I keep hearing comparisons between the London riots and riots in other European cities—window smashing in Athens, or car bonfires in Paris. And there are parallels, to be sure: a spark set by police violence, a generation that feels forgotten.
But those events were marked by mass destruction; the looting was minor. There have, however, been other mass lootings in recent years, and perhaps we should talk about them too. There was Baghdad in the aftermath of the US invasion—a frenzy of arson and looting that emptied libraries and museums. The factories got hit too. In 2004 I visited one that used to make refrigerators. Its workers had stripped it of everything valuable, then torched it so thoroughly that the warehouse was a sculpture of buckled sheet metal.
Although he passed away in 2006, states are now grappling with many of the toxic notions left behind by University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman.
In her groundbreaking book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein coined the term "disaster capitalism" for the rapid-fire corporate re-engineering of societies still reeling from shock. The master of disaster? Privatization and free market guru Milton Friedman. Friedman advised governments in economic crisis to follow strict austerity measures, combining radical cuts in social services with the full-scale privatization of their more lucrative assets. Many countries in Latin America auctioned off everything standing -- from energy and water utilities to Social Security -- to for profit multinational firms, crushing unions and other dissenters along the way.
"We're a disaster area," Alexis Bonogofsky told me, "and it's going to take a long time to get over it."
Bonogofsky and her partner, Mike Scott, are all over the news this week, telling the world about how Montana's Exxon Mobil pipeline spill has fouled their goat ranch and is threatening the health of their animals.
But my conversation with Bonogofsky was four full days before the pipeline began pouring oil into the Yellowstone River. And no, it's not that she's psychic; she was talking about this year's historic flooding.
"It's unbelievable," she said. "It's like nothing I've experienced in my lifetime. It destroyed houses; people died; crops didn't get in the fields…. We barely were able to get our hay crop in."
By Maude Barlow, Wendell Berry, Tom Goldtooth, Danny Glover, James Hansen, Wes Jackson, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, George Poitras, Gus Speth, and David Suzuki - June 23rd, 2011
This will be a slightly longer letter than common for the internet age—it's serious stuff.
The short version is we want you to consider doing something hard: coming to Washington in the hottest and stickiest weeks of the summer and engaging in civil disobedience that will quite possibly get you arrested.
The full version goes like this:
As you know, the planet is steadily warming: 2010 was the warmest year on record, and we've seen the resulting chaos in almost every corner of the earth.
And as you also know, our democracy is increasingly controlled by special interests interested only in their short-term profit.
These two trends collide this summer in Washington, where the State Department and the White House have to decide whether to grant a certificate of 'national interest' to some of the biggest fossil fuel players on earth. These corporations want to build the so-called 'Keystone XL Pipeline' from Canada’s tar sands to Texas refineries.
Although press coverage of events in Egypt may have dropped off the front pages, discussion of the post-Mubarak period continues to dominate the financial news. Over the past few weeks, the economic direction of the interim Egyptian government has been the object of intense debate in the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). US President Obama’s 19 May speech on the Middle East and North Africa devoted much space to the question of Egypt’s economic future – indeed, the sole concrete policy advanced in his talk concerned US economic relationships with Egypt. The G8 meeting in France held on 26 and 27 May continued this trend, announcing that up to US$20 billion would be offered to Egypt and Tunisia. When support from the Gulf Arab states is factored into these figures, Egypt alone appears to be on the verge of receiving around $15 billion in loans, investment and aid from governments and the key international financial institutions (IFI).
MADRID, Spain -- The crowd of three thousand sat patiently on the hard pavement of the plaza as the fourth hour of the popular assembly came and went. The issue was whether Camp Sol, a protest that had persevered for two weeks in Madrid's main square known as Puerta del Sol, would dismantle or stay on. Protesters were exhausted from living on the streets; there had been a few cases of harassment and tensions between groups; the infrastructure of the camp was fragile; electricity was scarce. The camp's legal team had kept police at bay but there were no guarantees that it would remain that way (a similar camp in Barcelona had been attacked by police the day before). And even if those problems were resolved, how much longer did it make sense to occupy this enormous public space? Had the movement consolidated enough to dismantle its most visible and symbolic gathering?
I recently spent an unforgettable day with the Oakland Climate Action Coalition (OCAC), graciously hosted by the Ella Baker Center. And thanks to Emily Kirsch, lead organizer for the center’s Green-Collar Jobs Campaign, we packed a hell of a lot into a short time. We visited Laney College’s green jobs training program, met with housing rights activists at the Lake Merritt BART station, interviewed Sustainability Coordinator Garrett Fitzgerald at City Hall, got a tour of Oakland’s famous Mandela Market, and capped it off with a dinner hosted by the great folks from Movement Generation.
Not for forty years has there been such a stretch of bad news for environmentalists in Washington.
Last month in the House, the newly empowered GOP majority voted down a resolution stating simply that global warming was real: they've apparently decided to go with their own versions of physics and chemistry.
This week in the Senate, the biggest environmental groups were reduced to a noble, bare-knuckles fight merely to keep the body from gutting the Clean Air Act, the proudest achievement of the green movement. The outcome is still unclear; even several prominent Democrats are trying to keep the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.
Today I joined the newly formed Board of Directors of 350.org, coinciding with a range of exciting new changes at the organization. I have been a supporter of 350.org since I first heard about the wacky plan to turn a wonky scientific target into a global people’s movement, and I’m thrilled and honored to be officially joining the team.
In the past three years, we have all watched the number “350” morph into a beautiful and urgent S.O.S., rising up from every corner of the globe, from Iceland to the Maldives, Ethiopia to Alaska. In the process, 350.org helped to decisively shift the climate conversation from polar bears to people – the people whose island nations, cultures and livelihoods will disappear unless those of us who live in the high emitting countries embrace a different economic path.
When I met George Awudi, a leader of Friends of the Earth Ghana, he was wearing a bright red T-shirt that said "Do Not Incinerate Africa." We were both attending the World Social Forum, a sprawling gathering of tens of thousands of activists held earlier this month in Dakar, Senegal.
Amid that political free-for-all -- with mini-protests breaking out against everything from Arab despots to education cuts -- I assumed that Awudi's T-shirt referred to some local environmental struggle I hadn't heard of, perhaps a dirty incinerator in Ghana.
He set me straight: "No, it's about climate change." Specifically, the combative slogan refers to the refusal of industrialized nations to commit to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Since the hottest and poorest countries on the planet are being hit first and hardest by rising temperatures, that refusal will mean, according to Awudi, that large parts of Africa "will be incinerated."
The inspiring overthrow of Hosni Mubarak is only the first stage of the Egyptian struggle for full liberation. As earlier pro-democracy movements have learned the hard way, much can be lost in the key months and years of transition from one regime to another. In The Shock Doctrine, I investigated how, in the case of post-apartheid South Africa, key demands for economic justice were sacrificed in the name of a smooth transition. Here is that chapter.
DEMOCRACY BORN IN CHAINS:
SOUTH AFRICA’S CONSTRICTED FREEDOM
Reconciliation means that those who have been on the
underside of history must see that there is a qualitative difference
between repression and freedom. And for them,
freedom translates into having a supply of clean water, having
electricity on tap; being able to live in a decent home and
have a good job; to be able to send your children to school and
to have accessible health care. I mean, what’s the point of
having made this transition if the quality of life of these people
is not enhanced and improved? If not, the vote is useless.
—Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chair of South Africa’s Truth and
Reconciliation Commission, 20011
This essay is adapted from the introduction to The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict (Nation Books).
A sprawling crime scene. That is what Gaza felt like when I visited in the summer of 2009, six months after the Israeli attack. Evidence of criminality was everywhere—the homes and schools that lay in rubble, the walls burned pitch black by white phosphorus, the children’s bodies still unhealed for lack of medical care. But where were the police? Who was documenting these crimes, interviewing the witnesses, protecting the evidence from tampering?
I race to the front of the WeatherBird II, a research vessel owned by the University of South Florida. There they are, doing their sleek silvery thing, weaving between translucent waves, disappearing under the boat, reappearing in perfect formation on the other side.
After taking my fill of phone video (and very pleased not to have dropped the device into the Gulf of Mexico), I bump into Gregory Ellis, one of the junior scientists aboard.
"Did you see them?" I ask excitedly.
"You mean the charismatic megafauna?" he sneers. "I'll pass."
I just did something I’ve never done before. I spent a week at sea on a research vessel. I’m not a scientist but I was accompanying a remarkable scientific team from the University of South Florida that has been tracking BP’s oil in the Gulf of Mexico.