Praful Bidwai’s “The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis”

Praful Bidwai is a former Senior Editor at The Times of India and one of South Asia’s most widely published columnists.  He’s also the author of the recent book The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis: Mortgaging Our Future. This book is notable in a number of ways, and not just because it contains a long and coherent chapter called “Alternative Visions: What would an Equitable Global Climate Deal Look Like?”

Bidwai is a rare analyst.  He writes as a man of the South, but at the same time he can be extremely critical of the South’s negotiating postures.  In fact, he devotes an entire chapter — “Rooted in Incoherence: Anomalies and Contradictions in India’s Climate Policy” — to an excoriation of India’s stance in the negotiations, which he judges to be incoherent, duplicitous, and short-sighted, and all of these by virtue of being rooted in an unjust model of development.  His essential claim here is not simply that India’s position is an undemocratic one that ultimately serves its elites, though this is a line he develops at length.  It is also that India’s position is based on unsound ethical claims that cannot possibly support a fair global accord.  That, in particular,

“the per capita norm does not capture, nor is it logically related to, the central concern highlighted by recent climate-related scientific findings: namely, the urgent need to prevent dangerous climate change.”

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Is Pablo Solon still a sign of the times?

Pablo Solon, formerly the Bolivian Ambassador to the United Nations, is not the sort of guy who goes along to get along. You may recall that he delivered a now famous, late night speech explaining why Bolivia chose to “stand alone” by not signing the Cancun climate agreement.  It was, frankly, an astonishing performance, and while I didn’t entirely agree with it, well let’s just say that it punctured a consensus that had gotten just a wee bit too cozy.

Walden Bello, the founder of Focus on the Global South, is similarly not known for timorous opinions.  Walden is plainspoken even by the standards of Asian civil society, and quick to speak of fundamental things — capitalism at the edge being one of them.  These day’s he’s also an elected representative in the Philippine  Congress, where, I’m guessing, reality is more clearly visible that it is in, say, the US Congress.

Together, Solon and Bello have just knocked out Why are climate negotiations locked in a stalemate?, a must read op-ed that ran in the Bangkok Post on September 4, just as the last round of the climate talks was nearing its conclusions.  And it’s not just interesting.  It’s surprising and instructive.  For example:

“The refusal of the North to curb high consumption and the intention of big emerging economies to reproduce the Northern consumption model lies at the root of the deadlock in the climate change negotiations. . .

In reality US and China both want a weaker climate agreement. The US because their influential politicians and corporations are not committed to deep real cuts. China’s leaders realise that the longer they can put off a legally binding agreement, the better for them. . .

The climate talks stalemate is not the result of a contradiction between the two biggest powers but of a common approach not to be obliged to change their policies of consumption, production, and gaining control of natural resources around the world. . .

The position of the delegations of the US and China and many other countries reflects more the concerns of their elites than of their people. . .

The elites of emerging economies are using the just demand of “historical responsibility” or “common but differentiated responsibility” in order to win time and have a weak binding agreement by 2020 that they will be part of. The deliberate prolonging of the stalemate means allowing business as usual. Given that this strategy has led to a dead end, it is imperative that in the UNFCCC negotiations civil society must regain its independent voice and articulate a position distinct from that of the Group of 77 and China.”

Do, please, note the word “just” that appears before the word “demand.”  This is not a rap on the UNFCCC’s equity principles.  It’s a cold-eyed view of the realpolitik of a situation in which the “big emerging economies” have “launched into high-speed, consumption-dependent, and greenhouse gases-intensive growth paths.”

The climate negotiations are getting interesting again, and not a moment too soon.   We are, all of us, in a very tight spot, and while this op-ed will strike some in the South as unhelpful, the key point, for me, is the insistence that “the elites,” and not “the North,” are the key obstacle to mobilization.  In any case, if anything is certain, it’s that “civil society” finding its “independent voice” is a very good idea.

Chris Hedges blows it — apocalyptic radicalism won't save us, nor should it

I hate to rant, but I’m going to anyway.

I collect “apocalyptica” and Chris Hedges’ Life is Sacred went right into the file.  It was the lines “The planet is dying. And we will die with it” that did it.

I’m only writing this because Hedges is good.  Sometimes he’s very good.  But this is not helpful, and not just because the planet is not dying.  It will recover, as I’m sure, in our less hyperbolic moments, we all know.*  It’s also because this kind of hyperbole is based on a fatal refusal of will, and an overarching pessimism that must be refused.

Here’s Hedges’ concluding paragraph:

“Politicians, including Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, serve the demented ends of corporations that will, until the final flicker of life, attempt to profit from our death spiral. Civil disobedience, including the recent decision by Greenpeace activists to chain themselves to a Gazprom supply vessel and obstruct a Russian oil rig, is the only meaningful form of resistance. Voting is useless. But while I support these heroic acts of resistance, I increasingly fear they may have little effect. This does not mean we should not resist. Resistance is a moral imperative. We cannot use the word “hope” if we do not fight back. But the corporations will employ deadly force to protect their drive to extract the last bit of profit from life. We can expect only mounting hostility from the corporate state. Its internal and external security apparatus, as the heedless exploitation and its fatal consequences become more apparent, will seek to silence and crush all dissidents. Corporations care nothing for democracy, the rule of law, human rights or the sanctity of life. They are determined to be the last predator standing. And then they too will be snuffed out. Unrestrained hubris always leads to self-immolation”

I wish I could remember the name of the fallacy here, the one in which an opinion becomes so large and monochromatic that it overwhelms proportion.   And in this case, even hope.

We can do better than this.

* The fate of our civilization, of course, is more uncertain.