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Russian Green Deal

In October 2021, the Russian government finally released its plan to achieve carbon neutrality—by 2060. That’s 10 years after the target date most other countries have adopted. The plan relies more on offsets—like forests that absorb carbon dioxide—rather than significant cuts in emissions. But for the world’s fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide—and the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, second largest exporter of petroleum, and third largest exporter of coal—Russia’s announcement was an important policy shift.
“Before this year, Russia was rather skeptical about climate change and the role of people in climate change,” reports Tatiana Lanshina. “But this year, the official rhetoric actually changed a bit.”
One reason for that shift in rhetoric was the very real impact of climate change on Russia over the last year. Flames consumed huge stretches of Siberian forest over the summer in what turned out to be a record year for wildfires. Flooding in southern agricultural regions disrupted farming which, combined with droughts elsewhere, has threatened the country’s food security.
“The number of dangerous natural disasters has grown more than three times over the last decade compared to previous ones,” observes Vasily Yablokov. “According to Roshydromat, the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring, there were a thousand dangerous natural disasters in 2020, 372 of which caused significant damage to people and the environment.”
Another reason for the shift in government rhetoric has been greater public awareness of climate change. According to a Romir public opinion poll in December 2020, more than 80 percent of Russians believe that climate change is a real problem and that Russia suffers from climate change rather than benefits from it. More than half of Russians consider climate change a current threat, not just a future threat.
At least some of that concern has translated into public action. In March 2019, Arshak Makichyan took his cue from Greta Thunberg to launch a Fridays For Future climate protest in Russia. At first, he was protesting by himself, but gradually more and more people joined him. “We were organizing this movement, and it was growing,” Makichyan says. “Then the pandemic came, and the government used it as an excuse to restrict human rights in Russia.”
In 2020, Tatiana Lanshina and Greenpeace produced a Russian Green Deal that provided a framework for the government to decarbonize and transform the Russian economy. It hasn’t yet attracted the support of the Russian government. But a number of Russian politicians have endorsed the initiative, and parts of the plan have been taken up by provincial authorities.
The situation in Russia remains bleak. The government is committed to increasing fossil fuel production and exports in the medium term, and the share of renewables in electricity production in the country remains negligible. The space for environmentalism activism has narrowed. Russia even vetoed a recent UN effort to treat climate change as a global security threat.
But economic realities such as the falling price of renewable energy and the pressure on Russian businesses to meet new decarbonization standards in other countries may accelerate the timeframe of transition. Much will also depend on the work of environmental organizations and courageous activists.
One thing is for sure: no global just transition can take place without the participation of Russia.
Russia Hit Hard
Russia is a vast country that stretches across 11 time zones, so climate change has had widely different effects throughout the territory, beginning with temperatures. “In the western part, it is colder than normal by 15 degrees,” reports Vasily Yablokov, “while in the far east it is warmer by 20 degrees. On average, the warming has been a half a degree per decade in Russia, which is 2.5 times higher than the global average.” In all, 2020 was the warmest year on record for Russia.
There have been an unprecedented number of weather anomalies. “Some regions report drought damage that has cost 10 percent of their total budget, for example in Tatarstan,” Yablokov continues. “In other places, the rainfall has resulted in flooding, for instance in the southern agricultural regions. Floods in Krasnoyarsk led to the evacuation of 1,500 people. Flooding along the Black Sea coast caused serious damage to the tourism industry. This year, 40 regions declared emergencies because of natural disasters. The droughts, crop failures, and flooding threaten the food security of country.”
But perhaps the most widely reported impact of climate change has been the wildfires in the taiga forests of Siberia and the Russian Far East. “This year was a record year, not only in the scale of forest fires by area—approaching 19 million hectares and growing—but also in the number of fires in the Arctic zone,” he adds. “These disasters are happening for the fourth year in row. According to experts, the fires in Yakutia alone produced 800 million tons of carbon dioxide, and they predict that such disasters will continue, possibly every year. The fires are producing smoke in large cities, especially in Siberia, which is extremely dangerous for human health, especially during the pandemic.”
Smoke from wildfires is not the only side effect of climate change to threaten the health of Russians. Heat waves have put a burden on the health system and caused excess deaths. Overall warming has encouraged the spread northward of Lyme disease, hemorrhagic fevers, and other ailments.
Meanwhile, the permafrost that covers nearly 60 percent of Russia has begun to melt, and the consequences are close to catastrophic. In melting, the organic mass begins to release methane. “Some experts call it a methane bomb,” Yablokov reports. “It’s a feedback loop: burning fossil fuels leads to an increase in temperature, which releases methane, and the temperature goes up even higher. I’m not sure we can stop this process. Nevertheless, Greenpeace activists believe we must do everything possible to slow it down.”
The melting of the permafrost also puts a stress on Russian infrastructure such as roads and oil and gas facilities. In May 2020, an oil tank collapsed near Norilsk, a city in Siberia, releasing 21,000 tons of petroleum into a nearby river. A major reason for the collapse was melting permafrost. “Several hundred oil spills occur annually,” Yablokov says, but it’s unclear the role that melting permafrost plays “because there is no systematic observation.” Another result of the melt is the outbreak of diseases like anthrax, which infected more than 2,000 reindeer in 2016. Siberia is home to innumerable frozen corpses of animals and humans killed by diseases like smallpox and the plague, which a thaw could re-release into the general population.
Another feedback effect can be found in the Arctic where higher temperatures melt the ice. The disappearance of the ice cover produces what is called the ice-albedo effect, which gradually eliminates the ability of the land to reflect back the sun and boosts the temperature accordingly. “Last year was another record for the ice-albedo effect and a large increase in the absorption of heat in the Arctic Ocean,” Yablokov continues. “The Arctic is one of the most vulnerable parts of the planet, and climate change shows more strongly in the polar region. Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped the Russian government from starting new infrastructure projects in the region, which are not economically feasible and are very dangerous under current conditions, like drilling wells for oil and gas production.” On top of that, the polar ice melt has increased sea traffic, which has only further exacerbated environmental conditions in the region.
“Russia doesn’t evaluate climate risks, so we don’t know the exact costs of these policies,” Yablokov laments. “Russia doesn’t yet have a clear plan on how to adapt to climate change. It has no clear understanding of climate risk. Meanwhile, according to surveys this year, most Russian citizens are worried about their future and perceive climate change as a threat.”
Russia’s Green Deal
This year, the Russian government announced that the country would achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. It then released a strategy on how to achieve this goal. However, other strategies, such as the Energy Strategy up to 2035 (adopted in 2020) provide for plans to extract and export more gas and coal through 2035 while keeping the level of oil extraction about the same.
“So, this means that we are not going to change the economy or diversify it very much,” notes Tatiana Lanshina.
These plans on fossil fuel production and export run counter to global trends. On coal, for instance, Russia may find it difficult to identify buyers. “Many countries especially in Europe have already decided to phase out coal, and European demand for Russian coal has already decreased,” she continues. “Russia plans to substitute exports to Europe with exports to Asia. So far, many Asian countries can’t phase out coal because their economies are developing rapidly. Despite the fact that they are introducing a lot of renewables each year, they need more and more energy, which at the moment can come from coal. But Asia has huge health and environmental problems, which is understood at the official level. In several years, we’ll see Asia begin to limit the use of coal. Before 2030, coal demand in Asia will start to decrease significantly.”
To achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 in the face of this medium-term expansion of fossil fuel production, Russia plans to focus on carbon offsets, primarily its forests. Emissions will continue to rise until 2030 and then, by mid-century according to the most optimistic scenario, they will go down by only 14 percent (over 2019 levels).
The current structure of Russian energy production and use is heavily tilted toward fossil fuels. Like most countries, 75-80 percent of carbon emissions come from burning fossil fuels. Most fossil fuel use in the energy sector goes to the production of electricity and heat.
“So, if we want to substantially decrease emissions, we must emphasize the energy sector,” Lanshina points out. “A transition to clean energy is needed to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality.”
The Russian Green Deal plan that she developed with Greenpeace prioritizes changes in Russia’s energy sector. There’s plenty of room for improvement. For instance, the Russian energy sector has a very small share of wind and solar. “On average, globally, wind and solar produces 10 percent of all electric power,” she notes. In Russia, in 2019, the share for wind was .01 percent and for solar .03 percent. “Only Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are lower among large economies,” she adds. “So, we have a long way to go to change our energy sector and make it greener.”
The Russian Green Deal proposes a much faster shift toward renewables so that, excluding large hydropower, they would represent 20 percent of electricity production by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. The Russian energy sector is also very inefficient, with energy intensity of GDP almost twice that of the global average, so the Green Deal argues that Russia should become as energy efficient as the rest of the world by 2050.
Russia is a major producer of industrial materials like aluminum, steel, and cement, and these industries produce a disproportionate amount of the country’s carbon emissions. According to the circular economy recommendations in the report, the metal and cement industries should achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, in part by recycling metals and through improved technologies such as using electric arc furnaces to melt steel. In the agricultural sphere, the report recommends a 50 percent reduction in the manufacturing and consumption of animal products, which would entail a significant change in the Russian diet. Additionally, the report recommends reducing municipal waste generation by 60 percent by 2050 through increased recycling.
A third priority is sustainable forestry. The Russian government emphasizes the absorptive capacity of forests, but the Green Deal focuses instead on preventing forest disasters and locating intensive forestry on already developed lands.
Response from the Regions
In one unlikely future scenario, the Russian federal government adopts the Green Deal and implements it from the top down. Another scenario would be for regions and municipalities to adopt these recommendations and build a Green Deal from the bottom up.
“At Greenpeace, we did a ranking of openness to the Green Deal in Russian regions,” reports Vasily Yablokov. “We see that no one region in Russia is green. But if we collect all the green measures from different regions, we can create one green region.”
Tatiana Lanshina cites the examples of new plans adopted in summer 2021 in the Kuzbass and Komi republics to diversify their economies away from a reliance on coal mining in the first case and oil in the second, though neither region is currently opting for green development.
More promising is the Ulyanovsk region’s development of a wind energy cluster. “They want to reach a 30 percent share of energy in renewables by 2025,” Vasily Yablokov notes. “It’s quite ambitious for a Russian region and we appreciate this.” The Sakhalin region, meanwhile, has established a goal for carbon neutrality. “We have some questions about this,” he continues. “But it’s the first region with this goal.”
“Some regions have some achievements in circular economy and they want to reduce waste and not just through recycling,” he adds. “Some regions have quite beautiful plans for reducing carbon emissions across the whole economy of the region. We found that 42 regions have different renewable energy projects. That’s half of Russian regions. That gives us some inspiration that we can make a green energy transition. We want to collect these different experiences of the regions to share with other regions. We can create a jigsaw puzzle of green regions to create a Green Russia.
Green activism can also be found throughout Russia. “Moscow is the biggest Russian city with 20 million people and when we organize climate strikes there they attracted 50-70 people,” Arshak Makichyan reports. “But in smaller cities with a million or two people, we attracted the same number of protesters.” He predicts that the impact of climate change in the regions, such as desertification or permafrost melt, will lead to greater action.
He also cites other environmental actions in the regions. “There were protests in the Archangelsk region about accepting garbage from Moscow,” he recalls. “They won, and the project was canceled. It was an unusual thing for Russia: a real protest with camps and civil disobedience and they won! And after that, the government started to do something about recycling at a national scale. There was victory in Bashkortostan for those protesting against the extraction of limestone from a mountain. So, there are some victories in Russia. But it’s just the environment. If the protest is political, it’s hard to win.”
Climate Activism
Arshak Makichyan was studying violin at the Moscow conservatory when he read about Greta Thunberg’s climate actions. He’d never learned about the climate crisis at university. The materials he found on the subject were mostly in English, which complicated his attempts to learn about the topic. But reading about the Fridays For Future movement was a life-changing moment.
“I gave up my career as a violinist,” he says, “because I knew that we should do these climate strikes in Russia and it was quite impossible to combine a career as a professional violinist with being a climate activist.”
It has not been an easy task. “A lot of weeks, I was striking alone,” he recalls. “When I started, people couldn’t understand what I was doing, like I was some insane striker about bad weather.
Then people joined me. We created the first climate movement on a national scale. Every Friday, there were five to seven cities striking for climate. We organized a great campaign in Krasnoyarsk when the government declared a ‘black sky’ emergency there. Greta Thunberg retweeted our actions and we got good coverage in the Russian independent media. Protest is unusual thing for us in Russia. People are afraid to protest. Before the pandemic, the situation for human rights in Russia was better, but now it’s getting worse.“
Even before the pandemic, though, the government often refused to provide him with a permit to strike. He applied ten times for permission to protest before the COP25 in 2019. Ultimately, he and two other people decided to hold their action without permission. One day that December, they spent three days with their banner in Pushkin Square in Moscow. The police detained all three, and threw Makichyan in jail. The arrest spurred protests around the world, and he was released after six days. “It could have been worse,” he says drily about this experience behind bars.
One major obstacle to climate activism is the Russian media. “The media is owned by the government or fossil fuel corporations, so they are lying about the climate crisis,” Makichyan complains. “In other countries, the media is reporting on wildfires and how they’re connected to climate, but here the media talks about wildfires but doesn’t make the connection. Even the independent media is silent about activism. They write about us when we are arrested, but they don’t support us when we are doing our work.”
“We don’t have an activist culture here in Russia, because of our terrible twentieth-century history,” he continues. “We’re trying to change this. Young people are different. They’re afraid because the government is jailing people, but they want to change something because it’s our future. A lot of people are leaving for other countries because of political persecution. But not everyone can leave Russia!”
The case of Alexei Novalny is particularly chilling for activists. Government agents poisoned the noted political activist and then, when he returned to the country after treatment in Germany, they put him on trial and sentenced him to three-and-a-half years in prison. “Even though you’re famous, they can still jail you,” Makichyan notes. “This situation is influencing young people. They are starting to feel unsafe. Even big NGOs are starting to be afraid for their safety. Most of the independent media have been labelled ‘foreign agents.’”
Beginning in 2012, Russian law has required all non-profits that receive financial support from outside the country to register as “foreign agents.” The law was more recently expanded to include news organizations. “I have a joke on my wall that Russian can become carbon neutral by 2024,” Makichyan laughs, “because the government will jail everyone and the people who aren’t jailed will be labelled foreign agents whose emissions are therefore foreign.”
“Now I talk not just about climate but about politics,” he continues. “I’m starting to understand the connections and feel part of a bigger civil society. Even though there is a lot of repression, people are educating themselves. They’re starting to understand that one single person decides everything in Russia and that’s not a good situation. We need system change in Russia. The current government is failing us. They did nothing for 20 years, how can we expect action from them now? How can we believe their promises if they are arresting people, if they are prosecuting people, if they are calling people ‘foreign agents’?”
This change, he argues, is coming from below. Following the lead of the government, the media is starting to report more about the climate crisis and people are more anxious about climate change. “Of course, people see around them all these climate anomalies – a very cold winter, strong rains, drought—which drives them to care about this issue,” he concludes
Push Factors
Change is also being pushed on Russia from the outside. The European Union for instance is considering a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) which would effectively levy a tax on all goods coming into Europe that are deemed too carbon-intensive. That would cover a large portion of Russian exports. “Russian businesses care about this and are pushing the government to do something so that they do not lose the possibility of selling to the European market,” Makichyan points out.
“It’s not just CBAM,” Tatiana Lanshina adds. “Increasingly, foreign partners and foreign investors want to do business only with companies that are willing to reduce their emissions. Economics is perhaps the strongest motivation in Russia to decarbonize and to combat climate change.”
The price of renewable energy—wind, solar—is dropping by the month. “This year, Russia explored the option to build solar and wind plants. It was shown that wind could produce electricity for 1.7 rubles per kilowatt. That is cheaper than the cost of electricity in the wholesale market even including capacity payments. In several years, wind energy will be totally competitive.”
As an economist, she remains hopeful. “The situation in the world and inside the country is changing very quickly, and many green solutions are becoming more economically attractive and new industries are emerging. Right now, we’re not planning an energy transition, but in a couple months or a year we might have a complete change. A year ago, very few people would have imagined that we would have a carbon neutrality goal. And now we have it.”
“The Russian government’s main plan for energy transition is to develop nuclear energy,” Vasily Yablokov reports. “But that’s super expensive and it takes too long to build new facilities. Every month, renewables become cheaper and cheaper. I think it will be a natural process that renewables will replace all other energy sources.”
Toward that end, he recommends that outsiders support these green initiatives in Russia. “Don’t be afraid of Russian business and help us improve and develop green technology,” Yablokov continues. “On the other side, pay attention to what Russian activists are saying. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs talks about how beautiful Russia is and how green our energy is. We provide an alternative picture of Russia along with suggestions for a green transition and green future.”
“Economics is a positive trend, but maybe not now, not when our renewable share is almost nothing,” Arshak Makichyan says. “Right now we have fossil fuel lobbyists, not renewable energy lobbyists in Russia.”
He believes that justice should be the main driver for climate action. “Russia is one of the richest countries in the world,” he explains. “We are in second place in the world in terms of supply of fresh water. We have to deal with the economic and social consequences of the climate crisis. We need to play our role in saving the planet.”
That requires solidarity. Not the kind of political solidarity, he hastens to add, that Russia provides to regimes like Belarus or the kind of nuclear energy promotion Russia has done throughout the world. “The Russian government only cares about power,” he continues. “For young people, it’s not about power. When I was arrested, many people in Fridays For Future around the world supported me. So, this is a new kind of global solidarity that’s not about money or power.”
“In the twentieth century, the world united to fight evil,” he concludes. “The same should be done today. Activists applying pressure, NGOs doing their stuff, economists explaining why green solutions are best: everyone should play their roles.”

The Selling of Degrowth
John Feffer, FPIF, December 20, 2021

Over the last three decades, a growing number of scientists and ecologists have argued that economic growth has long outstripped the capacity of the planetary ecosystem. They have developed numerous sophisticated models to demonstrate their point. They have boiled down the technical information—about the availability of mineral resources, the limits of energy generation, the constraints of food production, the effects of biodiversity loss, and of course the impact of climate change—into accessible texts. They have lobbied governments, and they have crafted soundbites for the media.
Despite these efforts, economic growth remains at the heart of virtually every government’s national policy. Even the various Green New Deals that have been put forward around the world are wedded to notions of economic expansion. At the heart of these more recent attempts to bring carbon emissions under control is the concept of “green growth,” which has become the current mantra. So, inevitably, advocates of degrowth have addressed this new version of “sustainable” economic expansion.
“We have to continue to pound away with articles and social media to dispel that fuzzy and oxymoronic notion of ‘green growth,’ that there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment,” observes Brian Czech, the founder of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) in Washington, DC.
The evidence that economic growth is associated not only with climate change but all the other ills of resource depletion is overwhelming. But evidence is not enough. “When we look at the discourses at the international and even at the national level, the recourse to the evidence is not what is necessarily moving the argument,” points out ecological economist Katharine Farrell of the Universidad del Rosario in Colombia. “We need to reflect on why the evidence that exists is not being taken into account.”
There are several reasons why the evidence in favor of degrowth has not been persuasive to policymakers and the public. One challenge has been non-rational fears of a world no longer governed by economic expansion. “Maybe we have to sit with people and ask them what they are afraid of if there’s no technological solution, if there is no growth. What are their fears?” suggests Marga Mediavilla, a systems engineer at the Universidad de Valladolid in Spain.
It is also difficult to push against a prevailing consensus, particularly given the risks of exclusion. “The very thought of being rejected will convince us to self-censor,” notes Simon Michaux, a geologist with the Geological Survey of Finland. “We will not look at certain ideas and thought patterns. We will censor what we say based on what we think the rest of the group thinks so that we don’t get pushed into an outside group.”
The complexity of the problem poses certain challenges as well. “We tend to be reductionist in our thinking,” argues William Rees, a bio-ecologist at the University of British Columbia. “We tend to choose one issue at a time to focus on and we lost sight of the overall picture. You can hardly get people to connect the dots, to see climate change, biodiversity loss, the pandemic, ocean pollution, and climate change as all symptoms of overshoot.”
And then there’s the flood of messaging that supports economic growth coming from all sides: governments, media, even the entertainment industry. “There’s a huge fire hydrant blasting people,” says Joshua Farley, an ecological economist at the University of Vermont. “We are an eyedropper trying to give them an alternative.”
Nevertheless, proponents of degrowth have been developing more sophisticated communication strategies to “sell” their ideas. And they have been translating those ideas into specific policy recommendations and platforms that are gaining greater traction in the public sphere. The question is whether they can overcome the aforementioned challenges to change public opinion and public policy in time to avert catastrophe.
The Question of Rationality
Human beings behave rationally—some of the time. We analyze the situation, make calculations based on carefully considered evidence, and then act accordingly—on some occasions. The rest of the time, we fly blind, guided by instinct, emotion, and other non-rational factors.
“According to social psychologists, human beings don’t behave rationally,” points out Katharine Farrell. “It’s necessary to communicate with people whose priorities are very different from ours and who are not necessarily paying much attention to the arguments.”
According to neuroscientists, the brain has evolved over time by adding functions. The older parts of the brain, often referred to as “reptilian” or “limbic,” now coexist with the regions of higher functioning in the neocortex. “We live in our cerebral neocortex as rational individuals and we think that that’s where the action takes place,” observes William Rees. “But all of our actions are filtered through the limbic. The bottom line is this: the rational component is often overridden by emotion and instinct. This happens unconsciously. We can think that we’re acting rationally, particularly in relation to other people, when in fact we’re acting out of self-defense mechanisms that arise when our social status or political opinions or other aspects of our identity are threatened. This was highly adaptive as little as 10,000 years ago when things didn’t change much, but it’s maladaptive today when we have to respond to a rapidly changing context.”
It’s not all in the mind either, Katharine Farrell adds. “There’s been a lot of work in brain science that has brought in the stomach and the body, which brings us back to the holistic nature of human existence,” she relates. “For instance, in English, we say it’s a ‘gut decision.’
The challenge, Marga Mediavilla clarifies, is not with emotions or instincts per se. “The problem is that rationally we are seeing a problem that the instincts don’t want to see. What we need is coherence among the three levels, with feelings, instincts, and rationality all working together.”
William Rees agrees. “I was not suggesting that there is anything wrong with emotions or instinct,” he adds. “But often they are in conflict with what our rational analyses tells us. If you believe a certain thing emotionally and are confronted with contrary information, it can be very difficult to accept alternative information.”
The Persistence of Group Think
It’s one thing when individuals are struggling in their own minds—and indeed throughout their entire bodies—to reconcile emotionally felt convictions with a set of fact-based assertions. This struggle becomes considerably more complex when it intersects with group dynamics.
For instance, an individual might conclude, based on available evidence, that the sky is about to fall. But the community where the individual lives dismisses this conclusion for no other reason than that it goes against received notions. Should the individual go public with the evidence based on rational observation and data collection? Or should the whistleblower keep quiet out of a fear of ridicule?
“Humans are entirely social,” Joshua Farley points out. “We can’t survive apart from the group. So, being part of the group is the most rational thing to do, from an evolutionary point of view. To signify that you’re part of the group is often to believe in crazy shit. Believing in crazy shit helps you stay alive. Rational science is good for the next 50 years, but if you’re not part of a group you’re dead in a few weeks in evolutionary terms.”
This group mentality applies to everyone, from scientists to those who belong to anti-vaccination groups. It has been shaped by our evolved neurobiology, William Rees points out, and it forms our identity from an early age. “Every group has ingrained but socially constructed beliefs that distinguish the ingroup from the outgroup,” he notes. “This is absolutely the case for scientists as well those who are religious and those who oppose everything we support. We are part of our tribes, and we seek out people and experiences that reinforce the way we think.”
Simon Michaux provides an example of the challenges of groupthink from his involvement in a meeting on sustainable development within the European Commission in Brussels. “There were CEOS, ministers, lots of bigwigs impressed with their own opinions,” he recalls. “They were getting up and saying that they want to take the world to a more sustainable place. I stood up and made two observations. First, I said that all industrial products in Europe depend on raw materials mined from the Global South, that the components are manufactured in China or Southeast Asia. All their sustainability rhetoric was lovely and what we should be going toward, but they were ignoring where the stuff was coming from. They were saying that ‘we don’t mine, it’s a dirty business,’ but they were still buying stuff from China.”
Michaux continues, “The second thing I said was that everything on the list they wanted to achieve was achieved by aboriginal culture thousands of years ago, an outcome that was stabilized for thousands of years. Then European colonialists turned up and destroyed that culture. ‘Can anyone refute those two points?’ I asked. And the room went silent. At a chemical level, humans are terrified of being rejected and getting pushed into an outside group.”
It is one thing to convince individuals to change their minds. It’s no easy task to alter the thought patterns of a group. Marga Mediavilla suggests borrowing techniques from social psychology. “To get out of this automatic mind, according to psychologists, is to make the unconscious conscious,” she points out. “Once it is conscious, then we can change the behavior. We don’t know that we believe in these unconscious beliefs that are causing us problems. It’s probably because we are experiencing some kind of trauma. We don’t want to look at the scarcity of minerals or planetary limits. We are worried that we might have to go back to a lifestyle that is not as comfortable as today. But our beliefs are preventing us from having a better relationship with nature.”
Katharine Farrell notes that colonialism is another trauma that affects groupthink. When someone calls that colonial narrative into question, as Simon Michaux did in Brussels, “the audience becomes uncomfortable,” she observes. “If they can ignore you, they will.” She also offers a powerful reminder that the group identity of humans derives from different sources. “Gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos: these are the primates closest to us,” she relates. “Bonobos manage all of their relations through sex, compassion, and love. They’re generally quite timid and form a small and isolated population. Gorillas and chimps, on the other hand, are among the most violent animals on the planet—and we are more violent than they are.”
One way of overcoming groupthink based on faulty information or deeply held erroneous beliefs is to patiently establish new patterns of thinking through social learning—by way of educational systems, government programs, advocacy campaigns, and the like.
The second path is through a shock to the system. “People will remain in climate denial until they are up to their knees in water,” William Rees notes. “Here in Canada we experienced a record heat wave this summer, registering the second highest temperature in the world. It was the worst wildfire season on record, and now we’re having the wettest November in the history of the country. In the last two weeks, the water has pushed 17,000 people off their farms and killed so many farm animals. It’s been an absolutely catastrophe. A lot of people said that they didn’t believe in climate change until now. They didn’t believe in it until it’s right in their face.”
He adds that these catastrophes are straining the budgets of governments, “which are already stretched to the limit bailing us out of pandemic. It won’t be long before all the money in the economy will be devoted to repairing the damage done because of overshoot.”
The Challenge of Complexity
Absent a shock to the system, it can be difficult to persuade others of the perils of resource depletion and ecological overshoot because of the sheer complexity of the issue.
“Climate change is only one aspect of unsustainability,” Marga Mediavilla points out. “The world is now focused on climate change, but we face other problems like the depletion of resources. When you put them together it’s possible to see the whole picture of unsustainability.”
“Last year, it was the pandemic,” William Rees agrees. “Before that it was climate change and before that it was the economy. The human brain evolved in very simple times when you only had a few people to deal with and you lived in a relatively small space that you couldn’t influence that much. There’s been no natural selection to think in systems terms. Humans cannot anticipate the nature of behavior of most complex systems. We don’t know about thresholds and tipping points until they occur. The COP negotiators, who were policy wonks, economists, and politicians not climate scientists, had no real understanding of the complexity of interacting climate, economic and ecosphere systems—or else they wouldn’t have come to the conclusions they came to.”
“Most people don’t even know what steady state means,” adds Simon Michaux. “When they talk about the circular economy, it’s all about using things better. They talk about the value chain—manufacture, consumption, waste management, recycling, and back to manufacture. Then they say, ‘Hurrah, we’ve done our job and now we can have a nice lie-down.’ They don’t touch the inner ring of money, energy, and information systems. They think that world resources are infinite, that the ecosystem is fine and it’s just an economic problem. They have an attention span of 30 seconds. You have to convince them in 30 seconds before they move on to the next challenge.”
Complexity at an individual level is certainly a challenge, agrees Katharine Farrell. “The basic neurological functioning of a human being, which developed in stages, requires a certain amount of maturity to handle contradictions, which is the beginning of complexity.” But complexity is a different matter at a communal level. “The culture of consumption is just one culture,” she continues. “Analysis, the breaking into parts, is a trick of modern industrialized science and technology whereby we’re able to isolate certain aspects of physics and subject them to our will—and in the process of getting so obsessed with the toys, lose sight of the operator of the toys.” But other cultures “deal with cyclical knowledge and complex dynamics. And it’s incomplete to assume that complexity is the opposite of oversimplifying things. The complexity of a haiku is phenomenal.”
Communication Strategies
Understanding the limits of human cognition—the influence of non-rational factors, the persistence of groupthink, and the challenges of complexity—can help in developing more effective communication strategies. As with any effective communication, however, it’s important to know your audience.
“Everything has to be couched in the professional terms of the people we’re trying to reach,” Simon Michaux recommends. “If you don’t communicate in the language of the people you’re talking to, they’ll see you as threatening and the fight-or-flight instinct will kick in. Finance ministers want the language of accounting. They don’t care about technical details; they want numbers, preferably in graphs with shiny colors. Engineers and scientists want details and data, and if you’re not precise they’ll go after you. Investment people, the millionaires and billionaires, they also have a language. They also have counter-languages that they use as defensive postures to weed out troublemakers.”
“Occupying frontiers is not something everyone can do,” Katharine Farrell adds in an aside. “I’ve been in ecological economics my whole career. You get beat up when you occupy frontiers like that.”
Another key element of effective communication is a unified message. “We really need to unite around common rhetoric, phraseology, and terminology,” Brian Czech suggests. “There is a notion out there that it doesn’t matter what we call our alternative, as long as we are all after the same thing. But if you assess successful policy strategy over the past decades, you realize the importance of name recognition, which applies to individual candidates in electoral politics as well as to policy advocacy. When people say, ‘if you’re against economic growth, what are you for?’ we have to know right away what to say, and be united on that front. If we’re not for a steady-state economy, at a stabilized size that’s sustainable, then I don’t know what we’re for. Because we’re decades beyond a sustainable economy, we at CASSE have adopted ‘degrowth toward a steady-state economy.’ We have to bring the $133 trillion pre-COVID global economy down to a sustainable level.”
William Rees agrees on this last point: “If you look at the ecology, the global economy has to be a third the size or less of what we have now.”
A unified message can have an impact—as long as it has a fair chance of reaching an audience. “To have a community, you need good information,” argues Marga Mediavilla. “The information that comes to the public in Spain is crazy: 99 percent of the information comes from one side while only one percent makes sense and provides technically solid and sensible ways of getting out of the current climate crisis. People are overwhelmed by information, and it is of very low quality. People have no time to think. How do we build communities without a nervous system? We have to behave as an intelligent system but our system doesn’t have any nerves.”
Joshua Farley agrees that the average person is inundated with information, almost all of it supporting economic growth in both direct and indirect ways. “The amount of money spent on advertising, convincing us that the path to a better life is through consumption, is equal to the GDP of Canada, and it’s probably even more now. The biggest corporations are based on consumerism—Facebook, Amazon Google—all getting us to look at ads or buy things directly. We’ve given our airwaves over to the private sector, which sends the message that your life sucks unless you buy more things.”
Advertising is part of a larger economic system built around a messaging system of “market signals” that is devoted to the inflation of needs. “The problem is that we don’t produce for our needs but are artificially inflating our needs,” Marga Mediavilla points out. “This is because of two mechanisms. First, corporations are trying to inflate our needs so that we consume more than we need and so that they can get more profit. Second, people need jobs, and jobs depend on production. Working-class people think that they need growth in order to keep their jobs. These two mechanisms create a vicious circle.”
The larger goal, she continues, is for humans to decide human needs: “to make jobs and corporate profit a satisfaction of human needs rather than of production.” To do that requires delinking salaries from production. She describes an electricity cooperative where the owners, who are also the users, produce only as much as they need—and the compensation of the employees is not linked to the amount of electricity generated or distributed.
On top of all the challenges in communicating the degrowth message, Mediavilla concludes that “we are shy in presenting alternatives. If we don’t picture how life could be, people won’t see it.”
Developing Specific Asks
When he gives talks on ecological overshoot, William Rees includes a slide that lists what he considers to be the necessary requirements to exit the current crisis.
On the energy side of equation, the to-do list includes the phase-out of all frivolous use of fossil fuels. Among other things, this includes the elimination of all cars, including electric vehicles, and the cessation of all non-essential air travel. The remaining fossil fuel use that can be burned without exceeding the global carbon budget would go only to essential functions such as agriculture, industry serving basic needs, public transportation, and the heating of space and water. Manufacturing and agriculture would be re-localized to eliminate the carbon emissions associated with global supply chains.
Houses would be made more energy-efficient and considerably downsized. “In 1950-60, the average house in North America was 1,000 square feet and was inhabited by 3.8 people,” Rees notes. “Today, the average house is 2,500 square feet and is inhabited by 2.6 people. So, one person today gets the same square footage as an entire house from 60 years ago.” To cut down on transportation and remove the need for cars, most people would live in urban bioregions.
At the macroeconomic level, carbon taxes would discourage the use of fossil fuel while a fair income tax would distribute the economic burden. Money would be allocated to restore ecosystems. And to reduce the size of the future population, governments would deploy “non-coercive family planning programs, starting with better education and economic independence for women.”
In the United States, Brian Czech and CASSE have been focusing on revising the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act (FEBGA) of 1978, otherwise known as the Humphrey-Hawkins bill. “This is the central economic policy of the United States, which puts the country on the GDP-growth path,” Czech says. “Those were amendments to the original 1946 employment act. A new set of amendments is way overdue. As part of the low-hanging fruit for amendment, we want the economic report to the president to include an ecological footprint analysis based on the prior five years and looking at the upcoming five years too.” The reporting would also look at indicators like GDP, which Czech doesn’t want to discard because it would continue to serve as a useful measure, just as a scale remains helpful for someone trying to lose weight. He also recommends renaming the act by taking out “balanced growth” and calling it simply the Full and Sustainable Employment Act.
Czech sees the passage of such an act as the kick-off to “what we call steady statesmanship: international diplomacy toward a contraction and convergence of the wealthier and the poorer countries.” For Marga Mediavilla, an essential element of remaking the global economy is reducing economic competition among countries, which creates an international version of what Barbara Ehrenreich called the “fear of falling” that has so paralyzed the American middle class. Another item on the wish list for many is Universal Basic Income, though Joshua Farley prefers that such a universal payment be tied to needs.
“When people ask me what we should do,” Katharine Farrell says, “I always say ‘buy local and get to know your neighbors. It’s a very simplistic way of addressing long global supply chains that generate information gaps that lead to cycles of overconsumption and the possibility of exploiting people without knowing it.”
Joshua Farley agrees that it’s important to buy local and get to know one’s neighbors. But he also points out that the “people in small communities who are already buying local and who know all of their neighbors are being hammered by biodiversity loss and by climate change, so it’s not enough.” William Rees adds that “buying locally is very difficult if everything is built somewhere else. All you’re doing is feeding the commercial machine without building up local artisanal capacity. We need greater economic diversity before buying locally can really mean anything.” Finally, Brian Czech notes that buying local is great “but if you have the bulldozer of fiscal and monetary macropolicy set to 3 percent growth, you’ll be plowed under.”
“I’m not sure that my predilection to buy local and know one’s neighbors is the leading edge,” Farrell concedes. “But it’s part of looking for the strange attractors that point in the right direction. It’s important not to waste time fighting decaying structures that will fall on you if you don’t get out of the way in time. Transformative change doesn’t take place inside the deteriorating extant structure. It takes place on the frontiers of transformative regeneration in the newly emerging structure.”
Despite all the pessimism about the current trajectory of the world and the challenges that face advocates of degrowth, Brian Czech remains cautiously optimistic. “We have two major allies: sound science and common sense,” he concludes. “We’re going to win at some point. There will be major catastrophes first, but it’s crucial that we have the leading explanations so that the pieces can be picked up correctly afterwards.”

Climate Change and the Limits of Economic Growth
John Feffer, Foreign Policy In Focus, November 1, 2021

Since the nineteenth century, human society has experienced extraordinary but uneven economic growth thanks to the energy unleashed from fossil fuels. That growth, and the greenhouse gasses released from fossil-fuel use, has also created the current climate crisis. The conventional solution put forward to this crisis, a putative compromise between economic and environmental imperatives, has been to maintain economic growth but on the basis of sustainable energy sources.
Not all ecologists or economists are enthusiastic about this “green growth” alternative. According to these critical views, which have now begun to move into the mainstream, the planet simply can’t sustain the current pace of growth and even renewable energy sources like solar hit up against significant resource limits. The only effective way to control carbon emissions, as well as related problems of pollution and biodiversity loss, is to address “overshoot,” the unconstrained use of energy and material resources well beyond planetary limits, particularly in the richer parts of the world. These arguments pick up from some of the earliest computer modeling of resource limits highlighted in the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth report in 1972, but now with a climate crisis twist.
With the fiftieth anniversary of the Club of Rome report approaching, a number of scientists and economists gathered in early October to assess the current state of play of the zero-growth argument, its traction in the mainstream, and how best to call attention to the data supporting these positions. They looked at this question from various angles—physics, geology, biology, economy, ecology—and discussed the major obstacles to greater acceptance of more critical approaches to economic growth as well as ways of overcoming these obstacles.
The main challenge remains how deeply wedded politicians, economists, and even the average person are to economic growth. “It’s often said that it’s easier for most people to imagine the end of civilization than the end of capitalism, and to imagine the end of capitalism than the end of growth,” quips Joshua Farley, ecological economist at the University of Vermont.
The growth narrative has indeed created certain blind spots, geologist Simon Micheaux of the Geological Survey of Finland points out. “Certain things just haven’t occurred to us to look at, let alone do the math. One is, understanding what energy does for us. The other is understanding where the raw materials come from.” Much work over the years, including modeling around economic, environmental, and resource limits, has been designed in part to eliminate these blind spots.
Still, blind spots persist. They can be found, for instance, in the discourse around the Green New Deal. “Most Green New Deal material I’ve seen is just another formula for growth,” York University economist Peter Victor notes. “With sustainable development, we used to say that we have the adjective but they have the noun. I feel the same with green growth.”
The modelers themselves are not immune from the growth imperative.
“We need projects to survive as a research group,” explains economist Jaime Nieto Vega of the University of Valladolid, adding that those projects require bigger and better modeling. “I’m increasingly convinced that we should keep the modeling simple, but the internal dynamics of academe are against that.” Universidad del Rosario ecological economist Katharine Farrell similarly highlights the need to take into account the modelling implications of “industrialization of scientific knowledge production” with its “fetishization of innovation” that reproduces within academia the same growth dynamic in society as a whole.
In recent years, critiques of growth have been emerging from a number of different disciplines. Such an intellectual convergence is producing what might well become a paradigm shift. “It’s almost as if human consciousness is ready to see certain ideas,” Simon Micheaux concludes hopefully. “Our ideas might be received a little bit differently over the next couple of years.”
Economics
Economics, on paper, is a discipline devoted to scarcity and trade-offs: budget constraints, resource limitations, the iron law of wages. As economists like to say, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Everything, in the end, must be paid for.
Economic growth at first glance seems to promise a shortcut out of this dismal world of scarcity by offering the promise of just such a free lunch, if not for everyone then at least for some. As economies grow, more goods and services become available, and the bounty seems to be conjured as if from thin air.
Economic growth, however, is not a conjuring trick. It has been powered by planetary resources, mostly fossil fuels. As University of British Columbia bio-ecologist William Rees points out, for most of human existence economic growth was “barely detectable until the early nineteenth century when we got into the fossil fuel era. Fossil fuel for the first time gave humans access to other resources needed to grow the rest of infrastructure and human and manufactured capital that we find ourselves ‘blessed with.’ In order to maintain that capital, we need to have a continuous supply of cheap energy.”
The bill for a “free lunch” produced by fossil fuels is now coming due in the form of global warming, biodiversity decline, and various forms of pollution.
The strange thing is that economic growth, though it exerts such a powerful influence across societies of very different political economies, is often illusory. “For much of the past 50 years, most Americans have experienced no economic growth, no increase in consumption or level of wealth,” Joshua Farley points out, because the benefits of economic growth “have all flowed to the elite.”
Yet most people don’t want to give up on even this illusory sense of growth. Farley cites the 2006 review of the economics of climate change by the British economist Nicholas Stern, who noted at the time that it would require an outlay of one percent of global GDP to stabilize emissions at a level of 550 parts per million, which would substantially reduce the risk of climate catastrophe. At a time when GDP was growing 3 percent a year, such an expenditure would mean accepting a living standard of a mere five months in the past. But Stern believed that even such a modest cut would be a tough pill for the public to swallow, and he acknowledged that more ambitious efforts to reduce the risk of catastrophe, by for instance spending 2 percent of global GDP and accepting the living standards of the previous year, would meet with even greater public resistance.
Growth is not simply embedded in national discourses. It lies at the heart of the process known as globalization, namely the elimination of barriers to the transnational flow of trade and capital and the intensification of global supply chains. But globalization, as Peter Victor notes, is not inevitable: “Globalization is built around capital mobility as the owners of capital seek better returns on their capital. It is allowed by policy, but there is also an opportunity to reduce capital mobility just as it was increased.”
Such pushback against the assumptions of globalization—that deregulation is essential, that growth is inevitable—has grown among economists.
This pushback, for Peter Victor, began with the idea that “the economy is fully embedded in the biosphere and is fully dependent on it for all materials and energy and for all waste disposal.” From this insight, he developed models for exploring the impact in Canada of a no-growth economy and a reduction of energy and material throughput. “If GDP is stable, and you’re getting efficiency gains, then you’re reducing material and energy use,” he explains. When he published his first modeling in 2007, “you could put out scenarios that showed that the cessation of growth in Canada would meet many other important social and economic objectives: less work time, more leisure time, a reduction of income inequality and environmental impacts.”
A second model, developed with ecological economist Tim Jackson, also incorporated the financial system. “We could still get scenarios where growth would end and material and energy throughput would decline, but it was harder,” Victor adds. “I don’t think that’s a surprise. The window is definitely closing in terms of any reasonably smooth adjustment to the circumstances we’re facing.”
Another hallmark of the current age of economic globalization is increased income inequality, both within countries and between countries. This polarization has been driven by the greater role played by finance in the global economy. The rate of return for financial capital is often greater than the economy as a whole, which effectively transfers even more wealth to those who possess capital in the first place. People are making money from money rather than from the production of goods. Some individuals and some countries are better positioned to prosper under such a system, which reinforces inequality.
“I see the fundamental conflict of our age as the rich versus everyone else,” Simon Micheaux argues. “People with lots of money don’t have empathy. The same ways of logic and problem-solving and appealing to a sense of right and wrong doesn’t work with them.”
Katharine Farrell calls attention to the social psychology work of biologist Mary E. Clark that the sociopathology of the profit-driven private corporation is well documented in psychological research. “A corporation has to survive by showing profit and growing,” Micheaux agrees. “If a corporation can’t grow, it loses investment, takes on debt, and goes down. They call this a free market like it’s a good thing. What do psychopaths do when they are fighting for their own survival? Do we expect them to play nice?”
Economic Transition
The global economy is under a number of pressures: stagnation, the costs of climate change and other environmental impacts, the volatility that has accompanied income inequality. “Crises have a way of bringing about unanticipated or unwanted changes,” Peter Victor notes. “But they happen. Think of the crisis European feudalism faced with the rise of the merchant class and later the industrial class. Feudalism gave way to capitalism not because Adam Smith wrote a great book but because the pressures were too great for feudalism to survive. There was a shift in the power balance. Now we have to recognize that capitalism is under stress.”
One of those stresses is the availability of raw materials. Modern capitalism is based on relatively inexpensive fossil fuels and mineral wealth. That entire system is now under threat. “This is an historic moment,” Katharine Farrell points out. “We are looking at the collapse of the physiological structures of the planet, such as we’ve been able to document them, during the small amount of time that we’ve been around to do so.”
Another energy-related challenge for any transition away from fossil fuels is the relationship between energy efficiency and the reduction of energy demand that’s imperative if humanity is to meet national and international carbon emission goals. “We are finding that energy efficiency is not able to grow at the same scope as energy reduction when economic growth is a given,” reports Jaime Nieto Vega, alluding to Jevons paradox according to which increased efficiency in resource use goes hand in hand with increased consumption of that resource. “This is one of the main challenges of the energy transition plans in the EU and concretely in Spain.”
There is more willingness among politicians to acknowledge the ongoing collapse of the existing system. Simon Micheaux describes a meeting he had with civil servants in Brussels. “They were in an echo chamber,” he remembers. “It had not occurred to them to ask certain questions. I put together some information to demonstrate that our dependency on fossil fuels is a problem, fossil fuels are about to become unreliable, and the transition plan to move away from fossil fuel has not been thought out in a practical context. At a basic level, the planned rollout of electric cars and hydrogen fuel cell powered by solar and wind and hydro won’t work. We’ve run out of time, and we don’t have the minerals in the ground. Even if we did find those minerals somehow by mining the sea floor, those systems are not strong enough to replace fossil fuels. I was met with shock. No one able to refute my work.”
Such a meeting stood in contrast to his involvement in a civil society consultation at the G20 meeting in Melbourne in 2014. “The finance ministers told us up front that if we couldn’t help them achieve 2 percent growth annum indefinitely, we shouldn’t bother coming,” he recalls. “When it became clear that we couldn’t do that, that we would be tabling some very difficult challenges, they cut out the civil society documentation to go to the G20.”
Joshua Farley agrees that the world is on the verge of transition. “The heyday of neoliberalism is fading fast,” he notes. “My students are more open to alternatives to capitalism. We’re reaching a point where the next stage is inevitable. People all around the world are coming up with the same ideas at the same time, just like Newton and Leibniz with calculus and Darwin and Wallace with evolution.”
He continues, “We are moving from a world in which individual choice and competition made sense to one in which collective choice and cooperation are necessary, not because ideologies have changed but because both the problems we face and the nature of the resources required to solve them have changed. When the costs of economic activity are collective, capitalism (i.e. private property rights and individual choice) is suicidal; when the benefits are collective (e.g. new vaccines for COVID, new forms of alternative energy), capitalism is inefficient.”
William Rees remains cautious about this transitional period. “If you believe the results of our eco-footprint and overshoot work, it’s not possible to support the present population indefinitely at average material standards,” he points out. “There are already resource shortages. To maintain the current structure requires the depletion of natural assets in the biosphere. According to our material flow analysis, half of the countries on earth are incapable of becoming even remotely self-reliant. Even China, which boasts of its huge pork production, relies on fodder grown in the United States, Brazil, and elsewhere. So, China’s eco-footprint is all over planet. They’re aware of it, at least implicitly. The Belt-and-Road Initiative is a strategy to ensure that China has access to resources all over earth. China has instructed its industrial sector and military to look for every drop of fossil fuel so that they can get in there first to maintain hegemony. Sustainability beyond mid-century will require a massive contraction of economic throughput by as much as 50 percent globally, which means 80 percent in rich countries on a per capita basis. Although modest by some estimation, are those figures realistic geopolitically?”
“Is capitalism, and the countries dedicated to it so firmly, going to fade away quietly?” he asks. “A dying dinosaur has a very dangerous tail that thrashes around.” He points out that the world is “not controlled by us thinking about ideas. It’s controlled by big money and the politics that goes with it. The military-industrial complex is alive and thriving.”
Part of any transition, then, is to minimize the influence of the beneficiaries of the dying system. “None of us know what the new economy will look like or how to implement it,” Joshua Farley says. “But I advocate removing important parts, like essential resources, from the capitalist economy. That might be perceived as less of a threat to the global market. I still want to go into a store and choose the apple I want. Markets work okay for tastes but not for needs.”
One such segment of the economy might be research. “Ideas, information, knowledge, none of this should be rationed, yet capitalism tries to push knowledge production into a market framework,” Peter Victor points out. “If I can get free information from the Internet, I will do so. I don’t consider it stealing. It’s not like bread from the baker since if I take it, there’s no less for anyone else.”
Biology
Mainstream economists view humans as “rational actors” who maximize their gains according to self-interest. Billions of such “rational actors” have over the years made decisions to increase the overall pie as well as their portion of it. The biological counterpart of this economistic view is the “selfish gene,” by which humans will do everything within their power to maximize their advantages in order to improve their chances of reproducing themselves. Growing the economy and growing the species have thus been cast as going hand in hand.
Not everyone agrees. Since Richard Dawkins introduced his “selfish gene” argument, others have marshaled evidence for the biological basis of altruism. “Love, compassion: these are characteristics of primates,” Katharine Farrell notes, adding with a dash of understatement that “even some humans have been seen to exhibit these characteristics.”
Biology is not destiny, William Rees argues, but it certainly strongly influences human actions. “The human species responds just as other species do when it finds itself in a resource trove,” he explains. “We go through rapid exponential growth until we either pollute ourselves into slowing down or deplete the assets that produced that growth. We are in the plague phase of a one-off population outbreak that will result in either slow implosion or rapid crash. That’s the choice ahead of us.”
Biological limitations also shape the efficacy of human responses to the current crisis. “We have a brain that evolved in simple circumstances: a small habitat and few people,” Rees continues. “We are not capable of dealing with complexity. We are natural reductionists. Echo chambers, disciplinary silos—that reflects our capacity to focus on one thing at a time and not much else. With every biological phenomenon there is diversity, but in the main, we’re not capable of understanding the complexity of the situation that we have created.”
The heart of the problem, he adds, is not climate change per se. “With the explosion of human numbers, we’ve put ourselves in a situation where simply maintaining the current population and infrastructure requires the depletion of natural capital assets—soils, forests, fisheries,” he says. “We are literally consuming the biophysical basis of our own existence. Climate change is a symptom of overshoot. It’s a waste management issue, caused by carbon dioxide, the largest single waste product by weight of industrial economies. Biodiversity loss is a symptom of overshoot because human expansion necessarily displaces other species and their habitats. Gross pollution is the entropic result of growing the human enterprise.”
Ordinarily, such species growth hits a wall. “Species are usually held in check by negative feedback from the ecosystem in the form of disease or competition,” he notes. “Fossil fuel relieved us from that feedback, and we could express our full biological potential to expand. The cultural meme set of neoliberal economics has reinforced the biological disposition to expand.”
Katharine Farrell, while largely in agreement with Rees, resists the notion that human nature is predetermined, by a “selfish gene” way or otherwise. She argues that “it’s very difficult to get out of one’s own orientation” and disagrees with treating the culture of capitalism as an inherent feature of being human: “industrialized capitalism, which has certainly achieved a memetic imposition on the culture of the planet, is not the natural or only option for the human being. We have to get out of the trap of the gendered state of evolution reflected in the Euro-descendent, post-medieval culture of capital accumulation that presently dominates globalized economic activity. It’s not the only option we have.”
Increasingly, humans have been behaving much like parasites, which Joshua Farley points out, constitute “the overwhelming share of species on the planet.” William Rees picks up on the theme. “Humans have broken free of any ethical obligation to non-human species or even the future,” he says. “We have become effectively parasites on the planet. The growth of the human enterprise—the production of all our toys and goodies acquired at the expense of depleting the planet of other species, soil, water—has had the entropic consequence of the parasitic destruction of our host species, which is the ecosystem.”
It all comes down, Katharine Farrell agrees, to entropy, to the inevitable marriage between the production of order and disorder. “We don’t have an energy supply problem so much as an obsessive focus on finding energy sources. We have an overproduction of entropy, of waste heat and residuals that are inevitably produced whenever we do useful work, and this entropy production problem is reflected in biodiversity loss, habitat appropriation, and an explosion of invasive species, including agriculture.”
Organization
What distinguishes humans from other creatures, Katharine Farrell points out, is not so much social interaction or organization, for ants and bees are highly organized creatures, but the creation of institutions. Ants are differentiated by their shapes: the queen versus the workers. Humans look more or less the same even as they take on different roles in social institutions.
These institutions, Peter Victor points out, mitigate to a certain degree the biological deficiencies inherent in any average individual.
“We tend to be short-sighted,” he admits. “We are good at the local, not at the global. But part of the solution to that are the institutions we construct. When they work well, they can give us a longer time horizon, because they outlast the life of an individual. Unfortunately, a lot of the organizations that get set up with that spirit in mind can get overwhelmed and become short-term and concerned with the local. But if we ‘re looking not only at how bad things are but how to get out of it, we have to look at changes at the organizational level to complement any discussion of our biological limitations.”
Social segmentation and differentiation, mediated by these organizations, also counteract the individualism of the “selfish gene” and the rational self-interest of homo economicus. “None of us has the ability to fully produce from scratch any item we’re in contact with right now,” Joshua Farley points out. “We are inherently a collective species. The individual can’t survive away from the collective any more than a cell can survive apart from the body. Even the most trained survivalist, without a knowledge of local ecosystems developed through culture, is helpless.”
One useful organizational innovation, Katharine Farrell notes, has been federalism, a method of handling complex hierarchical structures. The principle of subsidiarity is especially useful where “differentiated systems don’t try to do everything at one level” but authority is taken at the most immediate or local possible level. Peter Victor also acknowledges the virtues of federalism: “In Canada, where we have 10 provinces and three territories, we can learn from each other and be closer to politicians than in highly centralized Britain.”
Human organization nevertheless has its downsides, depending on the nature of the organization. “I wouldn’t have forced someone to produce my shirt in an exploitative manner,” Joshua Farley points out, “but buying it through the capitalist system, I don’t think twice about it.” Organizations, through their complexity, thus offer individuals a kind of plausible deniability when it comes to unjust or unsustainable practices.
The structures of globalization, William Rees adds, have had a destructive effect on more sustainable forms of organization. Globalization has destroyed “the capacity for community-level self-reliance or self-sufficiency. Now with global supply lines, everyone is utterly dependent on everyone else to survive let alone thrive. Unfortunately, that whole organizational structure presupposes abundant cheap energy to enable the global transport of goods around planet. If that system is coming to an end, we are going to be in a situation of forced reorganization, which won’t be pleasant because it will result in increasing strife over the remaining pockets of assets around the world. Globalization has been the means by which the relatively well-to-do can access these remaining pockets. This huge organizational pump has sucked the planet dry and, in the process, impoverished much of the world.”
But self-sufficiency can return, even under adverse conditions. Peter Victor enumerates a number of the survival tactics of countries under U.S. sanctions that have been forced, by their relative isolation from the global economy, to strengthen their food self-sufficiency or develop their own vaccines. Another example of this resistance is “south-south cooperation where the Global South is trying to learn from itself and wean itself to some degree of dependence on the North,” he points out. “What can we learn from these examples?”
Is versus Ought
Science attempts to describe the world as it is not as it should be.
“Both quantitative and qualitative analyses are important,” Peter Victor argues. “A lot can be learned from number-crunching and from people playing with your models. But it’s not enough. It convinces those who are already convinced, and it raises questions with those who have open minds. Quantitative analysis gives us some insight into the choices we can make. But it doesn’t tell us which one to take.”
“I believe in genetic evolution where the mechanism is genes as well as cultural evolution where the mechanism is our moral values,” adds Joshua Farley. “We need these values to live together as a group. These values are the units of inheritance upon which natural selection acts and they are every bit as scientific as genes. We’re still obsessed in science with providing better numbers. No, we need to develop better ethical values that are compatible with society and its current scale. When I ask my students to distinguish between a good person and an evil person, they usually reply that an evil person puts the individual ahead of the group and a good person puts the group ahead of the individual. If we want to be a good species, we have to put the overall planet ahead of humans.”
Katharine Farrell describes a meeting she attended where an indigenous woman from Canada and an indigenous man from Brazil discussed their perspectives on capitalism. “The man talked mainly about brutality and violence and a lack of regard for the other, the lack of reciprocity in terms of economic framing. The woman talked more about cultural complexity, that sense of responsibility, how do we raise and teach our children. I was left with a metaphor: capitalism is an adolescent male who didn’t spend enough time with his mother. It’s a vulgar oversimplification of the problem, but there’s a lot in it. We need a more neurocognitively complex approach to knowledge production that includes and exploits both the masculine and feminine aspects of the human brain.”
“I’m not suggesting that the memetic theme we’re now embedded in is the only one,” William Rees counters. “But the one we have happens to reinforce the biological theme. The whole of civilization is a set of rules and regulations established to override what would naturally happen. We are in the game of recreating the paradigmatic framework with which we move forward and much of that will have to counteract our natural predispositions.”
Impact
Given the centrality of economic growth in the mainstream, degrowth has largely hovered on the margins of debate. That seems to be changing.
“I noticed a shift in mood two or three years ago,” reports Simon Micheaux. “Instead of hitting my head against the wall, all of a sudden I started to get results. I’m not sure how this happened, but now I’m getting my work in front of senior policy decisionmakers. I’m presenting to ministers and parliaments in multiple countries.”
But, he cautions, that hasn’t yet translated into altered policies, either at a political level or even in terms of technological research. “The best and brightest are working on things that, I won’t say they won’t work, they do work, but they are not the ultimate solution. We are forced to work on lithium-ion battery chemistry when there are other chemistries. I’ve shown that there are not enough minerals in the ground to make those batteries. I’ve used their data. They have no choice but to see it.”
When a financial crisis happens or a sympathetic political party takes power, the terms of reception can change dramatically. Peter Victor remembers when a social democratic government took over in Ontario after a surprise election result in 1991. “I was given a job there, and just being able to work with a government that was interested in social change was incredible,” he says. “You couldn’t give them enough ideas! They didn’t accept them all, but they listened.”
Fifteen years later it was a crisis that gave his ideas more prominence. “My book Managing Without Growth came out in 2008 at the time of the financial crisis,” he recalls. “What otherwise would have been a marginal document published by an academic publisher and sold at a high price became more well-known. The media was looking for an economist who could say something positive about no-growth. I was invited all over the world. I got a sense that I was being listened to. But 99 percent of the time, the audience already agreed with me.”
Victor adds, “It takes a chorus. If lots of us do these things, it will make an impact.”
Degrowth is often associated with doom-and-gloom scenarios. “No one wants to hear that everything is going to go poorly,” Simon Micheaux notes. “They want a solution. If you can’t promote a solution, they are not prepared to hear the problem.” As the economist Herman Daly used to say, “If you’re falling out an airplane, it’s not an altimeter you need but a parachute.”
Finland, Micheaux continues, sits on a lot of minerals integral to battery production such as cobalt, nickel, lithium, and graphite. “If I’m right, in a few years’ time, the global production of minerals will not be sufficient to meet demand. The captains of industry will then turn to the geological surveys in Europe and say, ‘why didn’t you tell us?’ The Geological Survey of Finland (GDK) manages a battery portfolio and they will be first in the firing line. I can have a frank discussion with their executive board members about hyperinflation, peak oil, currency default. They are enlightened, but they don’t understand the implications.” Still, GDK is giving him the opportunity to develop his ideas about the circular economy and cooperate with other Finnish research groups in the industrial sectors.
“It’s pretty clear that we don’t have enough resources to go around,” Micheaux concludes. “If we do the conventional, each nation for itself, it will give war a chance until the population reduces. If we actually have a transparency of information and we all agree to share those resources, we’ll have a form of socialism to distribute those resources and a form of capitalism to exploit those resources.”
To help generate and test new ideas, Joshua Farley recommends creating a knowledge commons. “Any university can unilaterally declare that all the knowledge we create to address social ecological problems is freely available to all on the condition that any improvements to it are also freely available to all,” he suggests. Even geopolitical rivals like the United States, Iran, and North Korea could be part of this commons. Small-scale knowledge commons, like this working group, can provide help in developing certain ideas and marshalling the defense of such ideas in the public sphere.
This effort could include the creation of a social platform to rival Facebook based not on pushing people to buy more things—and offering polarizing content to keep people tuned in—but on algorithms that “reduce political polarization and focus people on common problems,” Farley adds.
Another idea Farley suggests is “secure sufficiency.” Meeting people’s basic needs is “the ultimate form of freedom.” If they are not worried about becoming unemployed or suffering a health emergency that they can’t afford to cover, they might not strive so hard to accumulate wealth or be quite so wedded to a growth economy.
The working group agreed to pool its experience of “what works” in terms of injecting no-growth arguments and modeling into the mainstream. And the group is considering efforts to work with organizations devoted to qualitatively expressed no-growth visions like “well-being” and “buen vivir,” and to challenge competing modeling based on overly optimistic assumptions about technological advances.

But when you stop growth, people get poor. Is that what you want? Maybe we can let some kinds of occupations and institutions grow — the ones that don’t pollute or exhaust material resources — while shutting down others.

Right. We cannot starve ourselves into reaching net zero. We have to get there by improving efficiency.

The New Cold War Is Financial: Banks and Financial Infrastructure are Emerging as an Expanding Front in Geopolitics

Tom Keatinge | RUSI | 21 September 2020

But now a new front is emerging. Not only is the use of sanctions mushrooming, multiplying the risk for financial actors, creating an increasingly complex landscape for businesses to navigate and the risk that they might inadvertently trigger an unseen violation. The financial institutions themselves are also being directly targeted. Whereas in the past, financial actors might become collateral damage as countries exchange financial sanctions, today they are themselves in the crosshairs, threatened by geopolitical rivalries, most recently between China and the US.”

Read more

Link: https://rusi.org/commentary/new-cold-war-financial

“People Love Their Dictators,”

By Metta Spencer

January 2021 issue of Peace Magazine. http://peacemagazine.org/archive/v37n1p09.htm

“People love their dictators,” Gene Sharp remarked casually, as if stating some obvious fact. I was shocked, for it had never occurred to me that people in general—ordinary, normal people—ever prefer dictatorships. Instead, I had considered that a sign of some rare, grave pathology.

But lately I’ve been thinking back on our conversation, especially after watching the US election, when almost half of the American voters showed their allegiance to the most anti-democratic president in history. And the US is not unique; look around the world and you’ll see adoring voters supporting Putin, Xi, Duterte, Modi, Orban, Kaczynski, Bolsonaro, Erdogan…the list goes on. Something is happening on a global scale that threatens civilization itself. We cannot suggest a solution unless we understand it, and everyone seems baffled.

When half or more of any population seems irrational, we can’t call them all crazy, so what’s the explanation? Gene is gone and I never asked him about his theory, so instead I find myself mentally re-playing old sociological debates. One of them, inevitably, is between Karl Marx and Max Weber. And on that point at least, the evidence looks conclusive: today’s worldwide polarization is not about money.

WHAT’S THE ISSUE: CLASS OR STATUS?

Karl Marx and Max Weber famously disagreed about the nature of social hierarchies. Marx maintained that the crucial societal conflict was always between social classes and about the control over the means of production—material interests. Though he recognized that the dominant class sometimes dupes the others into “false consciousness”—ignorance of their own interests—he reduced all societal conflicts to economic struggles between social classes.

Weber, on the other hand, while recognizing the importance of social classes and economic control, also paid attention to two other types of hierarchy that did not interest Marx: status and power. Although class, status, and power are connected, no one of them is invariably the most important. Weberians (and I am one) tend to attribute social conflicts to status rivalry instead of money and property. Status is mainly prestige. People at the top are accorded dignity and social honor, whereas those at the bottom are treated with contempt.

However, even mainstream TV and newspaper commentators seem surprisingly Marxist, for they mainly attribute today’s global upsurge of right-wing populist movements to working class anger about their economic conditions. Take the analyses of the recent US elections as examples. The typical explanation of support for Trump is that he won in 2016 because he promised to bring back the good industrial jobs that corporate globalization had sent abroad. And indeed, Trump did get some support in 2016 from under-employed industrial workers in rust-belt areas.

But financial interests can explain only a little about the 2016 election and even less in 2020. Trump’s voters had a higher _average income than people who voted for Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden. His popularity in 2016 was highest among _older, less educated, rural, white Christian (though not religiously practicing) males.1 Most Trump voters were not working class,2 nor did workers engage in Marxian class struggle by voting overwhelmingly for Bernie Sanders. Trump did promise to fatten the wallets of unemployed workers, but he also pledged to take away their health care. Most voters knew he would give tax breaks to the rich, not to the poor, and this did not offend them. Instead of resenting the billionaire for cheating workers, they laughed about his gold-plated toilet. During one debate, when Hillary Clinton speculated that he was hiding his tax returns because he was not paying taxes, he replied that it showed how smart he was—and most voters apparently agreed. Such popular attitudes show the absence of class conflict.

The election results in 2020 fit Marx’s economic explanation even less. The numerous exit polls confound class-based analyses. When I analyze tables to judge the causal impact of various social factors, I disregard variables as of minor importance if they show less than about 20 percentage points difference between contrasting categories. It’s a simple criterion, but adequate to prove that age, education level, income level, marital status, the presence of young children at home, and union membership had little or no impact on whether citizens voted for Republicans or Democrats.3 The correlations were trivial or non-existent.

In fact, the effects of education and income seem contradictory: With increasing education came slightly more Democratic voting (but only for those with post-graduate degrees), whereas with increasing income came slightly more Republican voting (but only for those with annual w2incomes above $100,000). There is no coherent Marxian explanation for these findings.

I almost wish that Marxists were right—that people mainly do seek economic advantages—for that would make it easier to negotiate rational political deals. (Even ten-year-old kids can figure out how to divide up money.) But tragically, many truly democratic elections are won by people who do not rationally maximize their own material wellbeing, much less that of the whole world. Nobody forces democracies such as the UK, Canada, and the US to quit the EU, the Paris Agreement, and WHO; subsidize fossil fuels; or modernize NATO’s nuclear weapons. Voters freely choose politicians who will do those things. Evidently, many of us democrats are too irrational even to pursue our own interests. Worldwide, people are giving up on democracy and electing “strong leaders” who violate constitutions and human rights for the sake of acquiring more power. Freedom House reports that for the fifteenth consecutive year, freedom has been declining, country by country, around the world.

Moreover, about half of us do not even support our own moral values. In the US, 74 million citizens recently voted for an abusive narcissist who breaks every norm of civilized discourse, despoils the environment, molests women, incarcerates toddlers, denies scientific facts, cheats financially, lies twenty times a day, deprives sick people of medical care, and contests the legitimacy of any election that he loses. (Have I left anything out? Yes, if we shift our gaze to China or Myanmar we see genocidal rulers, and if we look at Russia we see one whose political enemies are shot or poisoned with polonium or Novichok. Trump is a petty crook in comparison to those people—who are nevertheless even more adored than himself.)4

WHY ARE THEY SO POPULAR?

Friends, we need to understand the popularity of such dangerous people.

I noticed that only two demographic variables are strongly associated with support for Trump: race and rural/urban residence. Black Americans overwhelmingly voted against Trump and rural people overwhelmingly voted for him. You cannot explain away their polarized responses as reflecting class differences, for economic variables have little impact on vote choices. Neither race nor location of residence are indicators of social class, but in the US today, they form “status groups.” Social rank, not money, is the basis of status, and what blacks and whites alike resent is being cheated of the dignity and respect they deserve. The very title “Black Lives Matter” says it all; many whites regard blacks as if their lives did not matter.

Likewise, rural Americans resent the loss of their traditional status as the backbone of free society. Population density has long explained a huge amount of the variation in voting patterns. For example, in the 2012 US election, 98% of the 50 most dense counties voted for Obama, while 98% of the 50 least dense counties voted for Romney.5 And according to The Economist, urban and rural voters are more divided today than they were in 2012 or 2016.

In an article about the rural voters of Iowa, who voted overwhelmingly for Trump, Chris McGreal explained it by quoting a mechanic:

“People felt slighted by them calling us racist hicks and talking about the backwards midwest out in the sticks…It was a huge insult to say that you support Trump because you’re a racist. A lot of them here voted for Obama. The Democrats see us as uneducated, simple thinkers who’ve got guns. It’s a huge boon for the Republican party of Iowa.”7

Arlie Hochschild’s book Strangers in their Own Land,8 describes the prevailing attitudes in “red states” before Trump was even a candidate. Having spent many weeks in Louisiana talking with Tea Party supporters, she noted that, like other “red states,” Louisiana needed federal funding more than “blue states,” yet they rejected it. They were suffering from the worst health care, unemployment, educational systems, and environmental pollution. Some people, fully aware that the petrochemical industry was dumping toxins into the pond behind their home that had killed members of their own families, nevertheless didn’t want the government to stop it. That’s not what angered them.

Instead, their political protests reflected their resentment for being considered culturally backward. And indeed, their status has slipped downward on America’s prestige scale, while other status groups—immigrant Latinos and Muslims, disabled people, women, gays, and transgenders—have been rising, with the encouragement of liberals and urban professionals. This rivalry—now called “identity politics”9 —is bitter.

When status groups express their mutual resentments, the hot issues are often about cultural differences, not practical problems. Indeed, real risks are sometimes discounted as merely symbolic—as in the cases of guns and masks. In realistic terms, gun ownership reduces American life expectancy, but Republicans disregard the mortality statistics and take offence at the disdain of “urban, coastal elites” toward their gun culture. Likewise, although it is clear that masks do inhibit the spread of COVID, the evidence is often ignored by Trump supporters, who see mask-wearing as a hostile political pronouncement.

AMERICA’S CULTURE WARS

Democrats and Republicans now represent opposing status groups that are radically polarized regarding several issues, some of which are practical and realistic, while others are more about lifestyle and customs. America’s ‘culture war’ is about abortion10; capital punishment11; gun control12; Employment Discrimination Act (prohibiting discrimination by sexual orientation or gender identity); the Equal Rights Amendment (prohibiting discrimination against females); legalization of same-sex marriages13; major reform (or ‘defunding’) of police14; and legalization of marijuana.15

Some disputes are more readily resolved by legislation than others. For example, the ‘winner-takes-all’ system of representation in the US means that rural voters will continue to wield a disproportionate amount of political power; reforming the system is required for the fulfillment of political equality.16 Whether such reforms can be achieved is one question, but whether doing so would reduce America’s levels of status resentment is quite another—and more difficult—question.

Unlike money, prestige or status is entirely a comparative measure; it reflects rank. And (unlike the children of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, who are all above average) identity groups cannot all rank above average. Logically, for every high-ranking group, there must be a lower-ranking one. As long as human beings make invidious comparisons, this problem cannot be quite solved. And low status cannot be a happy condition. It’s probably harder to reconcile a society divided by status than one divided by class interests.

The NY Times columnist Frank Bruni, shocked by the “softness of the spanking that voters just gave President Trump,” seems to accept this Weberian “status rivalry” explanation. He quotes a Democratic ex-Senator from North Dakota, Heidi Heitkamp, who surmised that Republicans resisted being told to wear masks because it came across as preachy and finger-wagging.

“People don’t like being judged,” she said. That’s why some maskless Americans lash out at the masked. They regard face coverings as an “implied judgment.”17 As shaming.

STATUS, SHAME, AND EMPATHY

Finger-wagging and preaching can only be done when there is some differential in moral, intellectual, or cultural status. The higher status person can heap shame on the lower-status person. I want to suggest that Trump’s supporters are enthusiastic primarily because _he models an unusual (and amazingly effective) bravado for resisting shame.

Nobody likes to feel humiliated, of course, but shame and guilt are actually necessary for social discipline. Yet shame is a double-edged sword. Whenever shaming is used, even for the sake of maintaining decency and social order, it causes pain. Sometimes people refuse to be chastened, but instead form a fascist political movement strong enough to jeopardize civilization itself.

Consider Nazis, for an extreme example. Right-wing demagogues all show fascist attitudes that attract people who feel humiliated. Trump displayed his leadership among such people by expressing approval for under-educated rural white supremacist male neo-Nazis. Everywhere on the planet today such “cultural underdogs” are resisting the shame assigned to them, chanting: “Make America/ UK/ Russia/ India/ China/ Poland/ Hungary/ Brazil Great Again!” This vaunted “greatness” would characterize a society in which high status is not reserved for experts and scientists in urban areas who professionally produce accurate information. Lying and intimidation would be okay.

Few voters in all these countries are fascists, of course. Some of them can provide coherent ideological arguments. Wendy Brown has described the nature of their shared anti-democratic ideology as a merger of two movements: neoliberalism and neoconservatism.18 Neoliberalism is the belief that, not only the economy but also the state itself, should be dominated by market rationality. Citizens are supposedly rational economic actors in every sphere of life and their moral stature is determined by their ability to provide for their own needs. Even in government, productivity and profitability are the main criteria. Neoconservatism is a desire for a strong state that is always prepared for war, and which empowers corporations, religions, and conventional family values.19 Put these two doctrines together and you have Trumpism and Putinism.

For the sake of reducing polarization, we sometimes look for ways of mollifying people who promote such ideologies—ways of demonstrating respect for them which we do not really feel. Is it possible to heal a polarized society by compromising with their grossly immoral politics? Even if it were ethically justifiable, it would be difficult or impossible to accomplish. We cannot change such people—but can we even live with them?

Maybe so—if we approach them in the spirit of therapists dealing with pathological personalities. This is awkward, for although they are mentally unwell, we recall the same illness in ourselves: chronic humiliation, which everyone has felt at times. Unfortunately, the future of democracy may depend on our developing better mechanisms for managing the shame of low status. The most widely used mechanism today is evidently a public posture that I’ll call “counter-phobia,” which is superbly demonstrated every day by Donald Trump.

People love their dictators, not despite their immoral conduct, but precisely for it. Demagogues feel no shame, and so long as they successfully resist shame, their followers can vicariously bluff and hide their own embarrassment.

Populist nationalism is both a personality trait and a political ideology. It arises where there is a deficit of empathy. When people lack empathy, they can avoid feeling shame or guilt when they should. Dictators appeal precisely by enabling their followers to feel comfortable in supporting cruelty and injustice.

“Character is destiny,” said Heraclitus. If he is right, then destiny of a nation may depend on the character of the leader it chooses. Then what determines the character of the candidates? Personality traits (e.g. temperament, particular aptitudes, shyness), can be partly inherited, but _character _traits are evidently learned.

“Character” includes moral traits such as generosity, fairness, and compassion, which put the interests of others ahead of one’s own. Such altruistic motives are not learned easily. Even good people are not always good, but moral educators have success stories to tell, as well as failures, and we can learn from them. They say that children learn self-discipline and compassion from the adults around them.

TOO MUCH … AND NEVER ENOUGH

Two books shed light on the markedly dissimilar moral educations of Donald Trump and Barack Obama. Mary Trump is a clinical psychologist and the daughter of Donald’s older brother Freddy. Her book, Too Much and Never Enough, portrays those two boys’ father, Fred, as a real estate mogul and ruthless bully who “expected obedience, that was all.”

Because of poor health, Fred’s wife could not nurture her children adequately—and besides, she was expected to rear only their daughters, while Fred would raise their three boys. He wanted them to be invulnerable—“killers,” as he put it—so when Freddy disappointed him by becoming a mild airline pilot, he turned his full attention instead to Donald, teaching him to “be tough at all costs, lying is okay, admitting you’re wrong or apologizing is weakness.” … To Fred, “there can be only one winner and everybody else is a loser (an idea that essentially precluded the ability to share) and kindness is weakness.”20

Contrast that narrative with Obama’s account of his own moral education. He repeats this message in his memoir21 and speeches, calling current political problems the result of an increasing “deficit of empathy.” His own capacity for empathy had been instilled by his mother, Ann Denham, who had consistently demanded it, as he recounted to Oprah Winfrey:

“She taught me empathy. The basic concept of standing in somebody else’s shoes and looking through their eyes. And she—if I did something, messed up, she’d just say, `How would that make you feel if somebody did that to you?’ And that ends up being, I think, at the center of my politics. And I think that should be the center of all our politics.”22

Of the many methods of teaching morality to children, punishment is probably the most commonly used, but evidently a better method is empathy, which instills the inevitability of feeling guilt or shame after doing wrong. Whatever we might later feel ashamed of having done, we refrain from doing.

INSOUCIANCE OR REMORSE?

But that only works after our conscience is fully operational, and it is empathy that plants those fertile seeds of remorse. Barack Obama’s mother was tough enough to persist until her son would recount his vicarious walks in his adversaries’ shoes; Donald Trump’s mother never tried that, or maybe just gave up too soon.

Sometimes these moral lessons become dramatic contests of will. I have witnessed a few such struggles. I remember especially one entire day observing a mother’s effort to evoke penitence in her five-year-old boy, who had done something egregiously cruel (I forget what). She believed that if he did not acknowledge remorse on that crucial occasion, a milestone would have been crossed and a faulty character trait would have been set for life.

In retrospect I think she was right. I know the adult son, who is no sociopath, but far from a Barack Obama either. When reminded of an obligation that he is not fulfilling, he usually dismissively replies, “Don’t guilt-trip me.”

Guilt and shame are prerequisites for a virtuous character—precisely because they are so unpleasant to most of us. But then, there is Donald Trump, who apparently never feels shame or guilt. It is exactly this brazenness that fascinates us. We are amazed to watch his insouciance when caught in scandals that would mortify anyone else. How does he do it?

Where others would feel guilt, sociopaths display little, if any, remorse. Where others would feel embarrassed, they flaunt their outrage or brag about it. This is counterphobia. I’ll illustrate with two contrasting types of shame-management.

Example One is an old story about a prim Arab, Abdul al-Souri, who was in a public meeting when he loudly broke wind. Overcome with humiliation, he fled to a faraway city. Thirty years passed before he dared visit his hometown, where he began talking in the street with a young boy. He mentioned that he had been away since 1830. “Oh,” said the boy. “That was the year when Abdul al-Souri farted.” Abdul fled again and never returned.

Example Two is the title of an essay, “Fart Proudly,” by Benjamin Franklin which perfectly expresses the defence mechanism that psychoanalysts call “counterphobia.”23 When Franklin served as ambassador to France, he wrote a number of naughty but witty essays, including a discussion of flatulence. Just by humorously alluding to this taboo topic, he demonstrated a massively strong ego—precisely the quality that (if maintained successfully) qualifies a person as a leader—or at least a celebrity.

There has never been a more beloved American than Ben Franklin, who even surpassed Donald Trump in his masterful use of counterphobia. Unlike Franklin, Trump lacks any sense of humor, so his counterphobia is a more serious act to maintain.

Almost everyone fears something that makes us anxious—snakes, say, flying in planes, or public speaking—and try to avoid it. Only rare individuals do the opposite: Whatever they fear might happen, they perform deliberately in public. A counterphobic who fears heights becomes a skydiver, for example. Or an ambassador who fears making an embarrassing faux pas at court jokes about farting proudly.

Of course, counterphobia is a risky game to play, for if people don’t go along with your outrageous pretensions, you’ll be twice as embarrassed. Once you start taking that kind of risk, you have to keep it up. You can never again play shy or run away, as Abdul Al-Souri did. Successful public demonstrations of counterphobia can confer enormous charisma—but at great cost. You have to maintain that public persona forever, and never again demonstrate normal levels of modesty. Few people can do it well. We are fascinated by those who can.

COUNTERPHOBIA AND CHARISMA

Probably Donald Trump’s greatest fear early in life was of being laughed at for some stupid blunder—but his father would not let him flee in humiliation, so he learned never, never, never to acknowledge any personal flaws or weaknesses. As a counterphobic, he pretends to be proud of every shameful act (e.g. by telling Hillary that not paying his taxes proves that he is smart). Sometimes he uses another defence mechanism called projection. As his niece Mary points out, before Donald is accused of doing something, he loudly blames someone else for doing precisely that. “It’s a disgrace!” he often accuses others, thereby avoiding the sting of shame himself. A champion liar himself, he charges fact-checking reporters of providing “fake news.” Never does he feel shame.

Fred Trump found allies who helped him instill shamelessness in Donald. One was the famous pastor Norman Vincent Peale, whose book The Power of Positive Thinking sold five million copies in the early 1950s. Fred Trump loved it, took his family to Marble Collegiate Church on Sundays, and made Peale into a close pal. Gwenda Blair describes the pastor’s message:

“Believe in yourself!” Peale’s book begins. “Have faith in your abilities!” He then outlines ten rules to overcome ‘inadequacy attitudes” and “build up confidence in your powers.” Rule one: “formulate and staple indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding,” “hold this picture tenaciously,” and always refer to it “no matter how badly things seem to be going at the moment.”

Subsequent rules tell the reader to avoid “fear thoughts,” “never think of yourself as failing,” summon up a positive thought whenever “a negative thought concerning your personal powers comes to mind,” “depreciate every so-called obstacle,” and “make a true estimate of your own ability, then raise it 10 per cent.”24

Another powerful figure in Donald Trump’s upbringing was an athletic instructor in his military school, Theodore Dobias, whom he described this way: “Like so many strong guys, Dobias had a tendency to go for the jugular if he smelled weakness. On the other hand, if he sensed strength but you didn’t try to undermine him, he treated you like a man.”25

Frank Chamandy also attended that military school and knew Dobias, whom he described this way: “He pushed us to win. If you weren’t a winner, you were a loser, plain and simple…He was a bully. He was tough and unrelenting. Maybe he even brainwashed us. But he got results.”26

And Donald Trump is one of those results. His personal qualities are not the outcome of indifferent parenting; he underwent rigorous training to be a counterphobic, and—like it or not—this trait is key to his success as a leader. A July 2017 survey of 5,000 Americans found that a quarter of U.S. adults like the idea of having “a strong leader who does not have to bother with Congress and elections.”27 And 91 percent of Republicans say that Trump is a “strong leader.” He will never admit having lost the election to Biden, and most Republicans will agree with him, even against all evidence. That’s charisma.

According to Max Weber, charisma is “the supposed extraordinary quality of a personality that causes him or her to be considered a ‘leader.’ It may seem strange to attribute charisma to a seriously immoral person, since the term originated in religion, where it described persons who possessed a “gift of grace.” The most famous charismatic leaders include spiritual innovators: Jesus, Mohammed, the Buddha, Moses, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King.

But there are charismatic politicians too, and they are not all noble: Napoleon, Genghis Khan, Mao, Hitler, Stalin, and Fidel Castro. Even the spiritual ones are not necessarily benign; remember Jim Jones, the charismatic preacher who persuaded 900 of his followers to commit mass suicide in Guyana.

The success of charisma depends on acceptance by the followers, and charisma is not automatically transferred to a successor. Eva Peron is still revered in Argentina, and Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar, though her reputation globally has gone from being an icon of democratic virtue to a genocidaire. Hugo Chavez was charismatic, but his chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro, is boring.

Fortunately, not all leaders are charismatic; many are bureaucratic rule-followers or traditional chieftains who are not expected to be counter-phobic megalomaniacs. Obama’s authority was based on his expertise and willingness to hear rational arguments. Trump’s authority comes from his rejection of expertise, rationality, and even empirical, factual evidence.

That’s the problem. If he were rational, his charisma would pose no particular danger. (Roosevelt and Churchill were charismatic too, but their decisions were largely rational.) But Trump and all the other populist world leaders have been getting away with issuing unreasonable orders because they are charismatic. They deny that nuclear weapons, climate change, and even Covid-19 are serious threats—and millions believe them.

People love their dictators—if they are charismatic. We may be unable to strip a leader of charisma. Those who had it may even acquire new followers after they are dead. The French still are proud of Napoleon. Russians still consider Stalin as the greatest leader in their history. Even Mongolians still name things after Genghis Khan.

Yet there are grounds for hope, both for immediate and longer-term solutions. We’ve had too much charisma. As we enter a new year, there is a chance for new, rational bureaucratic leadership. Let’s seize that opportunity by confirming the authority of science, fair journalism, and factual evidence as the basis for political decisions.

And for the long-term future of democracy, let’s remind parents to teach empathy to their children, who are the leaders of the future. Their wisdom depends on their capacity to feel remorse for their mistakes and joy for the happiness of others. Carpe diem!

Metta Spencer is editor of Peace and a retired professor of peace studies.



ENDNOTES

1 Election 2016 National Exit Poll Results and Analysis. ABC News Analysis Desk and Paul Blake, 9 November 2016, abcnews.go.com/Politics/election-2016-national-exit-poll-results-analysis/story?id=43368675

2 Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu, “It’s time to bust the myth: Most Trump voters were not working class.” Washington Post, The Monkey Cage, June 5, 2017. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/06/05/its-time-to-bust-the-myth-most-trump-voters-were-not-working-class

3 ABC News: Exit Polls for 2020 US Presidential Election: Results & Analysis. abcnews.go.com/Elections/exit-polls-2020-us-presidential-election-results-analysis

Freedom House Reportfreedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world

5 Dave Troy, “Is Population Density the Key to Understanding voting Behavior?” davetroy.medium.com/is-population-density-the-key-to-understanding-voting-behavior-191acc302a2b Aug. 22, 2016.

The Economist, “America’s urban-rural partisan gap is widening,” Nov. 10, 2020, http://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2020/11/10/americas-urban-rural-partisan-gap-is-widening

7 Chris McGreal, “‘He made a connection’: how did Trump manage to boost his support among rural Americans?” The Guardian, Nov 20, 2020. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/nov/20/trump-made-a-connection-here-rural-supporters-iowa

8 Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.

9 Francis Fukuyama, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. Kindle Edition, 2018.

10 Michael Lipka and John Gramlich, “Five Facts about the abortion Debate in America,” Pew Research Center, Aug. 30, 2019. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/08/30/facts-about-abortion-debate-in-america

11 Baxter Oliphant, Public support for the death penalty ticks up, Pew Research, June 11, 2018

12 John Gramllich and Katherine Schaeffer, “Seven Facts about Guns in the US,” Pew Research Center, Oct. 20, 2019. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/10/22/facts-about-guns-in-united-states

13 Justin McCarthy, “U.S. Support for Same-Sex Marriage Matches Record High,” Gallup Poll, June 1, 2020. news.gallup.com/poll/311672/support-sex-marriage-matches-record-high.aspx

14 Steve Crabtree, “Most Amerians Say Policing Needs ‘Major Changes” Pew Research Center, July 22, 2020. news.gallup.com/poll/315962/americans-say-policing-needs-major-changes.aspx

15 Andrew Daniller, “ Two-thirds of Americans support marijuana legalization,” Pew Research Center, Nov. 13, 2019. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/11/14/americans-support-marijuana-legalization

16 America’s urban-rural partisan gap is widening,” op cit.

17 Frank Bruni, “We Still Don’t Really Understand Trump—or America” New York Times, Nov. 7, 2020. http://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/07/opinion/sunday/trump-election-performance.html

18 Wendy Brown, In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West (Columbia University Press, 2019). Also see her “American Nightmare: neoliberalism, neoconservatism, and de-democratization. Political Theory”, 34/6, 690-714.

19 Dina Zisserman-Brodsky, “De-democratization and Its Concomitants in Contemporary Russia,” Paper Presented to the ASN 2017 Convention, Columbia University, NY, May 2017.

20 Mary Trump, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2020), p. 25. (Kindle Edition, 2018).

21 Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. (N.Y: Random House, 2007).

22 Barack Obama, 2006-10-18, Oprah Winfrey Show.

23 Benjamin Franklin, Fart Proudly: Writings of Benjamin Franklin You Never Read in School. Carl Japikse, ed. Kindle edition, 2003.

24 Gwenda Blair, “How Norman Vincent Peale Taught Donald Trump to Worship Himself,” Politico, Oct. 15, 2015. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/10/donald-trump-2016-norman-vincent-peale-213220

25 Donald J. Trump and Tony Schwarz, The Art of the Deal, Kindle Edition, 1987, Chapter 3.

26 Frank Charmandy, “The President, his mentor, and me: I know what makes Donald Trump tick,” The Globe and Mail, Oct. 16, 2020. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-president-his-mentor-and-me-i-know-what-makes-donald-trump-tick

27 Trudy Rubin, “Rubin: 3 in 10 Americans would prefer a more authoritarian government, report says” The Mercury News, April 2, 2018. http://www.mercurynews.com/2018/04/02/rubin-report-finds-disturbing-figures-3-in-10-americans-would-prefer-a-more-authoritarian-government

Interesting perspective. What do you think needs to be done to address this?

Biden, are you listening?

Personally, I supported Andrew Yang’s platform for Universal Basic Income. I wish Biden would implement something like that should he be elected President of the United States in 2020…

After all, income distribution in the United States is incredible inequitable. Here’s a figure from 2017.

Do Nuclear Weapons Profits Count Too?

Nuclear weapons are truly the most idiotic thing to spend money on, throwing money out in space would be a better use. How infuriating!

But somehow the Global Compact does not specifically mention nuclear weapons as a type of investment that responsible businesses should reject. The ten principles that the Compact proposes are excellent but should be more explicit in outlawing the trade in weapons (especially nuclear) and fossil fuels. Do you agree?

I feel that the Canadian government has been doing a pretty decent job in supporting people through CERB, and CESB programs so far! I’m glad they’ve done it, given how so many people have lost their jobs.

Climate change truly is the real enemy of the 21st century. The survival of humankind depends on it, yet so few people seem to recognize it.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s becoming increasingly more obvious to me that we MUST revitalize the idea of “one-world”, and all work together. At the end of the day, pandemics don’t discriminate- anyone can get sick, and we all need to work together to find a cure.

How might we be able to build more solidarity and cooperation? I feel like as much as grassroots organizations try, when global leaders attack others and other countries and blame other countries for problems, it’s so hard to work together.

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Strong Centralized Government is the Way to Go

This is a fair point, but I believe a stronger central government could accomplish the same – in fact, more efficiently. If there are set regulations coming from the top, subnational governments would just have to follow, thereby eliminating another decision-making step.

Law-Enforcement Workers Abusing Power

With respect to the law-enforcement majority who don’t abuse their position of authority, the recent police shooting death of a young Toronto person should yet again raise concern about law-enforcement officials who behave gratuitously aggressive with some civilians.

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“We Need a New Economic Model, the Planet is Overburdened” – Mikhail Gorbachev

Reprint of Interview with Mikhail Gorbachev.
Creative by Nature, 28 January 2015

Article Excerpt(s):

“We badly need a new economic model… We cannot continue living by ignoring environmental problems. The planet is overburdened… We do not have enough fresh water for the people.. Billions of people are subject to hunger today. So the new model must consider all these needs. This model must be more human and more nature oriented… We are all interconnected but we keep acting as though we are completely autonomous.” ~Mikhail Gorbachev

The following is a partial transcript for a recent video interview with former Soviet president and Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev on “The urgent need to save the planet,” presented by his non-profit organization Green Cross.

“The most important point is to ensure that our complex, quickly changing and developing world lives in peace. Otherwise we won’t be able to deal with any other problem. We must block any revival of the arms race, new militarization… Without peace there will be nothing.

In terms of the international community, we have gone through a very difficult period, with the financial crisis that struck the world in 2008-2009, and I feel we have not yet come out of this global crisis.

It has been described as a financial crisis, but in my [view] its been a comprehensive global crisis, and it demonstrates that the economic model that has been underlying all systems in practically every nation, but specifically the biggest countries like the United States… has failed.

This model has essentially brought us to the current crisis, so therefore, we need to change this economic model. We badly need a new economic model… that is not based on hyper profits and hyper consumption, but a model that takes into account the depletion of natural resources. It should not ignore the problems of social development, poverty and the social contradictions that exist in the world…

The main point is this model will fail if it does not consider the demands of the environment. This is not a requirement for tomorrow. It is a must for today. We cannot continue living by ignoring environmental problems. The planet is overburdened.

In 2011 the global population [reached] 7 billion. At the beginning of the 20th Century we were just 1.9 billion people on the planet, and now we are 7 billion and by 2050 there will be 9 billion. The planet’s capacity is already over extended.

We do not have enough fresh water for the people. Water shortages will give rise to various military conflicts, which I am sure will happen if we do not resolve the water problems. Same for energy and other challenges, including food security.

Billions of people are subject to hunger today. So the new model must consider all these needs. This model must be more human and more nature oriented, so the relationship between man and nature can respond to the challenges of the modern world.

Last but not least, we have not learned how to live with globalization. We are all interconnected but we keep acting as though we are completely autonomous… We need this new model. We must consolidate all our resources to create such a new model. And we need to finance research into all these problems. We must consolidate all the resources that human kind has to answer these questions.”

~ Mikhail Gorbachev ~”

Full interview is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1xOtxwIaKc
https://creativesystemsthinking.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/we-need-a-new-economic-model-the-planet-is-overburdened-mikhail-gorbachev

Is NATO Still Necessary?

By Sharon Tennison, David Speedie, and Krishen Mehta
The National Interest, 18 April 2020
Probably the most divisive issue in some peace movements today deals is a dispute about whether any decent country should get out of NATO or stay in it and use their voting power to demand that it give up all plans to use nuclear weapons. The Platform for Survival insists only that we shift into a system of sustainable common security, with a UN peace force serving to protect against aggression. The new factor in the discussion is the additional point that the pandemic requires a new set of global solutions.

Article Excerpt(s):

“The coronavirus pandemic that is ravaging the world brings a prolonged public health crisis into sharp focus—along with the bleak prospect of a long-term economic crisis that can destroy the social fabric across nations.

World leaders need to reassess expenditures of resources based on real and present threats to national security—to reconsider how they may be tackled. A continuing commitment to NATO, whose global ambitions are largely driven and funded by the United States, must be questioned.

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Why the Response to COVID-19 Should Include Universal Basic Income

By John Rose

John Rose argues that universal basic income should. (and he hopes WILL) be adopted as a by-product of COVID-19.

We already know capitalism is failing in the face of COVID-19; it has been failing for generations. The latest crisis simply elucidates this fact. Canadians have been signaling their impending plight–ranging from unemployment, to mounting debt, to accessing essential services.

Meanwhile, bailouts are the talk of the town. The Alberta energy sector is asking for one, while the provincial government led by Jason Kenney decided a multi-billion dollar investment was a prudent economic decision to keep the dream of the Keystone XL pipeline alive. One must wonder if he is aware that the value of Alberta WCS oil is less than that of a barrel of monkeys.

From airlines, to cruise lines, to auto-makers, to Bombardier and banks, it seems as though most major corporations or capitalist institutions beg for bailouts when times are tough. It is remarkably ironic how often these groups demand governments to keep their meddling hands out of the private sector and reduce regulation, and yet when the slightest crisis hits, they come begging for state intervention. How very laissez-faire of them.
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Ceasefire While We Fight the Virus

Warring Parties Must Lay Down Weapons To Fight Bigger Battle Against COVID-19
By Douglas Roche
Pugwash Canada (originally The Hill Times). 6 April 2020

Article Excerpt(s):

“UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s plea to ‘silence the guns’ would create corridors for lifesaving aid and open windows for diplomacy in the war-torn zones in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the central areas of Africa.”
— The Hill Times, 6 April 2020

EDMONTON—”The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war.” In one short sentence, UN Secretary-General António Guterres opened the door to a new understanding of what constitutes human security. Will governments seize the opportunity provided by the immense crisis of COVID-19 to finally adopt a global agenda for peace?

In an extraordinary move on March 23, Guterres urged warring parties around the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against COVID-19 the common enemy now threatening all of humanity. He called for an immediate global ceasefire everywhere: “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”

His plea to “silence the guns” would create corridors for life-saving aid and open windows for diplomacy in the war-torn zones in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the central areas of Africa.

But the full meaning of Guterres’s appeal is much bigger than only suspending existing wars. It is a wakeup call to governments everywhere that war does not solve existing problems, that the huge expenditures going into armaments divert money desperately needed for health supplies, that a bloated militarism is impotent against the new killers in a globalized world.

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Pipeline, Mine Work Sites Deemed Essential Services Worry Some Canadians

By Brandi Morin
Huffington Post (HuffPost Canada) 21 April 2020

Article Excerpt(s):

“People who live in remote and Indigenous communities across Canada are questioning the classification of industrial projects like mines and pipelines as essential services, especially when it appears the “business as usual” approach goes against advice to physical distance as much as possible during the pandemic.

Delee Nikal, a Wet’suwet’en band member of the Gitdumt’en clan from the Witset First Nation, travelled to Houston, B.C. for a grocery run last weekend. It’s in the Bulkley Valley, population 3,600, close to construction for Coastal GasLink’s liquified natural gas (LNG) pipeline project.

She noticed a lot of trucks in a hotel parking lot and was appalled at what she saw.

“There were guys all over there. Some were standing outside, shirtless, drinking beer with each other,” Nikal told HuffPost Canada. Their out-of-province licence plates and heavy-duty gear led her to suspect they were pipeline workers. “It’s scary because they have no connection to us locals — they don’t care.”

Her uncle, Chief Dsta’hyl, whose English name is Adam Gagnon and is a wing chief of Sun House of the Laksamshu Wet’suwet’en clan, wants the pipeline work shut down. He disagrees with authorities defining industrial projects as essential services, a designation determined by provincial and territorial governments.

“They’re committing economic treason,” said Gagnon.

In Valemount, about 600 kilometres east of Houston, CN is shipping in over 100 workers next month to complete annual maintenance on its railway tracks, according to “John,” a CN maintenance worker. He requested anonymity due to job security concerns. The influx would increase Valemount’s population of 1,000 by 10 per cent.

“I’m trying to follow protocols as much as I can,” he said. “But it’s business as usual for the big industry players. Physical distancing is impossible to impose in certain working conditions here.”

John said that during morning safety meetings, at least 25 workers are tightly packed into a small space and move through a narrow hallway, often touching shoulders while walking. He can’t keep two metres from his main co-worker because they travel in the same vehicle and eat their meals in it.

“[Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau and health ministers are telling people to stay home and not touch their face — so how does that work? Because this whole industry world isn’t abiding by the same rules.”

In such rural areas, temporary workers and locals shop in the same stores, or employees live with others in the community, so the risk of transmission cannot be avoided.

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What Is the Shadow Economy and Why Does It Matter?

Unlicensed construction or illegal sales by food vendors–it all has an impact on the real economy
By Simon Constable, The Wall Street Journal, 6 March 2017

Note: Article may be behind a paywall. See “article excerpt(s)” here:

“The shadow economy is perhaps best described by the activities of those operating in it: work done for cash, where taxes aren’t paid, and regulations aren’t strictly followed.

Most of the businesses operating in the shadow economy aren’t what most people would think of as criminal enterprises, says Cristina Terra, professor of economics at Essec Business School in France, and author of the book “Principles of International Finance and Open Economy Macroeconomics.”

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The Pacific’s New Market: Trading Aid for Votes: Nikki Haley was “making a list”

By Gregory B. Poling
Center for Strategic and International Studies, 9 February 2012

The US made it clear that aid would be withheld from countries in the UN that opposed its move of the US embassy to Jerusalem. The opposition measure was adopted anyway. However, some countries are obviously more vulnerable to economic pressure than others.

Article Excerpt(s):

“One should not be surprised when Nauru, a nation of less than 10,000, is offered $50 million from Russia. Nor should the opening of diplomatic missions from Georgia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates in the South Pacific be remarkable when considering what is at stake. An economist might say that a market has emerged for purchasing votes at the United Nations.

As an unintended consequence of the UN system, at least 11 independent Pacific Island nations have found themselves in a unique position: they each have a vote at the United Nations and yet, because of their isolation, have little or no national interests in many of the distant disputes that fill the UN’s agenda. With what is effectively a surplus of ‘unused’ votes, a market has been created where the service of voting at the UN is exchanged for monetary assistance.

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A New Canadian Peace Centre Could Make A World Of Difference

By Peter Langille and Peggy Mason
Canadian Pugwash Group / The Hill Times, 29 January 2020

Article Excerpt:

“Who isn’t concerned about our shared global challenges? It’s hard to miss overlapping crises, many fuelled by militarism, marginalization, and inequality.

Canada provided pivotal leadership and ideas in the past and it could definitely help again. The recently announced Canadian Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Government therefore is a much-needed step in the right direction.

The details have yet to be finalized, but this much is clear: the new Canadian Centre is part of an effort to “lead by example and help make the world a safe, just, prosperous, and sustainable place.” Mandate letters to cabinet ministers suggest an interdepartmental centre (i.e., within government) is proposed “to expand the availability of Canadian expertise and assistance to those seeking to build peace, advance justice, promote human rights and democracy, and deliver good governance.”

While this is promising, three concerns need attention: is the scope sufficiently broad to address our urgent global challenges; should the centre be within government or independent; and is there a better Canadian model?

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The EU is budgeting for a Green Deal

by Samuel Petrequin
AP News [14 January 2020]:


“The European Union plans to dedicate a quarter of its budget to tackling climate change and to work to shift 1 trillion euros ($1.1 trillion) in investment toward making the EU’s economy more environmentally friendly over the next 10 years.” …

“Another 7.5 billion euros from the 2021-2027 EU budget is earmarked as seed funding within a broader mechanism expected to generate another 100 billion euros in investment. That money will be designed to convince coal-dependent countries like Poland to embrace the Green Deal by helping them weather the financial and social costs of moving away from fossil fuels.

“This is our pledge of solidarity and fairness,” said Frans Timmermans, the Dutch politician tapped as executive vice president of the European Green Deal.

The plan would allocate the money according to specific criteria. For example, regions where a large number of people work in coal, peat mining or shale oil and gas would get priority.” …

“In order to qualify for the financial support, member states will need to present plans to restructure their economy detailing low-emission projects. The plans will need the commission’s approval.”
[/read]
Link: https://apnews.com/5d4db8ffda58f03f090a04c35f0a2dc8

The City Insider Proving that Mayors Can Lead on Climate

By Nicole Greenfield
Natural Resource Defense Council, Inc. (NRDC), 11 February 2020

Article Excerpt:

“Chris Wheat doesn’t know exactly how he became a self-described “weird political geek,” but it happened early on in life. At five years old, he was reading newspapers, watching C-SPAN, and begging his parents for an encyclopedia set for their Little Rock, Arkansas, home. By age 10, he’d scored an interview with his governor, Bill Clinton, and the following year joined the volunteer corps for the Clinton-Gore presidential campaign, making copies and sending faxes in the War Room. In high school, Wheat was a two-time state champion debater and, after graduation, became the first in his family to go to college.

Later, Wheat would go on to earn his MBA from the University of Chicago, and after a brief stint in the consulting world, reignited his passion for politics. He joined the staff of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office in 2012, first as part of Chicago’s Innovation Delivery team, then as chief sustainability officer, and, finally, as chief of policy. “I left the private sector a lot earlier in my career than I thought I would, but I knew that I needed my work to be about more than what I was doing,” Wheat says. “I needed it to be about something larger.”

Flash forward to January 2019, when—after Mayor Emanuel announced he would not seek reelection for a third term—Wheat would harness that experience to become director of city strategy and engagement for the American Cities Climate Challenge. The two-year, $70 million program is currently helping 25 U.S. cities meet their near-term carbon reduction goals.

It was a natural fit for Wheat, whose work in the Chicago city government had included a host of sustainability initiatives, from tightening recycling ordinances to getting a disposable bag tax passed to overseeing energy efficiency projects. He’d seen how these efforts made a big impact not just on the city itself but also in the lives of individual Chicagoans. He remembers one grandmother on the South Side who was excited to have her house retrofitted because it would finally be warm enough for her grandkids to play there in the winter months. “That’s not something that shows up in an emissions inventory or a press release,” he says. “But it is something that manifests itself directly in that woman’s life and really shows the cross benefits of this work.”

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What Russia’s $300B Investment In Arctic Oil And Gas Means For Canada

CBC published an interesting article on 15 February 2020 about the Canadian impacts of Russia’s $300 billion investment in the Arctic – specifically within the realm of gas and oil. These investments would encourage development of and increased traffic in Northern sea routes. What impacts these activities will have on locals – including Indigenous (Chukchi, Nenets, etc.) peoples? Gas and oil drilling in this ecologically sensitive region may result in long-term, environmental damage.

Moreover, the Soviet Union formerly used the Barents Sea, Kara Sea, and areas around Novaya Zemlya as a nuclear waste dump. These areas abut and/or intersect the Northern Sea Route. Some of these $300 billion in investments could go towards cleaning up these sites. Several gas and oil companies proposed drilling the Kara Sea due to its large gas and oil reserves – but shifted plans about 5 years ago.

Environmental groups – indicated concern of drilling activities in close proximity to a nuclear waste dump. In recent years, Russia additionally has developed floating nuclear reactors which can be moved along the Northern Sea Route to supply power to remote regions – with a particular focus on resource extraction activities.

Article by John Last (CBC News, 15 February 2020)

“Last month, the Russian government pushed through new legislation creating $300 billion in new incentives for new ports, factories, and oil and gas developments on the shores and in the waters of the Arctic ocean.
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New York City Plans To Divest From Nuclear Weapons!

In January 2018, New York City decided to divest the city’s $189bn pension funds from fossil fuel companies within the next five years. Now the city looks set to also divest from the nuclear weapons industry.

The Council held public hearings on draft Resolution 0976 which calls on New York City to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and divest from the nuclear weapons industry, and on Initiative 1621 to reaffirm New York City as a nuclear weapons-free zone and establish an advisory committee to implement this status.

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New York City’s Pension Funds: How to Invest them?

Basel Peace Office, Jan 28. 2020

Last Tuesday, the New York City Council held public hearings on two measures (draft Resolution 0976 and Initiative 1621) which if adopted would oblige the city to divest its city pension funds from the nuclear weapons industry and establish an advisory committee to develop city action to further implement its status as a nuclear-weapon-free zone.

New York City pensions have approximately $480 million invested in the nuclear weapons industry. The divestment of this amount would probably not make any financial impact on the weapons manufacturers. However, it would serve as a positive example of an action that can be taken by cities and other investors to align their investments with their ethical values. And it would give support to federal initiatives to cut nuclear weapons budgets, such as the SANE Act introduced into the U.S. Senate by PNND Co-President Ed Markey and the Nuclear Weapons Abolition and Economic and Energy Conversion Act, introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by PNND Member Eleanor Holmes-Norton.

The adoption of the two measures could also pave the way for New York to become a member of Mayors for Peace, a global network of over 8000 cities working for global nuclear abolition (see Mayors for Peace, below).

Actions to support the two measures:

The two measures, which were introduced to the Council in June 2019 by Council members Daniel Dromm, Helen Rosenthal and Ben Kallos, have been supported by local peace and disarmament campaigners and by Move the Nuclear Weapons Money, a global campaign co-sponsored by the Basel Peace Office to cut nuclear weapons budgets, end investments in the nuclear weapons and fossil fuel industries and reallocate these budgets and investments to support peace, climate and sustainable development.

Jackie Cabasso

Actions to promote the draft measures have included an Open Letter to New York City Council endorsed by representatives of over 20 New York peace, disarmament and climate action organizations, and a count the nuclear weapons money action in front of city hall.
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That’s great news. How do you suppose it came about? Did someone go lobby them or did some of the bank executives see the light themselves?

Do you have specific examples of these organizations’ involvements?

Risk of Nuclear War Rises as U.S. Deploys a New Nuclear Weapon for the First Time Since the Cold War

And Interview of William Arkin by Amy Goodman
7 February 2020, Democracy Now!
Article Excerpt:


The Federation of American Scientists revealed in late January that the U.S. Navy had deployed for the first time a submarine armed with a low-yield Trident nuclear warhead. The USS Tennessee deployed from Kings Bay Submarine Base in Georgia in late 2019. The W76-2 warhead, which is facing criticism at home and abroad, is estimated to have about a third of the explosive power of the atomic bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) called the news “an alarming development that heightens the risk of nuclear war.” We’re joined by William Arkin, longtime reporter focused on military and nuclear policy, author of numerous books, including “Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State.” He broke the story about the deployment of the new low-yield nuclear weapon in an article he co-wrote for Federation of American Scientists. He also recently wrote a cover piece for Newsweek titled “With a New Weapon in Donald Trump’s Hands, the Iran Crisis Risks Going Nuclear.” “What surprised me in my reporting … was a story that was just as important, if not more important, than what was going on in the political world,” Arkin says.

Transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: As the nation focused on President Trump’s impeachment trial, a major story recently broke about a new development in U.S. nuclear weapons policy that received little attention. The Federation of American Scientists revealed in late January the U.S. Navy had for the first time deployed a submarine armed with a low-yield Trident nuclear warhead. The USS Tennessee deployed from Kings Bay Submarine Base in Georgia in late 2019, armed with a warhead which is estimated to have about a third of the explosive power of the atomic bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima.

The deployment is facing criticism at home and abroad. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, called the news “an alarming development that heightens the risk of nuclear war.” On Capitol Hill, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said, quote, “This destabilizing deployment further increases the potential for miscalculation during a crisis.” Smith also criticized the Pentagon for its inability and unwillingness to answer congressional questions about the weapon over the past few months. Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov responded by saying, quote, “This reflects the fact that the United States is actually lowering the nuclear threshold and that they are conceding the possibility of them waging a limited nuclear war and winning this war. This is extremely alarming,” he said.

We’re joined now William Arkin, longtime reporter who focuses on military and nuclear policy. He broke the story about the deployment of the new low-yield nuclear weapon in an article he co-wrote for the Federation of American Scientists. He also wrote the cover story for Newsweek, which is headlined “With a New Weapon in Donald Trump’s Hands, the Iran Crisis Risks Going Nuclear.” He’s the author of many books, including Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State.

Bill Arkin, it’s great to have you back.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Thanks for having me on, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, to say the least, this has been an explosive week of news in Washington, D.C., and your news, which has hardly gone reported, is — should really be one of the top news stories of these last weeks.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, during the very time when the Iran crisis was at its highest, the United States, last December, deployed a new nuclear weapon, the first new nuclear weapon to be deployed, Amy, since the end of the Cold War. So here we have not just a momentous occasion, but a weapon which is intended explicitly to be more usable — and not just more usable against Russia and China, but to be more usable against Iran and North Korea, as well. It seemed to me that looking more deeply at this weapon, looking more deeply at the doctrines behind it, and then, really, what surprised me in my reporting, looking more at Donald Trump and the role that he might play in the future, was a story that was just as important, if not more important, than what was going on in the political world.

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Lucifer for President!

The blind, even illogical, reactive Western hostility towards effective fiscally progressive measures is formidable … As a somewhat humorous example of such anger (albeit on a fortunately small scale): Just the concept of socialists having any power anywhere on the planet causes distress to a local man here who’s vocally vehemently opposed to liberalism. On a couple occasions he became so narrow-mindedly enraged that he, with his tightened fist trembling before him, uttered to me, “I’d vote for the devil himself if that’s what it took to keep those Godless socialists out of office!”

No more big-business-as-usual Democratic Party

Blindly voting for the establishment-forwarded Democratic candidate no-matter-what, regardless of his/her neo-liberalist corporate-interest ideology, should no longer be expected of an increasingly financially struggling electorate. Therefore, before such vast progressive electorate support is given, there most notably needs to be genuine progress on the socio-economic inequity/inequality file, which apparently is only getting worse.

When I vote in a federal election and/or write a letter, I do my best to make them state, No More Big Business As Usual!

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Christian Peacemaker Teams have succeeded in Columbia, Iraq, Mexico, Palestine, and Canada.

EU to unveil trillion-euro ‘Green Deal’ Financial Plan

By Frédéric Simon
[EURACTIV: 14 and 15 January 2020]

“The European Commission will propose on Tuesday (14 January) how the EU can pay for shifting the region’s economy to net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 while protecting coal-dependent regions from taking the brunt of changes aimed at fighting climate change.

The EU executive is to unveil details of its Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, aimed at mobilising investment of €1 trillion over 10 years, using public and private money to help finance its flagship project – the European Green Deal.

The “Green Deal” is an ambitious rethinking of Europe’s economy, transport and energy sectors aimed at turning the EU into a global leader on the clean technologies that will shape the coming decades.

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The Freud-Einstein Correspondence: Theories of War

In 1931 Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein engaged in an exchange of letters comparing their theories about the sources of warfare. This article by Norrie MacQueen, “The Freud -Einstein Correspondence of 1932 Theories of War,” discusses the debate. The two men did not think alike.

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Banks promise not to spend $47 on fossil fuels

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Under pressure from investors, regulators, and climate activists, 130 big banks have acknowledged the role lenders will need to play in a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy. In September 2019 the banks, which include Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, and Barclays, adopted UN policies and agreed to shift their assets of $47 trillion away from fossil fuel loans. This change aligns their lending practices to the UN Global Compact, which requires that businesses protect the environment. The Compact does not specifically mention climate change as an issue, but any reading of the term “environment” would surely cover restrictions on loans to companies exploiting fossil fuels.

Canada to triple its flow of bitumen

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal MPs declared a climate emergency recently, while his inner circle went ahead reapproving the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. This will see a tripling of the flow of diluted bitumen—the world’s dirtiest oil—and a seven-fold increase in waterway crude-shipping traffic.

As Noam Chomsky has noted, while the mainstream news-media will report on climate change and related extreme weather events, it will then go to business-as-usual reporting that seems to encourage stronger fossil fuel markets and by extension its consumption.

Especially NONVIOLENT non-state actors

Don’t forget nonviolent actors such as Peace Brigades International, Christian Peacemaker Teams, etc, and the important role they play in nonviolent accompaniment / mediation in conflict zones.

Corporate Social Responsibility Society (CSRS)

Facebook has lots of interesting groups, and I’ve just discovered one that is apparently based at York University’s Schulich School of Business. Check out their Facebook page if you live in Toronto, especially if you’re a student at York U or any other business faculty. They seem to have lots of activities during the academic year.

Green New Deals

On February 7, 2019, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York introduced in the United States House of Representatives a Resolution: Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal. It demanded benefits Americans in the twenty first century lack that North West Europeans enjoyed back in the 1960s, and Americans seemed to be on track toward getting during the Roosevelt years. It demanded high wages, paid vacations, increasing life expectancy and universal access to high quality health care.

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Are Lockheed Martin’s Nuclear Weapons Fueling Your Retirement?

BY TOBY A.A. HEAPS July 25, 2019 in Corporate Knights
Think you’re not invested in this weapons maker? Canada Pension Plan, Ontario teachers among those banking on nukes.

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Given the current world situation in 2020, this will likely have to be revisited and revised accordingly in order to be feasible.

A Shift to Sustainable Peace and Common Security

November 24, 2016:

Eleven leading civil society organizations today publicly launched their submission to the Defence Policy Review, entitled “A Shift to Sustainable Peace and Common Security.”

All members of Parliament and the Press Gallery received copies. The launch also featured an Op Ed in the Toronto Star entitled Why UN Peacekeeping is worth the risks (Peggy Mason, 23 November 2016).

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New Bill Aims to Compel Companies to Disclose Climate Risks to SEC

July 17, 2019 | By Karen Savage

A bill that would require public companies to disclose the risks posed to their business by climate change passed a crucial committee vote in the House on Wednesday. The House Financial Services Committee passed the Climate Risk Disclosure Act of 2019, which was introduced by Illinois Rep. Sean Casten in 2018. The bill would require the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to develop and implement guidelines for companies on disclosing climate risks. The SEC would be required to make the information available to the public on its website.

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Civil Society Report Provides Insight on Global Events


The annual State of Civil Society Report analyses how contemporary events and trends are impacting on civil society, and how civil society is responding to the major issues and challenges of the day. This is the eighth edition of our report, focusing on actions and trends in 2018.

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Human Rights in Egypt: CSO’s Letter to the African Union Commission

We write to you in your capacity as the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, the secretariat of the continental organisation responsible for driving the political agenda and development of the people of Africa.
As Chairperson of the AU Commission, we are assured of your mandate to promote the objectives of the AU. The undersigned organisations work to advance human rights in Africa and write to express deep concerns about the situation of human rights in the Republic of Egypt.

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What Local Governments Need to Know

On 25 September 2015, the Member States of the United Nations agreed on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The SDGs build on the Millennium Development Goals, the global agenda that was pursued from 2000 to 2015, and will guide global action on sustainable development until 2030.

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“Subnational” Governments!

Over the last 25 years, the relevance of local governments (states, provinces, municipalities, etc.) in Latin America has been constantly increasing.

The process started with a wave of decentralization, particularly in the education and health sectors, followed by the increasing of other responsibilities of local governments (with the accompanying budget!), and most recently topped off by the allocation of additional investment resources fueled by the commodities boom of the mid-2000s. Currently, in some countries, half of the national budget is now allocated to lower levels of governments .

Subnational Governments cont’d

(Photo: Municipality of Guatapé in Colombia. Adrienne Hathaway / World Bank)

What are we talking about when we talk about “subnational” governments? [2]

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The Tobin Tax

The case for a tax on international monetary transactions.
AUTHOR(S): James Tobin
April 1, 2011

This article is based on a speech delivered in 1995 at a CCPA conference in Ottawa by U.S. economist James Tobin, who died in 2002 at the age of 84. A prominent supporter of Keynesian economics and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1981, Prof. Tobin is now widely known for his suggested imposition of a tax on foreign exchange transactions. Such a tax, he argued, would reduce speculation in the international currency markets, which he saw as dangerous and unproductive.

Some people have reacted to my proposal for an international tax on currency exchange transactions as if it were some kind of quack medicine – particularly the people who might have to pay the tax. So let me explain, in as close to lay language as possible, what it’s all about.

Economists, bankers, central bankers, exporters and importers have been dissatisfied with the international monetary system for a long time, particularly since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1971-73, and the shift to flexible, floating exchange rates among the major currencies.

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Spain obstructs agreement on ‘Tobin tax’

By Jorge Valero | EURACTIV.com .

Photo of James Tobin

Revenue sharing among member states appears as the main outstanding issue in order to reach an agreement on the financial transaction tax (FTT), as Spain still opposes the redistribution of resources, European officials told EURACTIV.

Sources close to the dossier said that Italy has also made an alternative proposal to share the revenues.https://www.euractiv.com/section/economy-jobs/news/spain-obstructs-agreement-on-tobin-tax/ . (Photo German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire arrive to hold a joint news conference after a Special Eurogroup Finance Ministers’ meeting in Brussels. [Julie Warnand/EPA])

Elizabeth Warren’s Tax Wealth Proposal

By Michael Hitlzik, Los Angeles Times

How much would Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax raise? Economists battle over the number .

One of the most pointless exercises beloved of our policymakers is nitpicking at a novel proposal in its earliest stages, as though the details are vastly more important than the concept.

That’s what seems to be happening with the tax on “ultra-millionaires” proposed in January by Sen. Elizabeth Warren as part of her campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. Warren’s plan is to impose a 2% tax on household net worth above $50 million, with an additional 1% on fortunes over $1 billion. “This small tax on roughly 75,000 households,” she said, “will bring in $2.75 trillion in revenue over a 10-year period.”

Critics promptly declared the idea unconstitutional (we examined that issue here), and have since followed up with calculations questioning whether it would really produce revenue that high. The critiques of the plan are important because Warren proposes using the money for some of her social policy proposals, such as eliminating student debt and making public higher education free.

More broadly, the inequities built into the federal tax structure have begun to give pause to its richest beneficiaries, 18 of whom recently issued a call for a wealth tax on the top 1%, including themselves.

“This revenue could substantially fund the cost of smart investments in our future, like clean energy innovation to mitigate climate change, universal child care, student loan debt relief, infrastructure modernization, tax credits for low-income families, public health solutions, and other vital needs,” they said in an open letter this week.

Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, the UC Berkeley economists who helped Warren craft her wealth tax, have just published their response to the quibbling over the numbers. It’s worth examining, not because it nails down their revenue estimate as indisputable (it doesn’t), but because they take point-blank aim at the odd notion in American politics that the wealthy — especially the ultra-wealthy — are somehow impossible to tax.

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Most millionaires support a tax on wealth above $50 million, CNBC survey says

By Robert Frank
CNBC, JUN 12 2019

KEY POINTS
A majority of millionaires support Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposed tax on large wealth, according to the CNBC Millionaire survey.
Fully 60% of millionaires support Warren’s plan for taxing the wealth of those who have more than $50 million in assets.
Warren’s proposal calls for a tax of 2% on wealth over $50 million and 3% on wealth over $1 billion.
The presidential candidate estimates it would apply only to 75,000 of the richest families and would raise $275 billion a year.

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/06/12/most-millionaires-support-tax-on-wealth-above-50-million-cnbc-survey.html

Oscar Mayer heir: It’s time for a 100% tax on billionaire estates

By Chuck Collins

Chuck Collins is the great grandson of the meatpacker Oscar Mayer and the author of Born on Third Base and, with Bill Gates Sr., of Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes. He is a founding member of the Patriotic Millionaires.
https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/24/its-time-for-a-100percent-tax-on-billionaire-estates-oscar-mayer-heir-says.html

These Major Banks are the Biggest Investors in Fossil Fuel Projects

(From Sum of Us)

A major report released today has found that three of Canada’s largest banks, Scotiabank, TD, and RBC, are amongst the top ten banks in the world funding climate change.

The effects of climate chaos will be far worse than previously predicted. To keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees, by the year 2030, just over a decade away, governments and corporations will need to make drastic changes to reduce carbon emissions to 45% of 2010 levels. Despite the immense scope and magnitude of the climate crisis, these three Canadian banks continue to pour billions of dollars into fossil fuels — even after the Paris Accord was signed.

But it doesn’t have to be this way — these banks could fund clean, green energy projects instead, and stop bankrolling projects that endanger our future. It’s time for TD, Scotiabank and RBC to phase out funding in fossil fuels, and ensure that the rise in global temperature does not exceed 1.5 degrees!

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Now here’s a proposal that should be considered as part of this plank: Create public banks. These would be stronger than credit unions, but accountable in a democratic way, and oriented toward the public good.

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Americans celebrated Independence Day on July 4, 2019 in different ways. In Washington, D.C. Donald Trump ordered tanks to decorate the streets and mall and fighter planes to streak across the sky. In Liberty, Ohio there was the usual parade of vintage tractors down main street.

Which celebration better illustrates the meaning of sustainable common security?

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Secretary General Kofi Annan had his own way of dealing with corporate giants. He allocated a portion of his office to setting up a Global Compact, which would supposedly tame the bad actors. He never said whether he felt he had achieved his goal. Certainly the Global Compact has influenced capitalist business practices to some degree, though it is entirely voluntary and not especially well-known. There is no official mechanism for enforcement, or even shaming firms that do not accept its ten (rather vague) principles. We need a much stronger instrument. Yet the organization does function. The photo shows its CEO, Lisa Kingo, in a meeting with business executives.

Municipalities and provincial government matter too. Imagine being in charge of keeping order on Mulberry Street in New York when it looked like this.

The World Social Forum is probably the most woke gathering on earth.

Some people consider it bad manners to complain about inequality. Strange.

I think there’s a shift towards using the Tobin proposal as a template for a variety of sin taxes to generate revenue. In the end the goal is to shift funds from the wealthiest; it is a redistribution project. Remember that Tobin’s goal was not revenue generation but calming speculation. This is pointed out in the plank essay.

His facts are indisputably correct — or were, so long as Trump was in power. It’s his recommendations that are questionable. WHAT multilateral institutions should be promoted? And HOW can they be democratized? And finally, would we be better off if they were? Very vague.

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