses praising the youth uprising in the tradition of past social movements. Government figures that spoke pledged to fight alongside the audience assembled.

Looking back its clear we were overly optimistic. Some of what appeared to be the most promising developments remain tragically unattained. The modest steps taken by Lisa Jackson towards enforcing clean air and water laws has left the EPA under siege by lawmakers. Despite the meager resources a very centrist policy agenda, Van Jones came under vicious attack—predictably for the most progressive insights he offered at Power Shift ’09—and stepped down. Hopeful projects, like the creation of a new civilian conservation corps by Ken Salazar, turned out to be a farce all along. As had been predicted before PS09, the few thousand jobs for youth amounted to political cover for Salazar’s handouts to big energy, with fire sales of the public resources opening the door for the extraction of hundreds of millions of tons of coal. Continue reading ‘Power Shift: To Whom and From Whom Pt3′

US Capitalists Organize Energy Tech Patents for Extortion of World’s Most Vulnerable

There is ample reason for disappointment over the current climate bill’s public investment priorities which in Rep. Markey’s own words has “huge subsidies for clean coal—huge—much more than we have in for renewables.” However, the amount of investment and the sectors of the economy into which it goes are only part of the bigger problems regarding popular democratic control over investment  decisions and their outcomes. When the goal of technology development is economic monopoly power and profit maximization rather than maximum social benefit, certain results tend to follow be it in the field of medicine or energy.

In a recent article Mark Weisbrot spotlights some of the increasingly obvious contradictions of accumulation and imperialism surrounding investment in the private sector for the development  technologies aimed at mediating climate change:



“According to Inside U.S. Trade, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is gearing up for a fight to limit the access of developing countries to Environmentally Sound Technologies (ESTs).  They fear that international climate change negotiations, taking place under the auspices of the United Nations, will erode the position of corporations holding patents on existing and future technologies.  Developing countries such as Brazil, India, and China have indicated that if — as expected in the next few years — they are going to have to make sacrifices to reduce carbon emissions, they should be able to license some of the most efficient available technologies for doing so.

Continue reading ‘US Capitalists Organize Energy Tech Patents for Extortion of World’s Most Vulnerable’

Powershift! to whom and from whom? Pt.2

By W. Ryan Wishart, R. Jonna, and Cade Jameson (the authors are doctoral students at the University of Oregon with interests in political economy and environmental sociology)

There is a great deal of well deserved excitement about the Powershift conference this weekend and its potential as a springboard for an environmental and social justice movement. Even the name “Powershift” is radical in its implication, in the literal sense of grasping a problem at its root. Who possesses power today and who needs to have more (or less) to reach our goals? Energy Action has a tradition of examining environmental problems in the light of racial and class-based power inequalities and oppression. In line with the conference’s stated goal to “Understand the magnitude of both the challenges and opportunities presented by the climate crisis and explore our own capacities to create transformative change,” we hope to contribute to this discussion of the nature of the current power structure and who must be the constituencies of a movement strong enough to “create transformative change.”

The current economic crisis has laid bare that power in society is political-economic and that the balance of power in Washington is steeply tilted in favor of hedge fund owners, not homeowners. The class struggle occurring in the fight over the big three automakers is illustrative of the “magnitude of the challenges” we face. This essay is divided into two parts. First, we examine the power structures and class struggles made more clearly visible by the crisis and introduce readers to critical political economic perspectives. Second, we use the auto bailout controversy to illustrate the importance and opportunity for interlinking environmental movements with the labor movement at the grassroots level.

Pt.2

Continue reading ‘Powershift! to whom and from whom? Pt.2′

Powershift! to whom and from whom? Pt.1

By W. Ryan Wishart, R. Jonna, and Cade Jameson (the authors are doctoral students at the University of Oregon with interests in political economy and environmental sociology)

There is a great deal of well deserved excitement about the Power Shift conference this weekend and its potential as a springboard for an environmental and social justice movement. Even the name “Power Shift” is radical in its implication, in the literal sense of grasping a problem at its root. Who possesses power today and who needs to have more (or less) to reach our goals? Energy Action has a tradition of examining environmental problems in the light of racial and class-based power inequalities and oppression. In line with the conference’s stated goal to “Understand the magnitude of both the challenges and opportunities presented by the climate crisis and explore our own capacities to create transformative change,” we hope to contribute to this discussion of the nature of the current power structure and who must be the constituencies of a movement strong enough to “create transformative change.”

The current economic crisis has laid bare that power in society is political-economic and that the balance of power in Washington is steeply tilted in favor of hedge fund owners, not homeowners. The class struggle occurring in the fight over the big three automakers is illustrative of the “magnitude of the challenges” we face. This essay is divided into two parts. First, we examine the power structures and class struggles made more clearly visible by the crisis and introduce readers to critical political economic perspectives. Second, we use the auto bailout controversy to illustrate the importance and opportunity for interlinking environmental movements with the labor movement at the grassroots level.

Pt.1

Continue reading ‘Powershift! to whom and from whom? Pt.1′

Climate Crisis — Urgent Action Needed Now!

Students, Scholars, and Activists met last week in Australia for a conference on the kind of social change we will need to stop climate change. They have issued a statement containing both a critical analysis of the problems we face and a call for the kind of cross movement solidarity and radical social change which are necessary preconditions for an effective climate strategy. The language contained in article 11 is, I feel, particularly important:
“The bedrock of the transition to climate sustainability lies in developing the alliance between the environmental and climate change movement and working people, young people, the unemployed and welfare recipients, and their union and community organisations…If those opposed to radical action for climate sustainability succeed in turning the mass of working people against the global warming struggle there simply will not be a sustainability transition…”
As our time grows short, evidence is growing that our current policies are grossly inadequate yet our leaders continue to base policy recommendations on what will maintain the privilege of global elites and economic accumulation as their starting point for analysis rather than what will stop runaway climate change while meeting all people’s basic needs. I am adding my signature to the statement and would urge all other IGHIH readers to consider doing the same.
(statement republished from MRzine, see also John Bellamy Foster’s talk from the conference’s “Climate Change and its Social Roots” panel)

Statement Initiated by Participants in the Climate Change|Social Change conference, Sydney, Australia, April 11-13, 2008

The following statement was started by the participants in the Climate Change|Social Change conference. Anyone who agrees with it is welcome to add their signature, and an updated list of signatories will be issued on a regular basis (contact: <climateconf@greenleft.org.au>.).

It is being distributed to environmental, trade union, Indigenous, migrant, religious and community organizations to help build the movement against global warming

Continue reading ‘Climate Crisis — Urgent Action Needed Now!’


insurgent sociologist


Ryan graduated from the College Scholars Program at the University of Tennessee with a concentration in Human Dimensions of Ecosystem Management followed by a Master's in Sociology with a minor degree in Environmental Policy. While there he worked with great folks fighting for environmental justice in Students Promoting Environmental Action in Knoxville’s campus initiatives and with Mountain Justice’s campaigns across Appalachia. He is currently a doctoral candidate in the dept. of Sociology at the University of Oregon. His research interests are the dialectical relationship of society and nature, energy issues, and the political economy of resource extraction.

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