Part 2: Why the climate strike is a social justice issue (and why it should strike at the core of growing fascism)

September 23, 2019

by Rosario Guzman

Last of a two-part series

Here is the social science

The climate change we are experiencing is not natural. It is overwhelmingly anthropogenic – according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), it is extremely likely (with more than 95% probability) to be the result of human activity.

Climate change today is not the result of current-day emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) but of cumulative emissions that have been built up historically since the rise of modern capitalism. At the heart of the climate crisis is the capitalist crisis, which is inherent, recurrent, and worsening. The Earth’s natural processes can no longer cope with capitalism.

And, to be precise, it is the profit-driven activities of transnational corporations (TNCs) that are causing the largest emissions of GHG. These are mainly from: the production and use of fossil fuels consisting mostly of coal and petroleum products; agribusiness monoculture and the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides; and deforestation.

By country, the US is the number one polluter, directly accounting for one-fourth of the GHG emissions. High carbon concentrations in the atmosphere are also recorded in countries where TNCs of the US, Japan and Europe operate. These include underdeveloped countries whose economies have been transformed by TNCs to feed the energy demand and consumption needs of the industrialized countries. Transition economies and revisionist states such as China and Russia have also ridden the tide of global capitalism and have contributed to the carbon build-up.

TNCs are at the core of the climate issue. They account for half of all oil, gas and coal extraction and refining, with only about 10 TNCs controlling the bulk of oil and gas production. TNCs control 80% of land worldwide, which is cultivated for cash crops. Only about seven TNCs control global corporate agriculture; only 20 TNCs account for 90% of the sales of hazardous agrochemicals. TNCs also monopolize extractive industries such as mining, energy extraction and dams building, which have irreversible effects on the environment and have rendered people more vulnerable to climate hazards. Not surprisingly, TNCs are the number one lobbyists against reductions in carbon emissions.

Here is the injustice

The injustice is undeniable. The advanced capitalist countries and their TNCs are historically responsible for the qualitative leap in the climate crisis. Yet, it is the poor underdeveloped countries such as the Philippines that bear about 80% of the cost of damages caused by climate change. Through colonization and neocolonial intervention, the advanced capitalist countries have plundered the ecosystems of the underdeveloped countries and impoverished the majority of their populations. Now, such underdevelopment limits poor countries to adapt to climate change and its hazards. Yet, rich countries continue to deny climate reparations.

The imposition of neoliberal policies on countries such as the Philippines in the last four decades has aggravated the socioeconomic and ecological crises. Yet, foreign governments and neoliberal institutions continue to propose even harsher neoliberal policies purportedly to allow the poor countries to manage and reduce disaster risks. They encourage the poor countries to be ‘resilient’ – a much-abused term especially for countries such as the Philippines, which is chronically in crisis. It becomes really confusing what shape the neoliberalists want the poor countries to spring back into. Yet, our governments embrace neoliberalism as the solution just the same.

Take the case of Typhoon Yolanda. Four decades of privatizing public utilities, including transport, and social services hampered the government’s response. It should not have been difficult for the Philippine government to transport the victims from Eastern Visayas to safer places. But the government had to rely on private airlines, private shipping lines, foreign militaries and foreign donors to evacuate the people. The government even had to rely on the private sector for the simple provision of drinking water to the devastated communities.

When the Philippine government came up with a so-called rehabilitation plan (quite quickly, as it has always been lying there as the country’s ‘development plan’), it carried the same neoliberal policies. It is a private-sector-led, infrastructure-centered rehabilitation plan, even placing the important aspects of disaster response under private provisioning. The plan has been easily transformed as the grand infrastructure program, Build, Build, Build, by the Duterte administration.

We are running out of time. Yet, global climate negotiations are far from reaching real solutions. The Kyoto Protocol in 1997 only introduced market-based mechanisms to reduce global GHG emissions to a level that scientists and activists deemed as “too meager, too late”. The Kyoto Protocol even made commitments that could be traded like commodities in the global market.

The Paris Agreement in 2015 indeed committed to keep global warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature rise even further to 1.5°C. But it made the responsibilities of advanced capitalist countries and the underdeveloped countries one and the same, contrary to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The agreement basically throws away any historical responsibility of the capitalist system. Moreover, countries were allowed to choose their ‘intended nationally determined contributions’ (INDC), which are not legally binding. When the INDC submissions were analyzed, assuming that these were fully implemented, the minimum temperature increase would still be 2.4°C.

Why we should fight back

Despite the 2015 Paris Agreement being watered-down and perpetuating the injustice, which is what the US wants, the US still withdrew from it. The US has conveniently avoided reducing its carbon emissions altogether and contributing to the climate fund presumably meant for the victims.

This is not the first time that the US walked out of a global climate agreement. It refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol 22 years ago, and now it appears to be not agreeing to any global policy that would slow down its economy. Not now, not ever. The Trump administration is seeking a renegotiation of the climate deal that would incorporate its America First policy.

Across the globe, to manage the capitalist crisis, governments have seemingly embarked not only on the intensification of human rights violations by neoliberalism but on a political response that is a categorical rejection of so-called democracy. Images in the recent months of forest fires in the Amazon in Brazil and in Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia have brought to the world’s attention the fascistic policies of governments to prioritize agribusiness, mining, and corporate plantations that encourage deforestation and displacement of indigenous communities. These policies are blatant – as Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro has made clear that protecting the environment is not a priority of his government.

Across the world, climate activists have been vilified, harassed, red-tagged and killed like never before for taking a stand and defending the Earth. The international watchdog, Global Witness, reports for 2018 that the Philippines by far is the most dangerous place for land and environmental activists including climate disaster responders. The watchdog adds that countless others were silenced through violence, intimidation and “the use and misuse of anti-protest laws” across the world. Here in the Philippines, trumped-up non-bailable charges are being slapped on land and environmental activists, while the Duterte administration continues the neoliberal policies that erode the country’s chances for sustainable development.

The climate strike is a fight-back strike, it can’t be any other. It is also a “demand ecological payback” strike. It should reject market-based, profit-driven, false solutions, as well as governments’ authoritarian posturing that puts at stake the planet and the people. It should work for the reversal from neoliberal policies and the installation of strong-willed governments that shall prioritize the transformation of economies away from fossil fuels dependence. It is a social justice issue as it is based on people’s assertion of their right to determine our common future.

(Read the first part of this series)

Photo from Bulatlat