just concluded Paris Climate Conference--the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—was a critical juncture
in human and planetary history. Could the world's governments, all
representing Homo sapiens often at war with each other, come together
to stop the capitalist and carbon-based catastrophe that in only 200
years is destroy all that God and nature produced for millions of
years—since the last mass extinction.
the world's emperors in varying degrees of clothes congratulated
themselves we face a 3 degree world in which 775 million people in
Sub Saharan Africa are facing a world of catastrophic heat, droughts,
floods, and famine. The pre-determined outcome in Paris was that the
United States and President Obama needed a political victory more
than the planet needed one and that all the parties, despite enormous
antagonisms and conflicts of interests, would yield to the will of
the world's policeman and sole superpower. President Obama's unique
combination of charm, diplomacy, charisma, political will, and brute
force gave him the victory he needed. But for a climate justice
movement that does is just coming into being the challenge is can we
convince people to give a damn enough to want to know the truth—
and then can we get them to bring real structural demands on the
battle over Paris is not at all over. In fact, it is just beginning
and the battle of the sum-up is the critical ideological and
scientific baseline in the battle between hope and despair.
me summarize some of the key battles that we have to fight and win
that were not won in Paris.
Paris Agreement--unless overturned by other movements and
structures--is locking in a 3 Degree Celsius world.
Intended Nationally Determined Contributions in Paris (in which,
under U.S. pressure, cannot be enforced through treaty language) will
lead to a 3 degree planet by 2050 if not sooner. For decades
scientists have warned that the world's average temperature cannot
exceed 2 degrees Celsius. But that would involve stopping the oil and
gas energy world in its tracks. Today, as the world temperature
already averages almost 1 degree, enormous climate suffering is
already taking place all over the world. The United States
and its closest allies—Japan, Canada, Australia, New
Zealand—and apparently most of the world's governments, are
celebrating that the text refers to keeping temperature "well
below 2 degrees" and says they will try to "limit the
temperature increase to 1.5 °C."
why celebrate if there are no pledges let alone binding commitment to
make that even remotely possible. If it is now agreed upon that if
every Intended Nationally Determined Contribution—and even
those are not legally enforceable—will lead to a Three Degree
World then why boast about mentioning levels of 1.5 degrees or 3
degrees when everyone knows they cannot be met.
How can we turn this hypocrisy from celebration to outrage? This
was a victory for President Obama, a defeat for the planet,
and a challenge to the Climate Justice Movement.
United States prevented any language for climate reparations.
U.S. representatives, John Kerry and Todd Stern, carrying out
President Obama's orders--adamantly opposed any language to hold the
U.S. and E.U. responsible for the Industrial Counter-revolution of
their own making and the astounding role the U.S. has played and is
still playing in warming the planet. Nations of the Third World have
been calling on the Global North to pay for what is called "loss
and damages" so that those most responsible for the climate
crisis pay reparations to those who are suffering its catastrophic
impacts---in particular the nations of Africa, Asia, Latin America,
and small island states. But John Kerry, who once spoke out against
U.S. war crimes in Vietnam, threatened a U.S. walk-out if there was
any language in the text about loss and damages. The Obama
administration's victory exceeded these reprehensible objectives. The
final document states, that "any discussion of loss and damages
does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or
Bush administration walked out of the World Conference Against Racism
because of resolutions condemning Israeli violations of the human
rights of the Palestinian people and resolutions calling on the
United States and Europe to pay reparations to the nations and
peoples of Africa, Black people in the United States, and all those
in the African Diaspora for the crimes of the TransAtlantic slave
trade. This time the Obama administration, more powerful than the
Bush administration in suppressing the voice of the Third World,
first threatened to walk out, and then averted it by browbeating
nations into giving away their rights to "liability or
compensation." But, how in the world can poor nations dependent
on coal for energy make a transition to cleaner fuels without major
funding from the arch polluters? Why won't the U.S. accept
responsibility for both liability and compensation? Because once they
opened that door it might cost them hundreds of billions of dollars
in damages. The only saving grace is that this language is not
controlling in front of any international body or court--in that,
also under U.S. pressure, this U.N. document is not legally binding.
Thus, it can be challenged in other public and international arenas.
Still, it is a massive victory in the realm of ideology and
precedent, another political victory for the Obama administration—and
yes, another defeat for the planet and challenge to the Climate
Obama, John Kerry, and chief U.S. negotiator Todd Stern effectively
put the blame on China and India and all those still in the
the 1992 U.N. Rio Conference that first set goals on climate change
the Third World put forth the view of Common But Differentiated
Responsibilities. (CBDR.) Under this view, the "Developed"
and most polluting countries had a unique responsibility to solve the
climate crisis of their own making. You have to go to the U.N. to
fully grasp that virtually every country in Latin America (Spanish)
Africa (English and French) and Asia (English and French) is speaking
the language of the occupying powers that colonized their societies.
Most of these nations just won their formal independence after World
War II and many are still occupied or dominated by the U.S. and the
E.U. India and China are two rising world economic powers who are
burning enormous amounts of coal and have profound income disparities
in their societies. But while demands on India and China to cap and
reduce their emissions—especially by their own people—are
absolutely on target the U.S. has a far bigger target--to destroy the
entire concept of CBDR and as such to equate its own historically
destructive role and present obscene GHG emissions with those of the
newly emerging Asian industrial societies--as well as virtually every
other Third World nation. The U.S. is now arguing that this is not
1992 and "we" are now all in this together and the past
does not matter. This allows the U.S. to remain the world’s
military superpower (that does not allow its military emissions to be
even counted) as it goes on the ideological and military offensive.
Again, a great victory for the Obama administration, a defeat for the
planet, and a challenge to the Climate Justice Movement.
President’s actual stated commitments to reduce U.S. greenhouse
gas emissions in Paris are only 14 percent of 1990 levels--one of the
weakest proposals of a major power let alone the world's still
greatest polluter by per capita emissions.
Obama has told the world he plans to cut U.S. emissions by 28
percent. But he has achieved that through a math trick in the long
tradition of American Deceptionalism. While the rest of the world
has pledged to reduce emissions from 1990 levels the President just
asserted that the U.S. would use 2005 as its base. As a result, a 28
percent reduction, already so weak on its own terms, is actually 14
percent. And again, a victory for President Obama, a defeat for the
Planet, and a challenge to the Climate Justice Movement.
United States imposed its will on the world's nations and, in Paris,
broke the back of any effective resistance to its domination of the
United Nations has long been a center of international public opinion
where resolutions, while not binding, can in fact be a factor in
world history. This is why the U.S. invested so much in the
UNFCCC--it understood that it had to win the ideological argument to
in fact restrict its commitment to fight climate change against far
more demanding plans. In 2009 President Obama, just a year
into office, strong-armed the nations of the world in Copenhagen, at
the last major U.N. Climate Conference, to blame China, isolate those
calling for more stringent measures, and let the U.S. off the hook.
Obama has upped his game in Paris to truly become the world's most
intimidating political figure. He has manipulated the resistance of
Small Island and African nations who see him as a sympathetic
figure--if not really a friend. His plea that the world must
help him avert defeat in front of the racist Republicans, an argument
that baffles the mind on its face, has had some resonance--combined
with 800 military bases, economic "incentives" aka bribes,
threats, and a nuclear arsenal. His electoral victories in
2008 and 2012 were the product of a deep anti-racist sentiment in the
U.S., the victories of the civil rights movement, and his own
deceptive but still far more progressive campaign--and all of our
hopes for his success. He used that credibility and good will
to bring great attention to himself and the U.S. as the savior of the
planet--at the same time knowing that U.S. actions will bring
inordinate suffering into the world and especially to the nations and
peoples of Africa, Asian, Latin America, and the small island states.
This is a victory for himself but a terrible defeat for the civil
rights and climate justice movements but far more important, a
terrible defeat for the planet. And yes, a monumental challenge to
the dissenting voices who are fighting to get our point of view heard
let alone our plans carried out in history.
Where is the Hope?
environmental and climate justice groups came to Paris with plans and
hopes to influence its outcome. Some are declaring victory and
joining in the celebratoins. For those of us who disagree, and see it
as a life and death disagreement, we must soberly look at the results
and ask the hard question, "Where do we go from here." Let
me give just one example, the work of my own organization, because
right now it is the only work I can explain on its own terms—as
part of a far larger puzzle and plan of groups working all over the
organization, the Labor/Community Strategy Center, came to Paris with
an aggressive tactical plan. We
wanted to bring four major demands in front of President Obama and
the United States at UNFCCC.
United States must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50
percent of 1990 levels by 2025 -- starting now!
United States must contribute $10 billion a year into the United
Nations Green Climate Fund -- starting now!
United States must Bring Back 100,000 Black internally displaced
residents to New Orleans -- with jobs, housing, and medical benefits
-- starting now!
United States must end the federal Department of Defense 1033 Program
that gives military grade weapons to local and state police forces
including school police.
Five of us from the
Strategy Center, Manuel Criollo, Barbara Lott-Holland, Channing
Martinez, Ashley Franklin and I worked day and night to bring these
demands to the attention of NGO delegates, activists in France,
members of world governments, and to visitors to the Climate
Generations Space in the Le Bourget facility next to the U.N.
meetings. We had hoped, as part of a larger NGO and grassroots
Climate Justice Movement, to create a counter-narrative to the
president’s premature celebration and to put some public
pressure on the president.
In our view, we fell
far short of our expectations.
The main problem
was that given what often appeared as the unbroken unity of the
world's governments, even though we knew of course there were massive
struggles taking place behind the scenes, there was no focused or
coherent resistance in Paris in any of the spheres and no agreement
on demands, tactics, or a common plan of action. The Climate Justice
Movement is trying to become a real movement--and is composed of many
good people doing good work and trying, like we are, to make a
difference. But until there is some real agreement on demands,
tactics, political perspective and real forms of organization to
carry them out we are all running uphill with lead weights on.
Similarly, there was no
coherent public agreement on demands by the world's governments--not
the E.U., not the G 77 and China. As such, there were no world
governments to ally with either —because none of them wanted to
wage an open and aggressive fight with the U.S.
So, we go back to Los
Angeles exhausted but actually inspired. We met a lot of great people
doing very inspiring work. We learned how to function effectively
under very difficultt objective conditions and we return to our work
in Los Angeles and with other groups in Black and Latino communities
in the U.S. with a lot more optimism and determination. We appreciate
the work of Demand Climate Justice, the Third World Network, and the
Deep South Center for Environmental Justice organizing in
Historically Black Colleges and Universities with whom we worked, for
helping to lead the most coherent alternative narrative possible
under the circumstances.
We said our main
objective in Paris was to learn--and damn, learn we did staying up
half every night to read, write, plot and plan with others. We come
back with more wisdom from all the work we did trying to swim in such
deep waters. And like running up a hill with lead weights, our legs
have gotten stronger for the long distance run.
The fight over the
historical record in Paris is a critical frontier for the climate
justice movement. It is essential in the next days, weeks, and months
to explain to people that the great hopes of the United Nations
Framework Climate Change Conference were brought to a massive defeat
by the power of the U.S. and the Obama administration and a lack of
political clarity, political will, and at times, lack of political
courage by other world governments
But the moral,
political, and ecological imperatives of the climate crisis are
creating a very volatile world climate—and the many
contradictions inside the world that the U.S. was temporarily able to
suppress can erupt, like a volcano or a Category 5 hurricane, at any
moment. We need to be organized for when, not if, that historical
opportunity comes. This article, and its effort to challenge the
president's master narrative, is a small tactic to help bring the
climate revolution onto center stage. And for that, Paris was a great
success, because there is now a far greater world audience that does
give a damn and wants to know and shape the future of the planet and
all living things on it.