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Democratic Struggle And The Struggle For
The Environment Are Tied Together

By Fred Magdoff & Farooque Chowdhury

26 November, 2011

Interview of Professor Fred Magdoff by Farooque Chowdhury on climate crisis

“People's democratic struggle and the struggle for the environment should be intimately tied together. If the environmental issues are brought front and center within the people's struggles it might even result in more support for change”, said Fred Magdoff , co-author of What Every Environmentalist Needs To Know about Capitalism, A Citizen's Guide to Capitalism and the Environment (with John Bellamy Foster. MR Press). I n an interview, first carried by MRzine , Fred Magdoff, professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont and adjunct professor of crop and soil science at Cornell University said: “We should oppose all ‘market oriented' so-called ‘solutions'. They are not actually solutions, but rather just a new way to make money.” Prof. Magdoff writes frequently on political economy. His most recent books are The Great Financial Crisis (written with John Bellamy Foster, MR Press) and Agriculture and Food in Crisis (edited with Brian Tokar, MR Press).

In the backdrop of climate crisis threatening millions of people around the world and their struggle for democratic life, and the coming climate talks in Durban, CoP 17, Fred Magdoff ( FM ) was interviewed in late-November, 2011 on climate crisis by Farooque Chowdhury ( FC ), a Dhaka-based freelancer. Following is the text of the interview:

FC: We know CoP 17 is going to begin in Durban . What issues should the most affected/vulnerable countries raise in the conference?

FM: The most affected and vulnerable countries are clearly concerned about the lack of urgency felt by the wealthy countries. The crux of the issue is to get a commitment from the United States , Europe, and Japan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There is some indication that China is beginning to move in that direction, although its rapid pace of growth may outweigh efforts to reduce emissions. Although effects are already felt in the U.S. and Europe , the most difficult results of climate change have been felt in the poorer countries and among vulnerable people. The sea level rise along with warming is necessitating the transfer of Alaskan villages away from the coast. Seawater intrusion in Vietnam 's Mekong Delta region is causing salinity to develop in some of the rice soils, reducing their productivity. The melting of the Andean glaciers has already resulted in water shortages during the dry season.

FC: There is the debt crisis in Europe . The Great Financial Crisis has not retreated to its den. What will be the probable impact of these on the CoP 17?

FM: The theme that is commonly expressed by those wishing to do nothing is that a movement to restrict greenhouse gas emission would cost jobs. Fewer coal miners, less electricity generated (if coal powered electric generating plants were closed down), and so on. So they say that this is not the time to do something that would cost jobs. Of course, it is just an excuse. If a transition was planned and done well many jobs could be created. Also, what kind of society and economy do we have that would say that we need to continue polluting so people can work? This is not only an irrational economic/social/political system but also a dangerous one.

FC: In the backdrop of conflicting interests of major polluters, which is essentially conflict of interest of related capitals for their accumulation, what should be the negotiating strategy of most vulnerable countries in CoP 17?

FM: Far be it from me to give advice to the most vulnerable countries. They seem to be very well aware of the political problems. They have previously tried a number of innovative strategies and I am sure that they will continue to do so.

FC: Is there any change in the climate crisis negotiation scenario since the CoP 16 in Cancun ?

FM: The position of the wealthy countries has if anything solidified and hardened. There is an Guardian (UK) article of November 20, 2011 that is titled “ Rich nations 'give up' on new climate treaty until 2020” and has as its subtitle: “ Ahead of critical talks and despite pledge for new treaty by 2012, biggest economies privately admit likelihood of long delay.” This, of course, has been greeted by the most vulnerable with dismay and anger.

FC: As a participant, you presented a key note paper in the Mother Earth conference in Bolivia . There is the Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth in Bolivia . A ministry in the country looks after these rights. Have the deliberations and call of the conference, and the step by Bolivia made any impact in today's discourse on climate crisis?

FM: I think that Bolivia played a very important role following the failure of Copenhagen meetings in December of 2009. Just bringing so many people together in Cochabamba , Bolivia in April of 2010 was quite a feat. The discussion was very good as was the final declaration of the conference. One of small things that happened was the exposure to the large group of how the United States was using a money offer in order to get Bolivia and Ecuador to sign on to the Copenhagen statement drafted mainly by the wealthy countries. A cabinet minister from Ecuador said that she was authorized to tell the assembled people that Ecuador refused the money but was prepared to offer the United States the same amount of money if it would agree to sign the Kyoto protocols. Needless to say, there was plenty of laughter after that statement.

FC: Is there any conflict, but not articulated, between the dominating economic interests and people's interests in the position emerging economies have taken in climate crisis negotiation?

FM: YES! The main conflict is one of the interests of capitalism as a system and of its most powerful representatives. Since at the heart of the issue is the normal way capitalism functions — it has to continue growing or else it's in crisis and has no other goal other than the accumulation of more and more capital. It would take a VERY enlightened leader of one of the leading rich capitalist countries to even attempt to take on the vested interests that are perfectly happy with the way things are.

FC: If “yes”, how to resolve this contradiction or what program should be there from people's perspective in the emerging economies?

FM: This is certainly a very difficult question to answer. Perhaps an equivalent of “direct action” activism is needed by the most vulnerable. Maybe disrupting the workings of the UN or other world organizations might get some positive results.

FC: A portion of capital is now-a-days active to make a climate deal as climate crisis threatens its domain. At the same time, to a section of capital, climate crisis appears a potential market. How to ensure people's interests in this market that is making climate crisis a commodity?

FM: I think that we should oppose all “market oriented” so-called “solutions.” They are not actually solutions, but rather just a new way to make money. They give the appearance of accomplishing something, although they are rife with fraud and do not solve the problem even if well carried out.

FC: What role can people's organizations play in respective countries/societies that can impact climate crisis negotiation? Should these only be confined in raising demands, organizing demonstrations, etc. or along with these, widen public space through mobilizing people in positive, locally practicable approaches?

FM: It is up to the creativity and energy of the people to develop new approaches to the negotiations. It is not clear to me how to negotiate when one group is not really interested. This is something like what is happening in the U.S. Congress where the Republican Party has absolutely no interest in negotiations, whatever the consequences.

FC: Can participatory climate assessment at local level be a tool, a better one than mere forming human chains, etc. for a shorter period, to make people actively aware and to actively mobilize them on the climate crisis issue?

FM: Using a participatory assessment to make people aware of their climate and the implications of changes that are occurring can certainly be useful. It is also important to start discussions and even planning at the local level for sea level rise, droughts, floods, hot weather, etc. — whatever is most relevant to the local or regional situation. There are low-tech ways of lessening some of the detrimental effects.

FC: Will not climate crisis negatively impact people's democratic struggle?

FM: I think that the people' democratic struggle and the struggle for the environment should be intimately tied together. The climate crisis, as well as the other environmental crises that are occurring, should make it clearer to people that these are crises of the system itself. And the only meaningful way to deal with social as well as environmental problems is to organize a new society based on equality, democracy, and care for the environment. So the issue itself provides another argument against the capitalist system.

FC: Should the crisis be viewed as a potential threat to people's struggle for a decent, democratic life?

FM: The way I view it, while making things more difficult for people, climate changes provide another argument against the capitalist system and provides more urgency to seek systemic changes. If the environmental issues are brought front and center within the people's struggles it might even result in more support for change.

FC: Is not there the need to include climate demands in the program for democratic struggle, targeting the global and local climate criminal capitals that are snatching away atmospheric space from people?

FM: Absolutely. This must become a central part of the struggle. And I would broaden the issue to other types of environmental degradation — chemical pollution of air, water, and food; overfishing by factory-size boats causing depletion of fish stocks; soil erosion and degradation; depletion of fresh water supplies; etc.

FC: Can organizing climate crime tribunals at respective levels be a forum for active mobilization and protest by climate-poor?

FM: Yes. I think that this is one of the ways that more attention can be focused on the issues and on the intransigence of the wealthy countries.

FC: Thank you, for the interview.






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