The coal industry is dying, and they are desperately trying to place the blame for their impending doom on someone other than themselves. The world around them is changing, and the industry is absolutely terrified of change.
This article was originally published in the February 24th issue of The Nation and is republished with permission.
by Wen Stephenson
It’s an odd thing, really. in certain precincts of the left, especially across a broad spectrum of what could be called the economic left, our (by which I mean humanity’s) accelerating trajectory toward the climate cliff is little more popular as a topic than it is on the right. In fact, possibly less so. (Plenty of right-wingers love to talk about climate change, if only to deny its grim and urgent scientific reality. On the left, to say nothing of the center, denial takes different forms.)
Sometimes, though, the prospect of climate catastrophe shows up unexpectedly, awkwardly, as a kind of non sequitur—or the return of the repressed.
I was reminded of this not long ago when I came to a showstopping passage deep in the final chapter of anarchist anthropologist David Graeber’s The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement, his interpretive account of the Occupy Wall Street uprising, in which he played a role not only as a core OWS organizer but as a kind of house intellectual (his magnum opus, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, happened to come out in the summer of 2011). Midway through a brief discourse on the nature of labor, he pauses to reflect, as though it has just occurred to him: “At the moment, probably the most pressing need is simply to slow down the engines of productivity.” Why? Because “if you consider the overall state of the world,” there are “two insoluble problems” we seem to face: “On the one hand, we have witnessed an endless series of global debt crises…to the point where the overall burden of debt…is obviously unsustainable. On the other we have an ecological crisis, a galloping process of climate change that is threatening to throw the entire planet into drought, floods, chaos, starvation, and war.”
These two problems may appear unrelated, Graeber tells us, but “ultimately they are the same.” That’s because debt is nothing if not “the promise of future productivity.” Therefore, “human beings are promising each other to produce an even greater volume of goods and services in the future than they are creating now. But even current levels are clearly unsustainable. They are precisely what’s destroying the planet, at an ever-increasing pace.”
Talk about burying the lead. Graeber’s solution—“a planetary debt cancellation” and a “mass reduction in working hours: a four-hour day, perhaps, or a guaranteed five-month vacation”—may sound far-fetched, but at least he acknowledges the “galloping” climate crisis and what’s at stake in it, and proposes something commensurate (if somewhat detached from the central challenge of leaving fossil fuels in the ground). That’s more than can be said for most others on the left side of the spectrum, where climate change is too often completely absent from economic and political analysis.
This article was originally published in the February 17th issue of The Nation and is republished with permission. Read the full text of the editorial here.
by James Lawrence Powell
University presidents once spoke their conscience on matters of great public importance. In the early 1950s, many protested the loyalty oaths that required faculty members to forswear membership in the Communist Party. One of the most courageous critics of McCarthyism was Nathan Pusey, first as president of Lawrence College in Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin, then as president of Harvard. In the 1960s, some university presidents openly opposed the war in Vietnam. Even at the cost of donor support, Yale president Kingman Brewster Jr. publicly contested the war and decried the inequities in the draft. He permitted protest demonstrations and skillfully kept the Yale campus open and relatively calm.
In the 1980s, a protest movement arose on American campuses as students—and some campus presidents—argued that it was immoral for universities to own stock in companies doing business in apartheid South Africa. Although Harvard president Derek Bok refused to support divestment over apartheid, Harvard eventually did sell most of its South Africa–related stock—and Bok did endorse the sale of stock in tobacco companies.
Today, university presidents and the institutions they lead confront a moral choice over a crisis that threatens human health and society on a far greater scale than either tobacco or apartheid: climate change. As Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in Field Notes From a Catastrophe, “It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.” In the last few years, students have begun urging their colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuel companies (FFCs), whose products are driving climate change. Two of the first university presidents to respond, Drew Gilpin Faust of Harvard and Christina Paxson of Brown, this fall placed themselves and their institutions on the wrong side of science and of history by rejecting divestment.
I believe that presidents Faust and Paxson were wrong, gravely wrong, not only in the broadest sense—because their choice harms humanity—but because they failed in their narrow duty to protect their institutions and their present and future students.
The Nation magazine has revealed that Koch Industries sent a letter to most of its 50,000 employees before the U.S. midterm elections in November 2010 advising them on whom to vote for. In “Big Brothers: Thought Control at Koch,” Mark Ames and Mike Elk expose the urgent “election packet” [PDF] sent to tens of thousands of Koch employees complete with ample libertarian reading materials instructions and a list of eligible vote-worthy (conservative) candidates.
As if this isn’t disturbing enough, the letter warns employees them of the dire consequences to their families, their jobs and their country should they choose to vote otherwise.
This story raises alarming concerns about corporations’ ability to influece the ways in which their employees vote. According to Amy Goodman at Democracy Now!, Koch is entirely within its legal right to pressure people in this manner because of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
So who are the fearmongers again?
“The cycle of alarmist predictions is now well established. Not long before some new UN moot, a prominent fearmonger like James Hansen or Michael Mann will make a tremulous statement about the accelerating tempo of the warming crisis. The cry is taken up by the IPCC and headlined by the New York Times, with exactly the same lack of critical evaluation as that newspaper's recycling of the government's lies about Saddam's WMDs.” – Alexander Cockburn