The Ends and Means of Climate Change Mitigation

Confusion over the means and ends of radical left activism can be potentially fatal for the causes we strive to advance. And for the case of climate change mitigation, confusion can be fatal, literally speaking, for the human species. Given the potential opportunity to enact binding reductions in carbon emissions at the Conference of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Mexico next year, any confusion that plagues the Left must be lay to rest immediately in order to ensure we play our indispensable role in combating this threat. In a three-part series with ZNet called “Has The Left Missed The Boat On Climate Change?,” Robin Hahnel offers some clarity on the matter by answering two critical questions pertaining to the climate change crisis: What is the immediate end we are trying to achieve? And what is the most effective means of achieving this end given practical constraints?

In the face of cataclysmic climate change, Hahnel correctly argues that the immediate end is unequivocally to reduce carbon emissions to safe levels—levels determined by the scientific community, not the economic or political. Theoretically, the available means are government regulation of carbon emissions, carbon taxes, and cap-and-trade. Practically, the only viable means available is cap-and-trade, something Hahnel urges the Left to support instead of protest. However, it is being argued by some on the Left that preventing the implementation of any cap-and-trade system is an end in and of itself. According to Climate Justice Action, cap-and-trade is a system that creates a “new commodity” out of “the Earth’s ability and capacity to support a climate conducive to life and human societies” and passes it “into the same corporate hands that are destroying the climate.” For this reason, they argue cap-and-trade is a “pretend” solution to the climate change crisis. As we will see, the problem with this argument is a result of failing to rank competing ends.

For those that agree with Climate Justice Action, viewing cap-and-trade as a means to an end is the wrong way to frame the issue. Instead, mitigating climate change and preventing the implementation of a cap-and-trade system are both ends that the Left should be fighting to achieve. Under ideal circumstances, Hahnel and myself would agree and argue that a carbon tax is a better solution. Unfortunately, we are not living under ideal circumstances, so we must consider the relevant facts on the ground in order to strategize effectively. According to Hahnel,

climate activists were not able to win consideration for a significant international carbon tax during the 1990s, and Annex-1 countries agreed to a cap on aggregate Annex-1 emissions for 2012 that, while insufficient, was a significant step. More importantly, at this juncture it is even more apparent that we can win much larger global reductions through caps than we can win through an international carbon tax. Recently an 80% reduction in global emissions – or more – by 2050 has come under serious consideration. Nobody knows how high a global carbon tax would have to be to achieve reductions this deep, but everybody knows that a tax of that magnitude is completely out of the question. In other words, it has turned out we could win much better deals in the form of caps than through carbon taxes [my emphasis].

In short, those that reject cap-and-trade out of hand are confronted with the following dilemma: Pursuing one end entails sacrificing another, i.e. activism aimed at preventing the implementation of cap-and-trade decreases the prospects for effectively mitigating climate change, and vice versa.

Such dilemmas require ranking competing ends and making a strategic choice to pursue the one of most critical importance. In this case, there is only one sensible choice because implementing a cap-and-trade system does not threaten mass destruction and potentially the extinction of the human and other species; cataclysmic climate change however does. Moreover, cap-and-trade offers the best chance to achieve two crucial principles featured in the Kyoto Protocol that the Left has supported: first, “binding reductions in an international treaty” under the auspices of the UN (as opposed to voluntary arrangements recently proposed by the Obama administration at Copenhagen) and, second, a treaty that advances the principle of “differentiated responsibilities and capabilities,” meaning the costs of averting climate change should be distributed differently based on the different responsibilities (cumulative emissions per capita) and different capabilities (GDP per capita). There exists no politically viable proposal for carbon tax that has any chance of being signed into a binding treaty under UN auspices, much less that follow the principle of “differentiated responsibilities and capabilities.” To quote Hahnel again, “it has turned out we could win much better deals in the form of caps than through carbon taxes.”

If this not enough to sway those who reject cap-and-trade under all circumstances, let’s consider the following the example. The Left would certainly agree that outlawing slavery in a society and creating a labor market in its place, while not an ideal reform, ((If the choice were between a labor market or participatory economy, I would certainly chose the latter. But given the absence of this choice, creating a labor market is a marked improvement over slavery, an improvement the radical left undoubtedly approves of.)) is certainly better than the status quo. The reasoning, as we all know, goes as follows: By replacing the slave trade with a labor market, something that was essentially free, labor, must now be paid for by those previously exploiting it. And with this comes labor wages and bargaining power, which even if minimal can do much to improve the prospects for enhancing living standards and freedom of the formerly enslaved, particularly if accompanied eventually by living wage and collective bargaining laws. If the Left agrees that a labor market is an improvement over the slave trade given no better option, I don’t see any reason not to support cap-and-trade given current circumstances. In both cases, a market is used to take something exploited for virtually free and make the exploiter pay a price for future exploitation. Although far from removing altogether the element of exploitation, the improvements can be significant and should not be taken for granted, nor squandered.

Hahnel admits that cap-and-trade is a “bitter pill to swallow for all who abhor the commodification of everything, including the natural environment,” a sentiment I certainly share. Nevertheless, we should remember that cap-and-trade can come in different packages. So the best way we can reduce the bitterness is for the Left to stop rejecting cap-and-trade altogether and strategize effectively to achieve the best possible cap-and-trade package. To accomplish this strategic goal, Hahnel adds four principles, in addition to the two principles outlined above, that the Left should fight to be included in a binding treating:

(1) Set a cap on global emissions at whatever level the scientific community tells us is necessary to stabilize carbon concentrations at 350 ppm.
(2) Cap emissions in all countries but give less developed countries much higher caps and place more stringent caps on more developed countries by whatever amount is necessary to achieve the global emission cap determined in #1.
(3) Cap national net emissions rather than national emissions.
(4) Give national governments the power to certify or refuse to certify emission reduction credits for sale by parties operating in their territories.

At this juncture in the climate change debate, it is crucial that the Left line up behind a set of principles. Confusion too late in the game will undoubtedly sacrifice what we strive to advance—the most effective and equitable means available to achieve reductions of carbon emissions to safe levels determined by the scientific community. The principles outlined by Hahnel theoretically can achieve this goal. To make them politically viable requires strategic action on the part of the Left.

As an example of “what not to do,” I’ll conclude with a brief critique of the rhetorical use of climate “reparations,” which more and more is being pronounced by left activist groups, as opposed to “differentiated responsibilities and capabilities.” Not only is the principle, “differentiated responsibilities and capabilities,” stated explicitly in the Kyoto Protocol and recognized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), it has the same meaning (I suspect) as climate “reparations”—the global North bears more responsibility for averting climate change because it has emitted far more cumulative emissions per capita and it is in a better position to bear the financial costs due to higher income and wealth GDP per capita. The difference between the phrases, “differentiated responsibilities and capabilities” and climate “reparations,” however is that the latter is politically inflammatory and, like “socialism” and “terrorism,” has no real meaning, particularly in the US. This late in the climate change debate there is no reason to go through the intellectually arduous task of recovering the meaning of “reparation,” particularly given an alternative widely accepted and present in the actual language of the treaties under review!

This said, I can think of no better way to end this article then with the following quote, “Our strategic artistry can be informed, and it had better be if we are to succeed.”

Stephen Roblin is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, School of Public Policy. His research interests are participatory economics, U.S. military policy, and the destructive impacts of neoliberal capitalist expansion. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Stephen.

33 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Don Hawkins said on January 13th, 2010 at 9:55am #

    James Hansen new.

    Easy. The proposed bills in Congress are loaded with goodies for special financial and corporate
    interests. These bills would cheat the American public – again. Cap?and?trade was designed in
    part by Wall Street, which is eager to exploit a trading market expected to grow to two trillion
    dollars. The revolving door between Washington and Wall Street helped bring the scheme

  2. Don Hawkins said on January 13th, 2010 at 10:12am #

    Please read that new post by James Hansen. The truth you all remember that it’s still here hasn’t gone anywhere. Think of this as kind of a war calm at peace. The truth the knowledge.

  3. bozh said on January 13th, 2010 at 10:28am #

    Only a change approved, i assert, by a minority of people wld be implemented.
    People, probably 90%, of lesser value or with zero or near zero political powers, will not once again be included in the governance of the US.
    They never had and they never will have slightest say as long such chasm exists btwn valued and devalued humans. tnx

  4. Don Hawkins said on January 13th, 2010 at 10:36am #

    Let’s work on it and soon.

  5. David Spero said on January 13th, 2010 at 10:57am #

    “Cap-and-trade” could theoretically help, but there are two glaring problems.
    1. The inclusion of “offsets” (taking other actions that supposedly mitigate global warming and counting them as emission reductions.) These are completely unverifiable in most cases, since nobody knows what the environmental effects of such “mitigation” actions are. There would be a huge bubble in “offsets” without much actual reduction of emissions.

    2. Enforcement – are governments going to check all our activities for CO2? This would make drug prohibition seem like an ACLU-fest by comparison. The only way to enforce reduced emissions is by taxing fossil fuels, meats, etc. at point of purchase. This doesn’t have to be an international tax. Nations, states, or localities could come up with their own means of enforcement, but this is also very difficult.

    In general, I like the slogan “Cap, Don’t Trade.” But Hansen’s idea of taxing all carbon sources and distributing the receipts of the tax to those in need is also good.

  6. lichen said on January 13th, 2010 at 3:49pm #

    Cap and trade is a stock market scam that doesn’t actually involve any reductions of carbon neccessarily–throwing indigenous people out of a forest that wasn’t going to be cleared anyway and thinking that this somehow excuses a sweatshop multinational corporation from gobbling up resources and polluting to make junk? No, I don’t think so. I and the rest of the climate justice movement will continue to move to our real goals for policy defined by the people as a whole.

    This article is both fatuous and obnoxious; it is practical to do something much more radical than what has been spoken about in this article; not only climate reperations, but also leaving the coal, oil, tar sands, and gas in the ground. The author sounds like an Obama supporter; defending and demanding people ‘fall in line’ with something so ridiculous, racist (as it forcibly shoves aside the concerns of first-nations and poor people who are on the front lines of climate change–as does the authors repeated exhortation that they will follow conventional ‘scientific’ targets–thus implying that he absolutely rejects the demands of indigenous peoples that the target be 1 or 1.5, not 2 which will kill them.)

  7. Don Hawkins said on January 13th, 2010 at 4:36pm #

    This is about the human race and it’s survival and alllife on Earth. It’s going to get tuff and we must start now. Even if we start now tuff is the word get those boots. This is not a secret anymore although a few would like to think it is or like you to think it is. Let’s watch the Senate here in the States and see what we see.

  8. Don Hawkins said on January 13th, 2010 at 4:40pm #

    This was well done.

    After years of research, scientific debate, court cases, public hearings and comments, Sen. Murkowski is suggesting that we simply choose to “unlearn” that global warming is happening and that it will be dangerous to human health and welfare.

  9. Stephen Roblin said on January 13th, 2010 at 9:55pm #

    In response to Don Hawkins, let me be clear that this article pertains only to the international treaty, not proposals for a national policy. The first link you posted deals solely with the domestic debate. My article will make little sense when read in this context. But as for the domestic proposals, I certainly do not support giving away the permits to emitters for free under the “grandfather system.” I would support what some call a “cap and dividend” if and only if all 100% of the permits are auctioned off. This would allow citizens to be owners of the new wealth, which could be used to offset the costs industry will inevitable impose on citizens, as the article you site mentions.

    David Spero, I think you make really good points. I will respond to your first point now–” taking other actions that supposedly mitigate global warming and counting them as emission reductions.” This problem does not arise if the policy were to be based on capping net emissions in each country, rather than just emissions. Capping emissions creates the problem of governments, like the US, petitioning for sequestration credit in place of emission reductions and claiming higher percentage reductions, which, in the end, leads to little to no reductions in net emissions. Capping net emissions directly avoids this problem. Its important to remember that whether a country meets its net emissions cap through reducing emissions or increasing sequestration does not matter. All what matters is that concentrations in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere decline.

    Let me also say that if net emission caps for rich countries were set sufficiently low and caps for poor countries set sufficiently high, poor countries could sell their unused permits to rich countries who would highly demand them. This could lead to a huge transfer of wealth from rich to poor. In fact, this principle has been applied by the EU when it assigned lower caps to more developed member countries like Germany and higher caps to less developed members such as Ireland and Portugal. This is something worthy of fighting for in my view.

  10. Don Hawkins said on January 14th, 2010 at 3:17am #

    The meeting, which is intended to cement ties between the seven Alba countries, is also expected to pursue the idea of an international court for environmental crimes, as well as the radical idea of “mother earth rights”. This would give all entities, from man to endangered animal species, an equal right to life.

    “Our objective is to save humanity and not just half of humanity,” said Morales in a speech at Copenhagen. “We are here to save mother earth. Our objective is to reduce climate change to [under] 1C. [Above this] many islands will disappear and Africa will suffer a holocaust. The real cause of climate change is the capitalist system. If we want to save the earth then we must end that economic model.” Guardian uk

    If we want to save the earth then we must end that economic model.

  11. Charlie said on January 14th, 2010 at 3:28am #

    I think you are overlooking several issues that a cap and trade treaty would have to address.

    First, the treaty would require global diplomacy on a scale that the US is wholly incapable of achieving. Look at our history of international treaties and agreements: nuke weapons, chemical weapons, land mines, biowarfare, ocean dumping, free trade, the drug wars, etc. Most of them were disastrous failures, or their success was simply a game of smoke and mirrors played out by cynical and deceptive government officials. For instance, the “reduction” in strategic nuke weapons came from reclassifying them as tactical weapons–a paperwork change created the illusion of reductions. Similarly, the US has been destroying its chemical weapons stockpile, but it doesn’t advertise that it is still producing chemical weapons not covered by the treaty. Also, what has been the US’s success with the Kyoto Protocols? And Copenhagen was an unmitigated disaster, with no meaningful accords agreed to and signed.

    Moreover, the US has not in recent history demonstrated any ability to engage the rest of the world except through violence. If we had any diplomatic skills at all, would we be waging massive, bankrupting wars while ignoring the good of the American people at home? We are now poised to cut social programs for the elderly and poor so that we can continue to fund the slaughter in the Middle East. What does that tell you about our ability to negotiate treaties? We have become a nation of warmongers, not diplomats, and we elect more warmongers at every possible opportunity. In addition, we demand that other nations conform to agreements while we ourselves ignore them. Why should the US have military facilities not subject to international inspection while we loudly and fiercely demand that Iran and other countries be laid wholly open to our prying eyes? Negotiating treaties requires mutual respect and some give-and-take. What is our standing in the world today that suggests we are universally respected to the extent a global treaty would demand?

    Second, you call for the Left to organize behind cap and trade. OK, let’s suppose–just for the entertainment value–that everyone on the Left suddenly agrees with you and signs on to cap and trade. So what? The Left has accomplished absolutely nothing in the past 30 years or more. The Left couldn’t stop NAFTA, the war in Iraq, Bush’s theft of the White House, the de-regulation of Wall Street, the recent bailout for billionaires program, loan guarantees for nuke power, the raiding of Social Security and pension funds, the “defense of marriage,” the imposition of creationism on the public schools, strip mining, gutting of the Endangered Species Act, school vouchers, the brutalization of Palestinians, insurance company control of healthcare reform, the secrecy of the Fed, and so on. In what universe does anyone see the Left as a viable political force in the US today?

    Third, who controls the US government–the people or monied corporations? And how many corporations are anxious to impose new caps on their emissions?

    Fourth, the devil is always in the details, so what are the details of this treaty you support? In particular, who’s going to broker the trades? Do you have any proposed mechanisms that will eliminate corruption in the process? Bribery and theft of public funds are an accepted, even cherished cultural institution in a number of nations that you claim would benefit from trading credits to the developed nations, so how will you keep the alleged transfer of wealth from ending up in the pockets of corrupt government officials? How well has the US done policing its own companies in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example? Could the UN do any better? Look at the ongoing violation of UN resolutions by Israel and explain how that body, which can’t even enforce a single resolution against a small country, is going to police a global trading scheme.

    Fifth, addressing global climate change in any meaningful way will require unprecedented changes in the economic and social institutions of the US. The American people have a long history of adamantly resisting any change in those areas. Any treaty that even mildly suggests the tiniest change in American consumerism will be dead on arrival. Over-consumption and waste are the hallmarks of American culture, and that isn’t going to change. Also, the right-wingers have been alarmingly successful in convincing the American people that global warming is a lie. How can you hope to get a treaty signed when many Americans will see it as unnecessary and punitive?

    I understand your alarm about global warming, and I applaud anyone who wants to address such a pressing issue. But your article is mostly for academic consideration. It seems to me to be divorced from the realities of domestic and international politics. Global warming is a battle that must be fought and won at home first. Concentrate on getting the American people, not just the Left, on board and then take on the world.

  12. Don Hawkins said on January 14th, 2010 at 3:43am #

    That economic model is destroying Earth for life with what we now know the system Capitalism is quite literary crazy and just could be one reason the people we see sitting in front of a fireplace on say CNBC telling us how the World work’s are stark raving mad looney tunes. Of course they don’t want you to know this little fact it’s just better that way, oh no it isn’t. It looks like these few have a choice to make find three more Earths or if that seems to hard come up with another plan. To me the easiest way to understand this is this last little economic downturn who got the help first and where did that help come from? The thinking of course was and still is what is the easiest way. We get to see that thinking with the Senate here in the States very soon. To try a real try easy has nothing to do with it but everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler. So far it’s looney tunes stupidity on a grand scale and total foolishness.

  13. bozh said on January 14th, 2010 at 6:33am #

    charley, yes,
    Uncle sam never changes. He changes words, pacts, agreements, ‘laws’, but there is no pact-agreement he had not violated if it impeded US in land grabs-hijacks and other merely perceived or real US ‘interests’.

    And there is no pact-agreement, US warlords won’t break if it is merely perceived as an obstruction to US endgoal; whatever it may be? We cld take an educated guess: more hijacks, more aggressions in order to obtain the planet or as much of it as possible.
    And thus kyoto, rio, copenhagen have failed. One wld have to be very naive to think that china, russia, et al, at least keep in mind US planetarianism and at most evaluate it as true.
    So everybody is dissembling! tnx

  14. bozh said on January 14th, 2010 at 6:39am #

    …that china, russia do not, at least keep in mind US planetarianism….tnx

  15. Stephen Roblin said on January 14th, 2010 at 10:33am #

    I am very happy that so many have responded. At this point, I would encourage any of you to read Robin Hahnel’s article, as this article is more of a brief, repackaging of his overall arguement, an argument which I believe to be a good short-term strategy that does not preclude more radical action and of course is open to revision due to conditions on the ground.

    That said, let me state clearly that I agree completely with Charlie’s fifth criticism, “addressing global climate change in any meaningful way will require unprecedented changes in the economic and social institutions of the US” and, I would add, world. And by more “meaningful” I mean replacing the economics of greed and competition with a system based on cooperation and equity. But replacing capitalism with a more efficient, equitable, and humane system is not, as far as we can see, right around the corner; cataclismic climate change however is. So while I agree that markets and capitalism MUST be replaced if we are to achive real sustainability, it does not mean the left cannot participate in reform campaigns aimed at lessening the destructiveness of markets and capitalism. In fact, some of the more radical elements of the left in the beginning of the 20th century took advantage of opportunities for reform, say in the labor movement, while working to replace (unsuccessfully) capitalism with some form of socialism. I don’t see why we can’t do that now.

    As for your first two critique, which can be summed up as: The US is incapable of engaging the world in a productive, and the left has failed to prevent this in recent decades. So why should we expect that the left can effectively pressure the US government (and other governments for that matter) to enact the principles oultined by Hahnel in a cap-and-trade system?

    While the left has been unsuccessful in so many ways to prevent atrocious crimes committed by US government and MNCs, I do not agree that we have not succeeded in some important areas. During this time of “failure”, the left has helped build the strongest international movements in justice, environment, and other areas that history has ever seen. While its impossible to know what the world would be like without the impacts of these movements, its clear that world would be a far worse place. In fact, the left has played an indispensible role in putting climate change reform on the agenda in the first place! This has occured through promoting reform and taking more radical action, both of which are necessary in my view.

    But more importantly, your crtique could apply to ALL ACTIONS taken by the left, not just actions aimed at getting the best cap-and-trade proposal possible. If the left has failed to make carbon tax a viable option for an international treaty, why should we bother trying to put it on the agenda? Since the left has so far failed to lead “unprecedented changes in the economic and social institutions of the US” and world, why should we keep trying? So your critique could be applied to the short-term mitigation presented here (which does not preclude more radical change) as well as your solution. Accepting this is defeatist and counterproductive.

    You say, “Global warming is a battle that must be fought and won at home first.” While, of course, we should “Concentrate on getting the American people, not just the Left, on board and then take on the world,” I think averting cataclysmic climate change is a WAR that will require many BATTLES taking place on MANY FRONTS. Getting the “American people…on board” is one battle. Getting the best international treaty we can at this juncture is another battle. Neither can sacrificed and neither is ” divorced from the realities of domestic and international politics,” despite the immense challenges facing both lines of attack.

    As for your last point concerning the details, you’re absolutely correct–this is where the devil resides. And for a description of the detials concerning carbon tax, cap-and-trade, and government regulation, see the Hahnel’s article, “A Climate Change Policy Primer”:

    But to point to all the weaknesses and challenges confronting the international treaty does not mean we should not particpate in crafting it. Similarly, pointing the UN’s inability to prevent Israel’s violation of UN resolutions is not an argument against the UN, the specific resolutions, nor international law for that matter. It demonstrates the extent to which Israel will pursue its crimes against the Palestinian people. It also demonstrates the extent to which activists must work to strengthen the UN and international law. Rejecting the UN and all its resolutions due its impotence does nothing to help the Palestinian cause. In fact, the Palestinian resistance movement has, to a great extent, predicated itself on international law and they have not abandoned those principles for good reason.

    The questions I have are: why abandon the principles of Kyoto at this juncture? How can carbon tax become a more viable option for international negotiations? If we can get more reductions in carbon emissions through cap-and-trade than carbon tax, why not go for a cap-and-trade? If cap-and-trade is most politically viable, why not promote a set of principles that would make it more effective and equitable? While many criticisms, some relevant some not so relevant, have been put forth here, I have yet to find good answers to these questions.

  16. Don Hawkins said on January 14th, 2010 at 12:22pm #

    Politically viable in 2010 is nothing more than looney tunes and the people seen and unseen are stark raving mad. Can I make that more clear.

  17. Stephen Roblin said on January 14th, 2010 at 2:52pm #

    Let me briefly address another comment: “Carbon trading is nothing more than a Wall Street scheme to exploit a trillion dollar carbon market.”

    When faced with the fact that there are Wall Street schemes to exploit all tradable commodities, the immediate solution is to regulate socially counterproductive Wall Street and financial speculation, i.e. when speculation increases wealth and income inequality and when it produces financial crises that adversely affect the real economy and the rest of us.

    Now that carbon is free, it is being exploited with no consideration whatsoever for the costs imposed on humanity and the earth. Putting a a cap on emissions and allowing the trade of carbon permits means LESS EXPLOITATION because emitters are actually paying a portion of these costs (as long as the caps are set suffciently low). The lower the overall caps, the more costs are included in speculation. Moreover, the lower the caps for rich countries, the more of the costs they have to pay. The higher the caps for poor countries, the more wealth transfrom from North to South will occur because they will sell their unused permits up North. This point can not be made enough.

    Going from emitters paying zero to paying something IS changing the “economic model” similar to how implementing minimum wage and collective bargaining laws changes the “economic model” of wage negotiations. While some aspects of the undelrying structure, such as markets, are still in place, the character of the model can change significantly and for the better. Making these changes are important steps to take as we work to replace the capitalist, market-based model altogether.

    I’ll end by repeating that we cannot win a carbon tax that will yield as large an emission reduction as we can win through cap-and-trade. For this reason, cap-and-trade makes sense if we want to avert climate change before its too late. How else can we achive sufficient reductions? This question, which is the most important, has not been answered.

  18. lichen said on January 14th, 2010 at 2:55pm #

    If there was really this huge opportunity for a cap and trade deal coming out of Mexico, then it would do so regardless of the left. Indeed, the big polluters were not listening to us on the street in Copenhagen, they went behind closed doors, shutting out all of South America, Africa, and small island nations, and decided they would ‘agree’ on a non-binding permit to ‘do whatever you want.’ I don’t imagine it matters much, thus, that we all ‘sign on’ to their bankrupt plan; unless you are concerned with wanting to be on ‘the winning side;’ yet, again, it is unlikely that the big polluters will decide to do anything demanding in Mexico, so we might as well be in Solidarity with those residing in small island nations and Africa and stick behind real climate justice. It isn’t us who are abandoning Kyoto; it is the US, Canada, Denmark, France…

    It also must be said that the point most climate change denialists stick with is how terrible cap & trade ultimately is. If some of us aren’t after real climate justice, this thus means we have less of an argument, and the right wing teabaggers will be free spread their reactionary propaganda about us supposedly instituting an oppressive ‘new world order’ to control people.

  19. Don Hawkins said on January 14th, 2010 at 3:00pm #

    Read the comments on this article food for thought. Very good thoughts.

  20. lichen said on January 14th, 2010 at 3:46pm #

    And the left has not ‘failed’ in the past thirty years; the political system has just become so closed off, so self-feeding that it doesn’t care what we have to say. If there were laser cannons to kill protests, masses of cameras, counterterrorism laws and media consolidation as it exists now back in the 60’s, then they would have “failed” to. Of course it was a triumph to disrupt and shut down Copenhagen as it had turned into an attempt by a few rich countries to force everyone else into a nothing deal.

  21. Deadbeat said on January 14th, 2010 at 4:09pm #

    lichen writes…

    And the left has not ‘failed’ in the past thirty years; the political system has just become so closed off, so self-feeding that it doesn’t care what we have to say.

    First lichen I appreciated your particpation on the Left/Right thread but I think we need to be honest about the Left. The Left has failed in the past 30 years. It has moved away from a very real anti-capitalist perspective and has withdrawn from an anti-racist stance. Understanding why this has happened is vital in order to restore the Left.

  22. Jeff White said on January 14th, 2010 at 7:16pm #

    You’re absolutely right, Deadbeat. And following Stephen Roblin’s T.I.N.A. advice will only help to perpetuate the left’s impotence and isolation.

  23. lichen said on January 14th, 2010 at 9:59pm #

    Well, deadbeat, however much you think the rhetoric for one ‘left’ or another has deteriorated, my point is that trying to take some new organizing technique or tweaking the politics for a new campaign and putting more effort inside the current system will never have a different result. There needs to be fundamental system change before the left will ever have it’s rightful say or a large, empowered movement. The current system says to everyone ‘you are futile, you will change nothing, the media will be 100% against you, the corporate-funded houses will ignore you.’ If we don’t fundamentally change the way our political system functions, we will never get anywhere; but not because one activist or technique or another is bankrupt and must be denounced; not because we need another ‘new third party’ when obviously it will be bludgeoned to death immediately.

    Like many things in todays US society, it is easy to sit back and blame yourself when the outcome was in fact directly caused by intentional policy set by the political system (this is apparent when someone defaults on their astronomical private student loan debt–the hammer of ‘personal responsibility’ comes down on them hard, yet it was intentional changes to the policy by the political elite that involved disinvestment causing soaring tuition, the removal of bankruptcy protections, and the birth of the predatory, unregulated student loan industry–and when we know in many other countries that college education is free for everyone.–there are countless other examples.)

  24. Stephen Roblin said on January 15th, 2010 at 11:11am #

    “If there was really this huge opportunity for a cap and trade deal coming out of Mexico, then it would do so regardless of the left.”

    This statement is simply false. First of all, no one has the privileged position to predict what exactly will happen in the future, including what will occur in Mexico. The reason being what happens from now until then will greatly determine future events. What can be said, however, is this: If a significant portion of the Left remains anti-reformist and uneducated on the issue of cap-and-trade while continuing to fall back on sound bites bashing cap-and-trade, our impact will be small if even noticeable. On the other hand, if we quit rejecting reformist measures out of hand, educate ourselves on which cap-and-trade system can help address climate change in an effective and equitable manner, and start promoting these specific principles through activism, then there is a chance for us to have a significant impact. But, in the end, there is no guarantee, as we all know.

    “it is unlikely that the big polluters will decide to do anything demanding in Mexico, so we might as well be in Solidarity with those residing in small island nations and Africa and stick behind real climate justice. It isn’t us who are abandoning Kyoto; it is the US, Canada, Denmark, France”

    Let me be clear that the actions taken by the Obama administration were horrendous and certainly made the prospects for achieving the goal of effective and equitable climate reform more difficult. However, and I quote, “Whether or not the blow Obama dealt to multilateral efforts to combat climate change through binding reductions consistent with ‘differentiated responsibilities and capabilities’ in Copenhagen will prove fatal, remains to be seen.” The future is notoriously difficult to predict. Let’s consider an example—US foreign policy and the anti-apartheid movement.

    At the beginning of the Reagan administration, the minimal distance the Carter administration put between itself and the apartheid government (which was largely a rhetorical distance) was eliminated as the new administration ramped up its financial and military support for the South African government. All of this was in blatant disregard to the long list of UN resolutions condemning the apartheid government (which date back to the 1940s) and international outcry over the atrocious crimes committed by the apartheid regime inside its borders and in the southern African region at large. At that time, Left activists in the US could have said, “No one listens to the Left. The US will never change its policies towards the apartheid regime. So lets stop pushing for reform.” Perhaps an intelligent prediction at the time would have said this much. But that’s not what happened, hence the difficulty in predicting future events. Due to CONTINUED ACTIVISM AIMED AT REFORM, it was the Reagan administration that had no choice but to sign the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986, which imposed sanctions against South Africa to be lifted upon elimination of apartheid laws, among other things.

    While the anti-apartheid struggle, which took over 5 decades to achieve, and climate change reform are different in so many ways, the point I am trying to make is this: Rejecting opportunities for reform, even if minimal, does not equate to standing in solidarity with those who are oppressed. Are we standing in solidarity with low wage workers by refusing to participate in minimum wage campaigns because it does not lead to “fundamental system change”? Are we standing in solidarity with minorities by refusing to support affirmative action laws because it does not change the fundamental character of capitalism? Are we standing in solidarity with those most impacted by climate change by refusing to shape in a more effective and equitable manner what comes out of Mexico next year?

    Lastly, to insinuate that the Left has been ineffectual in the last 3 decades is erroneous. During this time we have seen international solidarity movements, whether environmental, human rights, anti-war, and so on, coalesce in a way the world has never seen. These movements have had and continue to have serious impacts that should not be overlooked, but instead expanded. Now this is not to say that we have been effective enough to stop horrible developments in recent history—investors’ rights globalization, Iraq war, Afghanistan war, and IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programs, to name just a few. The distinction between ineffectual and not effective enough to stop x, y, and z are two different things. We need to build on our successes and learn from our failures in order to break new ground through participating in reform campaigns and taking more radical action.

    I’ll repeat, averting climate change is a WAR with MANY BATTLES taking place on MANY FRONTS. Mexico next year is one battle, and we should be strategic and scrappy so that we get the most out of the opportunity, no matter how small that opportunity may be.

  25. Stephen Roblin said on January 15th, 2010 at 11:18am #

    Just so my position does not get twisted, shaping in a more effective and equitable manner what comes out of Mexico next year includes protesting the exclusiveness of these negotiations, as many brave activists did in Copenhagan. But lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  26. Don Hawkins said on January 15th, 2010 at 1:25pm #

    The time is now to act not talk and talk and talk.

  27. lichen said on January 15th, 2010 at 2:08pm #

    Yet again you resort to condescension. It is clear that, despite what you repeatedly say about ‘listening to scientists’ (your veiled way of rejecting the fact that small island nations and Africa cannot accept 2 degrees celsius) you clearly have listened a great deal to neoliberal economists and politicians. It seems I am also right about you being an Obamaist, and you take the classical right wing opinion that people who call for justice are “against reform” (just like the new all-white city council in New Orleans said that those who would be made homeless by the needless demolition of their housing project were simply ‘against reconstruction.’)

    We are educated about what cap and trade is; a stock market scam. We don’t all need to get in line behind it; it is allowable to make a prediction based on history, and expecting entire movements to get behind you when you obviously don’t respect, listen to, or understand them is ridiculous. You seem not to see any irony in your bringing up the anti-apartheid struggle; a classical ‘liberal’ sort of example since they choose to ignore the fact that the poor blacks of South Africa were brutally betrayed because the ANC government went against their own charter and cemented in place the economic apartheid that leaves people still living in shacks without plumbing, electricity, or food. So no, I’ll support full justice, not “reform” (some people call the corporate wellfare health bill ‘reform’ but those of us really on the left support single-payer, despite the democratic apologists.) My statements are not false; yours are.

  28. jhugs said on January 15th, 2010 at 2:24pm #

    Though I agree that the Cap-and-Trade system is not an effective long-term method to reduce carbon emissions, I do believe that this system is necessary and effective in tackling the short-term effects of climate change. Coming from a medical background, I look at the cap-and-trade system as a painkiller. Painkillers are potent in reducing short-term acute pain. However, though painkillers are an immediate end to alleviating one’s pain an individual can surely build resistance and tolerance thereby decreasing the potency and efficacy of the drug. Though this is an analogy, the Cap-and-Trade system is quite like a potent drug that can reduce carbon emissions substantially which is evident in Stephen’s article. More importantly, one important element that is present in Stephen’s article that I think most of the above comments have not yet grasped is the “urgency of now.” The effects of climate change is upon us now…certainly Cap-and-Trade is not a long-term resolution but it surely is necessary to prevent the cascading short-term effects that carbon emissions would have on the human race.

  29. Don Hawkins said on January 15th, 2010 at 2:43pm #

    The increases of methane in the last few years forget long term.

  30. Deadbeat said on January 15th, 2010 at 3:46pm #

    I would ask Stephen Roblin as he refers to Left “accomplishment” in the anti-apartheid struggle against South Africa to speak about the lack of an anti-apartheid struggle against Israel and confronting the raising power of Zionism and its influence upon the U.S. political economy. Following behind Noam Chomsly these past 30 years has retarded the Left ability to confront Zionism growing influence.

    The Left has been missing in action. In addition the Left has been missing in action with regards to a real anti-capitalist vision. “Parecon” was primarily developed as a substitution for the word “socialism”. Michael Albert admitted such in an answer to a question about Socialism in his presentation during one of the major economic conferences. If the Left cannot defend and define its own historical terminology then why should anyone trust the Left to defend them in solidarity.

    Also the Left by failing to confront Capitalism and Zionism also misses how the union have supported Zionism by “investing” union pension in Israel where that money should be invested in the workers communities. So while unionization is needed it certainly is cynical to call for stronger unions while members (largely people of color) money is going to a racist state.

    And while the Left has been loudly voicing debt cancellation the Left has not mounted a campaign of debt repudiation that many U.S. workers no need. It is ironic that the Right has been on the forefront of pointing out the ills of a debt-based economy.

    The Capitalist crisis and the desire of the Left to embrace the “anybody but bush” strategy and to diffuse the anti-war movement has put the Left into near irrelevancy. I guess the Left sees the Climate Change movement as a way to restore some degree of relevancy but the message from the Left at Copenhagen was not cohesive nor coherent.

    The messages from the presidents of Bolivia and Venezuela was the most cogent. Both presented a real anti-capitalist message and that the only way to solve the climate change issue is by replacing Capitalism with Socialism. I don’t understand why the Left cannot adopt this message and stand firmly committed to it.

  31. Charlie said on January 16th, 2010 at 4:13am #

    Mr. Roblin, Thank you for taking the time to respond to the comments. Clearly, this is a contentious and difficult issue, and it speaks well of you that you read, thought about, and responded to your readers. Respectful disagreement should be the hallmark of the Left, and you do that well.

  32. Don Hawkins said on January 17th, 2010 at 5:44pm #

    New from James Hansen and let’s watch the weather the coming day’s in California.

  33. Stephen Roblin said on January 18th, 2010 at 1:29pm #

    Thank you Mr. Charlie for those kind words. I have enjoyed the debate so far and have learned from it. I still have a few more points to put forth, but that will have to wait until later this week when I have some free time.