Empowerment: The Remarkable Illustrated Story of Wangari Maathai, the First African Woman to Win the Nobel Peace Prize

“A tree is a little bit of the future.”

Planting Trees as Resistance and Empowerment: The Remarkable Illustrated Story of Wangari Maathai, the First African Woman to Win the Nobel Peace Prize

Walt Whitman saw in trees the wisest of teachers and Hermann Hesse found in them a joyous antidote to the sorrow of our own ephemerality. “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way,” William Blake wrote in his most beautiful letter. “As a man is, so he sees.”

Many tree-rings after Blake and Whitman and Hesse, another visionary turned to trees as an instrument of civil disobedience, empowerment, and emancipation, advancing democracy, human rights, and environmental justice.

Born near a holy fig tree in the central highlands of Kenya twenty years after the country became a British colony, Wangari Maathai (April 1, 1940–September 25, 2011) went on to become the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded for her triumph of promoting “ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development” by founding the Green Belt Movement responsible for planting 30 million trees and empowering women to partake in social change — an act of courage and resistance for which she was beaten and imprisoned multiple times, but which ultimately helped defeat Kenya’s corrupt, authoritarian president and blazed a new path to ecological resilience.

French children’s book author Franck Prévot and illustrator Aurélia Fronty tell her remarkable story in Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees (public library) — a lovely addition to the most inspiring picture-book biographies of cultural heroes.

Growing up in a small hut with walls made of mud and dung, Wangari watched the British colonialists grow richer and richer by cutting down trees to plant more tea. She ached to see the trees fall, but didn’t yet know that she had the agency to stand up for them and for her people.

One day, with the simplicity and sincerity of a child’s enormous question, her older brother asked the family why he was allowed to go to school and learn, but Wangari was not. And, just like that, the unquestioned cultural more that girls must remain at home until they marry and have a family of their own unraveled. Their mother made the radical decision to answer her son’s question with action and enrolled her daughter in the village primary school.

At eleven, Wangari left home to study at a boarding middle school run by Italian nuns. She graduated from high school at a time when very few African women learned to read at all. In September 1960, then-senator John F. Kennedy initiated a program that welcomed promising African students to study in the United States. Of the entire continent, only a few hundred young people earned such an invitation. Wangari Maathai was among them.

She arrived in America to discover with shock that even in a country as wealthy and emblematic of freedom, human rights were not equally apportioned. She witnessed the height of the civil rights movement just as her own country was finally winning its independence from British rule.

And yet upon returning to Kenya, she found that trees were no better off — colonialism had crumbed, but it had left in the rubble a nation so impoverished and dependent that Kenyans were forced to continue cutting down trees just as the British had, selling the lumber and using the felled land to plant tea, coffee, and tobacco for export. As marine biologist and author Rachel Carson was making ecology a household word across the Atlantic and issuing the radical insistence that the real wealth of a nation “lies in the resources of the earth — soil, water, forests, minerals, and wildlife,” Wangari Maathai was realizing that her nation’s welfare depended on healing the broken relationship between a broken economy and a broken ecology. She came to see that a tree is much more than an economic resource. She came to see, in Prévot’s lovely words, that “a tree is a little bit of the future.”

Progress, however, is slow. “The longer the lever the less perceptible its motion,” Thoreau — the patron saint of trees and civil disobedience — wrote in contemplating the long cycles of social change. In 1977, three decades into her outrage, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement and set out to plant trees all over Kenya, traveling to villages and encouraging people to think about the future, whatever the privations of the present may be.

Her insistence on women’s leadership was nothing short of countercultural in a society where women were expected to demur and lower their gaze in the mere presence of a man. And yet she persisted, entrusting tree nurseries to local women and seeding in them a newfound sense of civic agency. She herself stood up to the president himself, who had initiated a massive real-estate development in the city’s precious urban forest, habitat to endangered species like the blue monkey and the river hog, and had endeavored to build a skyscraper and a statue of himself in the heart of Nairobi’s largest park.

In response to the lengthy protests she organized, for which she was imprisoned several times, the government forced Maathai out of her office, calling her “a crazy woman” in press statements and describing the Green Belt Movement as “a bunch of divorcees.” (Meanwhile in America, Rachel Carson was enduring the same sexist assaults from government and industry, who painted her as a hysterical spinster for her composed, courageous, scientifically rigorous exposé of the pesticide industry that would catalyze the environmental movement.)

But Maathai persisted, alerting leaders around the world to the ecological and human rights abuses in her country. In letters and speeches, her voice reached beyond the government-controlled echo chamber of the Kenyan press, igniting an international investigation that eventually made the president relinquish his exploitive development plans. Upon her triumph, a man from rural Kenya greeted her during one of her village visits with these words: “You are the only man left standing.”

Over and over, the president tried to fell Maathai and her movement. In a desperate bid for control, emblematic of Hannah Arendt’s insight into how tyrants use isolation and separation as a weapon of oppression, he attempted to set neighboring tribes against one another. But Maathai and the Green Belt Movement built a simple, brilliant bridge across this artificial divide — they offered saplings from tree nurseries as tokens of peace to be exchanged between tribes.

Eventually, Amnesty International and UNESCO published a report exposing the president’s corruption and human rights abuses, ending his quarter-century reign. Maathai — by that point affectionately known as Mama Miti, “the mother of trees” — was elected to the new Parliament and appointed Assistant Minister of the Environment, Natural Resources, and Wildlife.

On October 8, 2004, midway through her sixty-fifth year, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. By the end of her life, the movement she started had planted thirty million trees, reimagining the ecological and economic landscape of possibility for generations of Kenyans to come, and modeling for the rest of the world a new form of civic agency standing up for nature and humanity as an indivisible whole.

Complement the immensely inspiring, gorgeously illustrated Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees with this Krista Tippett’s wonderful On Being conversation with Maathai, then revisit philosopher Martin Buber on what trees teach us about being human and ecologist Lauren Oakes on what one endangered tree species can teach us about grace and resilience.

 

Media outlets need to stop greenwashing fossil fuel industries

While claiming to take the climate crisis seriously, some mainstream publications have become mouthpieces for GNL Québec

Image result for ricochet: Media outlets need to stop greenwashing fossil fuel industries

In the fall, over 250 media outlets got together and decided it was time to better tackle the biggest story of our time: the climate crisis.

On the Covering Climate Now website, the journalists leading the initiative write that in conversation with newsrooms around the world about what was stopping them from covering climate change, many said they simply didn’t know where to start.

At a time when climate scientists say we must slash our emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 or face dire consequences, a good start for Quebec media outlets would be to stop being a mouthpiece for fossil fuel corporation GNL Québec.

GNL Québec involves building a 780 kilometre-long natural gas pipeline, Gazoduc, from Ontario to Saguenay. At its start in Ontario, it will hook up with an existing pipeline that will transport fracked gas from Alberta. The company also wants to build a gas liquefaction plant and an export terminal in Saguenay, so the gas can be exported to European and Asian markets.

In the latest of their greenwashing attempts, GNL Québec announced last week that they are giving $350,000 to an inter-university project researching carbon sequestration. This investment, they say, will help them reach their goal of making their liquefaction plant carbon-neutral.

Multiple mainstream media outlets picked up the story without contextualizing the company’s claim to carbon neutrality.

An article from La Presse, for example, made no mention of the megaproject’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, simply stating that a research group deemed carbon neutrality possible for one small part of the project: the liquefaction plant.

This claim to carbon neutrality is tenuous and indirect — the company says eventually they’d like to buy carbon credits from this project, which will allow them to claim the Saguenay liquefaction plant is carbon neutral — but let’s say it’s true.

The liquefaction plant will be responsible for 421,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. This may be a lot, but it represents less than 6 per cent of the project’s total annual emissions.

Think about that. Even if the liquefaction plant is carbon neutral, only 6 per cent of the project’s total emissions will be neutralized.

The trend of playing into GNL Québec’s spin without fact-checking or contextualizing is not new.

GNL Québec likes to refer to their future plant as “the greenest Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility in the world.” This quote is taken from a Feb. 20 press release, and they have used similar language in their public communications since then.

There are no facts to back this up. MORE

Sales of electric vehicles plummet in Ontario after Ford cancels rebate

A Chevrolet Volt is plug into a charging station as a Volkswagen e-Golf backs into a parking spot at Lansdowne Mall in Peterborough, Ontario on Sunday, June 17, 2018. File photo by The Canadian Press/Doug Ives

Sales of electric vehicles in Ontario have plummeted since the Progressive Conservative government cancelled a rebate last year, hampering progress toward a national target.

In the first six months of this year, sales in Ontario were down more than 55 per cent from the same period in 2018, according to data from Electric Mobility Canada. In the second quarter of this year 2,933 electric vehicles were sold in the province, down from 7,110 in the same period last year.

Ontario is the only province not seeing increases in sales, year over year.

Quebec and British Columbia, which have their own provincial rebates, have long been leading in total sales. Ontario’s figures had been increasing on par with theirs until the province’s financial incentive disappeared.

Under the previous Liberal government, Ontario had offered up to $14,000 back for buyers of electric vehicles, but Premier Doug Ford’s government cancelled it after winning the June 2018 election, saying it was going to people who could already afford expensive cars.

Shortly after that, Ontario’s sales sharply dropped — and national sales did, too.

They rebounded after the introduction this spring of a $5,000 federal rebate, but national sales of electric vehicles are still only at 3.5 per cent, which is a far cry from the federal government’s target of 10 per cent in 2025.

“It’s going to be challenging for the federal government to meet that target…then even more by 2030 (when Ottawa hopes the number rises to 30 per cent),” said Al Cormier of Electric Mobility Canada.

“If Ontario was in the game again it would make the whole thing a lot easier.”

B.C. is now at 10 per cent of sales, with Quebec close behind at seven per cent. In Ontario, electric vehicle made up around three per cent of total passenger vehicle sales at its highest point, then dropped to below one per cent after the cancellation of the provincial rebate, then climbed to sit under two per cent after the introduction of the federal rebate.

Experts say rebates are key because the up-front cost of an electric vehicle can be anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 more than a similar gas-powered car. Rebates take away some of that initial price shock, said Cara Clairman, the CEO of Plug’n Drive, a not for profit devoted to electric vehicles.

“The total cost of ownership, when you take into account that you’re not going to be paying for gas and there’s less maintenance,” she said. “The total cost of ownership today is actually lower for an EV than for most gas cars.”

Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, said that right now the auto industry is taking a loss on electric vehicles of upwards of $10,000 a car. The cost of the technology is still so much higher than that of gas-powered vehicles, he said, but it won’t always be that way.

“We see that gap, or that differential, there until probably where you see cost parity in late next decade,” Nantais said.

“We’ve been quite clear on the need to continue with the consumer point-of-purchase incentives. That’s really critical until we reach price parity with internal combustion engines.”

Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney’s office refused to make her available for an interview.

Clairman said a 2017 survey of about 1,200 drivers in the Greater Toronto Area found that price was a larger barrier to people purchasing electric vehicles than range anxiety — people’s worry that their electric vehicle will run out of power before reaching their destination.

It helps that vehicle manufacturers are now coming out with models with a battery range of 400 kilometres, Clairman said, but more public charging infrastructure is still needed.

In Ontario, the former government had put $20 million toward installing a network of 500 charging stations across the province. Nearly 350 of them were ultimately put into service, and the current government has not built any more. Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, actually removed some earlier this year.

Private companies such as Petro-Canada are stepping in to build charging stations and there are now roughly 1,400 public chargers in Ontario, according to federal and provincial data. Experts say more are needed.

It would help, Cormier said, if the government put in place requirements for charging stations in new public buildings and garages. Earlier this year, the Ontario government removed a requirement for new homes to include the wiring for potential electric vehicle charging stations.

“It’s not just that they haven’t supported building these things up, they’ve actually got in the way of what we were already doing,” said Dianne Saxe, Ontario’s former environmental commissioner whose job was axed by the Ford government.

The transportation sector makes up Ontario’s largest chunk of greenhouse gas emissions, at 35 per cent. But electric vehicles are not the silver bullet, she suggested.

“I don’t start with saying we need to change gasoline cars into electric cars,” she said. “What we most need to do is reduce the need to travel by car.”

Building denser communities that reduce the need for vehicle travel is the best “bang for the buck,” Saxe said, followed by public transit, followed by electric vehicles for transportation needs that can’t be met the first two ways.

Clairman believes that the pace of electric vehicle sales will one day pick up in Ontario, just perhaps not as quickly as it otherwise would have.

“Do I think rebates would help?” she said. “Yes. We’ll get there eventually either way. We’d love to speed it up. With the urgency of climate change we really should speed it up.”  SOURCE

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UN climate negotiations end in ‘demoralizing, enraging’ failure

U.N. security try to clear protesters during a protest at COP25 to draw attention to the climate emergency.. Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. AP Photograph / Paul White

The United Nations climate talks went into record overtime and then ended in failure on Sunday. The countries gathered in Madrid for COP25 were unable to agree on the main objectives of the negotiations and kicked the most important decisions down the road to next year’s meeting in Glasgow, Scotland.

A coalition of countries seeking higher ambition were blocked by a group of big polluters insisting on accounting tricks such as “hot air” credits, opposing help for nations suffering the impacts of climate change, and demanding that human rights protections get removed from the main sections of the agreement that COP25 was intended to resolve. One of the main breakdowns centred on Article 6 which covers international accounting for climate pollution and credits between countries. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers along with politicians like Jason Kenney and Andrew Scheer, had been making misleading suggestions that Article 6 could be used to give Canada credit for exports of LNG and other fossil fuels.

The “High Ambition Coalition” includes island countries like the Marshall Islands which are threatened by rising sea levels as well as European countries which, just this week, dramatically strengthened their own climate plans.

Simon Stiell, a minister from Grenada who spoke for the coalition, put blame for COP’s failure squarely on the United States, Brazil and Australia. “Lives are at risk here,” Stiell told National Observer. “We know what actions need to be taken but there are a few voices dictating the agenda of the many.”

The European Union’s lead negotiator said “there is no way we could accept a compromise that jeopardizes environmental integrity. We need to be ambitious and get to net-zero emissions by 2050, and we can only get there if we start now.”

Youth climate advocates have galvanized a worldwide surge in climate concern in 2019. “Our future is literally at stake. We don’t have any other choice than trying through all possible means,” said Catherine Gauthier, Executive Director, of ENvironnement JEUnesse. Gauthier is leading a class action lawsuit by Canadian youth against the federal government and was in Madrid as an accredited observer of COP25.

The 2019 UN climate negotiations were widely expected to be little more than a stopover on the way to 2020 where countries agreed to announce new, more ambitious plans to limit climate pollution.

Despite those low expectations, there was some hope that the world’s governments would feel compelled to respond to the explosion of public concern in 2019 and frightening new scientific findings. In the end, they did not even live up to the meager expectations.

Catherine Abreu, the lead Canadian watchdogging the UN process, also laid blame for the failure on big polluting countries which “have been able to ruthlessly advance the fossil fuel industry’s profit agenda over our collective futures.”

“While Canadian negotiators were largely constructive on the ground, Canada has a lot of work to do at home to address the gap between its climate goals and its ongoing commitment to expand the fossil fuel industry, which got a lot of international attention here in Madrid,” said Abreu. She called on Canada’s environment minister to “increase Canada’s climate finance contributions and deliver on his government’s election promise to bring a new, more ambitious Paris pledge to COP26 in 2020.”

.@Cat_Abreu, the lead Canadian watchdogging the UN process, laid blame for failure on big polluting countries which “have been able to ruthlessly advance the fossil fuel industry’s profit agenda over our collective futures,” @zerocarbon

The United States, Brazil and Australia were the main obstructionists. The United States’ role was particularly galling because Donald Trump had already pulled out of the Paris agreement.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro, the “Trump of the Tropics,” turned his arsonism onto the international stage, a brief detour from torching the Amazon rainforest.

Australia’s delegation blatantly did the bidding of its coal industry. They return home to a country ablaze in bushfires and a population choking in smoke.

But even outside that triad of obstructionists, the negotiations were poorly handled. Much of the blame goes to Chile who held this year’s COP presidency. Shockingly little work had been done to line up the issues and troubleshoot predictable sticking points in advance. Even once the negotiations were underway, it was virtually impossible to track the goings-on. “The most opaque COP I have ever seen,” said Elizabeth May.

May said there was an upside in punting Article 6. “No decision at all is preferable to a bad decision here. We did not end up with … rules that would have damaged the whole Paris effort to hold global average temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees.”

Representatives from Indigenous and climate groups said the failure of world governments to respond to the climate crisis means that citizens will have to step up action.

It’s been made clear that there is no room for ethics in these international negotiations. The people need to carry the work that negotiators can’t,” said Deputy Grand Chief Jordan Peterson of the Gwich’in Tribal Council and Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.

“It wasn’t just that the COP25 outcome was a disaster. It was also demoralizing and enraging to see countries erase human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples… It will be up to people in Canada and around the world to continue to mobilize,” said Environmental Defence’s Dale Marshall.

It is particularly unfair to Spain that the Madrid talks will be remembered as a failure. Spain valiantly offered to host the negotiations after riots against austerity measures forced Chile to abandon the COP in Santiago. Chile maintained its role managing the negotiating process but the talks themselves moved to Madrid. The Spanish capital had just a month’s preparation before welcoming every country in the world — less time to prep than the average office holiday party.

When the heads of state arrived along with federal and subnational ministers, thousands of negotiators, experts and observers, the entire city was ready. Madrid’s elegant buildings and avenues were festooned with creative artwork highlighting the climate challenge. Enormous LED signs lit the Gran Via. Delegates were given passes to an impressive metro system, its subway cars decked out in climate wraps and stations covered with billboards. The massive conference centre was highly organized as if plans and preparations had been underway for many months if not years.

When Canada’s negotiators return, exhausted, to Ottawa, they will soon have to decide whether or not to approve Teck Resources Limited’s mega mine in the Alberta oil sands. That will be the next big test of whether our federal government’s commitment to climate action leaves us energized or enraged. SOURCE

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Federal funding shortfall leaves school with 99% Indigenous population facing possible closure

School is mostly made up of students from Stoney Nakoda First Nation

Exshaw School is located west of Calgary, and serves approximately 200 students, most of them Indigenous. (Brian Burnett/CBC)

A school with a student population that is 99 per cent Indigenous may be forced to close its doors due to a budget shortfall, school officials said Sunday.

Exshaw School is a kindergarten to Grade 8 school located in the hamlet of Exshaw, west of Calgary. Of the approximately 200 students who attend Exshaw School, only two are not Indigenous.

The school has been funded by federal dollars since 1973. Under the current agreement, the Canadian Rockies Public Schools authority educates Stoney Nakota First Nation children outside of that community based on requests from parents.

Michelle Wesley said she decided to move her girls to Exshaw School after they had faced bullying at a previous school.

“The Exshaw staff and teachers have been absolutely wonderful and supportive and helped my girls catch up to their grade level criteria and there has been no complaints from my girls about any type of bullying,” Wesley said in an email. “If I have any concerns the teachers and staff make sure it’s dealt [with] as soon as possible.”

But in late August, CRPS received word from the federal government the agreement would be terminated and a new agreement would need to be negotiated with the Stoney Education Authority and the government.

Are we setting them up for failure? 

$1.6M shortfall

“All of this is fine, but in the interim we received an email of possible funding levels that we would receive,” said Christopher MacPhee, superintendent with Canadian Rockies Public Schools. “And it was significantly different from the total operation of a school facility, as opposed to just funding per student.”

According to MacPhee, calculating numbers based on students from last year left an approximately $1.6-million shortfall in the school’s upcoming budget.

That cut funding would mean closing or re-purposing the school, MacPhee said.

“Either way, that means that we would not be able to provide services for our federally-funded students who are with us, which we would loathe to do,” he said. “The results we’re getting with those students has been fantastic to date.” MORE

Europe has unveiled a plan to eliminate climate emissions by 2050

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.

The European Union is forging ahead with a sweeping plan to become “climate neutral” by midcentury.

If implemented, the European Green Deal could mark a major advance in the effort to combat climate change, since EU members make up the third largest block of greenhouse-gas emitters behind China and the US. But it will require massive investments and rapid transformations across nearly every economic sector.

The details: A released document doesn’t provide many specifics on how nations will achieve these ambitious targets, but it lays out timetables for developing strategies to reach specific goals.

At various points next year, for instance, the European Commission plans to propose a binding European climate law; develop a plan to cut emissions 50% by 2030; create strategies for transforming the agriculture and transportation industries; and devise various funding mechanisms.

European leaders stress that the deal will strive to be “just and socially fair,” by providing support for people, businesses, and regions harmed by the rapid transition.

What’s next? The European Commission unveiled the plan on Wednesday, sending it on to additional government bodies for endorsement. The process hit a snag at the European Council, where Poland declined to commit to the 2050 goal.

But European leaders said they’ll press ahead with the plan, and the council said it will revisit Poland’s reservations in June.

Challenges: Building the amount of solar farms, wind turbines, and other sustainable infrastructure required to cut emissions in half within a decade will be extremely expensive. Meanwhile, there aren’t readily available tools to eliminate emissions from steel, cement, aviation, and agriculture at this point.   SOURCE

Keynes was wrong. Gen Z will have it worse.

Instead of never-ending progress, today’s kids face a world on the edge of collapse. What next?

Image result for MIT technology review: Keynes was wrong. Gen Z will have it worse.NICOLÁS ORTEGA

The founder of macroeconomics predicted that capitalism would last for approximately 450 years. That’s the length of time between 1580, when Queen Elizabeth invested Spanish gold stolen by Francis Drake, and 2030, the year by which John Maynard Keynes assumed humanity would have solved the problem of our needs and moved on to higher concerns.

It’s true that today the system seems on the edge of transformation, but not in the way Keynes hoped. Gen Z’s fate was supposed to be to relax into a life of leisure and creativity. Instead it is bracing for stagnant wages and ecological crisis.

In a famous essay from the early 1930s called “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” Keynes imagined the world 100 years in the future. He spotted phenomena like job automation (which he called “technological unemployment”) coming, but those changes, he believed, augured progress: progress toward a better society, progress toward collective liberation from work. He was worried that the transition to this world without toil might be psychologically difficult, and so he suggested that three-hour workdays could serve as a transitional program, allowing us to put off the profound question of what to do when there’s nothing left to do.

Well, we know the grandchildren in the title of Keynes’s essay: they’re the kids and younger adults of today. The prime-age workforce of 2030 was born between 1976 and 2005. And though the precise predictions he made about the rate of economic growth and accumulation were strikingly accurate, what they mean for this generation is very different from what he imagined.

Instead of progress toward a labor-free utopia, America has experienced disappearing jobs as a kind of economic climate change. Apocalyptic forecasts loom while poor and working-class communities take the brunt of the early impacts: wage stagnation, deregulated and unsafe workplaces, an epidemic of opioid addiction. The increasingly profligate wealth on the other end of society is no less disturbing.

What the hell happened? To figure out why Generation Z isn’t going to be Generation EZ, we have to ask some fundamental questions about economics, technology, and progress. After we assumed for a century that a better world would appear on top of our accumulated stuff, the assumptions appear unfounded. Things are getting worse.

As recently as the first web boom two decades ago, it was still possible to talk about technological development and economic expansion as being good for everybody. Take Webvan, the early (and subsequently much derided) grocery delivery startup. The company planned to combine the efficiencies of the internet and other advances in information and logistics to provide better-quality products at lower prices, delivered directly to consumers by higher-paid and better-trained workers. It’s a univocal, Keynesian vision of development: not only do all involved benefit individually as consumers, employees, or capitalists, but society itself steps together up the mountain toward the elimination of necessity and a higher plane of being.

When Webvan went belly-up, analysts assumed it meant the core idea was hopelessly wrong: it just doesn’t make sense to use human capacity to bring individual people their supermarket orders. Harvard Business School professor John Deighton, when asked about the future of the industry in 2001, said, “Home-delivered groceries? Never.” Yet less than 20 years later I can have one of the world’s few trillion-dollar companies (Amazon) deliver my order via its grocery brand (Whole Foods) in an hour. And if that’s not fast enough, there are various platform services (Instacart, Postmates, and others) through which I can hire someone to go pick my order up and bring it to me immediately. Buzzing clouds of freelance servants, always in motion.

For consumers, these services have made life more convenient. For owners, stock prices and corporate profits have been cruising higher and higher for decades. But as workers, we have suffered. Gone is the Webvan vision of highly trained, highly paid, upwardly mobile, stock-holding delivery drivers. Amazon’s treatment of its workers at all levels is so intensely exploitative that former employees have created their own form of writing: the “report-back,” an essay that exposes the particular, common hardships of working at the firm. It’s one part worker’s inquiry, one part trauma diary.

Rather than relieving workers from toil, improvements in technology grind out their efficiencies by molding laborers into unreasonable shapes. Across departments, Amazon workers report being forced by the circumstances of their jobs to urinate in bottles and trash cans. Using layers of subcontracting agreements, the largest firms insulate themselves from responsibility to and for their lowest-wage workers. Recent investigations into Amazon’s last-mile shipping reveal exhausted drivers whose required carelessness has, predictably, been known to kill people. The company remains, as far as the business community is concerned, exemplary.

Everywhere, the idea of liberation from work seems like a dream. Workers making parts for iPhones have been exposed to toxic chemicals; Taiwanese manufacturing giant Foxconn is regularly under the microscope for poor labor conditions. Instacart delivery workers went on strike to complain about changes that led to fewer tips; two days later the company cut their bonuses (Instacart says the two events are unrelated). Gig workers on the audio platform Rev.com recently discovered an overnight pay cut that meant Rev now takes 70 cents of every dollar a customer spends on getting audio transcribed, and they get a mere 30.

Young Americans are reaching prime working age in the Amazon economy, not the Webvan one. According to the Economic Policy Institute, while worker productivity increased 69.6% between 1979 and 2019, hourly pay has risen a measly 11.6%. “The income, wages, and wealth generated over the last four decades have failed to ‘trickle down’ to the vast majority largely because policy choices made on behalf of those with the most income, wealth, and power have exacerbated inequality,” the EPI says. The difference between productivity and pay is an increase in exploitation: workers doing more and getting less. That was not the plan.

Keynes and his policy vision fell out of fashion when the laissez-faire fundamentalism championed by Milton Friedman carried Reagan and Thatcher into global power. The old view of the future yielded to an era of deregulation and privatization. This was the “End of History,” with the free market as the proper—perhaps even inevitable—vehicle for human nature.

Here all pursue their individual interests, and together that adds up to the best of all possible worlds—at least as long as the government stays out of the way. We were taught as fact, for example, that rent–control policies counterintuitively increase rents, that minimum-wage laws counterintuitively hurt wages, that wealth from tax cuts trickles down to workers. (Attitudes on rent control are more nuanced today, while minimum-wage increases have raised incomes at the lowest end. The trickle–down theory has fared worst of all; the rich pocket, rather than reinvest, their tax cuts.) Most people bought the libertarian hype, and when the global financial crisis hit in 2008, many were surprised to find out markets weren’t actually self–regulating the way they had been told.

The subsequent bailouts, however, made it difficult to argue that governments could only ever get in the way of the economy’s proper functioning. And so economists dusted off Keynes. Countries that enthusiastically followed his advice and used public funds to stimulate demand came out of the recession much better off than those that hesitated. China’s decision in 2008 to inject stimulus spending worth more than 12% of GDP looks smart in retrospect. In America, Democrats and Republicans alike run for office on the promise of trillion–dollar spending proposals, not the bipartisan calls for a balanced budget and a shrinking government that we used to hear. The pendulum swung, and Keynes came back.

Switching from Friedman to Keynes means more than tinkering with the economy’s operating system, however. The two men had different ideas not just about how capitalism functions, but about what it’s for. Friedman and his ilk saw the market as maximizing individual man’s freedom to pursue his self-interest and thus, since the pursuit of self-interest is simply human nature, maximizing collective well-being. Capitalism was the means and the end.

Keynes, on the other hand, outstanding example of the English gentry that he was, couldn’t countenance money-grubbing as the highest example of virtue. There had to be something more. For Keynes the most dangerous kind of avarice was not trying to make money, but holding it in your pockets for too long. The only way to keep popular well-being high and employment up was to produce and consume more and more—not because it’s in our nature, but because that’s how the system works: it must grow to survive. But someday soon, he predicted, the race will be over, and we can all stop pretending capitalism isn’t a psychotic, Earth-destroying way to live.

In “Grandchildren,” Keynes looked forward to the day when “we shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value.” He continued:

“The love of money as a possession—as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life—will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.”

Capitalism, to Keynes, does not justify itself. “There will be,” he wrote, “ever larger and larger classes and groups of people from whom problems of economic necessity have been practically removed.” But he never identified the mechanism that would end the capitalist accumulation game. Even if we did produce enough stuff to pass the finish line, how would we know? And who’s going to make the rich share, or even just stop taking more? He knew that we could keep growing along these lines for only so long, but he ruled out revolution. Instead, he thought the owners would do the right thing.

Not being Milton Friedman isn’t the same as being right about how the world works. Keynes can be right about growth predictions and business cycles and fiscal policy, but if he is wrong that capitalism will simply end of its own accord, the foundational justification for his entire program crumbles. In that case, all of society is strapped in riding shotgun on the semi-criminal, semi-pathological drive to consume the future in advance, with no virtuous end on the horizon.

Oops.

NICOLÁS ORTEGA

If the spectrum of traditional economics goes from Friedman to Keynes—from capitalism as an end in itself to capitalism as a means to something beyond it—then what we need now is a critique of what the two of them share, a critique of economics itself. Most such critiques were locked in a trunk and shoved under the bed in the late 1980s and early ’90s, but they are not gone.

The most famous and influential critic of economics remains Marx. Keynes didn’t think highly of the man; in the British economist’s reflections on visiting Soviet Russia in 1925 he declined to name him, instead making pointed references to “avaricious” Jews. But the commie who is not to be named had a different vision for the future of economic development.

Marx’s “immiseration thesis” is an idea that’s pretty easy to summarize: Since capitalists make money from every hour of workers’ labor, they will get increasingly rich over time, while workers won’t because they’re too busy making money for capitalists. A rising tide lifts only big boats; everyone else has to swim for it.

If technology reduced the need for work, Marx figured, workers would simply be made to work longer, harder, more efficiently, or on other things. Technology would create a population of the desperate unemployed who could be put to work making luxury goods, for which there would be an ever growing market—though growing only in terms of money, not in terms of the number of people wealthy enough to buy. Instead of the common good increasing, it’s inequality, exploitation, and misery that accumulate. What workers have been building this whole time is their own subordination, and they’ve been doing a good job.

After decades on the outs even among self-described Marxists, the immiseration thesis is looking empirically strong—especially when compared with Keynes’s vision of increasingly large groups of people graduating from the burden of economic need into the paradise of full-time leisure, or with Friedman’s belief that greater wealth at the top turns into greater wealth for everyone.

And workers weren’t the only thing Marx saw getting used up: “All progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil,” he wrote. “All progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility.” Environmentalism was not a basic tenet of Marx’s thought, but unlike the economists, he understood intuitively that extractive production had natural limits. The only answer for this species on this planet is to scrap the whole form of production, with its workers and capitalists, its cities and rural areas, its big piles of stuff and hollowed-out globe.

As we near 2030the year that capitalism was meant to be over, the time when we were meant to have advanced and elevated ourselves—the predictions are not rosy. In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that global warming is likely to reach 1.5 °C between 2030 and 2052 if temperatures continue to increase at the current rate. In the event we do hit that mark, experts predict a rise of between 26 and 77 centimeters (10 and 30 inches) in sea level, a rapid increase in species extinctions, hundreds of millions more people experiencing water and food shortages, and sustained extreme weather the likes of which the modern human species has never encountered. We have been stockpiling not just wealth, but disasters.

One protest sign at the youth climate strike put it succinctly: “You’ll die of old age. We’ll die of climate change.” Today’s kids never had the chance to believe in a simple progress narrative. The young movement leader Greta Thunberg took the eco–generational message to the United Nations Climate Action Summit: “People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing,” she chided. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

The younger cohort, the people around the world whom Thunberg represents, have no choice but to establish new standards for social well-being—standards beyond GDP growth. We need to get the carbon out of the atmosphere and the plastics out of the ocean, keep the oil in the ground and the undomesticated species we have left alive. Anything else is a catastrophic failure. Young people seem up to the challenge, and even if the press has occasionally overstated it, the affinity of millennials and Gen Z for socialism is real. It’s more than a decade after the 2008 crash, and in the United States we are in the longest economic expansion in history, yet poll after poll shows left-wing politics enduring within the younger cohort. A YouGov poll found that support for capitalism among Americans under 30 fell from 39% to 30% between 2015 and 2018—14 percentage points below the average and 26 points below the figure for seniors.

The kids recognize that capitalism has been using up human and natural resources rather than building a better society. Rather than a mere reaction to the housing crash and global warming, we can see a deep, emergent understanding. Much to everyone’s surprise, Keynes’s grandchildren have become Marxists.

When Keynes wrote that he looked forward to “the greatest change which has ever occurred in the material environment of life for human beings in the aggregate,” he meant us, now. And it looks as if he was right at least in one sense. The fate of our species—and many other species, for that matter—hangs in the balance.

Though Keynes’ bottom line now seems fanciful, there are ways in which his 1930 prediction wasn’t totally off. Besides getting the growth rate more or less right, Keynes thought we would be the generational cohort to end capitalism. The system was not supposed to be sustainable for even 500 years. At a certain level of technological development and capital accumulation, capitalism becomes not merely exploitative or even genocidal (achievements long registered); it becomes difficult to reconcile with humanity itself.

Like football, where the increasing size and strength of the players has made brain damage almost certain at the highest levels of the game, capitalist production has become an objective hazard for the entirety of human society.

One way or another, it’s a good bet that the workforce of 2030 is the last true cohort that market capitalism gets. It’s hard to say what comes next, but it has to happen pretty soon. The grandchildren he spoke of have been here for a while now. Whether or not we manage to understand what it means in advance, the new is here.

Malcolm Harris is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia, and the author of Kids These Days and the forthcoming Shit Is Fucked Up and Bullshit.

The founder of macroeconomics predicted that capitalism would last for approximately 450 years. That’s the length of time between 1580, when Queen Elizabeth invested Spanish gold stolen by Francis Drake, and 2030, the year by which John Maynard Keynes assumed humanity would have solved the problem of our needs and moved on to higher concerns.

It’s true that today the system seems on the edge of transformation, but not in the way Keynes hoped. Gen Z’s fate was supposed to be to relax into a life of leisure and creativity. Instead it is bracing for stagnant wages and ecological crisis.

In a famous essay from the early 1930s called “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” Keynes imagined the world 100 years in the future. He spotted phenomena like job automation (which he called “technological unemployment”) coming, but those changes, he believed, augured progress: progress toward a better society, progress toward collective liberation from work. He was worried that the transition to this world without toil might be psychologically difficult, and so he suggested that three-hour workdays could serve as a transitional program, allowing us to put off the profound question of what to do when there’s nothing left to do.

Well, we know the grandchildren in the title of Keynes’s essay: they’re the kids and younger adults of today. The prime-age workforce of 2030 was born between 1976 and 2005. And though the precise predictions he made about the rate of economic growth and accumulation were strikingly accurate, what they mean for this generation is very different from what he imagined.

Instead of progress toward a labor-free utopia, America has experienced disappearing jobs as a kind of economic climate change. Apocalyptic forecasts loom while poor and working-class communities take the brunt of the early impacts: wage stagnation, deregulated and unsafe workplaces, an epidemic of opioid addiction. The increasingly profligate wealth on the other end of society is no less disturbing.

What the hell happened? To figure out why Generation Z isn’t going to be Generation EZ, we have to ask some fundamental questions about economics, technology, and progress. After we assumed for a century that a better world would appear on top of our accumulated stuff, the assumptions appear unfounded. Things are getting worse.

As recently as the first web boom two decades ago, it was still possible to talk about technological development and economic expansion as being good for everybody. Take Webvan, the early (and subsequently much derided) grocery delivery startup. The company planned to combine the efficiencies of the internet and other advances in information and logistics to provide better-quality products at lower prices, delivered directly to consumers by higher-paid and better-trained workers. It’s a univocal, Keynesian vision of development: not only do all involved benefit individually as consumers, employees, or capitalists, but society itself steps together up the mountain toward the elimination of necessity and a higher plane of being.

When Webvan went belly-up, analysts assumed it meant the core idea was hopelessly wrong: it just doesn’t make sense to use human capacity to bring individual people their supermarket orders. Harvard Business School professor John Deighton, when asked about the future of the industry in 2001, said, “Home-delivered groceries? Never.” Yet less than 20 years later I can have one of the world’s few trillion-dollar companies (Amazon) deliver my order via its grocery brand (Whole Foods) in an hour. And if that’s not fast enough, there are various platform services (Instacart, Postmates, and others) through which I can hire someone to go pick my order up and bring it to me immediately. Buzzing clouds of freelance servants, always in motion.

For consumers, these services have made life more convenient. For owners, stock prices and corporate profits have been cruising higher and higher for decades. But as workers, we have suffered. Gone is the Webvan vision of highly trained, highly paid, upwardly mobile, stock-holding delivery drivers. Amazon’s treatment of its workers at all levels is so intensely exploitative that former employees have created their own form of writing: the “report-back,” an essay that exposes the particular, common hardships of working at the firm. It’s one part worker’s inquiry, one part trauma diary.

Here’s how one warehouse employee described the workflow:

NICOLÁS ORTEGA

“The AI is your boss, your boss’s boss, and your boss’s boss’s boss: it sets the target productivity rates, the shift quotas, and the division of labor on the floor … Ultimately what this means to you is that you’ll rarely work with the same people twice, you’ll be isolated, put on random tasks from shift to shift, slog for stowing or sorting or picking or packing rates well exceeding your average—because your supervisor told you so, and the program told him before that.”

Rather than relieving workers from toil, improvements in technology grind out their efficiencies by molding laborers into unreasonable shapes. Across departments, Amazon workers report being forced by the circumstances of their jobs to urinate in bottles and trash cans. Using layers of subcontracting agreements, the largest firms insulate themselves from responsibility to and for their lowest-wage workers. Recent investigations into Amazon’s last-mile shipping reveal exhausted drivers whose required carelessness has, predictably, been known to kill people. The company remains, as far as the business community is concerned, exemplary.

Everywhere, the idea of liberation from work seems like a dream. Workers making parts for iPhones have been exposed to toxic chemicals; Taiwanese manufacturing giant Foxconn is regularly under the microscope for poor labor conditions. Instacart delivery workers went on strike to complain about changes that led to fewer tips; two days later the company cut their bonuses (Instacart says the two events are unrelated). Gig workers on the audio platform Rev.com recently discovered an overnight pay cut that meant Rev now takes 70 cents of every dollar a customer spends on getting audio transcribed, and they get a mere 30.

Young Americans are reaching prime working age in the Amazon economy, not the Webvan one. According to the Economic Policy Institute, while worker productivity increased 69.6% between 1979 and 2019, hourly pay has risen a measly 11.6%. “The income, wages, and wealth generated over the last four decades have failed to ‘trickle down’ to the vast majority largely because policy choices made on behalf of those with the most income, wealth, and power have exacerbated inequality,” the EPI says. The difference between productivity and pay is an increase in exploitation: workers doing more and getting less. That was not the plan.

Keynes and his policy vision fell out of fashion when the laissez-faire fundamentalism championed by Milton Friedman carried Reagan and Thatcher into global power. The old view of the future yielded to an era of deregulation and privatization. This was the “End of History,” with the free market as the proper—perhaps even inevitable—vehicle for human nature.

Here all pursue their individual interests, and together that adds up to the best of all possible worlds—at least as long as the government stays out of the way. We were taught as fact, for example, that rent–control policies counterintuitively increase rents, that minimum-wage laws counterintuitively hurt wages, that wealth from tax cuts trickles down to workers. (Attitudes on rent control are more nuanced today, while minimum-wage increases have raised incomes at the lowest end. The trickle–down theory has fared worst of all; the rich pocket, rather than reinvest, their tax cuts.) Most people bought the libertarian hype, and when the global financial crisis hit in 2008, many were surprised to find out markets weren’t actually self–regulating the way they had been told.

The subsequent bailouts, however, made it difficult to argue that governments could only ever get in the way of the economy’s proper functioning. And so economists dusted off Keynes. Countries that enthusiastically followed his advice and used public funds to stimulate demand came out of the recession much better off than those that hesitated. China’s decision in 2008 to inject stimulus spending worth more than 12% of GDP looks smart in retrospect. In America, Democrats and Republicans alike run for office on the promise of trillion–dollar spending proposals, not the bipartisan calls for a balanced budget and a shrinking government that we used to hear. The pendulum swung, and Keynes came back.

Switching from Friedman to Keynes means more than tinkering with the economy’s operating system, however. The two men had different ideas not just about how capitalism functions, but about what it’s for. Friedman and his ilk saw the market as maximizing individual man’s freedom to pursue his self-interest and thus, since the pursuit of self-interest is simply human nature, maximizing collective well-being. Capitalism was the means and the end.

Keynes, on the other hand, outstanding example of the English gentry that he was, couldn’t countenance money-grubbing as the highest example of virtue. There had to be something more. For Keynes the most dangerous kind of avarice was not trying to make money, but holding it in your pockets for too long. The only way to keep popular well-being high and employment up was to produce and consume more and more—not because it’s in our nature, but because that’s how the system works: it must grow to survive. But someday soon, he predicted, the race will be over, and we can all stop pretending capitalism isn’t a psychotic, Earth-destroying way to live.

In “Grandchildren,” Keynes looked forward to the day when “we shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value.” He continued:

“The love of money as a possession—as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life—will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.”

Capitalism, to Keynes, does not justify itself. “There will be,” he wrote, “ever larger and larger classes and groups of people from whom problems of economic necessity have been practically removed.” But he never identified the mechanism that would end the capitalist accumulation game. Even if we did produce enough stuff to pass the finish line, how would we know? And who’s going to make the rich share, or even just stop taking more? He knew that we could keep growing along these lines for only so long, but he ruled out revolution. Instead, he thought the owners would do the right thing.

Not being Milton Friedman isn’t the same as being right about how the world works. Keynes can be right about growth predictions and business cycles and fiscal policy, but if he is wrong that capitalism will simply end of its own accord, the foundational justification for his entire program crumbles. In that case, all of society is strapped in riding shotgun on the semi-criminal, semi-pathological drive to consume the future in advance, with no virtuous end on the horizon.

Oops.

If the spectrum of traditional economics goes from Friedman to Keynes—from capitalism as an end in itself to capitalism as a means to something beyond it—then what we need now is a critique of what the two of them share, a critique of economics itself. Most such critiques were locked in a trunk and shoved under the bed in the late 1980s and early ’90s, but they are not gone.

The most famous and influential critic of economics remains Marx. Keynes didn’t think highly of the man; in the British economist’s reflections on visiting Soviet Russia in 1925 he declined to name him, instead making pointed references to “avaricious” Jews. But the commie who is not to be named had a different vision for the future of economic development.

Marx’s “immiseration thesis” is an idea that’s pretty easy to summarize: Since capitalists make money from every hour of workers’ labor, they will get increasingly rich over time, while workers won’t because they’re too busy making money for capitalists. A rising tide lifts only big boats; everyone else has to swim for it.

If technology reduced the need for work, Marx figured, workers would simply be made to work longer, harder, more efficiently, or on other things. Technology would create a population of the desperate unemployed who could be put to work making luxury goods, for which there would be an ever growing market—though growing only in terms of money, not in terms of the number of people wealthy enough to buy. Instead of the common good increasing, it’s inequality, exploitation, and misery that accumulate. What workers have been building this whole time is their own subordination, and they’ve been doing a good job.

After decades on the outs even among self-described Marxists, the immiseration thesis is looking empirically strong—especially when compared with Keynes’s vision of increasingly large groups of people graduating from the burden of economic need into the paradise of full-time leisure, or with Friedman’s belief that greater wealth at the top turns into greater wealth for everyone.

And workers weren’t the only thing Marx saw getting used up: “All progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil,” he wrote. “All progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility.”

Environmentalism was not a basic tenet of Marx’s thought, but unlike the economists, he understood intuitively that extractive production had natural limits. The only answer for this species on this planet is to scrap the whole form of production, with its workers and capitalists, its cities and rural areas, its big piles of stuff and hollowed-out globe.

As we near 2030the year that capitalism was meant to be over, the time when we were meant to have advanced and elevated ourselves—the predictions are not rosy. In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that global warming is likely to reach 1.5 °C between 2030 and 2052 if temperatures continue to increase at the current rate. In the event we do hit that mark, experts predict a rise of between 26 and 77 centimeters (10 and 30 inches) in sea level, a rapid increase in species extinctions, hundreds of millions more people experiencing water and food shortages, and sustained extreme weather the likes of which the modern human species has never encountered. We have been stockpiling not just wealth, but disasters.

One protest sign at the youth climate strike put it succinctly: “You’ll die of old age. We’ll die of climate change.” Today’s kids never had the chance to believe in a simple progress narrative. The young movement leader Greta Thunberg took the eco–generational message to the United Nations Climate Action Summit: “People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing,” she chided. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

The younger cohort, the people around the world whom Thunberg represents, have no choice but to establish new standards for social well-being—standards beyond GDP growth. We need to get the carbon out of the atmosphere and the plastics out of the ocean, keep the oil in the ground and the undomesticated species we have left alive. Anything else is a catastrophic failure. Young people seem up to the challenge, and even if the press has occasionally overstated it, the affinity of millennials and Gen Z for socialism is real. It’s more than a decade after the 2008 crash, and in the United States we are in the longest economic expansion in history, yet poll after poll shows left-wing politics enduring within the younger cohort. A YouGov poll found that support for capitalism among Americans under 30 fell from 39% to 30% between 2015 and 2018—14 percentage points below the average and 26 points below the figure for seniors.

The kids recognize that capitalism has been using up human and natural resources rather than building a better society. Rather than a mere reaction to the housing crash and global warming, we can see a deep, emergent understanding. Much to everyone’s surprise, Keynes’s grandchildren have become Marxists.

When Keynes wrote that he looked forward to “the greatest change which has ever occurred in the material environment of life for human beings in the aggregate,” he meant us, now. And it looks as if he was right at least in one sense. The fate of our species—and many other species, for that matter—hangs in the balance.

Though Keynes’ bottom line now seems fanciful, there are ways in which his 1930 prediction wasn’t totally off. Besides getting the growth rate more or less right, Keynes thought we would be the generational cohort to end capitalism. The system was not supposed to be sustainable for even 500 years. At a certain level of technological development and capital accumulation, capitalism becomes not merely exploitative or even genocidal (achievements long registered); it becomes difficult to reconcile with humanity itself.

Like football, where the increasing size and strength of the players has made brain damage almost certain at the highest levels of the game, capitalist production has become an objective hazard for the entirety of human society.

One way or another, it’s a good bet that the workforce of 2030 is the last true cohort that market capitalism gets. It’s hard to say what comes next, but it has to happen pretty soon. The grandchildren he spoke of have been here for a while now. Whether or not we manage to understand what it means in advance, the new is here.  SOURCE

Putting the ‘public’ back into public services

Amsterdam is one city among many where economic democracy on a municipal level is taking off.

Image: Jeanne Menjoulet, CC by 2.0

n the face of climate catastrophe, mounting inequalities and growing democratic unrest, public services are more important than ever. Across the world, people are building better, more democratic and inclusive public services because privatisations are failing.

Amsterdam is confronted with challenges comparable to those facing other cities across the world, while also facing extreme pressure on affordable housing. According to a recent report, 11 percent of Amsterdam’s inhabitants are particularly vulnerable across a variety of indicators such as health, income, and education. Poorer people, relatively many of color, are pushed outside boundaries of the inner city. And while the city has ambitious environmental goals, it remains the second-largest coal port in Europe. At the same time, lower income residents are significantly more affected by environmental collapse and climate change than their wealthier counterparts. Citizens of Amsterdam are concerned about the housing market, the steep increase in tourism in the last decade, gentrification, exclusion, poverty, accessible care, climate change and energy.

Amsterdam’s municipality intends to face these challenges head-on. It has founded The99ofAmsterdam, a do- and think tank under the municipality’s Fearless program. It consists of a small team funded by the municipality. The 99 was established to connect initiatives in Amsterdam that make the city fairer, more equitable and more sustainable and inclusive. It aims to link to, and align with, international municipalist movements for inspiration. The name refers to two types of 99: the 99 neighborhoods of Amsterdam where children play on the street, and where citizens live, connect, and shop; and the 99 percent of the world, who are the vast majority of people excluded from power and who do not belong to the excessively rich 1 percent. The name thus evokes a fair Amsterdam that reflects the dreams of the 99 percent in the 99 neighborhoods of Amsterdam.

On December 4 and 5, The 99 and the Transnational Institue (TNI) are organizing the international conference The Future is Public: Democratic Ownership of the Economy. The conference location in the K-neighborhood in Amsterdam Southeast was deliberately chosen, as it is a diverse neighbourhood inhabited by around 50,000 people of more than 150 nationalities. This will be followed by a more Amsterdam-oriented conference, the City of Tomorrow, taking place at the same venue on the 6 and 7 December, which is about granting more power to all inhabitants of Amsterdam, whether marginalised or not. It is about creating neighbourhood economies that are based on solidarity and work to benefit the people, not big corporations. It is an opportunity to get together and share inspiration, with examples from other cities and by influential thinkers such as David Harvey and Ted Howard, the founder of the Cleveland model. The conference will facilitate the exchange of ideas and generate concrete plans on how Amsterdam can become a city of change.

Amsterdam will draw inspiration from the international municipalist movement as progressive cities take the initiative to counterbalance these acute social and environmental problems in the absence of adequate action by – and often in opposition to – the policies of their central states and international institutions. In their own city, neighborhood and living environment, citizens contribute by initiating ideas, working together, uniting people and their goals for radical change. In cities like Barcelona, Naples, Paris, Berlin, Paris, New York, Montreal, Lisbon, Recoleta and others, movements have arisen that call themselves ‘municipalist’, with names such as Fearless CitiesRebel Cities, and Transformative Cities. They share the values of democracy and solidarity, and aim to achieve fairer neighborhoods, economies based on alternative principles, better social services, and clean energy for those with lower incomes.

There is solid evidence that privatisation costs more and undermines human rights. The resistance to privatisation has turned into a powerful force for a positive cause, that of (re)municipalisation, which refers to reclaiming and creating new public services on a municipal level. The Transnational Institute and partner organisations have in their most recent research identified more than 1,400 cases of (re)municipalisation, involving over 2,400 cities in 58 countries. But ‘The Future is Public’ report is about more than just numbers. A growing international movement is on the ground, building democratic public services that are fit for the social, ecological and economic challenges of our time. (Re)municipalisation is redefining public ownership in the 21st century, offering a new route towards community-led, climate conscious and gender-sensitive public services.

Some of the most progressive municipalities – such as the Philippine cities Binalonan, Caloocan and Lanuza – are recentering their public services to prioritise the needs of the most marginalised people in society, including women, people with disabilities and low-income families, among others. While others – such as ParisTerrassa and Wolfhagen – dare to share decision-making powers and open up ownership models to representatives of users, workers, civil society and research institutions. Together, they are shaping a template for how to expand democratic public ownership to all levels of society. The data and stories also illustrate the diversity of remunicipalisation efforts, taking us to new countries and new sectors that present their own specific challenges, such as waste management in some countries in Africathe many new public pharmacies in Chile, and the call of the UK Labour Party to provide public internet access as a human right.

Civil society organisations, trade unions and local authorities can push in concert for democratic public ownership on all levels and call for universal public services so that all residents can lead dignified and prosperous lives. This way, we put the “public” back into public services, while actually changing the design of how our economies are run.

That said, this wave of (re)municipalisations is taking place at a critical moment. As racism, fascism and xenophobia are on the rise, we must offer solidarity and concrete solutions–decent jobs, public services for all, and resilient local economies. Our public future lies in the hands of communities – not corporations.

 

The Alberta experiment with authoritarian government

Premier Jason Kenney and Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer announce Bill 13, the Alberta Senate Election Act. Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

Imagine living in a place where liberalism and democracy have dissipated, and given way to authoritarian government. Imagine a jurisdiction where open discussion is out of the question and debate unworthy. Imagine the state sees enemies — identified as liars or worse — and decides they must be defeated using all means possible.

This is the portrait right-wing German political theorist Carl Schmitt presented in The Concept of the Political, a 1932 pre-Nazi treatise where he categorized politics as a combat to the finish between friends and enemies.

Those on the same side — “friends” — had to recognize that their actual and potential adversaries on the other side were actually enemies and not just opponents with differing views of the good.

Seeing the world as a coalition of our friends versus collective public enemies — and then dismissing attempts to reconcile conflicting views as a utopian waste of time — is what autocrats, false populists, dictators, tyrants, and intolerant right-wing regimes have in common.

Now think of Alberta, where Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party (UCP) generate fear and anger ranting about imagined enemies of Alberta.

In a video, former prime minister Stephen Harper welcomed delegates to the UCP second AGM, running from November 29 to December 1. Harper vilified the outgoing NDP government as having “empowered those who wanted to see this great engine of Canada’s economy fail, and capitulated to a Liberal government in Ottawa that put roadblocks against our Alberta economy.”

In the hostile world imagined by Harper and Kenney internal enemies include the “Liberal” mayor of Calgary as Kenney calls Naheed Nenshi, as well as NDP opposition leader Rachel Notley.

The UCP regime fired the elections commissioner investigating UCP electoral corruption, who had already dished out $200,000 in fines to UCP candidates, and had still to report on the corruption surrounding the Kenney UCP leadership campaign.

On camera during the 2019 Alberta election campaign, Kenney signed a giant pledge to support public health care, and has now brought in measures to fire 750 nurses and other frontline workers — overall 5,900 public servants this year — with thousands more job losses to follow.

Kenney ignores union contracts, has seized control of public sector pensions, and fires workers, because unionized workers are public enemies for him and his party.

City of Edmonton councillors talk about how 2,000 jobs will need to be cut because Kenney abolished the city charter financing arrangement. Calgary also had its charter financing revoked and has already announced 250 departures.

Outside enemies are plentiful and vary according to the humours of the premier. Prominent are the Ottawa Liberal government that bought a pipeline to assure continued access of Alberta diluted bitumen to the West Coast; Quebec which approved the reversal of Enbridge Line 9 so that now 50 per cent of its imported crude oil comes from Alberta; B.C. (home since 1953 to the Trans Mountain pipeline built by B.C. Hydro) which has an ocean coast line and precious marine life it is determined to protect; and Canadian environmentalists opposed to climate change.

An Alberta Federation of Labour study estimates that the Kenney budget cuts just introduced will kill more jobs than the oil price collapse of 2014-16 and create a Kenney recession. These spending reductions are estimated by economist Mel McMillan to be nearly 15 per cent over the next four years, after accounting for population growth and price inflation.

Premier Kenney’s approval rating in Alberta has fallen from 60 per cent in September to 42 per cent at the end of November, according to polling done by Leger Marketing.

Once Albertans discover that the UCP finance minister was wrong to describe economic diversification is a “luxury”; that the tax credits for film production and tech expansion created jobs and should not have been eliminated; that Kenney’s $4.7-billion corporate tax cut has not stopped energy companies from laying off employees; that Energy Efficiency Alberta had generated $850 million of business in the two years before the UCP shut it down; and that cuts to health, education, and public university funding impact daily lives in every way — expect approval ratings to decline even further.

In the meantime the temptation to proceed against Kenney and the UCP as the enemy needs to be resisted, hard as that may be given his program will increase the incidence of mental illness, and that for many, it threatens psychological as well as physical well-being.

Emotionally fuelled partisan rhetoric puts citizens off, distracts from bringing forward what matters to people, and plays into the government’s hand.

Documenting and laying out what is going wrong, and addressing the issues facing Albertans is a better strategy for civil society, and, especially, the official opposition NDP. SOURCE

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Dr Peter Carter: With the exclusion of science COP25 was designed to fail

Dr Peter Carter: summarising the lack of “climate emergency” at #COP25

WATCH THIS VIDEO!

In this 23 minute video, Dr Peter Carter, the Director Climate Emergency Institute and an IPCC expert reviewer,shows why COP25 was a show of unprecedented criminality and designed to fail from the start.

After watching the video, in all probability you will want to read Dr. Carter’s book, Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival.

We have entered Churchill’s “period of consequences”, yet governments have simply watched the disasters magnify, while rushing ahead with new pipelines and annual trillions in fossil fuel subsidies.

Governments simply cannot say they did not know. The events we are seeing today have been consistently forecast ever since the First Assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was signed by all governments back in 1990, which The Lancet has described as the best research project ever designed.

BookAuthority Best Climate Change Books of All TimeUnprecedented Crime first lays out the culpability of governmental, political and religious bodies, corporations, and the media through their failure to report or act on the climate emergency. No emergency response has even been contemplated by wealthy high-emitting national governments. Extreme weather reporting never even hints at the need to address climate change. A breathtaking array of technological solutions to the climate crisis are outlined in the book.

Rolly Monpellier,  Below2°C :
Unprecedented Crime is a game-changer.

For decades, the peer-reviewed science has been clear and consistent about the looming climate crisis. But something has gone awfully wrong. Unprecedented Crime exposes the criminality and the liability of the fossil fuel industry, governments, and the corporate sector that have suppressed this information. The authors, supported by book reviews from sociologists and criminologists, argue the case that this suppression is a crime against humanity, especially young people.

The book is timed to coincide with the Our Children’s Trust lawsuit, in which 21 children and youth will sue the U.S. Government early this year for their constitutional right to a stable future climate. In January, the city of New York announced its intention to launch lawsuits against five major oil companies in an effort to recover the city’s costs of addressing climate change.

Over the last decade, environmental laws have grown in number and importance, fast becoming a strategic tool in the war against climate change. Climate lawsuits are forcing policy-makers and the international community to be more ambitious and comprehensive in their approaches to climate change. Mitigation, adaptation and finance are now part of the climate dialogue happening at international climate talks. Litigation has evolved into a powerful strategy against governments for the crime of omission to protect the rights of their citizenry – the duty of public trust.

In Part 2 of the book, Carter and Woodworth outline the multiple actions that people must take to bend the curve on the relentless increase of greenhouse gas emissions by helping the reader see “powerful game changers on the horizon”. Highly effective advances in providing zero-carbon energy are growing apace in developing countries but are seldom reported to citizens in the high-emitting Global North.

The movement to price carbon emissions is also rapidly growing around the globe. There is loud call for the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies worldwide to facilitate the transition to a clean energy platform. Global markets are leading the transition to a clean energy future with solar energy now becoming mainstream.

Led by New York City, dozens of cities are engaged in emission-reduction strategies showing ambitious targets of 80 to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The authors claim that the central purpose in writing this book is to elevate solutions whose time has come into general consciousness and government action at all levels.

The truth of climate science is unstoppable. Climate change is not abstract and we can no longer look away from the only solution that can save future generations: a near zero-carbon economy by 2050. The scientific evidence is overwhelming and the very survival of future generations is at stake. The book is a call to action aimed at ordinary people who understand this crisis and love their children.

Unprecedented Crime is itself a game-changer