April 7, 2016

Changing Everything

Steven Gorelick writes at Counterpunch:

Among climate change activists, solutions usually center on a transition to renewable energy. There may be differences over whether this would be best accomplished by a carbon tax, bigger subsidies for wind and solar power, divestment from fossil fuel companies, massive demonstrations, legislative fiat or some other strategy, but the goal is generally the same: replace dirty fossil fuels with clean renewable energy. Such a transition is often given a significance that goes well beyond its immediate impact on greenhouse gas emissions: it would somehow make our exploitative relationship to Nature more environmentally sound, our relationship to each other more socially equitable. In part this is because the fossil fuel corporations – symbolized by the remorseless Koch brothers – will be a relic of the past, replaced by ‘green’ corporations and entrepreneurs that display none of their predecessors’ ruthlessness and greed.

Maybe, but I have my doubts. Here in Vermont, for example, a renewable energy conference last year was titled, “Creating Prosperity and Opportunity Confronting Climate Change”. The event attracted venture capitalists, asset management companies, lawyers that represent renewable energy developers, and even a “brandthropologist” offering advice on “how to evolve Brand Vermont” in light of the climate crisis. The keynote speaker was Jigar Shah, author of Creating Climate Wealth, who pumped up the assembled crowd by telling them that switching to renewables “represents the largest wealth creation opportunity of our generation.” He added that government has a role in making that opportunity real: “policies that incentivize resource efficiency can mean scalable profits for businesses.” If Shah is correct, the profit motive – in less polite company it might be called ‘greed’ – will still be around in a renewable energy future.

But at least the renewable energy corporations will be far more socially responsible than their fossil fuel predecessors. Not if you ask the Zapotec communities in Mexico’s Oaxaca state, who will tell you that a renewable energy corporation can be just as ruthless as a fossil fuel one. Oaxaca is already home to 21 wind projects and 1,600 massive turbines, with more planned. While the indigenous population must live with the wind turbines on their communal lands, the electricity goes to distant urban areas and industries. Local people say they have been intimidated and deceived by the wind corporations: according to one indigenous leader, “They threaten us, they insult us, they spy on us, they block our roads. We don’t want any more wind turbines.” People have filed grievances with the government (which has actively promoted the wind projects) and have physically blocked access to development sites.

It seems that a transition to renewable energy might not be as transformative as some people hope. Or to put it more bluntly, renewable energy changes nothing about corporate capitalism.

Which brings me to the new film, This Changes Everything, based on Naomi Klein’s best-selling book and directed by her husband, Avi Lewis. I saw the film recently at a screening hosted by local climate activists and renewable energy developers, and was at first hopeful that the film would go even further than the book in, as Klein puts it, “connecting the dots between the carbon in the air and the economic system that put it there.”

But by film’s end one is left with the impression that a transition from fossil fuels to renewables is pretty much all that’s needed – not only to address climate change but to transform the economy and solve all the other problems we face. As the camera tracks skyward to reveal banks of solar panels in China or soars above 450-foot tall wind turbines in Germany, the message seems to be that fully committing to these technologies will change everything. This is surprising, since Klein’s book flatly contradicts this way of thinking:

“Over the past decade,” she wrote, “many boosters of green capitalism have tried to gloss over the clashes between market logic and ecological limits by touting the wonders of green tech…. They paint a picture of a world that can function pretty much as it does now, but in which our power will come from renewable energy and all of our various gadgets and vehicles will become so much more energy-efficient that we can consume away without worrying about the impact.” Instead, she says, we need “consume less, right away. [But] Policies based on encouraging people to consume less are far more difficult for our current political class to embrace than policies that are about encouraging people to consume green. Consuming green just means substituting one power source for another, or one model of consumer goods for a more efficient one. The reason we have placed all of our eggs in the green tech and green efficiency basket is precisely because these changes are safely within market logic.”

Overall, Klein’s book is far better at “connecting the dots” than the film. The book explains how free trade treaties have led to a huge spike in emissions, and Klein argues that these agreements need to be renegotiated in ways that will curb both emissions and corporate power. Among other things, she says, “long-haul transport will need to be rationed, reserved for those cases where goods cannot be produced locally.” She explicitly calls for “sensible relocalization” of the economy, as well as reduced consumption and “managed degrowth” in the rich countries of the North – notions likely to curdle the blood of capitalists everywhere. She endorses government incentives for local and seasonal food, as well as land management policies that discourage sprawl and encourage low-energy, local forms of agriculture.

I don’t buy everything about Klein’s arguments: they rest heavily on unquestioned assumptions about the course of ‘development’ in the global South, and focus too much on scaling up government and not enough on scaling down business. The “everything” that will change sometimes seems limited to the ideological pendulum: after decades of pointing towards the neoliberal, free-market right, she believes it must swing back to the left because climate change demands a huge expansion of government planning and support.

Nonetheless, many of the specific steps outlined in the book do have the potential to shift our economic system in important ways. Those steps, however, are given no space at all in the film. The focus is almost entirely on transitioning to renewables, which turns the film into what is essentially an informercial for industrial wind and solar.

The film starts well, debunking the notion that climate change is a product of human nature – of our innate greed and short-sightedness. Instead, Klein says, the problem lies in a “story” we’ve told ourselves for the past 400 years: that Nature is ours to tame, conquer, and extract riches from. In that way, Klein says, “Mother Nature became the mother lode.”

After a gut-wrenching segment on the environmental disaster known as the Alberta tar sands, the film centers on examples of “Blockadia” – a term coined by activists to describe local direct action against extractive industries. There is the Cree community in Alberta fighting the expansion of tar sands development; villagers in India blocking construction of a coal-fired power plant that would eliminate traditional fishing livelihoods; a community on Greece’s Halkidiki Peninsula battling their government and the police to stop an open pit gold mine that would destroy a cherished mountain; and a small-scale goat farmer in Montana joining hands with the local Cheyenne community to oppose a bevy of fossil fuel projects, including a tar sands pipeline, a shale oil project, and a new coal mine.

Klein implies that climate change underlies and connects these geographically diverse protests. But that’s partly an artifact of the examples Klein chose, and partly a misreading of the protestors’ motives: what has really driven these communities to resist is not climate change, but a deeply-felt desire to maintain their traditional way of life and to protect land that is sacred to them. A woman in Halkidiki expresses it this way: “we are one with this mountain; we won’t survive without it.” At its heart, the threat that all of these communities face doesn’t stem from fossil fuels, but from a voracious economic system that will sacrifice them and the land they cherish for the sake of profit and growth.

The choice of Halkidiki as an example actually undermines Klein’s construct, since the proposed mine has nothing directly to do with fossil fuels. It does, however, have everything to do with a global economy that runs on growth, corporate profit, and – as Greece knows only too well – debt. So it is with all the other examples in the film.

Klein’s narrative would have been derailed if she profiled the indigenous Zapotec communities of Oaxaca as a Blockadia example: they fit the bill in every respect other than the fact that it’s renewable energy corporations, not fossil fuel corporations, they are trying to block. Similarly, Klein’s argument would have suffered if she visited villagers in India who are threatened not by a coal-fired power plant, but by one of India’s regulation-free corporate enclaves known as “special economic zones”. These, too, have sparked protests and police violence against villagers: in Nandigram in West Bengal, 14 villagers were killed trying to keep their way of life from being eliminated, their lands turned into another outpost of an expanding global economy.

And while the tar sands region is undeniably an ecological disaster, it bears many similarities to the huge toxic lake on what was once pastureland in Baotou, on the edge of China’s Gobi Desert. The area is the source of nearly two-thirds of the world’s rare earth metals – used in almost every high-tech gadget (as well as in the magnets needed for electric cars and industrial wind turbines). The mine tailings and effluent from the many factories processing these metals have created an environmental disaster of truly monumental proportions: the BBC describes it as “the worst place on earth”. A significant shrinking of global consumer demand would help reduce Baotou’s toxic lake, but it’s hard to see how a shift to renewable energy would.

Too often, climate change has been used as a Trojan horse to enable corporate interests to despoil local environments or override the concerns of local communities. Klein acknowledges this in her book: by viewing climate change only on a global scale, she writes, we end up ignoring “people with attachments to particular pieces of land with very different ideas about what constitutes a ‘solution’. This chronic forgetfulness is the thread that unites so many fateful policy errors of recent years … [including] when policymakers ram through industrial-scale wind farms and sprawling… solar arrays without local participation or consent.” But this warning is conspicuously absent from the film.

Klein’s premise is that climate change is the one issue that can unite people globally for economic change, but there’s a more strategic way to look at it. What we face is not only a climate crisis but literally hundreds of potentially devastating crises: there’s the widening gap between rich and poor, islands of plastic in the oceans, depleted topsoil and groundwater, a rise in fundamentalism and terror, growing piles of toxic and nuclear waste, the gutting of local communities and economies, the erosion of democracy, the epidemic of depression, and many more. Few of these can be easily linked to climate change, but all of them can be traced back to the global economy.

This point is made by Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder of Local Futures, who explains how a scaling-down of the corporate-led global economy and a strengthening of diverse, localized economies would simultaneously address all of the most serious problems we face – including climate change. For this reason, what Norberg-Hodge calls ‘big picture activism’ has the potential to unite climate change activists, small farmers, peace advocates, environmentalists, social justice groups, labor unions, indigenous rights activists, main street business owners, and many more under a single banner. If all these groups connect the dots to see the corporate-led economy as a root cause of the problems they face, it could give rise to a global movement powerful enough to halt the corporate juggernaut.

And that really could change everything.

Also see: : Oaxaca on this blog, and “Exploitation and destruction: some things to know about industrial wind power

March 26, 2016

The Rebel

I am come of the seed of the people, the people that sorrow,

That have no treasure but hope,.

No riches laid up but a memory

Of an Ancient glory.

My mother bore me in bondage, in bondage my mother was born,

I am of the blood of serfs;

The children with whom I have played, the men and women with whom I have eaten,

Have had masters over them, have been under the lash of masters,

And, though gentle, have served churls;

The hands that have touched mine, the dear hands whose touch is familiar to me,

Have worn shameful manacles, have been bitten at the wrist by manacles,

Have grown hard with the manacles and the task-work of strangers,

I am flesh of the flesh of these lowly, I am bone of their bone,

I that have never submitted;

I that have a soul greater than the souls of my people’s masters,

I that have vision and prophecy and the gift of fiery speech,

I that have spoken with God on the top of His holy hill.


And because I am of the people, I understand the people,

I am sorrowful with their sorrow, I am hungry with their desire:

My heart has been heavy with the grief of mothers,

My eyes have been wet with the tears of children,

I have yearned with old wistful men,

And laughed or cursed with young men;

Their shame is my shame, and I have reddened for it,

Reddened for that they have served, they who should be free,

Reddened for that they have gone in want, while others have been full,

Reddened for that they have walked in fear of lawyers and of their jailors

With their writs of summons and their handcuffs,

Men mean and cruel!

I could have borne stripes on my body rather than this shame of my people.


And now I speak, being full of vision;

I speak to my people, and I speak in my people’s name to the masters ofmy people.

I say to my people that they are holy, that they are august, despite their chains.

That they are greater than those that hold them, and stronger and purer,

That they have but need of courage, and to call on the name of their God,

God the unforgctting, the dear God that loves the peoples

For whom He died naked, suffering shame.

And I say to my people’s masters: Beware,

Beware of the thing that is coming, beware of the risen people.

Who shall take what ye would not give. Did ye think to conquer the people,

Or that Law is stronger than life and than men’s desire to be free?

We will try it out with you, ye that have harried and held.

Ye that have bullied and bribed, tyrants, hypocrites, liars!


—Pádraig Pearse

The Fool

Since the wise men have not spoken, I speak that am only a fool;

A fool that hath loved his folly,

Yea, more than the wise men their books or their counting houses, or their quiet homes,

Or their fame in men’s mouths;

A fool that in all his days hath done never a prudent thing,

Never hath counted the cost, nor recked if another reaped

The fruit of his mighty sowing, content to scatter the seed;

A fool that is unrepentant, and that soon at the end of all

Shall laugh in his lonely heart as the ripe ears fall to the reaping-hooks

And the poor are filled that were empty,

Tho’ he go hungry.


I have squandered the splendid years that the Lord God gave to my youth

In attempting impossible things, deeming them alone worth the toil.

Was it folly or grace? Not men shall iudge me, but God.


I have squandered the splendid years:

Lord, if I had the years I would squander them over again,

Aye, fling them from me!

For this I have heard in my heart, that a man shall scatter, not hoard,

Shall do the deed of to-day, nor take thought of to-morrow’s teen,

Shall not bargain or huxter with God; or was it a jest of Christ’s

And is this my sin before men, to have taken Him at His word?


The lawyers have sat in council, the men with the keen, long faces,

And said, “This man is a fool,” and others have said, “He blasphemeth;”

And the wise have pitied the fool that hath striven to give a life

In the world of time and space among the bulks of actual things,

To a dream that was dreamed in the heart, and that only the heart could hold.


O wise men, riddle me this: what if the dream come true?

What if the dream come true? and if millions unborn shall dwell

In the house that I shaped in my heart, the noble house of my thought?

Lord, I have staked my soul, I have staked the lives of my kin

On the truth of Thy dreadful word. Do not remember my failures,

But remember this my faith.


And so I speak.

Yea, ere my hot youth pass, I speak to my people and say:

Ye shall be foolish as I; ye shall scatter, not save;

Ye shall venture your all, lest ye lose what is more than all;

Ye shall call for a miracle, taking Christ at His word.

And for this I will answer, O people, answer here and hereafter,

O people that I have loved shall we not answer together?


—Pádraig Pearse

March 12, 2016

6 Women: 1916 Uprising portraits by David Rooney

Kathleen Lynn
Kathleen Lynn (1874–1955), a clergyman's daughter from Co. Mayo, was a medical doctor devoted to services for the poor, a woman's suffragist and separatist. Chief medical officer of the Irish Citizen Army, during the Easter Rising she supervised a first-aid station in Dublin City Hall until t he garrison's surrender. In 1919 she established St Ultan's Hospital for Infants, and in the 1930s pioneered BCG inoculations against tuberculosis.

Constance Markievicz
Constance Markievicz (1868–1927) was born in London, the daughter of Sir Henry Gore-Booth of Lissadell, Co. Sligo. Breaking with her Ascendancy background, she joined Sinn Féin and Inghinidhe na hÉireann, and co-founded Na Fianna Éireann in 1909. During Easter week she served as second-in-command of the Irish Citizen Army garrison in the College of Surgeons. Her death sentence was commuted and she was released from prison in June 1917. The first woman to be elected a Westminster MP in 1918, she was minister for labour in the Dáil cabinet (1919–21).

Helena Molony
Helena Molony (1883–1967) was a grocer's daughter from Dublin's north city-centre market district. Active in the feminist and separatist movements, she was an Abbey Theatre actress, trade union official, secretary of the Irish Citizen Army women's group, and manager of the Liberty Hall women workers' co·operative which made uniforms and equipment in preparation for the Easter Rising. She served in the ICA City Hall garrison that surrendered on the evening of Easter Monday, and was interned in England until December 1916.

Elizabeth O'Farrell
Elizabeth O'Farrell (1884–1957) was born in Dublin and worked as a midwife at Holles Street hospital. A committed trade unionist, she was also involved in nationalist and suffragist organisations. She served in the GPO during Easter week. delivering Pearse's offer of surrender to British forces, and his surrender order to other insurgent garrisons. After the Easter Rising, she remained a dedicated republican activist.

Mary Perolz.jpg
Mary Perolz (1874–1950) was born in Market Alley, Limerick city and raised in Tralee and Cork city, where her father worked on the Cork Examiner. Prominent in Cumann na mBan and the Irish Citizen Army, she was dispatched as a courier carrying the remobilisation orders from Patrick Pearse to the Cork city Volunteers. Elected acting president for the Irish Women Workers' Union in 1917. she remained an outspoken champion of the rights of women in industry and the labour movement.

Margaret Skinnider
Margaret Skinnider (1893–1971) was a Glasgow-born mathematics teacher of Co. Monaghan extraction. Joining the lrish Citizen Army on a Dublin visit, she returned to assist in preparations for the Easter Rising. During Easter week she cycled around Dublin carrying dispatches and also took sniper duty in military uniform in the College of Surgeons. Critically wounded in a sortie, she was the most serious female casualty among the rebels, and recovered after seven weeks in hospital.

Illustrations by David Rooney, from 1916: Portraits and Lives (Royal Irish Academy).

Also see: Eight Women of the Easter Rising” by Sadhbh Walshe, New York Times, March 16, 2016

February 25, 2016

16 lives: portraits of the 1916 uprising martyrs by David Rooney

Pádraig Pearse
Pádraig Pearse

Thomas Clarke
Thomas Clarke

Thomas MacDonagh
Thomas MacDonagh

Joseph Plunkett
Joseph Plunkett

Ned Daly
Ned Daly

Willie Pearse
Willie Pearse

Michael O’Hanrahan
Michael O’Hanrahan

John MacBride
John MacBride

Éamonn Ceannt
Éamonn Ceannt

Michael Mallin
Michael Malliin

Con Colbert
Con Colbert

Seán Heuston
Seán Heuston

Thomas Kent

Seán MacDiarmada
Seán MacDiarmada

James Connolly
James Connolly

Roger Casement
Roger Casement

February 23, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s donors

Besides the $125 million taken in by both Clintons for speeches since leaving the White House, including $2.9 milliion by Hillary for 12 speeches at financial firms since leaving the Department of State, and besides the many multi-million-dollar donors to the the Clinton Foundation whose business was affected by Hillary Clinton’s actions as Secretary of State (which apparent bribery is currently being investigated by the State Department, while her running the department out of her basement is being investigated by the FBI and Congress), the simple (ignoring the PACs and SuperPACs) funding of Hillary’s current campaign for the Democratic nomination for President is revealing.

According to Open Secrets, at the time of this writing, the proportions of donations to all of the presidential primary candidates from individuals working for various industries that have gone to Clinton are:
  • 54% of all donations from casinos/gambling, 19 times as much as Sanders
  • 35% of all donations from commercial banks, 25 times as much as Sanders
  • 46% of all donations from computer/internet, 4 times as much as Sanders
  • 60% of all donations from education, 5 times as much as Sanders
  • 34% of all donations from health professionals, 7 times as much as Sanders
  • 45% of all donations from health services/HMOs, 9 times as much as Sanders
  • 28% of all donations from hedge funds and private equity, 141 times as much as Sanders
  • 43% of all donations from hospitals/nursing homes, 7 times as much as Sanders
  • 22% of all donations from insurance, 13 times as much as Sanders
  • 62% of all donations from lawyers/law firms, 33 times as much as Sanders
  • 45% of all donations from of donations from lobbyists, 173 times as much as Sanders
  • 11% of all donations from oil and gas (one of the only categories where Clinton is not the top recipient), 16 times as much as Sanders
  • 35% of all donations from pharmaceuticals/health products, 8 times as much as Sanders
  • 31% of all donations from real estate, 20 times as much as Sanders
  • 33% of all donations from securities and investment, 53 times as much as Sanders
  • 38% of all donations from telephone utilities, 11 times as much as Sanders
  • 9% of all donations from tobacco (the other category where Clinton is not the top recipient), none to Sanders
  • 71% of all donations from TV/movies/music, 9 times as much as Sanders
Also according to Open Secrets, 71% of individuals’ donations to the Bernie Sanders campaign are less than $200, whereas for the Hillary Clinton campaign only 17% of individuals’ donations are less than $200.

February 13, 2016

CAILL: lose

Caillim, vl. cailleadh, cailleamh, cailleamhain(t), caill, caillt, p.a. caillte, v. tr. and intr., I lose, spend; I forget; I fail; with ar, neglect, fail disappoint, deceive; in pass., I die, perish, am ruined; do cailleadh é, he died; does not mean “die” in Don.; impers., caillfidh ar a neart, his strength will fail; ba dhóbair cailleamhaint ar a lúth, his limb-power nearly failed; ná caill orm, do not fail me; do chaill a chluasa, his ears failed (Fil.); c. le, I am a loser by, I spend on; chaillis é ná rabhais istigh, you lost a great treat by being out; chailleas é, I lost a good opportunity; c. mo náire, I lose my shame; cailleadh an tsolais, night fall (U.); cailleachaim (rare).

Caillseach, -sighe, -cha, f., an earwig; al. gaillseach.

Caillte, p.a., lost, drenched, ruined, destroyed, dead; very bad, as ba ch. an mhaise agat é, it ill became you to do, etc.; beart ch.. a very mean act; (O’N. also has caillte, dead); táim c. le, I am a loser by; táim c., I am lost, ruined; tá púnt c. agam le, I am a pound at a loss by, I have spent a pound on.

Caillteoir, -ora, -rí, m., a loser, a spender, a spoiler; a waster of time.

—Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla, 1927, by Patrick Dinneen