Sunday, September 21, 2014

The march to save the planet

There is something about this big march to save the planet from the baleful effects of climate change that is unbearably sad.  It isn't that there is nothing people should do about such an obvious impending catastrophe.  It isn't that there isn't a place for people to demand more action from their political leaders.  It's that climate change is a very grownup problem and marching aimlessly around the streets of New York is akin to a bunch of toddlers crying "mommy, make it better."

One person informed me that the great outcome of this effort would be if the UN passed a "meaningful" resolution opposing climate change.  I resisted the temptation to suggest he ask the Palestinians about the effectiveness and usefulness of "meaningful" UN resolutions.  I did ask him how the already existing UN efforts to confront climate change were doing when it comes to CO2 build-up in the atmosphere.  Useless sputtering ensued.

The BIG problem is that anyone who thinks that marches will solve a dilemma like climate change has no grasp whatsoever on either the nature or seriousness of the problem.  Pointing to scientific studies that determine CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are rising or watching animals die because their habitat has been permanently altered is NOT, by itself, taking the problem seriously.  After all, we are in this mess because after at least 10,000 years of effort, humanity has figured out a technological infrastructure that makes our very survival possible.  Yes there is a lot of waste in the system but even if we eliminated all the frivolous uses for fire, we would still have a big-time problem.

Because marching against climate change is fundamentally absurd, the true believers have already fallen into bizarre forms of bickering over which symbolic gesture will be more effective.  Unfortunately, the real answer is "none of the above."  Only clever design and LOTS of hard work will make even a dent in a problem this size and complexity.  Of course, whenever any prescription mentions hard work, the Leisure Classes are horrified and poof—there would go your largest march in history.

Nevertheless, there have been some interesting developments in the run up to this event.  Probably the most fascinating is the response to Naomi Klein's "horrifying error" in suggesting the climate change deniers may have a better grasp on the problem than the Liberals / Progressives who claim such concern for the environment.  She committed her sin on Democracy Now—a show so politically correct it borders on self-parody.  Well watch it yourself.  She claims that organizations like the Heartland Institute START with the premise that doing anything meaningful about climate change means that many existing businesses from coal mining to the airlines will have to reinvent themselves at great cost and effort or go out of business.  Since they would rather keep doing what they know, they find it cheaper to hire a bunch of charlatans to call the climate change evidence into question.  And while Klein is understandably horrified that such things occur, she seems to find it refreshing that at least SOMEONE is taking the climate question seriously—even if they are the bad guys.  Because goodness knows, the Liberal / Progressive community is still at the "mommy, make it better" stage.

Naomi Klein On Why The Climate Change Deniers Are Right

This is one of the more interesting critiques of the Climate March from someone who thinks it is actually worth attending.  She claims the real action will be Monday down on Wall Street where the rules of neoliberalism are enforced.  This is still marching and we are still a long way from any analysis that would rise to something as insightful as the principles of the Greenback Party, but it is about 100 times more relevant than badgering the poor UN.
Flood Wall Street!

After the People’s Climate March, Then What?


This coming week in New York City promises to be interesting. The UN Climate Summit will be convened by Ban Ki Moon. At the Summit, President Obama and other heads of state will likely call for voluntary measures and vague aspirations at the beck and call of the corporations that currently have a stranglehold on the global economy. A week of climate related events will be brought to the city by “The Climate Group”, courtesy of Duke Energy, Goldman Sachs, Swiss Re and others whose motives we must surely question!

The Peoples Climate March, neatly permitted and funded, is scheduled for the day prior to the summit. Chris Hedges refers to the march as “symbolic”. Quincy Saul referred to it as a “farce”, with “no politics”. Anne Petermann points to the lack of demands and “big umbrella” approach, as a recipe for false solutions. All true, but it can also be argued that such big umbrella symbolic actions have some merit here in the US where deniers have sown such a vast ocean of ignorance and confusion.

In any case, there is one rather clear advantage: many people, will be in NY.

Some will be content to call on “them” (congress, politicians, the UN, the Pope, Grandma…) to write a blank check for some unspecified “action on climate”. They will play right into the hands of the corporate wolves in sheep’s clothing who peddle false solutions and have laid elaborate and deceiving plans for profiteering from the climate crisis.

But there are also many with a deep and abiding understanding of the depth and breadth of the climate, economic, ecological, social, political crisis we are facing and its’ common twisted roots. They will not just travel to NY, march in an orderly and permitted fashion, and then go quietly home afterwards feeling satisfied and personally redeemed.

They will be there, some long beforehand, doing the serious heavy lifting involved in building a real movement. They will be participating in the “Convergence for People, Planet and Peace Over Profit”, discussing strategy, sharing knowledge and forging plans for the future monumental task that is “System Change Not Climate Change”. They will link up to learn from and build solidarity with frontline communities and activists at The People’s Summit. And they will stay on after the march to get on with the actual real and demanding work of building the “post-march world” which means moving mountains, confronting the criminal corporate behemoths, speaking truth to power, putting their hearts, souls and lives on the line to make and shape a just, peaceful, healthy and yes, even potentially beautiful, future.

What less can we aspire to?

Those who will take on this task are mothers and fathers who care for future generations. They are people who cannot simply accept the drowning of nations and starvation and violent obliteration of millions. They are people who cherish and understand the intricate grace of nature and mourn its brutally evident dying. They are those who can still hear the voices of their ancestors calling on them to live honorably as stewards on this earth.

They are people who understand that climate change is not just one among an army of “issues”, but rather it a “perfect storm” – a sum greater than all its parts, spawned by a convergence of abuses: from wars and genocides to drilling, pumping, burning and mining the place to ruins, from racism and sexism, to spewing toxic chemicals, mowing down ecosystems and poisoning the oceans.

It is not just an “inconvenience” to be resolved by plugging into some other currency of extraction (“sustainable, green and renewable” energy). It is the defining context of our lives and of this time in the history of life on earth.

To lessen the damages, push back the tides, and save what remains, including our own little skins, will require no small measure of change. No little tweakish reform here or there, a little money trickling down from the 1% over there, a green job for him and a solar panel for her will get us close to where we need to go. It will demand system change of a sort we can barely yet imagine.

Naomi Klein’s new book aptly titled “This Changes Everything: Climate vs Capitalism” is right on the money, starting with the straightforward statement that “the problem is not carbon, it is capitalism”.

And so, the first step following the march-of-mixed-blessings promises to be a bold one, aimed straight at the heart of the raging beast of capitalism: Wall Street. On the morning of the 22nd, taking their cue from Occupy Wall Street, a flood of blue people will gather at Battery Park and then move on to the NY Stock Exchange, to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience, directly confronting the system that both causes and profits from the crisis at the expense of life.

Here’s to a fierce, invigorating and boldly targeted step for the climate justice movement. Let’s bring on that beautiful future! more

This is an interesting critique on what happens when tote-baggers try to be serious.  You get a PR campaign that actually talks about "branding."  Well, what do you expect?'s Bill McKibben is a Harvard man so above all, he will ensure that the "virtues" of the Leisure Classes will be faithfully upheld.  It requires massive amounts of trained incapacity to believe that convincing folks to add CO2 into the atmosphere in order to join a protest against adding CO2 into the atmosphere actually makes sense.  And you are a Leisure Class superstar if you believe that if the elites can just decide to confront climate change, the problems will be solved (no arrogance involved in such a posture, huh?)  And then there is that "educated" nativism that postulates that by making grand sweeping gestures, we can skip the nuts-and-bolts efforts like those who have actually made progress on reducing their climate footprints.  I mean, what could a Harvard man actually learn from the Danes, for goodness sakes?
Business as Usual in Manhattan

How the People’s Climate March Became a Corporate PR Campaign


I’ve never been to a protest march that advertised in the New York City subway. That spent $220,000 on posters inviting Wall Street bankers to join a march to save the planet, according to one source. That claims you can change world history in an afternoon after walking the dog and eating brunch.

Welcome to the “People’s Climate March” set for Sunday, Sept. 21 in New York City. It’s timed to take place before world leaders hold a Climate Summit at the United Nations two days later. Organizers are billing it as the “biggest climate change demonstration ever” with similar marches around the world. The Nation describes the pre-organizing as following “a participatory, open-source model that recalls the Occupy Wall Street protests.” A leader of, one of the main organizing groups, explained, “Anyone can contribute, and many of our online organizing ‘hubs’ are led by volunteers who are often coordinating hundreds of other volunteers.”

I will join the march, as well as the Climate Convergence starting Friday, and most important the “Flood Wall Street” direct action on Monday, Sept. 22. I’ve had conversations with more than a dozen organizers including senior staff at the organizing groups. Many people are genuinely excited about the Sunday demonstration. The movement is radicalizing thousands of youth. Endorsers include some labor unions and many people-of-color community organizations that normally sit out environmental activism because the mainstream green movement has often done a poor job of talking about the impact on or solutions for workers and the Global South.

Nonetheless, to quote Han Solo, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Environmental activist Anne Petermann and writer Quincy Saul describe how the People’s Climate March has no demands, no targets,and no enemy. Organizers admitted encouraging bankers to march was like saying Blackwater mercenaries should join an antiwar protest. There is no unity other than money. One veteran activist who was involved in Occupy Wall Street said it was made known there was plenty of money to hire her and others. There is no sense of history: decades of climate-justice activism are being erased by the incessant invocation of the “biggest climate change demonstration ever.” Investigative reporter Cory Morningstar has connected the dots between the organizing groups, and Avaaz, the global online activist outfit modeled on MoveOn, and institutions like the World Bank and Clinton Global Initiative. Morningstar claims the secret of Avaaz’s success is its “expertise in behavioral change.”

That is what I find most troubling. Having worked on Madison Avenue for nearly a decade, I can smell a P.R. and marketing campaign a mile away. That’s what the People’s Climate March looks to be. According to inside sources a push early on for a Seattle-style event—organizing thousands of people to nonviolently shut down the area around the United Nations—was thwarted by paid staff with the organizing groups.

One participant in the organizing meetings said, “In the beginning people were saying, ‘This is our Seattle,’” referring to the 1999 World Trade Organization ministerial that was derailed by direct action. But the paid staff got the politics-free Climate March. Another source said, “You wouldn’t see Avaaz promoting an occupy-style action. The strategic decision was made to have a big march and get as many mainstream groups on board as possible.”

Nothing wrong with that. Not every tactic should be based on Occupy. But in an email about climate change that Avaaz sent out last December, which apparently raked in millions of dollars, it wrote, “It’s time for powerful, direct, non-violent action, to capture imagination, convey moral urgency, and inspire people to act. Think Occupy.”

Here’s what seems to be going on. Avaaz found a lucrative revenue stream by warning about climate catastrophe that can be solved with the click of a donate button. To convince people to donate it says we need Occupy-style actions. When the moment comes for such a protest, Avaaz and 350.orgblocked it and then when it did get organized, they pushed it out of sight. If you go to People’s Climate March, you won’t find any mention of the Flood Wall Street action, which I fully support, but fear is being organized with too little time and resources. Nor have I seen it in an Avaaz email, nor has anyone else I’ve talked to. Bill McKibben of began promoting it this week, but that may be because there is discontent in the activist ranks about the march, which includes lots of Occupy Wall Street activists. One inside source said, “It’s a branding decision not to promote the Flood Wall Street action. These are not radical organizations.”

Branding. That’s how the climate crisis is going to be solved. We are in an era or postmodern social movements.

The image (not ideology) comes first and shapes the reality. The P.R. and marketing determines the tactics, the messaging, the organizing, and the strategy. Whether this can have a positive effect is a different question, and it’s why I encourage everyone to participate. The future is unknowable. But left to their own devices the organizers will lead the movement into the graveyard of the Democratic Party, just as happened with the movement against the Iraq War a decade ago. You remember that historic worldwide movement, right? It was so profound the New York Times dubbed global public opinion, “the second superpower.” Now Obama has launched an eighth war and there is no antiwar movement to speak of. 
Sources say Avaaz and is footing most of the bill for the People’s Climate March with millions of dollars spent. Avaaz is said to have committed a dozen full-time staff, and hired dozens of other canvassers to collect petition signatures and hand out flyers. Nearly all of’s staff is working on climate marches around the country and there is an office in New York with thirty full-time workers organizing the march. That takes a lot of cheddar. While the grassroots are being mobilized, this is not a grassroots movement. That’s why it’s a mistake to condemn it. People are joining out of genuine concern and passion and hope for an equitable, sustainable world, but the control is top down and behind closed doors. Everyone I talked to described an undemocratic process. Even staffers were not sure who was making the decisions other than to tell me to follow the money. It’s also facile to say all groups are alike. Avaaz is more cautious than, and apparently the New York chapter of, which is more radical, is at odds with the national.

But when the overriding demand is for numbers, which is about visuals, which is about P.R. and marketing, everything becomes lowest common denominator. The lack of politics is a political decision. One insider admitted despite all the overheated rhetoric about the future is on the line, “I don’t expect much out of this U.N. process.” The source added this is “a media moment, a mobilizing moment.” The goal is to have visuals of a diverse crowd, hence the old saw about a “family-friendly” march. Family friendly comes at a high cost, however. Everything is decided by the need for visuals, which means organizers will capitulate to anything the NYPD demands for fear of violence. The march is on a Sunday morning when the city is in hangover mode. The world leaders will not even be at the United Nations, and they are just the hired guns of the real climate criminals on Wall Street. The closest the march comes to the United Nations is almost a mile away. The march winds up on Eleventh Avenue, a no-man’s land far from subways. There is no closing rally or speakers.

An insider says the real goal was to create space for politicians: “If you can frame it as grandma and kids and immigrants and labor you could make it safer for politicians to come out and support. It’s all very liberal. I don’t have much faith in it.”

When I asked what the metrics for success for, the insider told me media coverage and long-term polling about public opinion. I was dumbfounded. That’s the exact same tools we would use in huge marketing campaigns. First we would estimate and tally media “impressions” across all digital, print, outdoor, and so on. Then a few months down the road we would conduct surveys to see if we changed the consumer’s opinion of the brand, their favorability, the qualities they associated with it, the likelihood they would try. That’s the same tools Avaaz is allegedly using.

Avaaz has pioneered clickbait activism. It gets people to sign petitions about dramatic but ultimately minor issues like, “Prevent the flogging of 15 year old rape victim in Maldives.” The operating method of Avaaz, which was established in 2007, is to create “actions” like these that generate emails for its fundraising operation. In other words, it’s a corporation with a business model to create products (the actions), that help it increase market share (emails), and ultimately revenue. The actions that get the most attention are ones that get the most petition signers, the most media coverage, and which help generate revenue.

Avaaz has turned social justice into a product to enhance the liberal do-gooding lifestyle, and it’s set its sights on the climate justice movement.

The more dramatic the emails the better the response. It’s like the supermarket. The bags and boxes don’t say, “Not bad,” or “kinda tasty.” They say “the cheesiest,” “the most delicious,” “an avalanche of flavor,” “utterly irresistible.” That’s why climate change polls so well for Avaaz. It’s really fucking dramatic. But it’s still not dramatic enough for marketing purposes.

One source said the December 2013 email from Avaaz Executive Director Ricken Patel about climate change was a goldmine. It was headlined, “24 Months to Save the World.” It begins, “This may be the most important email I’ve ever written to you,” and then says the climate crisis is “beyond our worst expectations” with storms and temperatures “off the charts.” Then comes the hook from Patel, “We CAN stop this, if we act very fast, and all together. And out of this extinction nightmare, we can pull one of the most inspiring futures for our children and grandchildren. A clean, green future in balance with the earth that gave birth to us.”

Telling people there is 24 months to save the world is odious, as is implying an online donation to Avaaz can save the planet.

The same overblown rhetoric is being used for the People’s Climate March: It’s the biggest ever. There is “unprecedented collaboration” with more than 1,400 “partner” groups in New York City. Everything comes down to this one day with the “future on the line and the whole world watching, we’ll take a stand to bend the course of history.”

Presumably the orderly marchers behind NYPD barricades will convince the governments of the world that will meet for the Climate Summit that won’t even meet for another two days that they need to pass UN Secretary­ General Ban Ki-­moon’s “ambitious global agreement to dramatically reduce global warming pollution.”

Moon is now joining the march. But it’s hard to find details, including on the Climate Summit website, as to what will actually be discussed there. The best account I could find is by Canadian journalist Nick Fillmore. He claims the main point will be a carbon pricing scheme. This is one of those corporate-designed scams that in the past has rewarded the worst polluters with the most credits to sell and creates perverse incentives to pollute, because then they can earn money to cut those emissions.

So we have a corporate-designed protest march to support a corporate-dominated world body to implement a corporate policy to counter climate change caused by the corporations of the world, which are located just a few miles away but which will never feel the wrath of the People’s Climate March.

Rather than moaning on the sidelines and venting on Facebook, radicals need to be in the streets. Join the marches and more important the direct actions. Radicals need to ask the difficult questions as to why for the second time in fifteen years has a militant uprising, first Seattle and then Occupy, given way to liberal cooptation. What good is your radical analysis if the NGO sector and Democratic Party fronts kept out-organizing you?

Naomi Klein says we need to end business as usual because climate change is going to change everything. She’s right. Unfortunately the organizers of the People’s Climate March didn’t get the memo. Because they are continuing on with business as usual that won’t change anything.

One prominent environmental organizer says that after the march ends, “The U.N. leaders are going to be in there Monday and Tuesday and do whatever the fuck they want. And everyone will go back to their lives, walking the dog and eating brunch.”

The future is unwritten. It’s not about what happens on Sunday. It’s what happens after that. more


  1. It’s been a disappointing day for me. I have to admit there is definitely something about the big march…”that is unbearably sad.” Indeed. Sad that so many turned out to support something they thought important…and so few heard about it because all the “news of the day” was busy elsewhere covering football and other “more important” stuff. There was little time left to cover the small crowd of people “marching aimlessly around the streets of New York,” and in other parts of the if they could possibly make any difference “…akin to a bunch of toddlers crying ‘mommy,’ make it better.” Indeed.

    As for Naomi Klein, when she interviewed the head of the Heartland Institute… “he was quite open…that when he looked at the science and listened to what scientists were saying about how much we need to cut our emissions, etc, he realized that climate change could (if it were true) justify huge amounts of government regulation, which he opposes. So, he said ‘…if the science is true, his whole ideology falls apart,’ because a crisis that big involves transforming the foundation of the entire world—built on fossil fuels—that we hear even from a lot of liberal environmental groups that we can change it with new light bulbs, gentle market mechanisms, tax and relax, etc, no problem… But, ‘if’ the science is really true a major transformative change will be required, and some folks see that as the end of the world!

    Except it’s not the end of the world; it’s the end of their world; the end of their ideology; and rather than think about that, they would rather deny the science.”

    And so when Naomi Klein says, "’the right is right,’ that they have a better grasp on the political and economic implications of science and what the role of the public sphere and collective action in the new world will be…better than the slick centrist green groups that constantly try to sell climate action as something entirely reconcilable with a booming capitalist economy (how we’re always hearing about green growth and how it’s great for business) yeah, it could be that…there will be markets in green energy and so on…but other businesses are going to have to contract in ways that puts them entirely out of business, and groups like Heartland Institute can’t abide that.” (They might rather just die and take all of us with them than switch!)

    Indeed, as said by the cartoonist Joel Pett in 2009 before the Copenhagen Climate Summit, “What if it [the science] is a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?” Imagine the horror…the disaster of that…(for the ruling class).

    1. I yield to no person in my concern about climate change / peak oil. But I am now 65 and have grown exceedingly weary of people telling me that holding a parade will solve either problem. And I am absolutely furious at people who try to tell me that converting a fire-based civilization to something more enlightened will be either cheap or easy. And I most certainly do not need my consciousness raised with empty gestures.

      So even though I share the goals of most of the marchers today, experience has taught me that finding solutions will take a lot more than wishes and good intentions—or wandering around the streets in costumes. Progressives were once known for their big creative ideas. It's going to take that sort of thinking again—and we cannot wait any longer to get started.

  2. I completely agree. If anything, these marches (in America especially since <.00001% of population shows up) end up giving comfort to the energy companies by being a visible indicator that not enough people care enough to march, care enough to act, care enough to put their money where their mouth is. So the status quo where energy companies dictate the pace of conversion continues.

    But these so-called greens have no guts to just convert themselves first. They need to stop forming lobbying groups that suck up all available funds to merely talk-talk-talk and instead start conversion projects in their communities with all these lobbyist monies. Start a local solar garden, pick house after house and convert it with solar, and sign up everyone for their local energy company's wind program. All these things are available NOW and put the money currently lost to lobbying into direct action in conversion.

    Yes, this too will be symbolic compared to all USA energy use, but it is real skin in the game action, it is progress you can make happen instead in just blah-blah-blah nothingness. Don't let 'perfect be the enemy of good.' Start now without waiting for the rest of the world to join you. You only think it don't matter or you can't do anything because you haven't thought of what might work directly for you yet.

    How many community solar projects would it take before the local energy company would realize it was losing control of the monopoly in their marketplace--I guarantee it is <50%, likely as low as 10% and if all these groups had put money into action since 1988 instead of talk, how far might society had come by now? How far back would energy companies stopped building coal plants, how much earlier would China+India had stopped building them? How much sooner would a solar/wind market been proven viable? But that past doesn't matter, but let's do it starting now.

    1. Amen to that!

      Personally, I would like to see enough projects that resulted in enough net-zero dwellings to create something that resembled peer pressure along with a wider knowledge of how this sort of thing is actually accomplished.

    2. Precisely, real life experience on green housing using tradesmen in the business, not academia or lobbying groups looking for green funding grants.

      As your brother learned, computer models of net-zero homes only go so far, building the model is what takes you the rest the of the way. I know of high school classes that build houses as part of 'shop class' now, and universities have contests to engineer better homes...BUT the focus is wrong as it focuses on either status quo construction techniques or hyper-future engineering for some 2050 development that doesn't help today. We need society to focus on refurbishing existing housing stock being modernized with green energy.

      Back ~5 years ago when construction unions were struggling for work and more membership, I pitched to a local union organizer a plan to pull their investments out of Wall Street and put the monies directly to work for union workers--HOW? By taking out of work union members and paying them to install (made in USA of course) solar panels on (soon to retire and retired ) union members homes.

      The workers would have picked up real marketable knowledge and skills, union retirees would have a real home to retire in, and unions would have been a true community that people would be proud of. My response was crickets.