Thursday, December 12, 2013

It's Time We Realized That Our Fight is With Our Own Governments

It's time we realized that Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Gas are not the enemy.  They're corporations simply doing what corporations do.  They make money and maximize profits for their shareholders.  They just happen to be trading in high-carbon commodities of the sort that are steadily making life on our planet untenable.

They're not your enemy, not really.

Your enemy are the men and women who regulate and license, empower and defend the Fossil Fuelers.   These are the people who populate our provincial legislatures.   These are the people who sit on both sides of the aisle in our House of Commons.   These are the people in whom we vest all the powers needed to protect us and our kids and grandkids and generations beyond.  These are the people who, holding our collective power and the legal duty to exercise it as trustees for us, do not use it to protect us.

It's sort of like hiring an armed guard to secure the bank door who, instead, unlocks the door, opens the vault and ushers the robbers in.  What can we do about it?   That's the focus of an essay by Jeremy Brechert calling for "A Non-Violent Insurgency for Climate Protection."

Scientists and climate protection advocates once expected that rational leaders and institutions would respond appropriately to the common threat of climate change. As Bill McKibben said of Jim Hansen and himself, “I think he thought, as did I, if we get this set of facts out in front of everybody, they’re so powerful — overwhelming — that people will do what needs to be done.”

That, as we know, didn't happen.  This year sees the fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC.   Diluted but nonetheless dire warnings are given.  Our enemies, from their legislative pulpits will murmur gravely that this is indeed the greatest threat facing mankind and, after an appropriate moment of solemnity, will turn on their heels and ignore it.

Twenty-five years of human effort to protect the climate have failed even to slow the forces that are destroying it. On the contrary, the rate of increase in carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels tripled between the release of the first IPCC report in 1988 and today.

Too many of us still think of political leadership as we understood it back in high school.  We haven't recognized how much it has changed or what that means for us and the future of our country.  We think that Justin Trudeau or Tom Mulcair is going to put Canada back on the right track, to lead us out of the perils that seemingly loom in every direction.  That's garbage, they're not.  That doesn't happen in a corporatist state.  The United States is what happens in a corporatist state.   It is a nation in which a corporation is vested with political rights and soon perhaps even human rights.

The globalism that Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney did so much to implant and nurture has led to corporatism and the inevitable corruption of democracy required in the evolution of corporatism.  Corporatist states don't need leaders.  Technocrats like Stephen Harper suffice.  Complex issues such as climate change, equality, peace are beyond their remit and, hence, are simply shuffled into the wings to gather dust.  This reality reinforces Brechert's call for a non-violent insurgency.

Insurgencies are social movements, but movements of a special type: They reject current rulers’ claims to legitimate authority. Insurgencies often develop from movements that initially make no direct challenge to established authority but eventually conclude that one is necessary to realize their objectives. To effectively protect the earth’s climate and our species’ future, the climate protection movement may have to become such an insurgency.

The term “insurgency” is generally associated with an armed rebellion against an established government. Its aim may be to overthrow the existing government, but it may also aim to change it or simply to protect people against it. Whatever its means and ends, the hallmark of such an insurgency is to deny the legitimacy of established state authority and to assert the legitimacy of its own actions.

A nonviolent insurgency pursues similar objectives by different means. Like an armed insurgency, it does not accept the limits on its action imposed by the powers-that-be. But unlike an armed insurgency, it eschews violence and instead expresses power by mobilizing people for various forms of nonviolent mass action.

After closely following the massive strikes, general strikes, street battles, peasant revolts, and military mutinies of the Russian Revolution of 1905 that forced the czar to grant a constitution, Mohandas (not yet dubbed “Mahatma”) Gandhi concluded, “Even the most powerful cannot rule without the cooperation of the ruled.” Shortly thereafter he launched his first civil disobedience campaign, proclaiming “We too can resort to the Russian remedy against tyranny.”

The powers responsible for climate change could not rule for a day without the acquiescence of those whose lives and future they are destroying. They are only able to continue their destructive course because others enable or acquiesce in it. It is the ordinary activity of people — going to work, paying taxes, buying products, obeying government officials, staying off private property — that continually re-creates the power of the powerful. A nonviolent climate insurgency can be powerful if it withdraws that cooperation from the powers-that-be.

Social movements that engage in civil disobedience often draw strength from the claim that their actions are not only moral, but that they represent an effort to enforce fundamental legal and constitutional principles flouted by the authorities they are disobeying. And they strengthen a movement’s appeal to the public by presenting its action not as wanton law breaking but as an effort to rectify governments and institutions that are themselves in violation of the law.

For the civil rights movement, the constitution’s guarantee of equal rights meant that sit-inners and freedom riders were not criminals but rather upholders of constitutional law. For the struggle against apartheid, racism was a violation of internationally guaranteed human rights. For war resisters from Vietnam to Iraq, the national and international laws forbidding war crimes defined civil disobedience not as interference with legal, democratic governments but rather as a legal obligation of citizens. For the activists of Solidarity, the nonviolent revolution that overthrew Communism in Poland was not criminal sedition but an effort to implement the international human and labor rights law ratified by their own government.

The Legal Case for Insurgency.

The Justinian Code, issued by the Roman Emperor in 535 A.D., defined the concept of res communes (common things): “By the law of nature these things are common to mankind — the air, running water, the sea and consequently the shores of the sea.” The right of fishing in the sea from the shore “belongs to all men.”

Based on the Justinian Code’s protection of res communes, governments around the world have long served as trustees for rights held in common by the people. In U.S. law this role is defined by the public trust doctrine, under which the government serves as public trustee on behalf of present and future generations. Even if the state holds title, the public is the “beneficial owner.” As trustee, the state has a “fiduciary duty” to the owner — a legal duty to act solely in the owners’ interest with “the highest duty of care.” The principle is recognized today in both common law and civil law systems in countries ranging from South Africa to the Philippines and from the United States to India.

The sad fact is that virtually all the governments on earth — and their legal systems — are deeply corrupted by the very forces that gain from destroying the global commons. They exercise illegitimate power without regard to their obligations to those they claim to represent, let alone to the common rights beneficiaries of other lands and future generations to whom they also owe “the highest duty of care.”

But protecting the atmosphere is not just a matter for governments. Indeed, it is the failure of governments to protect the public trust that is currently prompting the climate-protection movement to turn to mass civil disobedience. Looked at from the perspective of the public trust doctrine, these actions are far from lawless. Indeed, they embody the effort of people around the world to assert their right and responsibility to protect the public trust. They represent people stepping in to provide law enforcement where corrupt and illegitimate governments have failed to meet their responsibility to do so.

I expect these arguments will be the foundation for Canada's first true, non-violent insurgency for climate protection, the fight against the Northern Gateway pipeline.   When that happens, the question you will need to ask yourself is whether you, whose lives and future they are also destroying, will acquiesce and thereby enable them to crush the insurgents.  It makes no difference where in Canada you live.  You'll have to decide.


Hugh said...

What we have in BC that is really great is BC Hydro, publicly owned and 95% renewable hydro power. 50,000 GWh of electric power per year.

I'm not sure if people really appreciate how valuable it is.

crf said...

There are not many dam sites left. Future power in the province will likely be natural gas fired.

The other alternatives are nuclear energy, perhaps wind energy, and imports (especially from Washington state). All of those options have various problems (political and technical).

Purple library guy said...

BC Hydro's great--for as long as we can keep it. The Liberals wanted to axe it, and in the mean time they're doing their best to ruin it and limit it, forcing it to buy energy from their cronies rather than adding capacity of its own.

I have to take issue with the "Corporations aren't our enemy, government is our enemy" thing, though. If person/entity A bribes person/entity B to let person/entity A do terrible things to you, there are reasons to be unenthusiastic about B, but your enemy is A. You're right that the corporations are just doing what corporations do. This points to the basic problem: Corporations, with their limited liability and their rights as if they were somehow human and frequently their transnational scope, should not exist. Get rid of them and they will cease to do what corporations do. Fail to get rid of them and they will continue doing what corporations do, which includes corrupting and subverting government to their ends.

It may well be that in order to crush the corporations, we need to first take back the government from them. But make no mistake about who the real enemy is.

The Mound of Sound said...

We disagree on that, PLG. Capital will always be with us in one form or another. Even the co-operative industries Alperovitz endorses are a form of capital and function as corporations.

How you regulate corporations is another matter. As Teddy Roosevelt said, corporations have to be harnessed to the service of society. It's their social utility, not their return to shareholders, that government must regulate.

To me, the worst part of free trade deals and globalization generally was the surrender of state sovereignty over market access. People were sold the myth that tariffs and duties served merely to curb prosperity. It was never explained to them that they also had genuine social and political benefits. Tariffs bad, free trade good; me Tarzan, you Jane.

Government is the enabler of the Fossil Fuelers. Without the subsidies, grants, deferrals and tax breaks we lavish on them, Athabasca would be done. Our governments have created this conjuring act, not Big Oil.

Anyong said...

There is a strong movement in Europe called "The Ungrowth Movement". You can find the broadcast on CBC's the Ideas program. Government is these days is a go-between greedy corporations and the masses. Government does what corporations lobby it to do with little regard for people. Although, government could be much more vigilent regarding what corporations and private business does. Case in point..."Olympic silver medallist and longtime figure skating coach Karen Magnussen was rushed to hospital Nov. 28 after inhaling ammonia gas at the North Shore Winter Club.
The accident has left her with the equivalent of a steam burn on her lungs and bronchioles, causing severe respiratory issues, vision problems and chronic fatigue.
The North Shore Winter Club was cited by WorkSafeBC for several violations, including improperly enclosing the ammonia room, improperly fitting respirators worn by employees and stocking respirators with the wrong cartridge to remove gas. The ammonia room was also not equipped with back-draft dampers — large fans that only permit air to flow in one direction — and the club failed to conduct emergency drills at least once a year, according to the agency." To date, nothing has been done about this travesty.

Purple library guy said...

Tariffs also had genuine economic benefits. The gains from trade are oversold. The original economic argument about "comparative advantage" no longer applies because it assumed immobile capital. And it had a typical problem you find in economics: It did not recognize the existence of time. Thus if you're bad at manufacturing cars now, you will be bad at manufacturing cars for ever. Japan and Korea should clearly never have tried manufacturing cars.

But in fact, there is no inherent comparative advantage in most modern economic activity. If your country isn't great at something, you could get great at it if you tried hard. Trying hard has historically always required protectionism. Nearly everyone who's ever industrialized has done so using barriers to imports, and tariffs make a great barrier because the government makes money from them.

Canada might as well have free trade in bananas because we're really never going to compete with the tropics in that stuff. But manufacturing or even tradeable services, there can be lots of solid economic reasons for slapping tariffs on.

And of course there are reasons which economists wouldn't find "economic" but their failure so to do raises questions about what "economic" can mean that's useful. That is, if the motivation for trade is about "comparative advantage" which derives from low foreign wages, and this pushes my country to compete by lowering its wages to match, then the citizens of my country would be better off with a tariff behind which to shelter less "efficient" and "advantageous" local production simply because that way we can maintain decent wages. An economist might say that's terrible economics, our GDP will shrink (questionable itself because of demand issues), but what good is an economy that raises its GDP by making the population poorer?

The Mound of Sound said...

As you know by now, PLG, I find neoclassical economics a fatally flawed social science.

I believe that any country the size of our own that cannot maintain a robust manufacturing base has defective trade laws.

Proper political leadership would explore the future of globalization and realize that it's bound to collapse under its own weight from a variety of destabilizing forces, climate change being one of them.

The move into steady state economics, due to the requirement to balance a society to the nation's ecology, also favours internalizing the economy. What other way is there to break away from the dead-end perpetual growth paradigm?

Owen Gray said...

What do we do, Mound, when every politician is for sale?

The Mound of Sound said...

What do we do, Owen? Concerned citizens by-pass the political process, as the article suggests, and organize non-violent obstruction, basic civil disobedience.

Probably a lot of us out here are going to wind up on buses going to places where they'll have to arrest us to clear us out.

They'll try to marginalize us. One thing they will fear is the prospect of it triggering reaction at the other end of the country.

What they want is an acceptable level of acquiescence. You'll have to decide if you're willing to consign your grandkids' future to this evolving corporatist state.

The line has to be drawn somewhere, Owen. If not here, where, when?

Purple library guy said...

On the "Capital will always be with us in one form or another. Even the co-operative industries Alperovitz endorses are a form of capital and function as corporations."

This is true but not really relevant. Food will always be with us in one form or another. But GM food raised with pesticides and intensive fossil fuel use is nonetheless different in important ways from food raised in a sustainable fashion without poisons involved, yes?

Defined broadly enough, "capital" will always be with us, sure. There was capital long before capitalism, and will be after. "Capitalism", however, is all about who controls the capital. It makes a difference whether who controls the capital is private individuals, the state, the workers, or the people at large in a democratic way. Only the first of those is capitalism.

It even makes a difference whether it's private individuals as such or private individuals mediated by elaborate legal fictions which limit their liability and erase their responsibility (corporations). There was capitalism before corporations, and through most of the industrial revolution while they existed they were much less common and had not taken on their full modern form or gained their full current legal advantages. It would make a difference if they were gone and rich people just had to own what they owned and be responsible for its debts.

Richard said...

Wow Mound, you're doing a superb job getting the information and messages that need to get out, out.

Maybe I don't have to blog anymore after all :)

Richard said...

The big problem with free trade is not so much the removal of tariffs, though that is a problem, but more so the actual surrendering of sovereignty.

Free trade has now created a situation where if a country trys to implement a policy for their benefit which negatively affects a corporation's profit, a non-democratic international body now can overrule that country's politicians and claim the policy breaks trade law.

essentially, under free trade, governments will never be able to move forward with revolutionary policy because any policy that's actually needed in today's peakoil corrupt finance world will absolutely infringe on past agreements made with corporations under the banner of free trade.

From my posts here:

I'm not against corporations, or the free market mind you, but I am against the merging of corporation and state. Fascism. But this is even worse than fascism, because the corporations are simply usurping the governments of the world anyway. Multi-nationalism and globalization have replaced the nationalistic tendencies of fascism, to a point. Every country still beats their drum of nationality, but behind closed doors national sovereignty is being sold like a commodity.

Here is what that looks like.

A panel of international arbitrators ruled 2-1, with the Canadian appointee dissenting, that research-spending rules imposed by Newfoundland’s oil regulator in 2004 were “performance requirements” forbidden by NAFTA.
The decision, which was first reported on the New York-based website Investment Arbitration Reporter, has not been publicly released. The results were confirmed by an Exxon source.
The case is a win for oil companies in their tug-of-war over revenues with the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, which reached a high point under combative former premier Danny Williams.
But it also illustrates how Ottawa always ends up with the bill when provinces violate the terms of trade agreements that they didn’t sign. In 2010, the federal government paid out $130-million to AbitibiBowater Inc. after Newfoundland expropriated the company’s timber and water rights. Several other current NAFTA challenges involve provincial policies.
You see, on issues of importance to the global corporate world, you are left out. As a nation we can no longer set the terms of business being done in our country, and each new trade negotiation being done behind closed doors adds new anti-democratic panels which we have no say in to make decisions on our (read: the companies) behalf.

Purple library guy said...

Aye, right enough.
Then there's the question of freedom of investment. Free trade as such might not have been quite so bad if we could have kept our elites relatively national, with our local capitalists owning our stuff and wanting it to do well while French ones owned French stuff and Mexicans owned Mexican stuff. There's no real connection between arguments for free trade and the freedom of relatively unlimited direct investment and foreign control which always seems to accompany that with little comment.

So now we've reached the point where the Hudson's Bay Company of all things, a commercial concern that was Canada before there was a Canada, our very own sordid colonial legacy, is now owned by foreigners. And there's no reason for foreign owners to care about developing Canada, or Canadian owners of Mexican enterprise to care about developing Mexico.

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