Climate Change and the Next U.S. Revolution
By Shamus Cooke
July 24, 2012 "Information
Clearing House" -- The U.S. heat
wave is slowly shaking the foundations of American politics. It
may take years for the deep rumble to evolve into an above
ground, institution-shattering earthquake, but U.S. society has
changed for good.
The heat wave has helped convince tens of millions of Americans
that climate change is real, overpowering the fake science and
right-wing media – funded by corporate cash – to convince
Republicans and Democrats alike also erect roadblocks to
understanding climate change. By the politicians’ complete lack
of action towards addressing the issue, the “climate change is
fake” movement was strengthened, since Americans presumed that
any sane government would be actively trying to address an issue
that had the potential to destroy civilization.
But working people have finally made up their mind. A recent
poll showed that 70 percent of Americans now believe that
climate change is real, up from 52 percent in 2010. And a
growing number of people are recognizing that the warming of the
planet is caused by human activity.
Business Week explains: “A record heat wave, drought and
catastrophic wildfires are accomplishing what climate scientists
could not: convincing a wide swath of Americans that global
temperatures are rising.”
This means that working class families throughout the Midwest
and southern states simply don’t believe what their media and
politicians are telling them.
It also implies that these millions of Americans are being
further politicized in a deeper sense.
Believing that climate change exists implies that you are
somewhat aware about the massive consequences to humanity if the
global economy doesn’t drastically change, and fast.
This awareness has revolutionary implications. As millions of
Americans watch the environment destroyed – for their
grandchildren or themselves – while politicians do absolutely
nothing in response, or make tiny token gestures – a growing
number of Americans will demand political alternatives, and
fight to see them created. The American political system as it
exists today cannot cope with this inevitable happening.
The New York Times explains why: ”…the American political system
is not ready to agree to a [climate] treaty that would force the
United States, over time, to accept profound changes in its
energy [coal, oil], transport [trucking and airline industry]
and manufacturing [corporate] sectors.”
In short, the U.S. government will not force corporations to
make less profit by behaving more eco-friendly. This is the
essence of the problem.
In order for humanity to survive climate change, the economy
must be radically transformed; massive investments must be made
in renewable energy, public transportation, and recycling, while
dirty energy sources must be quickly swept into the dustbin of
But the economy is currently owned by giant, privately run
corporations, that will continue destroying the earth if it
earns them huge profits, and they make massive “contributions”
to political parties to ensure this remains so. It’s becoming
increasingly obvious that government inaction on climate change
is directly linked to the “special interests” of corporations
that dominate these governments.
This fact of U.S. politics is present in every other capitalist
country as well, which means that international agreements on
reducing greenhouse gasses will remain impossible, as each
country’s corporations vie for market domination, reducing
pollution simply puts them at a competitive disadvantage.
This dynamic has already caused massive delays in the UN’s
already inadequate efforts at addressing climate change. The
Kyoto climate agreement was the by-product of years of
cooperation and planning between many nations that included
legally binding agreements to reduce greenhouse gasses. The Bush
and Obama administrations helped destroy these efforts.
For example, Instead of building upon the foundation of the
Kyoto Protocol, the Obama administration demanded a whole new
structure, something that would take years to achieve. The Kyoto
framework (itself insufficient) was abandoned because it
included legally binding agreements, and was based on
multilateral, agreed-upon reductions of greenhouse gasses.
In an article by The Guardian entitled “US Planning to Weaken
Copenhagen Climate Deal,” the Obama administration’s UN position
is exposed, as he dismisses the Kyoto Protocol by proposing that
“…each country set its own rules and to decide unilaterally how
to meet its target.”
Obama’s proposal came straight from the mouth of U.S.
corporations, who wanted to ensure that there was zero
accountability, zero oversight, zero climate progress, and
therefore no dent to their profits. Instead of using its massive
international leverage for climate justice, the U.S. has used it
to promote divisiveness and inaction, to the potential detriment
of billions of people globally.
The stakes are too high to hold out any hope that governments
will act boldly. The Business Week article below explains the
profound changes happening to the climate:
The average temperature for the U.S. during June was 71.2
degrees Fahrenheit (21.7 Celsius), which is 2 degrees higher
than the average for the 20th century, according to the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The June temperatures
made the preceding 12 months the warmest since record-keeping
began in 1895, the government agency said.
Activists who are radicalized by this global problem face a
crisis of what to do about it. It is difficult to put forth a
positive climate change demand, since the problem is global.
Demanding that governments “act boldly” to address climate
change hasn’t worked, and lesser demands seem inadequate.
The environmental rights movement continues to go through a
variety of phases: individual and small group eco-”terrorism,”
causing property damage to environmentally damaging companies;
corporate campaigns that target especially bad polluters with
high-profile direct action; and massive education programs that
have been highly successful, but fall short when it comes to
Ultimately, climate activists must come face to face with
political and corporate power. Corporate-owned governments are
the ones with the power to adequately address the climate change
issue, and they will not be swayed by good science, common
sense, basic decency, or even a torched planet.
Those in power only respond to power, and the only power capable
of displacing corporate power is when people unite and act
collectively, as was done in Egypt, Tunisia, and is still
developing throughout Europe.
Climate groups cannot view their issue as separate from other
groups that are organizing against corporate power. The social
movements that have emerged to battle austerity measures are
natural allies, as are anti-war and labor activists. The climate
solution will inevitably require revolutionary measures, which
first requires that alliances and demands are put forward that
unite Labor, working people in general, community, and student
groups towards collective action.
One possible immediate demand is for environmental activists to
unite with Labor groups over a federal jobs program, paid for by
taxing the rich, that makes massive investments in jobs that are
climate related, such as solar panel production, transportation,
building recycling centers, home retro-fitting, etc.
Another demand could be to insist that the government convene
the most knowledgeable scientists in the area of clean energy.
These scientists should be given all the resources they need in
order to collectively create alternative sources of clean energy
that would allow for a realistic alternative to the current
polluting and toxic sources of energy.
However, any type of immediate demand will meet giant corporate
resistance from both political parties. Fighting for a uniting
demand will thus strengthen the movement, and for this reason it
is important to link climate solutions to the creation of jobs,
which are the number one concern of most Americans. This unity
will in turn lead allies toward a deeper understanding of the
problem, and therefore deeper solutions will emerge that
challenge the whole economic structure that is deaf to the needs
of humans and the climate and sacrifices everything to the
private profit of a few.
Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, Occupy
activist, and writer for Workers Action. He can be reached at