What the Climate March Did and Didn’t Do

Dennis Loo | September 23, 2014

The tremendous outpouring in NYC on Sunday (and it should be added, perhaps more importantly, at Wall Street on Monday (#FloodWallStreet)) over the global climate emergency has some commentators on the Left convinced that the grassroots will now be able to solve the ever-spreading climate catastrophe.

Here, for example, is Harvey Wasserman at OpEd News today, “Gorgeous Global March Shows How to Win the Climate Fight”:

The massive People's Climate March, the most hopeful, diverse, photogenic, energizing, and often hilarious march I've joined in 52 years of activism -- and one of the biggest, at 400,000 strong -- has delivered a simple message: we can and will rid the planet of fossil fuels and nuclear power, we will do it at the grassroots, it will be demanding and difficult to say the least, but it will also have its moments of great fun.

With our lives and planet on the line, our species has responded.

Ostensibly, this march was in part meant to influence policy makers. That just goes with the territory.

But in fact what it showed was an amazingly broad-based, diverse, savvy, imaginative, and very often off-beat movement with a deep devotion to persistence and cause, and a great flair for fun.

Because what must happen most of all is organizing from the grassroots against each and every polluting power plant, unwanted permit, errant funding scheme, stomach-turning bribe, planet-killing frack well, soon-to-melt reactor, and much much more.

Winning this fight for global survival will be done not with one great triumph over corporate hypocrisy and greed. Instead it'll require death by a million cuts, with countless small victories won day-to-day at the unseen grassroots. As the man said, this revolution will not be televised.

Those “death by a million cuts” do not seem to have started yet.

Consider the following:

The UN Climate meeting that began today resulted in two distinct outcomes.

First, Brazil refused to sign onto a deforestation agreement. The Amazon Rainforest, which resides primarily in Brazil, is by itself responsible for 20% of the oxygen that we breathe and is correspondingly a major carbon absorber. Protecting it from massive deforestation therefore is crucial to protecting the planet. Ignoring the vast outpouring of citizens to defend the planet, the Brazilian government claimed that it had not been party to the deforestation agreement. They failed to mention that they had been invited repeatedly to participate in the preparation of the agreement to protect the Rainforest, but had declined.

Second, the Obama Administration refused to agree to charge for carbon use. This criminal action – anyone in authority who refuses to step up to defend the planet is committing a crime against the planet and all of its species - comes simultaneous to Obama’s climate speech today, contemporaneous as well with his bombers carrying out brutal airstrikes in Syria. As reported by NPR:

"We recognize our role in creating this problem; we embrace our responsibility to combat it. We will do our part."

But he also says countries that are struggling to build their own industries can't repeat the mistakes others have made in what he calls the "dirty phase" of development. He also notes partnerships with China and with African nations.

Saying that the effort to fight climate change can only succeed if both developed and developing nations join with the U.S., Obama says, "Nobody gets a pass."

He later adds, "Nobody can sit on the sidelines on this issue."

This “not sitting on the sidelines” decision to not carbon charge and thereby discourage its use is consistent with Obama signing rather than vetoing in 2013 a Congressional bill that called for the US to ignore the EU’s plans to attack the fastest growing source of CO2 emissions, airliners.

As reported by The Guardian on September 4, 2013 in “Barack Obama should practice what he preaches about climate change:”

When President Barack Obama gave his long-awaited climate change speech in June, many US environmentalists bought the notion that a green giant was awakening in the White House.

"Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it's not going to protect you from the coming storm," Obama warned climate laggards then.

Here's a problem though. One environmental foot-dragger President Obama could have addressed this comment to is ... President Obama.

On Wednesday, the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao) is expected to approve a US-backed text that would restrict Europe's efforts to make airlines pay for their emissions under its carbon trading scheme, and stall global efforts to charge airlines for their pollution until 2016 or later.

In recent years, Europe has tried to make aviation pay under its emissions trading system (ETS), and with good reason.

Airlines are the fastest growing source of global greenhouse gas output. Already responsible for 5% of the world's annual global warming, by 2030 their emissions are projected to double from 2005 levels.

Yet last November [2012], Obama signed a Congressional act authorising the US transport secretary to prevent US airlines from participating in the ETS. (Emphasis added)

Obama’s speeches about the importance of addressing global warming parallels his speeches about how Guantanamo, torture, and indefinite detention are not consistent with “American values.” That is, he makes speeches pretending that he is decrying his very own policies. This is his particular variant of having your cake and eating it too: articulately pose as being on the side of the angels while doing the work of the devil. No wonder Wall Street gave him at least $20 million more for his 2008 campaign for the presidency than it gave to his opponent John McCain. They knew that when Obama spoke publicly about clamping down on Wall Street that he was merely doing PR.

I want to return to the question now of whether or not the growing climate catastrophe can be solved on the grassroots level, as some people think seeing the outpouring of public demand for this in the past few days.

What should be clear – and isn’t remotely yet clear enough – is that it doesn’t matter to those who hold power and it doesn’t matter to this system of capitalism-imperialism how many people are in the streets if the people in the streets remain within the confines of politics as usual. You cannot defeat the enemy to our planet with a “million cuts” and by not recognizing what you are really up against and what it is going to take to end this drive to extinction that the powers that be are hell bent on taking the whole planet into.

The actions in the last few days by hundreds of thousands of people around the world, representing the wishes of billions of people on the planet, are wonderful. But they are not anywhere nearly enough.

As revolutionaries in China said during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: “Cast Away Illusions. Prepare for Struggle.”

Dennis Loo is a member of the World Can't Wait Steering Committee. This article appeared earlier today at his website DennisLoo.com.

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.