Towards Economic and Environmental Justice

Chris interviews Liam on global warming, the war in Iraq, capitalist economics, and clean, green, and just alternatives. Also talked about is environmental activism and the Energy Action Coalition's exciting 2008 campaign: PowerVote.org


Interview Transcript:


Chris: What are you trying to do? 

Liam: I want an end to poverty. I want an end to war. I want an ecologically sustainable society. I want a world where women and gender and sexual minorities aren't looked down upon, exploited, or treated as second class citizens. I want to end racism in our society – I think people of color and immigrants will only be free when they are given full control over their economic, political, and social destinies. I want an economy and political system that is based on democracy, cooperation, and justice – instead of competition, greed, and tyranny.

I work every day to build organizations which are part of a growing, broad movement for human justice and emancipation. Specifically, I work with for an organization called the Student Environmental Action Coalition, and also for Students for a Democratic Society.


C: How can we go about getting rid of dirty energy?

L: We need green job programs which lift people out of poverty, and push them towards prosperity. We need to stop building coal plants and supermax prisons, and start building schools, parks, public transportation systems, and wind farms. We need to find ways for every American citizen to have a democratic say in how this clean economy is going to be built, and the building of a just economy needs to lift up those who most need lifting.

To be clear, we need to stop using fossil fuels. Coal, oil, gas, and nuclear energy have all got to go. The age of dirty energy is over. Humanity must quickly embrace solar, wind, geothermal, and hydrogen power sources. Clean, green and just energy sources are America's future. We need to embrace the future and become world leaders in clean energy.


C: What  measures are necessary?

L: Achieving the aims of real social justice will ultimately require dismantling many of the current institutions in society which maintain injustice and exploitation. This means that people need to take control of their workplaces, communities, and local governments.

Like the freedom fighters of the civil rights movement, women's rights movement, labor movement, and environmental movement, our winning strategy will have to utilize a wide range of tactics. Education, protests, organizing meetings, films, books, news articles, new institutions, reform campaigns, and civil disobedience will all help us win a sustainable world. The key is to use methods which leverage the power of ordinary people fighting for changes in their lives. The key is to build popular power.


C: How much will getting rid of dirty energy cost?

L: How much will it cost if we don't get rid of dirty energy? Imagine what our world will look like if superhurricanes like Katrina and Rita are happening multiple times a year. Imagine increased droughts and more forest fires. Imagine colder winters and hotter summers. In the past we've talked about species going extinct. Well, those species are part of ecosystems – imagine those ecosystems going extinct. Imagine billions of people becoming refugees – yes billions with a B. Imagine resource wars – like the current oil war in Iraq. How much will all of that cost?

Yes, it is true that transitioning to a green economy will cost billions of dollars. But we've spent $3 trillion dollars on an illegal occupation of Iraq. A few billion dollar investment in not only our survival – which should motivate anyone – but our economic and social prosperity! Who can argue with that?


C: How many people must be educated for change to occur?

L: Millions. Every American needs to know the benefits of green jobs, clean energy, and economic democracy. We need millions of youth climate leaders to join the green movement and organize for change.


C: How long will it take to get rid of dirty energy?

L: It's going to take a lot. Young people need to step up. Al Gore put it well: "we need another hero generation". We need a generation like the generation that fought the Nazis and fascism in Europe. We need a generation like those who fought Jim Crow segregation and racism in the 50's and 60's. We need a generation like the courageous Americans who brought an end to the Vietnam War. Americans need to demand accountability and bold action from their elected representatives, vote dirty politicians out of office, and take action against the corporations and politicians which are driving global warming. We need new ways of organizing our workplaces, communities, and government. Democracy and solidarity should replace competition and political tyranny. We need to take America into the future.


C: In your opinion, if something doesn't happen with pollution will there be a next generation?

L: Writing in Science magazine, NASA's top climatologist Jim Hansen, said the following: "if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm."

In a recent article, Bill McKibben, who's a scholar at Middlebury College, called "350" the most important number that has ever existed. I'd have to agree with him. If humanity doesn't take immediate, bold action, the systems on Earth which sustains life will slowly start to change, be disrupted, and die. 

The ocean levels are going to rise, flooding most coastal areas. Most coastal cities, and places like Florida will all be under water. This will cause roughly 2 billion people to become refugees throughout the world. Weather patterns will become erratic and more intense. Storms and hurricanes will become more dangerous, more often. What you saw in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina will become common place.

Resource wars like the current oil war in Iraq will become increasingly necessary, as elites scramble for maintain their drive for profits and power. Other resources, like food and water, will become increasingly scarce. Wars for water will undoubtedly break out across the world.  

Species will die out and go extinct at ever faster rates. Many ecosystems will die. Food shortages will occur more frequent. As habitats are destroyed, so will be possible cures for diseases, food sources, and many irreplaceable resources and natural wonders.

All this will radically alter the notion of being "alive" on Earth. If greenhouse gas emissions aren't halted, there is a very good possibility that we are at risk of mass human, animal, and plant die-offs. Without a clean energy revolution, the survival of humanity on Earth is at risk.


C: Wouldn't it be effective for an oil company to invest in an alternative energy?

L: It's become quite fashionable for businesses to "go green" or run advertisements about how their company is promoting sustainability. Well – the world is still warming at ever faster rates. We call this green washing. Like white washing, but for the environment, green washing involves making the smallest of policy changes – or no changes at all -, advertising that your company is environmentally friendly, all while still practicing dirty, unsustainable, and unjust practices.

For years oil companies and dirty corporations have dragged their feet on environmental justice issues – it's time that ordinary people benefit from the growing green economy. We need to cap greenhouse gas emissions, collect money from the polluters for the damage they've done, and invest in vulnerable communities who most need the green jobs that are being created.


C: Moving on, was the war in Iraq necessary?

L: Iraq had no connection to the horrific attacks on September 11th, 2001. Iraq posed no threat to the security of United States. Iraq neither had nor was developing chemical, nuclear, or biological weapons. Yet a government with a horrific record of human rights abuses and aggressive wars, a country which is actively developing and maintaining the world largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, and the only country which has ever used nuclear weapons against unarmed civilian populations – the U.S. government – had the nerve not only to lie about these matters, but to launch an invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation which ended up killing millions of Iraqi civilians and turning millions more into refugees.

No, the Iraq wasn't a necessity by any means. It was a war of choice, built upon a foundation of lies and fabricated evidence, with the intent of helping to increase the wealth of U.S. defense contractors and oil corporations.


C: How has this impacted the world? The U.S.?

L: Over a million and a half Iraqis and more than 4,000 American soldiers have been killed. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been wounded, as have tens of thousands of American soldiers. Several million Iraqis are now refugees.

While the U.S. economy is staggering, it is reported that the war will end up costing well over $3 trillion. This is money which could have been used to build a green economy, provide universal healthcare for all, rebuild our schools, provide millions of new jobs, strengthen social security and unemployment benefits, especially for veterans, the poor, and the elderly, and much, much more. The bipartisan war is a crime against the American people and humanity. Those that started it are criminals. If we are to move towards real peace, they must be brought to justice.


C: Do you think if we pull out now we will be leaving Iraq unstable and terrorists will take over?

L: Iraq is already unstable. It was the American Occupation that made it that way. Like all imperial occupations, those that are occupied nearly almost always resist. Suppose you live in New York City. Some country says you are stockpiling weapons of mass destruction – which you aren't. You raise objections. You claim they are lying. You bring your concerns to the United Nations. But the tyrannical leaders of that country, despite the protest of millions of its citizens, and millions of other people through the world – being an illegal bombing campaign against New York City. They bomb the bridges. They bomb the power plants. They bomb the water filtration centers. They bomb major roads. They bomb apartment buildings. They call this shock and awe. They say that anyone who dressed or speaks like a New Yorker is a ‘terrorist', a ‘traitor', the "enemy'. President Push, of the United Stakes of Generica, his party and even their quote/unquote "political opposition", declare a war without limits, and institute harsh new methods of repression.

People you've known all your life. Your teachers. Your neighbors. Your friends. Your family members. Local shopkeepers. Your hairdresser. Your girlfriend. Your mother. Your brother. Your sister. Your grandmother. They start being killed. One day it might be a bomb from your enemy's bomber. The next day it might be a stray bullet from one of the occupier's guns. Or they might just disappear – being taken to some secret prison camp, or to a more infamous one in Cuba. They might be tortured. They might be raped. They might be murdered. 

But the central question is: would you fight back? 

And more importantly:  is there any justification at all for calling someone who fights a foreign aggressor, whatever their means, a "terrorist"?

For me at least, these people are freedom fighters – just like the American soldiers in Iraq Veterans Against the War who are speaking out against this illegal occupation, many even refusing to serve in an illegal war – refusing to break their oath to defend the United States Constitution. 

Yes Iraq will be unstable for quite a long time after we leave. But we have no right to occupy a foreign country. It violated every international law of war and peace. It is a crime against humanity and against peace. We are committing the worst of war crimes in Iraq. The Nazis were hung at Nuremburg for the same exact crimes: waging wars of aggression.

If we were really interested in helping Iraq rebuild their country, we'd leave immediately, let them democratically decide what to do with own country, pay reparations for all Iraqis and other people who were harmed by this war, and turn the people who stated this war – both Republicans and Democrats – over to the International Criminal Court to be tried for High Crimes and Misdemeanors – namely crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.


C: Is this war still being fought for the same reasons as it was five years ago?

L: Absolutely. It is being waged today, as it was the day it was declared in March of 2003, in the name of American corporations seeking control over the resources of Iraq and profits from the waging of war more generally. It has been and will always be: a war of the rich, upon the poor – poor American soldiers, poor Americans at home without social services, and poor Iraqi citizens suffering death, agony, poverty, and homelessness.

The official reasons coming out of the White House, Congress, and lobbyists of war corporations have changed, sure. But the reasons why elites promoted and continue to promote the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan remain the same: control of resources and maintenance of American power.


C: What is wrong with corporations or capitalism in general?

L: This is hard to answer in a short period of time, but, simply put, capitalism is a thug's economy. Al Capone – the infamous murder and American gangster – used to say, ‘capitalism is the best of all economic systems: you can get what you can take'. Under market capitalism, roughly 1% of the population controls about 50% of the wealth. This is the owning class – they own the businesses and the corporations. They are the superrich. They are the masters of the universe. They sail on yachts, fly in jet planes, and drive fancy cars – while half the world's population – nearly three billion people – live on less than two dollars a day.

Under these economic owners, these is another class of people – roughly 20% of the population – who manage and coordinate the economy, and have jobs which are relatively empowering and rewarding. They compete with both the owners and the workers who they manage. They tend to monopolize all of the empowering jobs at work, while workers do only shit work for less pay. 

The bottom 80% of the population are ordinary working people. This bottom 80% holds just 6% of wealth in our country. They have no control over their work. They must submit to managers and owners at work or else face joblessness, homelessness, hunger, and poverty. They have no other option but to submit to the will of others. This is what politicians and corporate CEO's call the "freedom".

Instead of lifting people out of poverty, equalizing the distribution of wealth, democratizing our workplaces, and empowering all people at their jobs, capitalism does the opposite: it increases the gap between the superwealthy and the superpoor, it squashed democracy wherever it surfaces, and ensures that ordinary working people have no access to work that will make them feel good about themselves. Quote/unquote "free markets" promote competition between businesses who care nothing for each other, consumers, their workers, or society as a whole. They have one goal: maximizing profit and power. So long as they don't lose power when they do something, they will do literally anything to maximize profit. 

Since we are talking about global warming, it's useful to talk about green house gas emissions. Corporations have absolutely no incentive to cut their global warming emissions or pollute less. In fact, if a corporation were to do so, they often go out of business. The only way a company can compete is by cutting costs. A common way for them to cut costs is to pass off the costs to others: consumers who have to deal with shitty products and higher prices, or the entire population who will suffer when the ocean levels seriously start to rise. Markets have no democratic planning behind them – they are based on chaos and greed. We can do better. Americans can democratically plan our economic futures, without markets based on greed or undemocratic workplaces. Economic justice and democracy is possible.


C: How come people are blind to these reasons?

L: I think most people see all the problems around them – they just think that either there's no alternative, or that there's nothing they can do about it. Luckily for our world, there are plenty of alternatives and plenty of ways to help build a better world.

Take Venezuela for example. The U.S. government and corporate media demonize Venezuela and President Hugo Chavez. Why is that? Well, the U.S. government operates on the principle that any progressive government, social movement, or leader must be stopped. They must be demonized, defamed, or assassinated. In fact, a good indication on where you should look if you are interested in seeing alternatives to the problems we have in America, are often the countries that the U.S. government demonizes or attacks.

President Chavez is bringing his country in a direction of liberation. Imagine this: your leader tells you that if you are poor and don't own your home, go around your neighborhood and talk to 300 families around you. Get them all to form a council or local government. In this government, you will make all local decisions directly. The federal government won't interfere. If you do this, the federal government will buy your homes – which you don't currently own – and give them to you, free of charge. In other words, you start to make all the decisions which affect your lives collectively, not just about political decisions. This is what's going on in Venezuela. They are moving away from reliance on corporations and capitalism, and towards an economic and political democracy which is directly run by the people, which will eventually replace all of the corporations and even the federal government. That's why the U.S. demonizes Chavez and the Venezuelan government.


C: How can we change this since no corporation is going to just give up?

L: All institutions exist only because people let them exist. All policies occur only because people let them occur. If people say "we don't want these dirty energy policies"; if they say "we don't want corporations running our lives"; if they build a mass, highly organized movement to fight for reforms and eventually democratize the economy, then there is nothing that corporations will be able do to stop them. The key is to get millions of people organized for change. We need to make our demands and actions bold. We can't just fight for friendlier capitalism, we have to revolutionize the economy, political system, and cultural and family relationships. The whole system needs to change. And people need to take action to do that.

If young people want to get involved this year, a major campaign they can join is Power Vote. Here's what Power Vote is about: 

"We are building a youth voter bloc 1 million strong to demand bold federal climate legislation, a moratorium on coal and other dirty energy, and to create millions of good, green jobs. Youth will start by signing our Power Vote pledge and then get plugged into the incredible youth climate movement sweeping the nation. We will not only elect people who support our position, but will hold them accountable to it.

Throughout the Fall, we will be elevating climate and clean, just energy as a national issue. Every time a candidate makes a public (and sometimes private) appearance we'll be there with green hard hats on and no coal signs waving. Every time a bill is up or a council member is compromising our future, we'll be there. You'll see us at the conventions, at coal plants and oil refineries, and on major coordinated days of action. And you will see us at the polls. We will be impossible to ignore.

And all the while, we will be building the power and numbers of the youth climate movement. We'll have more people fighting for campus clean energy policies, to break our addiction to oil, to get dirty (energy) money out of politics, and to stop dirty energy expansion dead in it's tracks. On November 4, our work doesn't end but ramps up to ensure that promises our kept in the first 100 days of new administration and that all our amazing new youth climate leaders have a clear plan for creating real, lasting change in their communities." 

It's a unique opportunity for young people to be part of a growing generation of climate heroes who are working to save our planet and humanity. All young people should join up and fight back!

C: Thank you.



Chris is an 18 year old high school student in New York. He plans to attend school for film and media in the fall.

Liam is a 21 year old, revolutionary youth organizer, currently based out of New York, U.S.A. He studies how language, social networks, and communication affect political strategy, vision, and organizing. For the past two years, he has been an organizer with Students for a Democratic Society, and is also on the national council of the Student Environmental Action Coalition – both in the United States – addressing the War in Iraq, the environmental crisis, and youth and student rights and power. He runs a political strategy website – Diary of a Walking Butterfly (www.walkingbutterfly.org) – where he writes on topics of political strategy, social vision, youth organizing, social change, and how language and communication affect each of those topics. You can contact him butterflywalking (at) gmail (dot) com or through AIM/GTalk at the same screenname.

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