The COP23 climate meetings in Bonn two weeks ago provided a welcome opportunity for climate change to make it into public discussion. But the meetings themselves could not accomplish much. The value of the international framework–the Paris accord–was never in the text of the agreements themselves, which did not come close to getting the international community to commit to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, let alone 1.5 degrees C, which was mentioned as the better objective. The value of the Paris agreement was the international consensus–now partially broken by the Trump administration–about the pressing need to take big steps towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades.
Last week, I wrote about two new publications published to coincide with the COP23 in Bonn that highlight the lack of progress in reducing global CO2 emissions. Adding to the grim picture, Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic (“Democrats Are Shockingly Unprepared to Fight Climate Change”) investigates the state of play among the democrats in Washington, the only major political force in the US that would seem to have the potential to take on the republican environment-destroyers. It’s a longish article that provides much useful detail about the politics that frame democratic options and decision making. Meyer’s findings are as bleak as the articles I mentioned yesterday and point to the same conclusion: the change we need will not come from our political system without massive grassroots intervention. Let’s start with his argument.
As the COP23 international climate conference opened in Bonn Monday, two new reports lend urgency to global climate change trends, particularly concerning the amount of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere. At the conference itself, the Washington Post reports on a paper about carbon dioxide emissions that poured cold water on the hope that these emissions had peaked and started to decline. After flatlining for three years, CO2 emissions in 2017 appear to be on the way to a 2 percent increase (give or take 1%), which would make this year’s emissions the largest on record.
After six months of chaos, it has become apparent that we have entered a terrifying political realm where the leader of the country operates in his own reality and constant turbulence is the order of the day. Let’s call it “Trumpworld,” a place where the man and his ill-considered tweets and statements are everywhere, absorbing media attention and distracting everyone else. His outrageous behavior may not be presidential, but it derives from his personality. He is not going to change.
This presents a problem for democrats and other opposition forces who are struggling to find political traction. On the one hand, Trump’s behavior appears to be more-or-less for the benefit of his most ardent supporters. They welcome his brash, offensive style and will likely stick with him for his entire term. On the other hand, there is little value to scrutinizing every Trump misdeed as his support is already very low and is unlikely to fall much farther. To condemn him is only to draw more attention to him; to play on his field. At the same time, it is extremely difficult to ignore outrageous statements and actions by a sitting president. All of this makes it nearly impossible to make political headway in the media storm that Trump kicks up almost every day. What are democrats and progressives to do?
In left-progressive circles the term “intersectionality” has gained a certain currency. To be sure, it is an awkward term that sounds like academic jargon. But it is an important concept because it explains some of the various ways injustice and discrimination work as well as the opposition to injustice. The classic case is of black women workers who face both race and gender discrimination. Race and gender “intersect” to put them in a double bind. And if we add class to the mix, the forces of discrimination and repression only multiply.
Resisting such discrimination and power imbalances could go in two directions. In one, power relations and identities could isolate these women from potential allies such as African American men, non-black women, and other working-class people. The other direction is where broader power imbalances that victimize ethnic minorities, women, and laborers expand the potential for solidarity among them. This second scenario suggests the potential to build alliances across race, class, and other identity lines, a potential, it so happens, that is already being activated.
To date, I have not said much about what progressives should be striving for as opposed to what they may be against. But without articulating a direction, any kind of political strategy is attempting to fly with one wing. As this site develops, I’ll be engaging with many progressive ideas about how to make America a more democratic country–economically and politically–that can work for everyone.
One intriguing vision is provided by the work of the Democracy Collaborative and its Next System Project. Two weeks ago, I attended a book signing at Busboys and Poets in DC for Principles of a Pluralist Commonwealth by Gar Alperovitz, political economist, historian, co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative and co-chair of the Next System Project. Alperovitz studies democratic forms of economic organization as an alternative to the current system of corporate capitalism based on extraction, profit maximization, a skewed distribution of wealth, and the impoverishment–financial and spiritual–of a large majority of Americans, along with other negative results such as climate change and pollution.
Given the urgency of responding to accelerating climate change, the announcement by Donald Trump that the US was withdrawing from the Paris climate framework is a potential disaster for the future of humanity. For many in the US and around the world, it is also dismaying to see the US revert to the role played by the George Bush administration as spoiler–but in this case, times ten.