This second edition of the landmark analysis of capitalism and the environment includes the Communist Party’s environmental program. People and Nature Before Profits emphasizes the conection between the profit drive under capitalism and the increasingly emperiled global ecology. The documents argues that while important reforms can and should be won today, the struggle for the environment must eventually take on capitalism itself.
Chapter 1: A System Out of Balance
Chapter 2: Where We Work
Chapter 3: Trouble Out In the Country
Chapter 4: Where we live
Chapter 5: Life in the Cities
Chapter 6: Problems on a National Scale
Chapter 7: The World We Live In
Chapter 8: ‘Imperialism’? What’s that?
Chapter 9: How Can We Defend Nature More Effectively?
Chapter 10: Environmental Issues in the Political Process
Chapter 11: Why We Need Fundamental Change
Chapter 12: Why Socialism?
Chapter 13: Environmental Program of the CPUSA
Epilogue: Eco-Apocalypse, a Class Act
A System Out of Balance
Around the globe, tropical diseases are expanding their ranges. The global-warming-induced sea-level rise threatens our coastal cities. Deforestation is pushing many species into extinction. People are leaving their ancestral lands to move into crowded cities. In towns along the Mexican/US border, factories have polluted the air and drinking water supplies. Babies are being born with bizarre defects, some without brains. Cancer rates are climbing. Instead of developing a sustainable energy policy, we get wars that keep us dependent upon foreign oil.
Why are these things happening ? Profit is the decisive factor in our economy. Actually, it is not ‘our’ economy-and that fact is at the root of many serious problems. Nature and labor create all wealth. The workers in the factories, the mines, the shops, the banks, the offices, the fields, the forests and all the other workplaces make all profit possible. The working class does the work that makes the system run, but somebody else makes profit off of our work. The command decisions regarding what is produced, where it’s produced, how it’s produced, and how the rewards are allocated are made by relatively few people who control the major means of production and distribution. Corporations dominate the economy and government of this country. It isn’t about what goods and services people need. It’s about making money. By the rules of this system, it is the legal duty of corporate directors and executives to maximize profit for stockholders. Capitalism tips the scales against nature and people. Humanity is the steward of this planet, but at every turn capitalism thwarts our best efforts at good stewardship.
Why is the system steering us all over a cliff? Because shortterm profit maximization for corporate and wealthy shareholders is the top priority of capitalism, it should be no surprise that everything else – the environment, public health, human rights and dignity, the national interest, the common good – rank lower in priority. In corporate eyes, both workers and nature are costs of production. Corporations extract their profits from our labor. The lower the wages, the higher the profits. Every dollar that a corporation has to spend on consumer safety, worker’s safety and health, environmental protection, or some other ‘irksome requirement,’ means one less dollar for profit. The working class (the 90% of the population that has to work for a living, or try to scrape by on pensions, welfare, or unemployment compensation, and their families, as opposed to the minority who can live comfortably off the interest on their financial investments) is systematically robbed on a massive scale.
The goal of capitalism is to convert nature into commodities (things produced chiefly for profit, not for use), and commodities into capital. As a result, natural resources are consumed much faster than they can be replenished. Capitalist businesses work for the benefit of the owning class first. The interests of the working class and the environment count for little in the scales of capitalism.
Under capitalism, two fundamental social classes exist-the ruling class (the owning class) and the working class-whose interests are diametrically opposed. The ruling class sees nature as merely the supplier of raw materials: coal, oil, metals from below ground, crops from the fields, fish from the sea, trees from the forest. Air, water, and land are treated as cheap sites for disposing of waste generated by the production and marketing processes. Take fossil fuels as an example. We didn’t create them; nature created them, and ‘banked’ them in the earth. When we withdraw them from the earth’s ‘ATM’ and burn them, we generate pollution.
Under capitalism it is more important to keep costs down than to deal with nature responsibly. All or most of the burden of protecting air, water, land and people from the harmful byproducts of production is shifted to local, state and federal governments, where the people’s taxes pay the price-if it is paid at all.
One way to increase our power when corporations balance people against profits is to organize into unions. Nature, however, cannot organize a labor union. Of all the millions of species of plant and animal life, only the human species can do that. People, organized to defend themselves and protect nature, can demand an economy in harmony with ecology and our long-term interests as opposed to short-term profit for a few.
We are told that ‘human nature’ is inherently in opposition to nature. ‘That’s just the way we are.’ The real causes behind the human collision with nature-the profit drive, alienation, and other aspects of capitalism-don’t get much attention. The corporate media-where most people get their information and frame their opinions-doesn’t venture into that. Capitalist spokesmen claim that protecting nature cuts jobs. Sometimes environmentalists fall into that trap, advocating measures that may temporarily cut jobs, without looking for ways to save those jobs, and end up treating workers as obstructionists. Unions sometimes blame environmentalists for problems created by the corporations.
If ‘human nature’ is so naturally greedy and competitive, then why does the massive corporate entertainment and media industry have to unrelentingly hammer that message into us? If people are just naturally that way, then why does the ‘rat race’ stress people out so much, and produce so many ulcers and mental illness? People are scared and angry; some turn to extremist religious sects in their search for a sense of belonging. This system is ratcheting up whatever inherent competitive drive we possess to pathological levels. The corporate ‘infotainment’ industry frames what is going on in ways that lead people away from questioning the system, and works to shape them into the corporate ideal: fragmented and alone, chasing after artificial needs.
If capitalism is inevitable and innate in human nature, then why has it inly occupied the last couple of hundred years out of a human history that goes back hundreds of thousands of years? In his book, The Enemy of Nature, Joel Kovel asks, ‘Why did capitalism have to be imposed through violence wherever it set down its rule? And most importantly, why does it have to be continually maintained through violence, and continuously re-imposed on each generation through an enormous apparatus of indoctrination?’
Many ‘technologically advanced’ methods in mining, agriculture, and logging that have been developed specifically because they use fewer workers and cut labor costs have proven to be environmentally destructive. Cleaning up past environmental disasters, and organizing production in a more sustainable way, will create more jobs in a more stable, sustainable economy.
In its race to enrich itself in the short run, the numerically tiny but powerful class that owns the controlling shares of the major corporations harms the long-term interests of us all. This shortsighted focus on profits has consequences that may not show up until tomorrow. We do not know how to fix what we are breaking. Unless we care for nature today it will be a bleak tomorrow for our children, and even bleaker for the generations to follow.
We are in trouble. Human society is out of balance with nature and we must regain that balance. We must organize to protect our natural environment in order to give it more weight in the scales against profits. To make people and nature the decisive factors in what will be truly our economy, we will have to transform society.
Sara Ruth van Gelder of the Positive Futures Network says, ‘The Enron collapse, the Iraq War, and other events are making it clear to many, many people that our current structures are untenable – that we need to re-envision the systems that are pushing us into vicious cycles of poverty, environmental decline, militarism, and erosion of democracy. People are open to a level of questioning we haven’t seen in years – and looking for ways they can get involved and make a difference. People are ready to rethink the structures, habits of mind, and ways of life that are now clearly unsustainable.’
It is possible to work with nature in a way that will protect and enhance its ability to continue providing essential life-support functions. How do the factors of profits, people, and nature relate to each other now, and how can we change the way they work with or against each other in order to insure that we have a better tomorrow?
Where We Work
Many of us go to work today knowing or suspecting that our jobs may be dangerous to our health. This is nothing new.
Right from the start of the industrial revolution, new technologies created dangers to life and health on the job. In 1851, after boiler explosions had killed 407 people in a single year, Congress finally passed a measure to lessen this danger and hold employers responsible. But the law didn’t pass without loud protests from the employers and their mouthpieces in the Senate. ‘Can a man’s property be said to be his own,’ one Senator demanded, ‘when you take it out of his control and put it in the hands of another, though he may be a federal officer?’ 
Sound familiar? Whenever workers have called for a healthy environment on the job or environmentalists have called for clean air or water in the community, they get that same argument. One always hears cries of protest from the rich whenever laws that benefit the working class majority over the corporations are suggested. ‘You’re going to drive us out of business and all your jobs will be lost.’
Just as the drive for the right to a job was turned upside down, and the slogan ‘Right to Work’ is used to bust the unions, so the drive to use the environment wisely is turned upside down and the slogan ‘Wise Use’ is used against the environmental movement. Under the guise of this beguiling ‘Wise Use’ slogan, with the claim of defending the property rights of small owners, the real goal is to end restrictions on polluting companies and weaken environmental protection.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state industrial safety agencies were started to monitor the work environment and protect workers on the job. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state environmental agencies are supposed to monitor the environment and protect us all off the job. It took vigorous struggles by environmental organizations against bitter corporate opposition to establish the EPA in 1969; and by unions and environmentalists against the same opposition to establish OSHA in 1971.
Workplace hazards range from chemical pollutants and radiation, to electromagnetic and noise pollution, to ergonomic problems. OSHA and EPA standards are fought down to the last part per million of a pollutant, milli-decibel of noise, and milli-rad of radiation. Enforcement of standards is resisted, evaded, and fought case by case by polluting corporations. Regulatory agencies are underfunded, understaffed, and subject to constant and powerful pressure from the very industries they are supposed to regulate.
Currently, new chemical compounds with unknown health effects are introduced at the rate of 3,000 to 4,000 per year, without thorough testing. Both EPA and OSHA have set their standards, not to eliminate pollutants dangerous to the health of workers on the job and communities outside, but to reduce them to ‘acceptable risks.’ Chemical products such as some cleaning agents, which are ‘acceptable’ for use in open, well-ventilated areas, can be lethal when used in confined spaces. Some 300 workers a year die, either because they used such agents in a confined space, or because they tried to rescue a fellow worker who had already succumbed.
In the regulatory system, a certain level of air pollution is ‘acceptable.’ A clean industry can sell its ‘pollution rights’ to its dirty neighbor. The EPA auctions off allowances to utilities to pollute the air with sulfur dioxide, which causes the acid rain which is so harmful to forests and wildlife. It is often cheaper to buy an allowance than to cut down pollution.
Pollution control was supposed to clean up our air and water. Campaigns by environmental organizations have made some gains. Some of the most obnoxious point sources of toxic pollution have been cleaned up. But our air and water are still threatened. More than 40 percent of America’s waters are still too polluted for swimming or fishing. As we’ll see in Chapter 9, tightening of environmental laws in the U.S. is an important factor behind the transfer of American jobs to third-world locations.
Regulatory laws concede governing authority to corporations. Labor laws regulate workers more than they regulate corporations. Most environmental laws regulate environmentalists more than the corporations. Labor and environmentalists work for stronger laws, but laws are only enforced when people demand a commitment from federal and state administrations. Investigators can’t do their jobs unless they have meaningful support and direction from the top, including adequate funding, and unless agencies are constantly ‘watchdogged’ from the bottom by individual whistle-blowers, union locals, and environmental groups.
That kind of pressure can help make changes on the job-at the point of production. It means laws, regulations, and regulatory agencies that don’t just say: ‘make less pollution,’ but rather: ‘don’t pollute-period.’
As it is, even when OSHA and EPA do go after corporate criminals responsible for harming the environment or causing disease and even death in their plants, little happens to remedy the problem. The federal courts serve as a safety net for corporations, who have teams of lawyers on retainer to fight these cases. Found guilty? Sometimes. Jail? Rarely. Fines? Cheaper to pay the fine as just another cost of doing business than to act legally and responsibly.
Dennis P. DeMaio gives the example of General Electric, cited by EPA for violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act, by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for violations of the Clean Water Act, and by California for violations of the California Safety Code at the Vallecitos Nuclear Center. The aggregate penalties sought by all regulatory authorities hardly represented a blip in GE’s profits.
Environmental health on and off the job is interlocked. Workers are the guinea pigs who get the first and most concentrated exposure to pollutants which then escape from the factory through the stacks, the water outlets or the plant’s solid waste disposal, or are incorporated into the products used by consumers.
Corporations tell us that we must choose between jobs and the environment. The reality is that sustainable practices reduce waste, create jobs, and strengthen the economy. Eliminating waste will save money that would otherwise be spent on waste cleanup. Only when workers are organized into strong unions do they have protection for whistle blowers and the collective power to fight for positive change and long-term efficiency.
The threat of job loss is a potent weapon stifling needed change on the job. For the public as a whole as well as for workers, unions are the first line of defense. Every environmental organization should support specific struggles to control or eliminate pollutants on the job, such as the pesticides to which farm workers are exposed. They should also support the organization of unions in every occupation and join the labor movement in resisting every effort to weaken or break a union.
The labor movement should likewise support the environmental movement. These two movements need each other. In the past, workers usually lived near the plants where they worked, which made the tie between union and community much more direct than it is today and often brought broad community support to striking workers. Although the work force is now likely to be scattered, there is another tie between union and community. Communities in the vicinity of a plant are increasingly concerned about its environmental effects. Under capitalism, absentee ownership of industrial facilities is the norm. Command decisions are usually made at corporate headquarters, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles away from the industrial sites, with no input by the workers or communities involved.
A few years ago, workers at Urotek, a textile plant in New Haven, Connecticut, were experiencing mysterious liver problems. Medical examinations (done by outside physicians, not by the company doctor) led to the discovery that dimethyl formamide, a chemical used in textile treatment, was causing the workers’ problems. An effort by the workers to organize a collective bargaining unit was sparked in part by the need to stop this contamination of the work environment. The possibility of ground water pollution and exposure of neighborhood children brought community activists into the picture. A union-community coalition won a union shop and elimination of the toxin. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) signed a contract with management that included health and safety guidelines.
An international group of scientists, government officials, lawyers, and labor and grassroots activists met at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell in September 2001 to define and discuss the Precautionary Principle: ‘When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.’ They issued the Lowell Statement on Science and Precaution. Observance of this principal would greatly strengthen the public interest against corporations who seek to make profits by foisting questionable technologies, chemicals, and foods upon us.
Some workplaces are outdoors and have different, but no less severe, problems that directly impact those who work in them. Farm workers are subject to an array of highly toxic pesticides, both on the job and in their communities. Some of these pesticides persist on the food we eat. Chemical fertilizers have been in part responsible for the high yields of U.S. agriculture, yet the resultant agricultural runoff is now a source of serious water pollution.
Toward a Shorter Workweek: It’s About Time!
Over the past two decades, the productivity of labor, due to computer and robotic technology and to speed-up, has vastly increased while the income of workers has stagnated. So far, most benefits of these technical advances have gone to the corporate owning class, reflected in fattened profits. The rich are getting much, much richer. The working class, who makes all these innovations possible, should share in the benefits. Instead, those of us who still have jobs are working too much – 350 hours (nine weeks) per year more than our counterparts in Western Europe. Overwork threatens our health, reduces time for exercise, and encourages consumption of artery-cogging fast foods. It leaves many of us with little time or energy to vote, much less be informed, active citizens. At the same time, the ranks of the unemployed and homeless are growing due to automation. This is what high-technology means in capitalist hands.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Under a rational economic
system, improvements in technology and increased labor productivity would mean a shorter workweek, not an increase in unemployment and poverty.
Unemployment and overwork are two sides of the same coin. A shorter workweek makes good sense for many reasons. Shortening working hours will increase total employment by spreading the work around. It would increase use of public transit and decrease rush-hour congestion, thereby reducing fuel consumption, pollution, and climate-changing CO2 emissions. It would reduce crime, substance abuse, mental illness, family violence, and other unemployment – related problems. Corporations have the time and money to pay an army of lawyers and lobbyists to intervene in all levels of government. The average citizen has neither the money nor the time. 26% of us got no vacations at all last year while Western European workers averaged six weeks.
Participation in environmental, community, union, and political activities all take time. With more free time, people would find more opportunities for building relationships, citizenship, and empowerment. For more on this, see http://www.timeday.org
1. Fear at Work, p.74
2. Dangerous Premises, p.54
3. Richard Grossman, 18 Feb. 2002 interview in Corporate Crime Reporter
4. Political Affairs, Dec. 1993
5. Rachel’s Health and Environmental Weekly, issue #741, 3 Jan. 2002, available at: http://www.rachel.org/bulletin/index.cfm?issue_ID=2129
Trouble Out In the Country
Urban sprawl and luxury resorts are gobbling up farm and forest land, with little or no consideration for the need to protect these important resources. Annual loss of photosynthetic surface (land covered by living plants) is huge, which reduces oxygen production and boosts carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. These profit-versus-nature decisions are based upon what is most profitable, on a given piece of land at a given time – to farm it, forest it, or sell it to a developer. This is short-term decision-making at its worst.
In the state of Washington, environmental organizations succeeded in getting a law called the Growth Management Act passed by the legislature. As county after county struggles with the unaccustomed task of trying to bring growth under some measure of control, sharp conflicts can develop.
Native Americans, environmentalists, small business people, and family farmers are finding common cause and coming together in coalitions to preserve land against unsound development. These groups see the land as a resource on which both their county’s economy and its quality of life depend, and as a microcosm of the land-use problems facing the nation and the world (‘Think Globally, Act Locally’). They are confronted by land owners who claim the unrestricted right to do what they wish with their land, and real estate companies to whom land is merely a commodity to buy and sell. Efforts to slow sprawl enrage developers and land speculators alike.
‘Property Rights’ is a hot-button issue that is often used to argue against enforcing environmental standards. Agribusiness and corporate-funded ideologues are typically on the ‘profits first’ side, and have the money to get their message out in the media. Result: people who would benefit from growth management sometimes fall for the ‘property ownership is sacred’ propaganda and twisted patriotism turned to rage peddaled by spokesmen such as Rush Limbaugh.
But this issue can cut both ways. Family farmers and people who own only their house and garden, and who would benefit from efforts to manage growth, are more likely to be interested in slower, more careful development. These are people who want their property protected from nearby unrestricted development; people that don’t want their water supplies tainted by unwise development, and don’t like the noise and dust from moto-cross dirt bikes. Air, water, and noise pollution are violations of our rights and freedoms. As well, people don’t want to pay higher taxes for new roads, schools, and fire protection just because developers evade the responsibility of paying their fair share.
Other efforts are directed at halting the loss of forests through destructive timber (mis)management: a rate of harvest too rapid to permit the forest to grow back, clear-cutting, followed by replanting of a single species and the use of chemical herbicides. This results in tree farms that use up the soil instead of nurturing it as a natural forest does. Logging roads erode hillsides and foul streams, ruining fish and wildlife habitat. Heavy equipment compacts the soil and further undermines forest sustainability. The future of all logging and lumber mill jobs is in danger when the future of forests is in danger.
We need old growth forests in particular, but newer forests as well, and not just as timber resources. Shopping malls and parking lots don’t filter carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, surface ozone, and particulates out of the air or produce oxygen-it takes living, breathing plants to do that. By absorbing carbon dioxide produced by the burning of gasoline and other fossil fuels, trees purify the air and act as a shield against global warming. The forests that produce our oxygen can also produce- if respectfully managed-an abundance of foods, medicines, and other products.
Forests protect the soil and provide habitat for thousands of plants, animals, and micro-organisms. Old growth forest ecosystems are only beginning to be understood in all their richness. This applies to the old growth in our own national forests, as well as to the tropical rain forests of other countries. Many of our National and State Parks face a variety of problems ranging from snowmobile harassment of wildlife, encroaching development, to air and water pollution.
Farm and range soils in North America and around the world are dramatically decreasing in quantity, quality, and fertility. Soil conservation is being neglected due to the drive for shortterm transnational corporate profit maximization.
The value of an endangered species has sometimes been pitted against the value of human beings and their immediate livelihood. This is a misleading comparison. Other than disease-causing microbes, no other living species threatens our survival. Our survival is threatened, however, by the extinction of plant and animal species which is proceeding at a rate that is tearing at the web of life on which all of us depend.
The disappearance of the spotted owl in old growth forests or the presence of E. coli in drinking water are like the canary in the coal mine that warns of coming danger. The bark of the endangered yew tree offers taxol to cancer sufferers. Gingko biloba, a ‘living fossil’ rescued from the edge of extinction, is valuable in improving circulation, brain function, and memory. Another, perhaps as yet unknown, species may hold an answer to one of the crises facing us, such as HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, or cancer. Above all, each species is part of a complex living system, the consequences of whose removal to the whole, including its human component, is unpredictable.
The capitalists ask us, ‘What do you want: to save some species from going extinct, or jobs?’ We need to ask, ‘What kind of system is it when you have to make a choice like that?’ The answer is growing clearer by the day: capitalism is a corrupt system that is breaking down and is overdue for replacement.
Where we live
We once saw toxic chemicals only as a threat to the workers using them. But it is essential to look at the entire life cycle of a chemical, from its manufacture, to storage, use and ultimate disposal. Every year billions of pounds of toxic chemicals are released into U.S. and Canadian air and water. Working class communities are hit especially hard, with industrial workers exposed both inside and outside the plant.
– from the United Steelworkers’ Union Task Force Report on the Environment, 1990.
Whole communities-Love Canal, New York is one example- have been destroyed by toxic waste. A ‘Superfund’ to clean up the worst of the toxic superdumps came in part from the corporations committing the crimes, but much time and money are wasted as those corporations sue the government to avoid paying what they owe. The ‘Superfund’ is running out of money, yet there are still thousands of toxic waste sites in the U.S.
Special targets of concentrated pollution are African American, Native American, Latino communities, and poor communities with a high rate of unemployment. They are unwilling recipients of toxic waste dumps, illegal industrial emissions, uncontrolled groundwater contamination, and/or far above-average urban air pollution.
The concentrated pollution in these communities is a warning of what is, in smaller amounts, already affecting the whole country. Both companies and government agencies have assumed that these communities are out of sight to the rest of the country, and ‘out of sight is out of mind.’
Half of all Native and Asian Americans and three out of five African American and Hispanic Americans live in communities with waste dumps. The Community Coalition for Environmental Justice based in Seattle, continues to address disproportionate environmental health risks to low-income communities and communities of color. Their internet site: (http://www.ccej.org), has links to Environmental Justice groups across the country.
The Principles of Environmental Justice call for fundamental solutions. What is the official response? In public, the EPA now claims ‘environmental equity’ as a guiding principle. In private, an internal EPA memo advocated that the agency try to draw support away from civil rights groups before the ‘minority fairness issue’ reaches a ‘flashpoint’ where ‘activist groups finally succeed in persuading the more influential mainstream groups (civil rights organizations, unions, churches) to take ill-advised actions.'
Environmental justice activists are on the frontlines in the battle against toxic contamination for all of us. The fight for
environmental justice must become the fight of the trade union and environmental movements as well as of those now on the receiving end who are increasingly saying, ‘No more!’
1. 1992 memo from Lewis Crampton, then EPA associate administrator for Public Affairs, released by Congressman Henry Waxman, D., CA
Life in the Cities
Cities, the nerve centers of our civilization, are so artificially structured that those of us who live in them-the majority of the country’s working people-are increasingly alienated and out of touch with nature.
City dwellers breathe the most polluted air and have to cope with the ugliness and contamination left behind by industries that move elsewhere. Our cities are beginning to choke on their own garbage and strangle on their own traffic. No wonder that those who can afford to do so flee to the suburbs. But many working- class people and most people of color don’t have that choice.
One of the shames of the older cities is that if we live in older housing, our children are still subject to the poison of lead paint, in spite of the fact that these hazards and their solutions have been known for half a century.
The newer cities of the west have their problems too. As if the African-American and Latino people of Los Angeles did not have enough other problems, they get a double dose of L.A.’s air pollution as well. A UCLA study has shown that 71 percent of Blacks, 50 percent of Latinos, and 34 percent of whites live in areas with polluted air. People living downwind from oil refineries have higher rates of cancer.
These things happen because cities have grown and changed based on the private ownership of land. Any ‘planning’ was done by successive generations of land developers and speculators-to maximize their profits.
‘Land allocation by price has distorted our cities into a hodgepodge of social segregation and specialized uses. Green open spaces, essential for a healthful urban environment, kept shrinking; building and housing costs kept rising. Cities have tended to sprawl in unplanned ways because builders of new homes and commercial facilities have ‘leap-frogged’ over high-priced city land to cheaper rural and suburban areas. This has wasted urban land, lengthened home-to-job distances, and extended the length and cost of sewer, water, road and transportation lines.'
Electrically powered mass transit is the most desirable way to deal with traffic problems from the point of view of both people and air pollution, yet as Bernard Snell told the U.S. Senate thirty years ago, ‘The powerful automobile, oil and tire monopolies have manipulated all levels of government to methodically destroy intra- and intercity rail transportation throughout the country to promote the construction of highways and the sale of motor vehicles.’  We’re all too familiar with the results: traffic jams, wasted time, smog, and road rage.
Paul Pickett, of the Washington State Federation of State Employees (WFSE) writes, ‘The ‘Wal-Mart-ification’ of our cities results in downtowns becoming ghost towns, consumers driving longer miles for shopping, and living wage jobs becoming minimum wage. There are towns in the Southeast where the only place to buy milk and bread is the Wal-Mart.’  We need to redesign communities for people and reduce reliance on cars. Unfortunately, that’s not in the corporate interest-the senseless depletion of oil does make sense (and mega-profits) under
Landfills are rapidly filling up. The amount of trash cities create could be reduced if we designed products and packaging to be reusable and recyclable, and if we reduced the amount of unnecessary packaging. The amount of toxic waste generated must also be sharply reduced. If that is done, studies by the Center for Biology of Natural Systems at Queens College show that as much as 85% of the waste stream can be composted or recycled in other ways, leaving only 15% for landfills. Many business economists and city planners, however, balancing profit against nature, advocate continued reliance on landfills. They claim we can leave the problem to future generations.
As rampant sprawl covers the landscape, the vegetation that filters pollutants out of the air and produces oxygen is replaced by malls and parking lots that do neither. Productive soils are smothered under asphalt and concrete. Rainwater that used to fall on fields, grasslands, and forests, and filtered through soil to replenish aquifers, now falls increasingly on roads and parking lots, where it picks up antifreeze, oil, and other pollutants. Then it washes into lakes and rivers via storm drains. This accelerates the depletion of groundwater supplies and increases the pollution of our lakes and rivers.
Once again, the chase after profit ignores the need to conserve land, water, energy, and materials. Capitalism means waste.
1. ‘City’s Pollution-Based Cancer is High’ by Tom Avril, Philadelphia Inquirer, 2 June 2002
2. Morris Zeitlin, American Cities, a Working Class View
3. Quoted by Zeitlin, Ibid., p. 201
4. South Sound Green Pages, March 2002
Problems on a National Scale
Every problem mentioned so far affects us as citizens of the United States as well as residents of particular regions and communities. Some problems can be dealt with only on a national scale. They are important to us if we want a livable, sustainable environment, one which we and future generations can enjoy and which can continue to provide the basis for our economy into the future.
Our transportation system is a mess. In a letter in the 23 March 2002 issue of the People’s Weekly World, John Bowman writes, ‘Since 1980, federal funding for highways has increased 106% . . . but for Amtrak it has decreased 65%. No matter how much government money is poured into building roads and enlarging airports, we still have congestion. With adequate funding our passenger train service would go much farther toward reducing congestion, as well as giving tens of thousands of taxpaying Americans – whose preferred mode is train travel, for its comfort, relaxation, proximity to the natural environment, and safety – more opportunity to exercise their preference.’ It would also reduce air pollution. 
Huge amounts of hazardous materials are being hauled by road, rail, and sea. The risk of accidents increases as the volume continues to grow.
Capitalism is endangering our water supply. Some industries are pumping toxic waste deep into aquifers to get rid of it, causing the contamination of drinking water supplies. Capitalism is endangering our food supply. As stocks of many commercial fish species have been depleted, other species are showing up in the grocery stores. The FDA has issued an advisory to pregnant mothers that many of these species contain mercury, which causes brain damage and other birth defects. The drive to maximize profits has led agribusiness to overuse hormones and introduce genetically-modified material and other hazards into our food supply.
A March 2002 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists states that: ‘Giant poultry and meat producers are feeding enormous quantities of antibiotics to healthy animals. They do so to speed up the animal’s growth, increase profits, and avoid diseases caused by over-crowded and unsanitary conditions. Many of these drugs are the same ones humans depend upon to fight against infectious disease. This is very risky business.’ Due to their rapid generation rates, development of strains of pathogens resistant to these drugs (also known as ‘superbugs’) is encouraged. That means that these drugs will no longer be effective when people need them. The American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the World Health Organization have strongly spoken out against the use of antibiotics as growth promoters. Alternative methods, such as better cleaning and ventilation of livestock facilities, can reduce stress and the need for these chemicals. They are currently used in Sweden; why not here in the USA?
Evidence is accumulating that some chemicals interfere with vital functions of the human body. In her book Our Stolen Future, Dr. Theo Colburn describes how many common synthetic chemicals like polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and diethylstilbestrol (DES), a medication widely prescribed to expectant mothers, disrupt the endocrine system by mimicking natural hormones. These substances are implicated in causing hormone-related cancers, reproductive abnormalities, weakened immune systems (at a time when tropical diseases are spreading due to climate change!), birth defects, developmental disorders, and behavioral aberrations.
Dioxins are produced when PVC is burned and in the conventional paper-making process. PVC is currently the second most common plastic. Dioxins, some of the most deadly substances known, are persistent and concentrate up the food chain.
Beyond Waste, from the Washington State Department of Ecology spells it out pretty clearly:
Although most people are unaware of this, each of us carries a chemical body burden of industrial chemicals. These chemicals can be detected in blood, urine, and breast milk. The regulatory system of federal, state, and local environmental protection agencies is not adequately protecting you and your family from the dangers posed by the proliferation of these chemicals. At least 48 common chemicals are known to have reproductive and endocrine disrupting effects. These include many pesticides, industrial chemicals, and plastics. Bisphenol A, a chemical used in making plastic infant toys, is a known endocrine disruptor. Just because a product is on the store shelf doesn’t mean it’s safe!
One of the most crucial problems concerns our use of energy. Coal mining, oil production and refining and power plants-whatever their source of energy-are at the base of our economy. Workers in the field of energy are thus in the most basic of our industries. How energy is obtained, how it is used, and what its future is, are crucial to them and to all of us.
Most of our energy comes from nonrenewable resources. As they become scarce, they become more expensive. Gas, oil, and uranium reserves worldwide will run out long before coal, but even coal will some day come to an end. Yet energy from nonrenewable sources is being used wastefully, as if it had no end and as if this created no environmental problems.
Nuclear plants pose serious risks, as Three Mile Island demonstrated in a small way, and Chernobyl in an appallingly big way. Coal- and oil-fired plants contribute to acid rain, a regional problem wherever sulfuric acid emissions from industries and utilities are removed from the air by rain, with severe effects on both land and water ecosystems and damage to buildings and works of art in cities.
Coal- and oil-fired plants have another, less visible, but even more serious effect: the carbon dioxide they emit is one of the major causes of global warming.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, the Bush-Cheney regime is pushing for oil drilling in such fragile and unique ecosystems as:
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), with its incredible array of caribou, musk oxen, polar bear, and bird life, and the Gwich’in people who live there
The coral reefs off the Florida coast
Utah’s Redrock Canyon Country, which contains critical habitat for desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and golden eagles
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, with its vast roadless forests and prairies critical to the survival of wolves, grizzly bear, and free-roaming herds of American buffalo
These jewels of our natural heritage would be criss-crossed by roads and pipelines, marred by processing facilities, poisoned by pollution, and threatened by oil spills. This destruction would do little to make America more energy- independent. Though it would add only about a year’s supply at our current rate of usage, it means mega-profits for oil corporations.
Robert F Kennedy, Jr., Senior Attorney of the National Resources Defense Council says:
There is nothing patriotic about handing over our natural heritage to the oil industry for exploitation. But that’s exactly what the White House is now asking us to do in the name of national security.
Here is how Bill Moyers sums it up:
If in the name of the war on terrorism President Bush hands the state over to the energy industry, it’s every patriot’s duty to join the loyal opposition. . . The greatest sedition would be our silence.
Pro-capitalist spokespeople like to hold up the U.S. quality of life as a model for the people of the world to strive for. They conveniently ignore the fact that it is built on the use of a larger amount of nonrenewable energy than any other country, and consequently on a larger release of the gases causing global warming than any other country. If the rest of the world were to imitate the U.S., the energy sources would rapidly run out and the natural balance in the atmosphere would be overwhelmed. We can hardly expect other people to make sacrifices that people in the U.S. refuse to make.
There are non-polluting alternatives. The sun shines every day, bringing us an enormous source of energy. The technology to capture solar energy is already available, but is still expensive because it has not yet been put into mass production. Energy from wind, ocean waves, and hydroelectric and geothermal sources are all secondary sources of solar energy.
It is not only U.S. industry that uses too much energy. The Pentagon wastes enough energy in one year to run the entire U.S. urban mass transit system for fourteen years.
Ever since World War II, we have been living in a military environment. This remains true in spite of the end of the Cold War. War is the most destructive of all human activities, to nature as well as to people. Even when war is not being fought, preparation for it is wasteful, destructive, and depletes natural resources.
Either in actual use, or unused, outdated, and mothballed, military hardware becomes useless junk with severe problems of safe disposal. To make matters worse, the military has been exempt from many worker safety and environmental regulations. The result is that, over the years, military installations have become some of the most polluted areas of the country. More than 27, 000 toxic ‘hot spots’ are located on 8,500 military facilities. Over 30,000 tons of deadly chemical weapons await destruction.
Our economy has become dependent upon military production, so much so that large numbers of workers are trapped in this sector. Many are involved in manufacturing military hardware and in staffing the armed services, industries that have the potential to destroy the world as we know it.
Many square miles of land have been withdrawn from productive use in order to test weapons and train soldiers. Some of these areas are contaminated so severely by radioactive waste and other pollutants, or so degraded by military exercises, as to present a difficult and expensive problem of cleanup and regeneration even if they cease to be used for military purposes. In some cases regeneration may be impossible.
Ironically, some excellent wildlife habitat is found on military bases. Fort Ord, California, for example, adjacent to Carmel and Monterey, is home to several endangered species, as well as a refuge to other threatened species. As suburban sprawl engulfs more and more land, military bases, due to limited access and relative ease in declaring such areas ‘off-limits,’ have become islands of protected wildlife habitat in a rising sea of suburban sprawl. When Fort Ord was closed, no wholesale suburbanization took place there. Many of the existing barracks were converted into a state university, while maintaining two-thirds of the former base as habitat for endangered species. If we want to protect endangered wildlife habitat, this is a good model to follow when military posts are converted to nonmilitary use. The Nature Conservancy and similar groups should continue to play a consulting role in this work.
In the 1990s, the business lobby succeeded in defunding many federal and state environmental programs. In Washington State, overall spending on environmental programs went down 47%. More cuts will be coming.
The number of seriously contaminated sites has been estimated at as many as twenty thousand. They will remain among the nation’s most critical problems for years to come. Some cleanup efforts have begun, but as yet not with the funding or thoroughness needed. No safe method has yet been devised for the safe and permanent disposal of nuclear wastes.
The Superfund trust fund, once fed by special corporate
taxes, allowed the federal EPA to clean up heavily polluted ‘orphan’ sites, where companies that created the mess couldn’t be identified. Pressured by the oil and chemical companies, Congress failed to reauthorize the taxes on companies in 1995 – with predictable results. The trust fund began shrinking from a high of $3.8 billion in 1996 to a projected $0 in 2004. President Bush’s proposal unfairly shifts the burden of cleaning up toxic messes to taxpayers. Worse, without the special taxes, the amount of money provided by taxpayers wouldn’t nearly be enough to meet current or future cleanup needs. The lack of money could undermine our ability to complete the cleanup of the air, soil, and water surrounding polluted sites.Those highly toxic sites and the dangers they pose won’t disappear on their own. Conditions could eventually improve, but only if Congress restores the tax and holds polluters fully responsible for the messes they create.
Meanwhile, the already bloated military budget continues to swell, which means that new pollution is being created before the old is cleaned up. President Bush’s proposed military budget of $396 billion-an $87 billion increase from when he took office in January 2001-is more than almost all other countries combined spend on the military. This is an incredible waste of resources when so many real needs go unmet. George W.’s budget slashes billions of dollars from, and could terminate, job training programs around the country. The White House budget also cuts funding to the Departments of Justice and Labor, and appropriates no new money for Commerce, Agriculture, or the Interior.
Our country is also the world’s biggest arms merchant. Our own soldiers faced weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan that had been manufactured right here in the U.S.A. Our troops could hardly engage in combat with any country in the world without finding themselves in this situation. Apparently, profit is a much higher priority to the arms dealers than the lives of our young people in uniform.
A reduction in military spending and a transition to peacetime industry would be enormous steps toward a more sustainable nation and planet. Plants that now produce tanks could pro- duce railroad cars. Scientists that now design ever more destructive weapons could focus on how to ‘beat swords into plowshares’ and bring us into the solar age.
If properly planned, conversion would produce more jobs in environmental restoration and in the construction of needed housing, schools, bridges and other infrastructure than would be lost in reducing military production.
1. Letter, People’s Weekly World, 23 March 2002
2. Environmental Action, May/June, 1991, p. 25
3. ‘Competitiveness Council’s Suggestions Miss the Mark,’ Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 30 Jan 2002
4. David Zeeck, editorial, the Tacoma News Tribune, 27 Feb. 2002
The World We Live In
Nature doesn’t respect man-made borders. Neither does pollution.
There is a growing scientific consensus that the world’s climate is changing due to ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions from burning of fossil fuels and tropical forests. This process is invisible, it is easy to ignore, and anyway, what difference does it make if the average temperature of the earth is raised a few degrees? A big difference. A small average temperature change can hide a much higher temperature change in certain parts of the globe. Very small changes in the composition of the atmosphere can trigger big changes in global climate.
Sobering scenarios of what global warming will do to our climate are countered by statements that we don’t know yet how much warming will take place or exactly what effects it will have. Can’t we let the scientists fight it out, while we go about the more pressing business of taking care of environmental problems we can see in our own workplaces and communities?
No! Global climate change affects us in our own communities. In spite of apparent differences among scientists about how much warming is going on, how fast the temperature is rising, and exactly what effects it will have, one thing is clear: global warming is taking place. The increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other gases is responsible. It threatens to disrupt weather patterns worldwide. Rising sea levels and more severe storms could flood densely populated low-lying areas from New York City, Miami, and New Orleans to Holland, Bangla Desh, and the Pacific islands. Massive population shifts may result in a tide of environmental refugees. And as tropical disease-carrying insects and disease-causing bacteria and viruses expand their ranges, infectious tropical diseases such as malaria, the West Nile Virus, and yellow fever will likewise expand their ranges.
Some climate scientists predict a drying out of interior regions. This means an expansion of desert ecosystems, drought, and more severe fires like those which swept several western states in the summer of 2003.
Sonia Shah, in an article in the July 2003 issue of The Pro gressive, writes that six million tons of oil enter the world’s oceans each year from oil spills and empty tankers’ routine dumping of oil-contaminated ballast. Tropical coral reefs and rainforests are the Earth’s most biologically diverse ecosystems. They support a tremendous variety of plant and animal life, many now in danger of becoming extinct. They are also the ‘lungs of the planet’ – the most oxygen-productive ecosystems that filter greenhouse gases out of the air and incorporate the carbon into biomass. Destruction of coral reefs and clear-cutting of tropical rainforests compromise the earth’s capacity for self-repair. It is imperative that we stop making things worse.
CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), used primarily as refrigerants and propellants, are making a hole in the protective ozone layer, allowing more carcinogenic ultraviolet light to reach the earth’s surface-another invisible but dangerous change.
In 1992, 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists, including the majority of Nobel laureates, issued a World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity. It told us in no uncertain terms that our world is in danger:
Human beings and the natural world are on a collision
Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.
No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminish.
What threats? They go on to explain:
Our massive tampering with the world’s
interdependent web of life-coupled with the environmental damage inflicted by deforestation, species loss, and climate change-could trigger widespread adverse effects, including unpredictable collapses of critical biological systems whose interactions and dynamics we only imperfectly understand.
In June 2003, the Pew Oceans Commission released a landmark report titled ‘America’s Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change.’ The Commission is an independent group of scientists, fishermen, conservationists, business leaders, and elected officials. The report is the result of a three-year study of the oceans by this interdisciplinary team of specialists.
The report discusses how and why thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment have been lost or jeopardized by collapsing fisheries. Some quotations from the report:
We have reached a crossroads where the
cumulative effect of what we take from, and put into, the ocean substantially reduces the ability of marine ecosystems to produce the economic and ecological goods and services that we desire and need. What we once considered inexhaustible and resilient is, in fact, finite and fragile.
The continued alteration and destruction of the global marine environment is likely to have a profound impact, extending far beyond the water’s edge. The public is fundamentally unaware of these threats.
‘Coastal wetlands and estuaries serve as nurseries for many valuable fishery species. Fish supply about 16 percent of the animal protein for the world’s human population. More than 20,000 acres of these sensitive habitats disappear each year. Paved surfaces have created expressways for oil, grease, and toxic pollutants into coastal waters. Every eight months, the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez oil spill runs off our streets and driveways into our waters.
We must treat our oceans as a public trust. The oceans are a vast public domain that is vitally important to our environmental and economic security. The public has entrusted the government with the stewardship of our oceans, and the government should exercise its authority with a broad sense of responsibility toward all citizens and their long-term interests. 
If we want our children to have a decent future, we must maintain a healthy balance between nature and people. Some claim that the principal environmental problem is simply too many people. The real problem is the overconsumption of finite and unevenly distributed resources. Too high a birth rate can overwhelm available resources in a given area, and could even do so on a global scale. We know that a nation in poverty-one which is not getting adequate food and other necessities-is a nation with a high birth rate. Where resources are adequate and available to all the people, where there is a degree of equality between the sexes, and access to family planning services, the birth rate falls. A nation where women have no role except the struggle to survive and give birth to many children is a nation with a high birth rate.
The United Nations held a Conference on World Population in Cairo back in 1994. The Cairo Statement says, in part:
Educating women is the key to slowing population growth because educated women have fewer children. Improving the status of girls and providing universal access to reproductive and sexual health services, including family planning, is key.
Blaming population growth for all our problems distracts us from the real culprits and the real solutions, and too often becomes not merely anti-population growth, but anti-people. The most extreme advocates of zero population growth are willing to abandon whole countries, even whole continents, to starvation because they have ‘failed’ to balance people and resources. Never mind that those resources were decimated by generations of imperialist exploitation.
1. For the Pew Oceans Commission, the report, and its specific recommendations, see http://www.pewoceans.org.
‘Imperialism’? What’s that?
Imperialism occurs when a corporation becomes a ‘trans-national corporation‘ (TNC) by exporting capital in order to exploit labor, resources, and/or markets beyond its home country’s borders. It results in a net transfer of wealth from the exploited nation into corporate coffers. This is often accompanied by foreign aid to dictatorial governments that suppress local labor and peasant organizations, and the use of the military to back up business interests at taxpayer expense. This misuse of the U.S. Armed Forces is perhaps the worst form of ‘corporate welfare,’ or ‘welfare for the rich.’ The U.S. government is throwing away the lives of our youth and wasting billions of tax dollars on this long-term boondoggle-money that could be used to address real needs. There is only one legitimate justification for maintaining a military force: the defense of one’s country. Not the defense of the corporate elite’s business interests abroad, not to keep the U.S. dependent upon foreign oil, and not to prop up foreign
dictatorships. Corporate globalism is 21st century imperialism.
Due to the declining rate of profit, TNCs are driven to seek higher profits by transferring operations to locations having cheaper labor costs and where environmental regulation is less of a ‘burden.’ In corporate lingo, this is known as ‘outsourcing.’ Likewise, they’re compelled to create a ‘better business climate’ here in North America through domination of the political process, by lowering labor and environmental standards and reducing funding to enforcing agencies like OSHA and the state environmental protection agencies.
The U.S. government is using the ‘War on Drugs’ as a cover to spend $2.1 billion in Colombia to protect the interests of Texas Petroleum, Occidental Petroleum, and BP-Amoco. Peasants are terrorized off land that Big Oil wants, and trade unionists are killed for demanding better wages and a just society. If U.S. taxpayers refused to prop up the Colombian government by funding the military with its drug-dealing death squad allies, the people of Colombia would soon win in their struggle against the oligarchy.
Laura Garcia, in an editorial in the June 2002 issue of the People’s Tribune, writes:
Our friends are not in the halls of Congress or the
corporate boardrooms, but in the barrios of Venezuela, the streets of Argentina, in the rural co-ops and workers’ organizations throughout Latin America where the people fight for their lives and the future of their families.
We need to bring the hyper-exploitation of people and resources and other crimes of imperialism to wider public attention. The National Labor Committee (http://www.nlcnet.org) is doing important work in this regard. Ongoing coverage of the conflict in Colombia and other nations in the People’s Weekly World is another educational service that merits wider distribution.
Corporate globalism imposes ‘profit first’ policies upon one country after another in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, causing problems on a scale that is a danger to the planet’s environment. The power of TNCs forces countries to compete for investment by lowering environmental protections in an ecological race to the bottom. Grinding poverty leads to desperate over-harvesting of natural resources.
Transnational corporations see environmental regulations and worker’s rights as interfering with their ‘right’ to make money. They use the government of the country housing their home office as a tool in international trade negotiations. NAFTA is a prime example. Behind the banner of ‘free trade,’ U.S. companies are getting a free ride to plunder Mexican natural resources. They can establish factories in Mexico with minimal protection for the workers or the environment. U.S. companies now operating in Mexican ‘free’ zones are out of compliance with Mexican environmental law. This is not only illegal; it is inhuman. The dreadful environmental conditions in the maquiladora factories and communities along the Mexican/U.S. border rank among the worst in the world. Hepatitis is 2-3 times the U.S. average due to a lack of sewage treatment and safe drinking water.
A leader in ‘socially responsible investing’ recently commented that ‘we are witnessing . . . the disintegration of the concept of ‘nation’ and its replacement by the global company . . . answerable to no one.’ Corporate globalism seeks the wholesale penetration of TNCs into poor countries having large reserves of impoverished people who are willing to work long hours for low wages and few, if any, benefits.
When that power has been challenged, outright war or ‘low intensity conflict’ has taken its environmental as well as human toll, from Vietnam to Central America to the Middle East. The Persian Gulf Wars were waged over the control of oil resources. As a result, both the people and the environment in Iraq were decimated, while in Kuwait millions of gallons of oil were burned, polluting air, land and water, and causing a debilitating disease known as the Persian Gulf Syndrome.
Environmental racism extends beyond our borders, with toxic waste exported to Africa in exchange for a meager fee and a few jobs, but without explanation of the often lethal contents of the containers. The international traffic in hazardous waste is described by the Center for Investigative Reporting in Global Dumping Ground and a companion documentary film. Companies headquartered in industrial countries from Italy to Japan are implicated, but those in the U.S. are the greatest culprits.
The imperialist assault on the global environment is about trade deregulation – the removal of any democratic control over predatory TNCs. Major pacts includes:
- NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement, which takes in Canada, the USA, and Mexico),
- CAFTA (the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which extends NAFTA from Mexico to the Colombian border),
- FTAA (the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, which extends the free trade area created by NAFTA to the southern tip of South America),
- WTO (the World Trade Organization), and
- GATT (the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs).
‘These pacts are not really about making trade ‘free’,’ writes Senator Ernest Hollings (D, South Carolina) ‘They are for transferring power over trade to the executive branch and favored corporate interests.' Manufacturing jobs are leaving the United States in droves. A plant can move to Mexico and find a workforce that must work for an average wage that is only 11 percent of the American equivalent. Chuck Mack, Teamsters Western Region Vice President says that close to 400,000 U.S. jobs were lost since the passage of NAFTA. South Carolina alone lost 53,900 textile jobs due to NAFTA so far.
It all makes sense – for capitalists. A plant can move to Mexico, El Salvador, or some other country with no requirements for a minimum wage, medical care, safe workplaces, paid maternity or other leave, or clean air and water. A good deal for the corporation. The result is a downward pressure on wages and working conditions for working-class people the world over.
How can we stop this? By recognizing that workers in these other countries face the same class enemies we do. Only when they organize to form strong, effective unions can we reverse the downward trend. In this task, they need all the help they can get.
In almost every developing country except Cuba, agriculture is distorted to serve the U.S. market at the expense of domestic needs, even to the extent that people in Central American countries, for example, no longer have enough land to raise their own subsistence crops. This causes population flow into urban squalor, as found in Mexico City, Tegucigalpa, Caracas, and other third world cities. Pesticides banned from use in the U.S. such as DDT are still exported to the Third World, where they are used on fruit exported back for consumption back in the U.S.A. Tropical rainforests are clear-cut for cattle grazing to supply meat for U.S. hamburger chains. Southeast Asian forests are now being destroyed by Japanese transnational companies to make way for luxury resorts and golf courses.
On 7 Dec 2001, Democrats in Congress joined with Republicans to grant the president $15 billion more for military expenditures than he requested, and approved ‘Fast Track’ authority for Bush regarding the FTAA. Bush lauded House Democrats for ‘coming to their senses.’
The FTAA will make it even easier for the wealthy few to plunder third world resources. The country with the lowest labor costs and the weakest environmental protection standards (being ‘more competitive,’ in corporate jargon) will attract the most investment. The result: environmental protection, wages, and working conditions are ‘harmonized’ downward to the lowest level of any of the participating countries. Environmental decisions are made by an unelected international body of appointed business officials accountable to nobody except the transnational corporations. Having a direct ‘conflict of interest’ doesn’t matter. What does matter is further enriching a few dozen billionaires.
Corporations can now sue countries for compensation if they believe their investments have been harmed by ‘regulatory takings,’ and to eliminate labor and environmental protection as ‘obstacles to free trade.’ Countries are losing their sovereignty to the TNCs. This all translates into higher profits in an unrestricted global market.
The ‘takings’ issue, as used by corporations to force foreign governments to reverse environmental protection, is especially perverse. Corporations can now ‘take’ away our air or water quality, or ‘take’ away an entire species by driving it into extinction via habitat destruction. This is a glaring example of how corporate profits matter more than people and nature in the scales of capitalism.
In addition, TNCs are using the free trade agreements as a means to pressure governments to privatize such government services as schools, energy and utilities, public water systems, prisons, and postal services, so corporations can run them for a profit. Experience shows us that this will come at the expense of worker’s rights, public health, and environmental quality. The problem isn’t ‘globalization’ per se. Indeed, globalization is essential to attaining global sustainability.
The problem is corporate globalization. Canadian journalist Naomi Klein, in her brilliant critique of consumer capitalism, titled ‘No Logo‘ (Flamingo Books, London, 2000) makes the case that the worst problems of labor exploitation could be overcome if the International Labor Organization (ILO) could implement its basic labor standards worldwide. 
Unlike the ‘free trade’ agreements, some international treaties have been designed to curb some of our global environmental problems: the loss of biodiversity, global warming, ocean pollution, and the losses in the ozone layer. The U.S. government, at the behest of the big corporations, has thrown its influence into watering down these treaties, dragging out their conclusion or ratification, sometimes refusing to sign them as in the Law of the Sea. The U.S. was the only member of the ‘G8’ group of industrial nations (U.S., Canada, U.K., Japan, Russia, Germany, France, and Italy) to oppose the International Plan for Cleaner Energy. In March 2001, President Bush withdrew the U.S.A. from the Kyoto Protocol, and unilaterally declared the only meaningful international process currently underway for controlling global warming, ‘dead.’
In May 2002, The United Nations Environmental Program released its comprehensive Global Environmental Outlook Report, written by 1000 eminent scientists worldwide. It predicted that within 30 years, if humanity does not alter its economic pattern from what it called a ‘market first’ approach (unrestrained, poorly regulated capitalist development), and adopt a ‘sustainability first’ approach, environmental calamity will occur.
The peace and environmental issues are closely intertwined. We are still living with the consequences of atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the 1950s. Open-air nuclear testing has killed more than 15,000 Americans and will cause another 80,000 to contract cancer. The tensions between Pakistan and India raise the specter of nuclear war. Even a regional nuclear war would have devastating consequences for world ecology. It is estimated that 9 to 12 million people would die instantly, and another 12 to 17 million would be severely injured.
Doug Moss, in an article in the November/December 2002 issue of E magazine, writes:
Try to imagine being chronically hungry, with no source
of clean drinking water, and raising children you can’t afford to send to school. For people faced with these unbearable living conditions, one of the few choices available is to seek a better life elsewhere. We won’t reduce population pressures by building walls around America. Instead, we should join forces to reduce the poverty, inequity, and insecurity that have led to a global population explosion. This is ultimately what must be done to safeguard the global environment while promoting human rights, peace, and justice.
The environment, like peace, is an international issue that can bring people together across borders and across oceans. The struggle for environmental justice will increase popular understanding that the term ‘sustainable capitalism’ is an oxymoron. In confronting the war machine, the peace movement will bring about growing realization that the only way to stop imperialism is through international working class solidarity to put an end to capitalism. Corporate globalism – ‘globalization from above’ – can only be defeated by globalization from below – a popular, democratic movement that crosses the lines of race, religion, and national borders. This is the only way to replace hierarchical, autocratic corporate power with working-class power in a participatory, cooperative economic democracy.
Capitalism has globalized misery and environmental decay. It is up to us to globalize solidarity for peace and economic,
environmental, and social justice.
1. For more information on trade unionists in Columbia, see the Columbia Action web site: http://www.laborrightsnow.org/Columbia.htm and ‘Imperial Pretexts: The Real Reasons Behind US Intervention in Columbia,’ Doug Stokes, Z Magazine 14 Oct. 2003, at: http://www.zmag.org/content/print_article.cfm?itemID=
2. ‘The Delusion of Free Trade’, 25 April 2002 New York Times
3. Public Citizen: Department of Labor Certified Trade-Related Job Loss, at: http://www.
4. Trading Democracy, a video by Bill Moyers, 1 Feb. 2002
5. No Logo, Naomi Klein, Flamingo Books, London, 2000
How Can We Defend Nature More Effectively?
Scientists warn us that humanity is in danger. In its insatiable drive to maximize profits, a numerically small but powerful corporate oligarchy is making decisions that are devastating nature and undermining our future. It doesn’t have to be this way. More and more people are talking about and questioning government by the few and for the few. They see one stupid corporate decision after another. Nature is calling on us to organize in her defense.
It has to begin at the grassroots. Local chapters of environmental groups are often way ahead of their national leadership. In local unions and communities, or in citywide union/environmental coalitions, we can make a difference. But only when we work together. Only when we build effective teams to fight specific battles together – against contamination of workplaces and neighborhoods, against local misuse of land and resources, against environmental racism, and for more livable cities – is there any hope for achieving our shared goals.
Union and environmental support for activists organizing for environmental justice can enhance their prospects for success by bringing African American, Latino, and Native American partners into these struggles. Regional coalitions are developing in various states, linking peace, environment, and social justice issues. Just two of the many worthwhile groups that are getting results are the Students Against Sweatshops (http:// www.usasnet.org) and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) (http://www.acorn.org).
Jobs with Justice (JwJ) (http://www.jwj.org/) is another example of union-community activism. JwJ’s core belief is that in order to be successful, worker’s rights struggles must be a part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice. JwJ created a network of local coalitions that connect labor, faith-based, community, and student organizations to work together on healthcare, living-wage campaigns, and other workplace and community social justice issues that affect working families. JwJ set up Worker’s Rights Boards, including clergy, members of Congress, and retired judges, in 20 cities across the country. Excluding those still pending, 66% of these Worker’s Rights Board campaigns have been successful.
The Blue-Green Working Group was born out of the dialogue between the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and labor unions including UNITE, SEIU, AFSCME, and the USWA. The working group came up with a strategy to reduce global warming and preserve jobs. In February 2002, they along with the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) joined together to denounce the Bush climate plan and offer alternatives that would create jobs. Labor/environment conferences taking place across the country are another promising development.
The Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment (ASJE) was born in the struggle against the Maxxam Corporation. By clear cutting ancient redwoods in Northern California and by locking out steelworkers in five cities, Maxxam and its subsidiaries, Pacific Lumber Company and Kaiser Aluminum Corporation, became icons of corporate irresponsibility. Environmental and labor leaders formed the Alliance and circulated the ‘Houston Principles.’ (1) AJSE’s mission is to nurture and build a strong and broad-based national network of local and regional blue-green alliances. ‘In this way, we will help create the basis for a new social contract in which ‘nature is protected, the workers is respected, unrestrained corporate power is rejected.”
Only organizations and coalitions at the national and international levels can effectively deal with national and global environmental issues, and back up local and regional organizations as they confront national and transnational companies. The combined strength of the labor and environmental movements is needed to build the international strength necessary to deal with the ‘Free Trade’ sellouts of labor and the environment.
One union which has shown what international solidarity and union/environmental coalitions can accomplish is the Paper, Allied- Industrial, Chemical, and Energy Workers Union (PACE), and its predecessor, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW). Since the early seventies, OCAW and PACE have worked with an array of environmental justice and public interest groups to bring such multinational environmental crooks as BASF, a transnational with headquar- ters in Germany, Louisiana-Pacific and K.I. Sawyer Lumber Companies and Continental Carbon to justice. The union helped people organize in communities suffering from chemical pollution, and secured the help of the National Toxic Campaign, state environmental quality agencies, and the federal EPA.
As this was being written, PACE was working with a coalition of locked-out Continental Carbon workers in Oklahoma, the Ponca Tribal Office of Environmental Management, the Taiwan Petroleum Workers Union (TPWU) and the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions (TCTU) against Continental Carbon’s Taiwanese parent companies for alleged violations of state and federal environmental laws. In Ponca City, the community is backing the striking workers. OCAW was one of the initial endorsers of the Labor Party of America (LPA). PACE represents most of the people who make paper and refine oil in the USA.
There are many other stories of such cooperation, little known beyond their own localities. What does get reported in the corporate news media tends to side with management and is quick to feature-and foster-antagonisms between workers and environmentalists. That’s another reason why the People’s Weekly World, Political Affairs, and other non-corporate media are so crucial.
One obstacle in the road to union-environmental coalitions is the same one that has held back worker struggles against unhealthy work conditions: the fear of job loss. We need to resist being forced into making the false choice between jobs and a healthy environment.
‘Protecting the environment,’ said the OCAW report cited above, ‘ultimately protects our jobs.’ Noting some of the problems that reach beyond the workplace and even beyond the community, and some of the changes needed, the union task force states:
The most important problems are not technical-they are economic and political. Our society will change enormously, either through our efforts to save our environment, or because environmental destruction finally overwhelms us. As a union we cannot stand aside from these issues. Difficult choices will have to be made. The only question is, who will make those choices, and how? Will working people be the victims of change, or will we help control that change for the benefit of ourselves and our children?
David Moberg, in the April 1, 2002 issue of In These Times writes:
In February, 2002, leaders of the Service Employees Union (SEIU), and apparel & textile workers (UNITE) joined with major environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Natural Resources Defense Council to endorse a study by the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for a Sustainable Economy. ‘We in the labor movement are not going to make a choice between good jobs and a safe environment,’ said UNITE president Bruce Raynor upon the release of the report. ‘We’re for both.’
Other examples in the article cited above include: UNITE and the Sierra Club are teaming up to install solar rooftop panels in California. Nearly two to one, union members oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). A Union of Concerned Scientists study concluded that increasing fuel economy to 55 miles per gallon average would yield 100,000 new auto industry jobs by 2020, while saving consumers – who obviously include workers – $28 billion a year. Moberg concludes his article by saying:
The choice between the environment and economic justice is a false one. Both are possible. Both are necessary. Both are threatened if the alliance of the labor and environmental movements fails.
Programs that promote clean, renewable sources of energy, sustainable development in Third World countries, and conservation of air, soil, water, and forests, will stimulate the economy, launch innovative new industries, and generate jobs. Union and academic studies have shown conclusively that pollution control creates jobs. Conversion to a more sustainable economy will bring a healthier economy as well as a healthier environment.
The capitalist class asks us, ‘What do we want: a job, or clean air and water?’ We need to ask, ‘What kind of system is it when we have to make those kinds of choices?’ It’s an indication that the system is rotten, corrupt, and dying-and needs replacing.
It is time we took the ‘jobs vs. environment’ issue out of the bosses’ hands. How? With a jobs program that would create environmentally sound jobs across this country, and specific jobs programs that would be implemented in tandem with a shift to envi- ronmentally friendly technology, plus public works jobs to clean up the problems left behind by past assaults on nature.
The environmental movement needs labor and people of color. Unions, civil rights, and environmental justice organizations are natural allies, already in a struggle to put people before profits. That is the essence of union organization and a pillar of environmental justice. That recognition of where the struggle lies and of how not to expect any help from the corporations adds needed strength and direction to the movement.
Richard Grossman, of the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy ( http://www.poclad.org) has this advice for activists:
Frame the issue around who’s in charge, about power. That’s what arouses people. That’s what educates people and pushes them on their own. Not many people can get excited about six parts per million vs. eight parts per million, or how many kilowatts here or there.’ POCLAD’s mission is to ‘contest the authority of corporations to govern.
The working class has a tradition of international solidarity that is essential in dealing with transnational companies and global pollution. TNCs are globalizing toxic waste, sweatshops, and environmental destruction. We need to identify potential allies, reach out, and build alliances for a better, sustainable world.
1. The ASJE web site is: http ://www.asje.org/houston.html
Environmental Issues in the Political Process
The role that environmental issues play in the political and electoral processes is growing rapidly. As larger segments of the public become aware of and concerned about environmental degradation, pollution, contamination, and the negative effects on our quality of life, more elections hinge on the stance politicians take on environmental issues. This trend will only continue to have a bigger impact on politics in the U. S.
Occasionally, even some Republicans have been forced to make good votes on particular environmental bills because of the proenvironment sentiments of their constituents. Organized groups of environmental voters are developing in many states, as are environmental get-out-the-vote efforts.
The AFL-CIO contributed millions of dollars to the Clinton- Gore campaign. After the ghastly environmental records of the Reagan-Bush years, President Clinton seemed a welcome change. He issued some good executive orders requiring federal agencies to purchase recycled paper and to switch from oil for heating to less polluting sources, such as natural gas or solar power. But under the Clinton administration, the Democrats dealt working people terrible blows. Clinton pushed NAFTA through Congress, which resulted in the loss of a half-million good-paying jobs. He cut OSHA and EPA funds, and promoted the WTO. But when Clinton could have used his office to support working people on several important issues, such as making it illegal for companies to permanently replace workers for going on strike, he didn’t come through for us.
Environmentalists looked forward to what Al Gore, author of ‘Earth in the Balance,’ would do as Vice-President, but when it came to environmental defense, Gore’s performance was disappointing. When confronted by foreseeable corporate opposition, he displayed a marked tendency to equivocate and compromise. Nonetheless, a Gore Administration would have been better for the environment than the Bush Administration, which has an atrocious record, detailed below.
On the positive side, Clinton reversed the Bush denial of fam- ily planning funds to other countries where abortion is one of the options. Clinton also created placed restrictions on new road construction in National Parks and other measures which slowed down the cutting of old-growth forests. As limited as Clinton’s environmental record was, and as limited as the record of a Gore Administration was likely to be, Bush has been decisively worse.
George Bush II again put international family planning into reverse by reinstating the ‘gag order,’ cutting off funds for any agencies that discuss abortion. The U.S. has still not signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. At the UN Conference on Population, the U.S. was an obstacle to any real attack on the poverty that keeps women’s status and opportunities low in many countries.
George W. Bush, who campaigned as a ‘compassionate conservative,’ quickly proved to be neither compassionate nor a conservationist. The list of his regime’s ‘environmental accomplishments’ includes:
- The Bush administration cut funding for research and development into renewable sources of energy by 50%, vetoed a proposal by the G-8 industrial nations to commit to developing energy from renewable resources, and provided $34 billion in additional subsidies to oil, coal, gas, and nuclear companies.
- Energy companies donated $65 million to George W.’s campaign fund in the 2000 elections, including $2.4 million from Enron. President Bush is pushing for $33 billion in tax breaks for energy corporations and $98 million in funding for the Colombian military and paramilitary (read ‘death squads’) to protect an Occidental Petroleum pipeline. This promises to increase significantly in the 2004 election campaign-Bush has raised over $200 million dollars just for the primary portion of his campaign- an all-time record. He hopes this will be enough to buy him the elections, and his corporate contributors hope their contributions will buy them more of the same environmentally destructive policies.
- In February 2001, The U.S. refused to join 123 nations pledged to ban the use and production of anti-personnel land mines, July 2001: The U.S. was the only nation to oppose the UN Agreement to curb the International Flow of Illicit Small Arms.
- Spring 2001: Bush reversed an EPA decision to reduce arsenic levels in drinking water. Over the president’s objection, the EPA adopted the rule to lower arsenic standards from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb, but gave utilities that supply public drinking water until February 2006 to comply. Arsenic causes a variety of cancers, diabetes, immune system disorders, and is a potent endocrine system disruptor. After EPA Chief Chritine Whitman resigned in disgust, Bush appointed Mike Levitt, who agrees with the president’s ‘free market solutions’ approach.
- July 2001: The U.S. was the only nation to oppose the UN Agreement to curb the International Flow of Illicit Small Arms.
- 188 countries have now ratified the Kyoto Protocol on Global Warming. In February 2002, Bush declared the protocol ‘dead,’ and withdrew the U.S., reversing Clinton’s endorsement of the treaty. As an alternative, he proposed an array of ‘gradual, market-based’ reductions to encourage business to voluntarily reduce emissions of heat-trapping gas. This will allow greenhouse gas emissions to continue to rise. This is another example of the unilateral approach the Bush Administration takes, serving corporate interests at the expense of the people of the U. S. and the world.
- March 2002: the Los Angeles Times revealed that the Pentagon has drawn up a list of seven countries that are prime targets of U.S. nuclear weapons, and has started developing a new generation of ‘mini-nukes.’
- March 2002: legal protection under the Clean Water Act of one-fifth of our wetlands vanished. Yielding to pressure from real estate developers, Bush urged federal judges to make it easier to eliminate wetlands and gut legal protection for two dozen populations of endangered species around the country. Hundreds of miles of previously protected streams and riverbeds are now open for development. Nineteen salmon habitat streams in California and the Pacific Northwest have been withdrawn from protected status. Protection of critical habitat that is prime real estate was criticized as ‘cumbersome, if not simply unmanageable.’ This gives the green light to developers to local dense human populations adjacent to remaining critical and pristine habitats without adequate buffers, a policy that has been proven disastrous to wildlife . 
- June 2002: the Bush Administration released a report on climate change. The report stresses that global warming has potential benefits for the nation, including increased agricultural and forest growth from longer growing seasons, more rainfall, and more carbon dioxide. Even though the report warned of dis- ruption of snow-fed water supplies, the loss of coastal and mountain ecosystems, and more frequent severe heat waves, the Bush Administration recommends that we just adapt to ‘inevitable’ changes instead of making rapid and drastic reductions in greenhouse gases to limit warming.
- John H. Adams, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, says that, ‘Big energy companies all but held the pencil for the White House task force as government officials wrote a plan calling for billions of dollars in corporate subsidies, and the wholesale elimination of key health and environmental standards.’ Bush also weakened air quality enforcement actions against large utility companies.
- President Bush’s ‘Clear Skies Initiative’ will allow power plants to increase mercury emissions by 520% by 2010. In December 2003, Mike Levitt, Bush’s new EPA Administrator, said that it is ‘not feasible’ to determine how much mercury the chemical and power plants are emitting nor to enforce tougher standards. Levitt’s favored ‘free market approach’ includes emissions trading that will likely create new toxic ‘hot spots.’ Environmentalists fear this will delay substantial mercury reductions by a decade. Mercury is a potent, persistent neurotoxin that targets the developing fetal brain and nervous system.
- August-September 2002: Bush was a ‘no-show’ at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. President Bush was the only major head of state who refused to attend the year’s most important environmental meeting. At the summit and in preparatory meetings, the Bush Administration was widely accused of putting the interests of corporate polluters ahead of environmental considerations.
- In an interview in the July 2003 issue of Vanity Fair, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz stated ‘The Bush Administration focused on alleged ‘weapons of mass destruction’ as the primary justification for toppling the Iraqi regime because it was politically convenient.' Vice-Ppresident Cheney’s firm, Halliburton, is now in charge of the Iraqi oil wells. At the expense of hundreds of lives of U.S. troops, thousands of Iraqi civilians, and one hundred billion dollars thus far (according to Associated Press figures), we are now even more dependent on foreign oil.
- In the spring of 2001, Bush reversed an EPA decision to reduce arsenic levels in drinking water. Over the president’s opposition, the EPA adopted the rule to lower arsenic standards from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb, but gives utilities that supply public drinking water until Feb 2006 to comply. Arsenic causes a variety of cancers, diabetes, immune system disorders, and is a potent endocrine system disruptor.
- May 2003: Bush reauthorized the ‘Transportation Equity Act’ (‘TEA-3,’ also called ‘SAFETEA’), which weakens natural resources protections by limiting the environmental reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), holds plans and projects less accountable to the Clean Air Act, decreases citizen involvement and metropolitan decision-making, and ignores growing public support for mass transit while maintaining the highway/transit funding imbalance. (Nearly five times as many taxpayer dollars would go toward highways as toward transit.) This Act reduces the federal share for new public transportation projects to 50%, while maintaining the level for highways at 80%.
Time after time, the Bush Administration serves corporate interests at the expense of the people of the U.S. and the world. George W. Bush has proven to be no ‘conservative’ when it comes to our environment. In light of his accomplishments so far, he acts as an agent for Big Oil and the transnational corporate bosses who are willing to run environmental risks for the sake of profits. According to David W. Orr, writing in the 3 April 2003 issue of Rachel’s Environment and Health News, the Bush-Cheney strategy is apparently to cut taxes for the corporations and the wealthy and increase military spending, thereby creating a severe fiscal crisis that requires cutting expenditures for health, education, mass transit, the environment, alternative energy, and other programs.
On balance, the Democrats have a marginally better track record for working people and the environment than the GOP. They remain the ‘lesser of two evils.’ At the present time, most of the organized labor and environmental movements see that the only way to defeat the far right Republicans is to support Democrats. Although the Democrats can’t be depended on to protect the environment or labor, another four years of ultra-right consolidation of power will further restrict the ability of popular movements to affect policy. The efforts of the Bush Administration to restrict democracy, limit the right to protest, to govern by Executive Order, and make behind-the-scenes rule changes that hurt the environment-all these would make the struggle to save our life-support system more difficult.
For too long the big national environmental organizations have settled for what crumbs they could get within the political status quo. Environmental Political Action Committees (PACs), Public Citizen, and some other individuals and organizations in the environmental movement have begun to chafe at the limitations of action within the Democratic Party. The paramount need at this time is to strengthen the working class in its opposition to the current right-wing assault. A crucial part of this is building credible alternatives to ultra-right control of all three branches of government-alternatives which could lead to forming a labor-led, inclusive, mass anti-corporate party. Obviously, a labor/community – based independent political movement cannot come out of a vacuum, but only out of actual current struggles.
As a result of these and other pressures, the AFL-CIO leadership is, to its credit, moving step by step towards greater political independence from both major big-business parties. The AFLCIO is urging that its constituent groups demand accountability of all candidates instead of blind allegiance to the Democratic Party. The leadership needs to be encouraged to continue this process, supporting labor candidates and priorities over corporate ones.
The AFL-CIO has been building its own campaign and getout- the-vote structures and organizations, and engaging in aggressive campaigns to elect union members to public office. There are now thousands of union members serving as local and state officeholders.
There are also efforts to build political alternatives outside the two-party system. We support candidates of such alternatives on a case-by-csase basis.
In the campaign of 2000, the Green Party ran candidates for public office across the country. One was an Ojibwa woman, a Native American rights activist and environmentalist named Winona Laduke, for vice-president. Though they were unfairly barred from participating in the debates, Nader & Laduke helped bring some needed public attention to environmental and social justice issues that the two major corporate parties would rather not discuss. As of April 2002, there were 130 elected Greens around the country, including many African Americans and Latinos, in cities like Hartford, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Santa Fe.
The Green Party is the most established on a national basis of these third-party movements. As of April 2002, there were 130 elected Greens around the country in cities including Hartford, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Santa Fe. Green Party candidates often provide a progressive alternative to reactionary politicians, and have laid the basis for a growing constituency of environmentalists and anti-globalization activists.
Unfortunately, Ralph Nader, the Green Party Presidential candidate in 2000 and now an independent candidate in 2004, and some local and state Green Party candidates, directed most of their campaign against the Democratic candidates, downplaying and ignoring significant differences between the Democrats and Republicans. With the election of George W. Bush and the sharp reactionary turn of his policies, it is clear that although the Democrats including Gore did not offer a good program, there were important differences. Nader lost an opportunity to clarify those differences, to push the Democrats to the left, and to help build a broad anti-ultra-right alliance with those still not ready to leave the orbit of the Democratic Party.
Communists feel it is important to find ways to unite all forces opposed to ultra-right control of the Presidency, both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court. Only by developing this unity will it be possible to defeat the massive financial advantage that Bush enjoys. Bush will continue to have more campaign money and continue to have the support of the most reactionary and militaristic sections of the capitalist class. The only way to beat this is through broad unity against the ultra-right. Third-party candidates and campaigns must find ways to support this broad unity. There is a struggle going on within the Green Party over whether or not to find ways to unite with other anti-Bush forces, and whether or not to continue a program that pits Greens against the main organizations of the working class and oppressed people. For this reason, we do not unconditionally support Green candidacies. We do support Green candidates on a case-by-case basis. We judge candidates not on the basis of personalities, but on the basis of how their campaigns will contribute to the defeat of the ultra-right in 2004.
The general lack of clear thinking regarding class in America has long acted as a factor retarding progressive change. The Communist Party supports efforts to build political independence from the two corporate-funded big-business parties, within our basic framework of building coalitions to defeat the ultra-right. We also support progressive Democratic candidates- especially union members-who are running against ultra-right politicians.
Our program also advocates democratic changes in election laws to allow for proportional representation (similar to many European elections) and to enable candidates to run on more than one ticket (similar to NY State elections), allowing for third parties to both run independent candidates and to endorse progressive Democrats and letting voters vote for the party as well as the candidate.
The people of our country have a crucial choice to make in the 2004 elections. Which direction will our country go: toward more democracy, allowing movements, including the environmental movement, more political space in which to struggle, or further down the reactionary, anti-democratic path the Bush Administration has charted?
1. ‘U.S. Acts to Shrink Endangered Species Habitats,’ New York Times, 20 March 2002
2. ‘Energy Industry’s Recommendations to Bush Become National Policy,’ New York Times, 28 March 2002
3. Interview in Vanity Fair, July 2003
4. David W. Orr, Rachel’s Environment and Health News, 3 April 2003
5. Sierra Club ‘W Watch’ site: http://www.sierraclub.org/wwatch/
7. Web addresses for some alternative electoral parties: Working Families Party: http://workingfamiliesparty.org
Green Party: http://www.greenpartyus.org
Vermont Progressive Party: http://www.progressiveparty.org
Labor Party: ,a href=’http://www.thelaborparty.org/’>http://www.thelaborparty.org/
The New Party: http://www.newparty.org
Why We Need Fundamental Change
Grassroots, local coalitions and actions will be crucial in the coming struggles. Yet, no program is adequate if it doesn’t address the underlying causes of the problems of the present and the threats to our future. Scientists tell us that systemic change is needed to deal with threats to the global environment. Fundamental change requires economic change, and a politics that resolutely confronts corporate power.
Corporate assaults against nature and people have been relentless. Behind nearly every example of environmental destruction stands an act of corporate greed and arrogance. People have been divided up so much into endless single-issue struggles, defensive work, and attempts at piecemeal reform, that their effectiveness has been minimized. To overcome this handicap, we need to take a deeper, systemic approach, and then act accordingly.
Every environmental struggle-whether on the job or in the community-comes up against the corporations that own the mines, the oil wells, the utilities, the factories, or the forests. This ownership gives the corporation the power to halt any changes that may adversely impact their profit margin. Sometimes a struggle is successful, as in the case of the laws enacting OSHA and EPA. Yet, no sooner are such laws on the books than the corporations move behind the scenes with their teams of attorneys. Aided by misinformation and propaganda cranked out in the corporate-dominated media mills, efforts are made to evade environmental protection laws, erode them, gut them, or wipe them out altogether.
There is strong anti-corporate sentiment growing throughout the environmental movement, but it hasn’t yet taken a consistent, systemic approach. Why not? One reason is that many of the largest and most influential ‘mainstream’ environmental groups receive funding from some of the biggest corporations. This leads them into lobbying and legalistic strategies that are declining in effectiveness due to the increasing domination of the courts by right wing and pro-corporate appointees. The dominant tendency is to see corporate reform as the answer. The bulk of this movement does not yet see the corporations as forming a system which is at odds with the environment, and that does not yet see that it is the normal, everyday business of the capitalist system itself, not ‘outlaw’ or ‘unethical’ corporations, which is the underlying problem. The whole system is unethical to the core.
The fact that a few individual capitalists contribute to environmental causes does not change the basic fact that this system is profit-driven to the detriment of nature. When the scientists conclude their warning by calling on ‘the world’s business and industrial leaders’ to effect the needed changes, they are looking in the wrong direction. Some business leaders may put money into preserving some place of natural beauty or reducing pollution -as long as it’s good for public relations and doesn’t threaten their own profits. These superficial, band-aid solutions are like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
There are a few commendable, environmentally and socially responsible companies. These are notable exceptions to the rule. The key thing to keep in mind is that they are doing these things in spite of, not because of capitalism-as-usual. They are swimming upstream, against the current of this system. Some corporate execs may even be card-carrying members of the Sierra Club. No matter. On the job, they are compelled by the system to do whatever it takes to further the corporate interest. At this point Mother Earth needs deep and thorough systemic changes. Capitalist economies are based on the exploitation of nature and labor. The exploitation of nature is the expropriation of land, natural materials, and energy sources at one end of the production process, and of the waste-absorbing capacity of the environment at the other end-without maintaining the capability of nature to continue supplying the resources or to continue absorbing hazardous wastes.
This exploitation becomes obvious in the quantities of natural resources that capitalists withdraw, the rate of depletion, and the methods they use. It shows up in the methods of production, distribution, and waste disposal which impact the health of workers and the community, and burden air, land, and water with pollutants.
The power to misuse resources, inherent in the private ownership of the means of production, is also the power to dominate the government and limit correction of environmental problems. That is why we see such half-hearted efforts to ameliorate pollution at home, and further degradation of the environments of countries subject to imperialist exploitation. As John McMurtry writes in his book, The Cancer Stage of Capitalism, ‘Our finance system is killing the planet.’ The system is senile, overdue for retirement.
David Korten, in an article titled ‘Economies for Life’ (Yes! Magazine, Fall 2002), writes:
We have created a suicide economy based on absentee ownership, monopoly, and the concentration of power delinked from obligations to people or place . . . in which the powerful reap the profits and the rest of us bear the cost. We can create a system of living economies in which decisions are made by those who will bear the consequences. 
Even though a sustainable environment within this capitalist system is impossible, struggle within the system is still necessary. Measures to keep the situation from worsening are urgent. Limited gains are important. As Kimball Cariou writes:
The best way for working people to gain experience and confidence is to get involved in the struggle to defend past gains and to organize for new advances. But without a socialist star to steer by, mass movements can fall into the trap of replacing one set of capitalist politicians with another. The task of revolutionaries is not to sit on the sidelines criticizing reformists, but to win the working class to a strategy which combines the struggle for immediate reforms with the goal of a world truly liberated from exploitation and oppression.
People organize around the issues as they see them and feel them, within the existing political and economic system. As working people become more aware of their power, as awareness of the limitations of capitalism grows, more will be prepared to press the system to its limits and to recognize that it must be changed.
The more environmental movements develop this basic understanding, the more effective will be campaigns for immediate goals. When people believe the present system is forever, they craft their programs to fit what seems possible within it. We need to keep our eyes on what is necessary-democratic working class power, public ownership of resources and productive assets, and a planned, rational economy. Aiming high, rather on what is possible within the limitations of capitalism, makes us more effective even in the short run.
In the long run, the environment that sustains us can be saved only by changing our economic system. Our problems are systemic in nature and will have to be solved at the system level. Eventually, we must take the ownership of natural resources and the major means of production out of the hands of the oligarchy, put it into the hands of all the people, and remove the private profit motive as the primary factor in economic and environmental policy. We need a democratic cooperative economic order.
Socialism will provide a sound basis for bringing the economic system into harmony with the natural system. (c) 2000 Ricardo Levins Morales Northland Poster Collective
1. ‘Economies for Life,’ Yes! Magazine, Fall 2002
2. People’s Voice, March 2002
Most of us have heard about the environmental failures of the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries. If socialism is the answer, then what accounts for such failures as Chernobyl and air and water pollution in those countries? That these problems were so well-documented and widely discussed in these countries testifies as to how open these societies really were. The Soviets sometimes gave propaganda points to their enemies as a consequence of this openness. The anticommunist media magnified the problems, but was silent about the successes.
The change in property relations that a socialist revolution brings about is only the beginning, as Fidel Castro has often said. The hard work comes after the revolution. After the socialist revolution, the Soviet Union found itself in a tough position and had to make difficult choices. The United States, England, and a dozen other capitalist countries waged a war of military intervention against the new republic. The purpose, in the words of Sir Winston Churchill, was to ‘strangle Bolshevism in its cradle.’
The Russians hoped that workers of other, more advanced capitalist countries would take the Russian Revolution of 1917 as a signal to rise up. Some did. But the German, Austrian, and Hungarian rebellions were smashed. The situation in which the USSR found itself was not conducive to the flowering of democracy. Bureaucratic distortions arose. Up against unrelenting badgering from the imperialist countries, including a counter-revolutionary military expedition under General John ‘Blackjack’ Pershing from the USA, the Soviet Union was forced to put much of its resources into the military, and to gear its economy to the achievement of rapid industrialization. The quickest, cheapest way often failed to take environmental protection into account. The arms race eventually proved to be financially ruinous to the USSR.
During the early years of the Soviet Union, the new socialist government pioneered the development of a revolutionary environmental policy. But because it had to engage in a forced march to industrialization and essentially organize a war economy, environmentally sustainable policies were put on the back burner.
In an effort to overcome the industrial backwardness of the pre-revolutionary period, to recover from the devastation of World War II, and to catch up with and surpass capitalist countries, technology was adopted that put immediate gains over environmental considerations. They did this with good intentions: the goal was to shortcut the process of industrial innovation and provide more goods for all the people. By focusing on labor as the source of value, nature was sometimes undervalued.
When technology from capitalist countries was adopted, some of the underlying assumptions of capitalism embedded in that technology were also inadvertently adopted, and they ended up with a skewed industrial waste model. Wastes were managed with too little regard for the environment. In this way, pollution was ‘smuggled’ into socialist society. As in China today, good environmental legislation was sometimes ignored or went unenforced.
Because it was a socialist country, the Soviet Union had many environmental successes that aren’t usually mentioned in all the propaganda about the failures. For example, the planless suburban sprawl that requires so much driving, and the vehicular air pollution that characterize U.S. cities, were avoided by city planning for people, not for cars. Without the power of the automotive, rubber, and petroleum companies holding them back, Soviet cities were able to move ahead on mass transportation. Without rapacious real estate developers, they were able to preserve urban and suburban green belts from development. The indigenous people of northern Siberia, and the reindeer on which they depended, had a very different history from that of their unfortunate counterparts in northern Canada and Alaska. We need to probe more deeply into Soviet history in general, and Soviet environmental policy in particular, than is possible in these few pages, if we are to understand Soviet environmental successes and failures.
Many Russian scientists are concerned about the worsening environmental problems since the transition to a market economy began. Realization is growing that environmental protection in a capitalist Russia is a fantasy.
In our own hemisphere, it is no accident that one of the best environmental programs was in a country having a largely socialist economy-Nicaragua under the Sandinista administration. This program, along with advances in health care, was defeated by the Contra counter-revolution, financed by millions of U.S. tax dollars. Nor is it an accident that the best existing environmental program is in socialist Cuba.
From the time it became clear that the Cuban revolution was not in the interests of capitalism, the U.S. government has sought to isolate and undo it. Though she finds herself in a classic David vs. Goliath situation against a hostile, anticommunist superpower, Cuba, to its credit, has avoided the environmental despoliation so common throughout Latin America. Despite invasion, a vicious U.S. embargo, and a sustained sabotage campaign, the Cubans have heroically achieved and maintained excellent education and health care systems, high public and environmental health standards, low infant mortality, long average life expectancies, high literacy rates, and other gains of socialism. She has sent doctors and teachers to many disadvantaged countries with no strings attached. The reason for U.S. government hostility is precisely that Cuba offers a model of what a third-world country of modest means can accomplish once it breaks free of imperialism and gets its priorities straight.
Communists understand the need to maintain sustainable ecosystems as the base for a sustainable economic system. The struggle against the abuse of workers, always at the core of movements toward socialism, is enriched and strengthened by struggles against the abuse of nature.
If environmentalists fail to build alliances with the working class, they will never succeed in changing the system. If we want to control sprawl, restore environmental quality, and have healthy communities, we need to get at the source of our problems. The inclusion of environmental concerns in the working class struggle today ensures that they will become foundations in the building of a socialist economy that will operate in ways that protect the environment as a matter of course.
Capitalism has created a world of poverty and pollution amid plenty, and has fouled this garden Earth. The ruling class wants us to believe that there is no alternative. But there is. The program of the Communist Party USA points the way toward solutions of the environmental crisis, and offers a framework to help achieve a world in balance.
1. The Siberians, Farley Mowat. Atlantic Monthly Press Books, Boston, MA 1970
Environmental Program of the CPUSA
1. Jobs for a Sustainable Future
- Clean up and restore America. Aid to communities that have been abused with toxic dumps and other super-pollution, with these communities participating in the planning and in the jobs; cleanup of military installations and other public lands; research and development in methods for reducing the amount of waste and pollution and for reducing the present stocks of toxic and radioactive waste; rebuild and modernize sewage systems that now pollute waterways.
- A Civilian Conservation Corps for youth, similar to the CCC of the 1930s, to train and employ youth in the care and preservation of state and federal forests, wetlands, shorelines, waters, and national, state, and city parks.
Federal help to cities:
- Improve recycling systems: Greatly increase the use of products manufactured from recycled materials to break the ‘recycling bottleneck’ (more materials are now collected than reused). of lead paint.
- Provide adequate funding for improving mass transit
- Counter the spread of strip malls, mega-parking lots, and other urban/suburban sprawl through integration of work, living, and recreational land uses into organic communities. Promote anti-sprawl ‘smart growth’ of our cities.
- Provide incentives for brownfields (old industrial sites) reclamation and redevelopment along environmentally sound lines.
- Special training and safety measures for all workers dealing with toxic materials.
- A 32-hour week with no reduction in pay to reduce unemployment and homelessness.
2. Environmental Justice: Environmental justice requires social justice.
- End the environmental racism and injustice that sites toxic waste dumps and other polluting operations overwhelmingly in communities of people of color and other economically deprived areas.
- Build the growing movement in support of the broad principles of environmental justice adopted at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991 and advanced by groups such as the Community Coalition for Environmental Justice.
3. Peace and International Solidarity
War is the most destructive human activity. Communists have been fighting for peace for many years. We oppose imperialist aggression and exploitation and the burden preparation for war imposes on our own people.
- End the occupation of Iraq.
- Negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons and chemical and biological weapons.
- Full funding of social and environmental programs by transferring monies from the bloated military budget.
4. Conversion Plans for an Environmentally Sound Future
Sharply reduce military production to a level adequate to provide for bona fide national defense. Convert industrial capacity now wasted on excess military production and/or that threatens the local, national, or global environment, to environmentally safe peacetime production.
- Full employment and job security for workers in these industries. Demobilize members of the armed forces with retraining and expanded unemployment benefits during the conversion period up to job placement.
- Union initiatives and participation in planning and in handling transition problems.
5. Energy Conversion and Conservation
Our nation possesses only three percent of the world’s oil reserves but consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil supply. We can never drill our way to energy self-sufficiency. Therefore;
- Cars burn 40 percent of all the oil we use, so making them more fuel-efficient is an immediate priority. Promote less-polluting cars and improved mass transit, for long distance travel as well as in the cities. Create more bicycle-friendly opportunities.
- Begin now to change from nonrenewable unsafe, polluting energy sources to increasing reliance on renewable, safe, inexhaustible sources. Reduce and gradually phase out dependence on coal, oil, gas, and uranium and phase in reliance on solar, wind, geothermal, and other benign energy sources.
- Nationalize the entire energy complex under democratic control.
- Stimulate mass production of solar energy by rapid phasein of already available solar technology into government facilities at all levels.
- No new nuclear plants. Close existing plants for inspection by impartial, non-corporate specialists. Any plant’s reopening contingent upon approval by a committee representative of the people in the vicinity with help from independent scientists and engineers.
- Carefully plan and carry out the decommissioning of nuclear plants that can no longer be used.
- Continued retraining workers in the energy sector as the energy sources change.
- Conservation of energy through more efficient use by utilities, more energy-efficient buildings.
6. A Technology Bill of Rights
- The right of workers to a job in a pollution-free environment, producing in a way that will not endanger their environment and that of their children.
- A voice for workers, through their unions, in the design and introduction of new technology and new production processes and the redesign of old ones, to include ergonomic priorities.
- Pass national ‘Right To Know’ legislation which requires companies to inform workers of the hazardous products and materials to which their jobs expose them.
7. Preserve our Resources in Farm and Forest Land
- Keep pressure on the Department of Agriculture and its Forest Service to shift it away from subservience to agribusiness and the timber industry. Refocus the Department of Agriculture from the commodity market to the continuous renewal of farms and forests.
- Protect farm land, both with an aggressive soil conservation program, and with measures to prevent its takeover by ur- ban sprawl, military expansion, or any other destructive use.
- Keep rural areas rural. When more than 10% of land is covered by impervious surfaces (paved roads, driveways, parking lots, etc.), this destroys streams and prevents ground water from recharging.
- Devote research and development to a more organic agriculture and forestry and away from monoculture and chemical dependence.
- Protect farm workers and rural communities from the pesticides and herbicides that now poison workers on the job, their families and communities, and consumers of agricultural products. Empower farm workers, overwhelmingly Latino, by supporting their struggles for union organization.
- Abolish subsidies for logging and mining on public lands. Prevent any further loss of forest land by reclaiming forest land in the hands of the railroads or their successor companies from 19th century federal grants. Add this to existing national forests.
- Halt all logging in our few remaining old-growth forests and in watersheds which provide drinking water for communities.
- In state and national second- and third-growth forests, lengthen the harvest cycle to permit true forest regeneration. Replace clear cuts with uneven age management so there are always young, healthy trees growing. Timber harvest should not exceed replacement rate. Some jobs may be lost in the present, but more will be gained in the long run.
- Using eminent domain, take over, with appropriate reimbursement, privately held forest land in any case where the owners refuse to follow sustainable forest management practices, or where they intend to sell for other than forestry.
- No further withdrawal of land for U.S. military purposes here or abroad.
- Preserve biodiversity, and save endangered species through preservation of land and aquatic ecosystems and habitat.
8. Public Health for Environmental and Human Health
- Public health systems in states and the nation working toward adequate preventive measures to protect people from the effects of pollution.
- A universal single-payer health system, free at the point of delivery, is the fairest, most efficient way to care for those already suffering from cancer, respiratory disease, birth malformation, and other health problems in which pollution is a primary contributing cause.
- Promote family planning, protect women’s right to choose safe abortions, increase funding for programs that promote health and education for babies and infants.
9. Pollution Prevention
- Follow the Lowell Statement on Science and Precaution. This approach shares the core values and sound, preventive traditions of medicine and public health.
- Eliminate persistent, bioaccumulative toxic substances, and find safer alternatives.
- Provide low-interest loans to farmers who reduce the amount of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers they use.
- Make ‘protection’ agencies mean what they say by focusing more on prevention, not only on control policies.
- Institute a ‘three strikes, you’re out’ policy for businesses that irresponsibly break laws that protect air, water, land, and/ or wildlife. If a corporation repeatedly fails to comply with sound environmental practices, their corporate charter will be revoked, and, depending upon union and community decisions and preferences, it will be converted into either:
A. a worker and community owned cooperative, managed along grassroots, democratic standards in accordance with the Rochdale Principles (see http://www.nrec.org/synapse45/ coop.html), or
B. under eminent domain provisions, become a public utility, nationalized under democratic control.
In either case, any grants or contracts will be transferred to the new business.
As an integral component of building a new, socialist system, adopt a comprehensive and aggressive cooperative development strategy to replace corporations with a coordinated network of democratically owned and managed businesses. While safeguarding small, family farms, encourage transformation of large corporate farms into state or cooperative farms.
- Constant people-pressure to shift OSHA and EPA away from subservience to the corporations they are supposed to monitor, to true service to the people and their environment. Give labor and community activists a voice in policy making and monitoring.
- Give OSHA and EPA power to investigate production processes and require changes when necessary to protect workers and the environment.
- Completely overhaul our production system to prevent generation of toxic waste. Enlarge EPA’s research powers, giving high priority to finding and implementing practices to convert wastes into usable products.
- Increase the investigative and enforcement personnel of the presently understaffed and underfunded federal and state OSHA and EPA.
- Expose and adequately penalize corporate environmental crimes and force those responsible to pay for the necessary cleanup and regeneration.
10. Reduce waste altogether, recycle and reuse what’s left
Wastes are an indicator of inefficient use of resources. Most waste can be eliminated. This transition will take place as we disenthrone short-term profit for the few as the commanding priority, and replace it with other priorities. It will develop as we redesign processes, reuse more materials, and improve technologies.
- Take the profits out of toxic chemicals with severe penalties for exposing workers and communities to them, and provide incentives for the research and development of safer substitutes.
- Ban the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
- Rapidly phase out all plastics not readily reusable or recyclable with currently available technology.
- More state and federal legislation requiring companies and government agencies at all levels to use specified amounts of recycled material in products and packaging, and to recycle durable items like computers, monitors, TVs, and refrigerators.
- Reduce excess packaging.
11. No Anti-Environmental ‘Free Trade’ Agreements
- Stop the global race to the bottom. Suspend NAFTA, GATT, FTAA, and other free-trade agreements. Call together an international conference of labor unions and environmental organizations to renegotiate regional and global fair trade policies.
12. Protect Planet Earth,
The protection of the global environment should be a basic element of U.S. foreign policy, making our country a partner in efforts toward restoring a sound global ecology. The drive for a global market dominated by transnational corporations and the abuse of military power is making the U.S. a threat to the people and the environment of the whole earth. A few of the things we should do, not already mentioned above:
- Join in efforts by other countries to make the United Nations an instrument for peace and environmental preservation, not an instrument for imperialist domination of the Third World and present and former socialist countries.
- Move forward rapidly on international environmental treaties. Many now signed or in the works have been so watered down as to be almost meaningless, and must be strengthened. Negotiate meaningful treaties like the Kyoto Protocol, on reducing ‘greenhouse gases’ that cause global warming, protecting the ozone layer, and protecting both tropical and temperate forests.
- Enact and enforce, under U.N. inspection teams, a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and treaties eliminating the production and testing of all chemical, biological, and other weapons of mass destruction.
- Stop imperialist exploitation of the environments of other countries which deprives indigenous peoples of a livelihood derived from their native land, drives them off their lands and into the cities or to North America, and makes nations dependent on the U.S. market.
- Halt the voracious consumption of productive farm and forest land, both here and abroad, by the U.S. beef cartel, for the sake of high hamburger profits.
- Ban the export of pesticides deemed unsafe in the U.S. They are used on crops that are imported for use in the U.S.
- Protect the environments of existing socialist countries. This includes ending the blockade of Cuba. Every blow against the Cuban economy renders its promising environmental policy more difficult to maintain.
13. A Socialist United States
‘So how do we pay for all this? Working people already pay too much in taxes!’ For starters, we could reduce the bloated military budget and cut other forms of corporate welfare.
What will future generations have to say about us? Couldn’t we see the problems developing around us and do something to prevent disaster? Living for the future demands that we look at how the complex problems of water and air pollution, sprawl, energy, jobs, and community health are interconnected.
The ambitious goals outlined above cannot be achieved in full as long as the U.S. remains a capitalist country. Many of these goals, though common sense, will be seen by growing numbers of people as unattainable within this system. Thus, these demands will help people realize that we have to go beyond merely reforming capitalism, and point the way forward to a better society. They put the possibility of the taking of actual power by the working people on the agenda. This will help wake up and build allies with those that are still mired in a state of denial regarding the realities of capitalism.
Awareness is growing that we really don’t have a lot of time to bicker over minor reforms. Incremental efforts fall far short of what is needed and far deeper changes are required. An ecologically sustainable society cannot be reconciled with the rapacity inherent in capitalism.
By taking a systemic approach that treats social, economic, and environmental goals as interdependent, socialism can put an end to both the exploitation of labor and the exploitation of nature. By taking a long-term approach that considers present and future generations and taking nature as its model, socialism makes possible the planning of production for the needs of people. Healthy and adequate food and land. Peace, equality and human rights. Jobs and sustainable ecosystems in a steady-state economy. The choice is clear: we can have all these things, or we can have capitalism.
The socialist reconstruction of America is possible. Socialism isn’t inevitable, but it is an absolute necessity for the survival of our living planet. It’s the next step forward in our evolution as a species. Nearly every major challenge confronting the human race depends upon our bringing about this change. We will never have a rational health care system, a sustainable society, or a just economy without it. The alternatives are too horrendous to contemplate. It will take tenacity, education, agitation, and organizing to build a sustainable, Bill of Rights Socialist America. The greatest danger is apathy. You are needed, and you can make a difference. We invite you to take an active, dynamic role in the tasks before us.
Join the CPUSA – a better world is ahead of us.
Eco-Apocalypse, a Class Act
An excerpt from Michael Parenti’s book Blackshirts and Reds(City Lights Books, San Francisco, 1997.) Reprinted by permission of the author.
In 1876, Frederich Engels offered a prophetic caveat: ‘Let us not . . . flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. . . . At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside of nature-but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst. . . .’
With its never-ending emphasis on exploitation and expansion, and its indifference to environmental costs, capitalism appears determined to stand outside nature. The essence of capitalism, its raison d’etre, is to convert nature into commodities and commodities into capital, transforming the living earth into inanimate wealth. This capital accumulation process wreaks havoc upon the global ecological system. It treats the planet’s life-sustaining resources (arable land, groundwater, wetlands, forests, fisheries, ocean beds, rivers, air quality) as dispensable ingredients of limitless supply, to be consumed or toxified at will. Consequently, the support systems of the entire ecosphere-the planet’s thin skin of fresh air, water, and top soil-are at risk, threatened by such things as global warming, massive erosion, and ozone depletion.
Global warming is caused by tropical deforestation, motor vehicle exhaust, and other fossil fuel emissions that create a ‘greenhouse effect,’ trapping heat close to the earth’s surface. This massed heat is altering the atmospheric chemistry and climatic patterns across the planet, causing record droughts, floods, tidal waves, snow storms, hurricanes, heat waves, and great losses in soil moisture. We now know that the planet does not have a limitless ability to absorb heat caused by energy consumption.
Another potential catastrophe is the shrinkage of the ozone layer that shields us from the sun’s deadliest rays. Over 2.5 billion pounds of ozone-depleting chemicals are emitted into the earth’s atmosphere every year, resulting in excessive ultraviolet radiation that is causing an alarming rise in skin cancer and other diseases. Increased radiation is damaging trees, crops, and coral reefs, and destroying the ocean’s phytoplankton-source of about half of the planet’s oxygen. If the oceans die, so do we.
At the same time, the rise in pollution and population has given us acid rain, soil erosion, silting of waterways, shrinking grasslands, disappearing water supplies and wetlands, and the obliteration of thousands of species, with hundreds more on the endangered list.
In 1970, on what was called ‘Environment Day,’ President Richard Nixon intoned: ‘What a strange creature is man that he fouls his own nest.’ With that utterance, Nixon was helping to propagate the myth that the ecological crisis we face is a matter of irrational individual behavior rather than being of a social magnitude. In truth, the problem is not individual choice but the system that imposes itself on individuals and prefigures their choice. Behind the ecological crisis is the reality of class interest and power.
An ever-expanding capitalism and a fragile, finite ecology are on a calamitous collision course. It is not true that the ruling politico-economic interests are in a state of denial about this. Far worse than denial, they are in a state of utter antagonism toward those who think the planet is more important than corporate profits. So they defame environmentalists as ‘eco-terrorists,’ ‘EPA gestapo,’ ‘Earth Day alarmists,’ ‘tree huggers,’ and purveyors of ‘Green hysteria’ and ‘liberal claptrap.’
Some environmental activists in this country have been the object of terrorist assaults conducted by unknown assailants, with the implicit tolerance of law enforcement authorities. Autocrats in countries like Nigeria, in bed with the polluting oil companies, have waged brutal war upon environmentalists, going so far as to hang popular leader Ken Saro Wiwa.
In recent years, conservatives within and without Congress, fueled by corporate lobbyists, have supported measures that would (1) prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from keeping toxic fill out of lakes and harbors, (2) eliminate most of the wetland acreage that was to be set aside for a reserve, (3) completely deregulate the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that deplete the ozone layer, (4) virtually eliminate clean water and clean air standards, (5) open the unspoiled Arctic wildlife refuge in Alaska to oil and gas drilling, (6) defund efforts to keep raw sewage out of rivers and away from beaches, (7) privatize and open national parks to commercial development, (8) give the remaining ancient forests over to unrestrained logging, and (9) repeal the Endangered Species Act. In sum, their openly professed intent has been to eviscerate all our environmental protections, however inadequate these are.
Conservatives maintain that there is no environmental crisis. Technological advances will continue to make life better for more and more people. One might wonder why rich and powerful interests take this seemingly suicidal anti-environmental route. They can destroy welfare, public housing, public education, public transportation, social security, Medicare, and Medicaid with impunity, for they and their children will not thereby be deprived, having more than sufficient means to procure private services for themselves. But the environment is a different story. Wealthy conservatives and their corporate lobbyists inhabit the same polluted planet as everyone else, eat the same chemicalized food, and breathe the same toxified air.
In fact, they do not live exactly as everyone else. They experience a different class reality, residing in places where the air is somewhat better than in low and middle income areas. They have access to food that is organically raised and specially prepared. The nation’s toxic dumps and freeways usually are not situated in or near their swanky neighborhoods. The pesticide sprays are not poured over their trees and gardens. Clearcutting does not desolate their ranches, estates, and vacation spots. Even when they or their children succumb to a dread disease like cancer, they do not link the tragedy to environmental factors-though scientists now believe that most cancers stem from human-made causes. They deny there is a larger problem because they themselves create that problem and owe much of their wealth to it.
But how can they deny the threat of an ecological apocalypse brought on by ozone depletion, global warming, disappearing top soil, and dying oceans? Do the dominant elites want to see life on earth, including their own, destroyed? In the long run they indeed will be victims of their own policies, along with everyone else. However, like us all, they live not in the long run but in the here and now. For the ruling interests, what is at stake is some- thing of more immediate and greater concern than global ecology: It is global capital accumulation. The fate of the biosphere is an abstraction compared to the fate of one’s own investments.
Furthermore, pollution pays, while ecology costs. Every dollar a company must spend on environmental protections is one less dollar in earnings. It is more profitable to treat the environment like a septic tank, pouring thousands of new harmful chemicals into the atmosphere each year, dumping raw industrial effluent into the river or bay, turning waterways into open sewers. The longterm benefit of preserving a river that runs alongside a community (where the corporate polluters do not live anyway) does not weigh as heavily as the immediate gain that comes from ecologically costly modes of production.
Solar, wind, and tidal energy systems could help avert ecological disaster, but they would bring disaster to the rich oil cartels. Six of the world’s ten top industrial corporations are involved primarily in the production of oil, gasoline, and motor vehicles. Fossil fuel pollution means billions in profits. Ecologically sustainable forms of production threaten those profits.
Immense and imminent gain for oneself is a far more compelling consideration than a diffuse loss shared by the general public. The cost of turning a forest into a wasteland weighs little against the profits that come from harvesting the timber.
This conflict between immediate private gain on the one hand and remote public benefit on the other operates even at the individual consumer level. Thus, it is in one’s longterm interest not to operate a motor vehicle, which contributes more to environmental devastation than any other single consumer item. But we have an immediate need for transportation in order to get to work, or do whatever else needs doing, so most of us have no choice except to own and use automobiles.
The ‘car culture’ demonstrates how the ecological crisis is not primarily an individual matter of man soiling his own nest. In most instances, the ‘choice’ of using a car is no choice at all. Ecologically efficient and less costly electric-car mass transportation systems have been deliberately destroyed since the 1930s in campaigns waged across the country by the automotive, oil, and tire industries. Corporations involved in transportation put ‘America on wheels,’ in order to maximize consumption costs for the public and profits for themselves, and to hell with the environment or anything else.
The enormous interests of giant multinational corporations outweigh doomsayer predictions about an ecological crisis. Sober business heads refuse to get caught up in the ‘hysteria’ about the environment, preferring to quietly augment their fortunes. Besides, there can always be found a few experts who will go against all the evidence and say that the jury is still out, that there is no conclusive proof to support the alarmists. Conclusive proof in this case would come only when we reach the point of no return.
Ecology is profoundly subversive of capitalism. It needs planned, environmentally sustainable production rather than the rapacious unregulated kind. It requires economical consumption rather than an artificially stimulated, ever-expanding consumerism. It calls for natural, low cost energy systems rather than profitable, high cost, polluting ones. Ecology’s implications for capitalism are too horrendous for the capitalist to contemplate. Those in the higher circles, who once hired Blackshirts to destroy democracy out of fear that their class interests were threatened, have no trouble doing the same against ‘eco-terrorists.’ Those who have waged merciless war against the Reds have no trouble making war against the Greens. Those who have brought us poverty wages, exploitation, unemployment, homelessness, urban decay, and other oppressive economic conditions are not too troubled about bringing us ecological crisis. The plutocrats are more wedded to their wealth than to the Earth upon which they live, more concerned with the fate of their fortunes than with the fate of humanity.
The struggle over environmentalism is part of the class struggle itself, a fact that seems to have escaped many environmentalists. The impending eco-apocalypse is a class act. It has been created by and for the benefit of the few, at the expense of the many. The trouble is, this time the class act may take all of us down, once and forever.
- Putting an end to the population explosion will not of itself save the ecosphere but not ending it will add greatly to the dangers the planet faces. The environment can sustain a quality life for just so many people.
- To offer one example: the FBI was quick to make arrests when environmentalists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were seriously injured by a car bomb in 1990. They arrested Bari and Cherney, calling them ‘radical activists,’ charging that the bomb must have belonged to them. Both have long been outspoken advocates of nonviolence. The charges were eventually dropped for lack of evidence. (The bomb had been planted under the driver’s seat.) The FBI named no other suspects and did no real investigation of the attack.
- A cover story in Forbes (8/14/95) derides the ‘health scare industry’ and reassures readers that highly chemicalized and fat-ridden junk foods are perfectly safe for one’s health. The magazine’s owners and corporate advertisers are aware that if people begin to question the products offered by the corporate system, they may end up questioning the system itself. Not without good cause does Forbes describe itself as ‘a capitalist tool.’
- In June 1996, speaking at a U.N. conference in Istanbul, Turkey, Fidel Castro noted: ‘Those who have almost destroyed the planet and poisoned the air, the seas, the rivers and the earth are those who are least interested in saving humanity.’
- Copyright (c) 1996 Vida Communications and Michael Parenti. All rights reserved.
Suggested Additional Reading and References
For continuing coverage on environmental justice issues in the Pacific Northwest:
South Sound Green Pages, published by the South Puget Environmental Education Clearinghouse, 209 East 4th Avenue Suite 206, Olympia, WA 98501
Rachel’s Environment & Health News is a publication of the Environmental Research Foundation, P.O. Box 5036, Annapolis, MD 21403. Fax (410) 263-8944; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Back issues available by E-mail; to get instructions, send E-mail to INFO@rachel.org with the single word HELP in the message. Subscriptions are free. To subscribe, E-mail the words SUBSCRIBE RACHEL-NEWS YOUR FULL NAME to: email@example.com Peter Montague, Editor
On environmental justice:
Southern Exposure, Vol. XXI, No. 4, winter, 1993, Institute for Southern Studies, P.O. Box 33 1, NC, 27702-033 1.
‘When People of Color are an Endangered Species,’ by Elizabeth Martinez, Southwest Organizing Project, 211 10th St. SW, Albuquerque, NM, 87102. Also SWOP’s other pamphlets and its newsletter, Voces Unidas.
On health effects of Mercury:
Mercury Awareness (Washington State Dept. of Ecology publication # 01-04-022) is available at: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/pubs/ 0104022.pdf , or E–mail your request to: firstname.lastname@example.org
On global warming:
‘Atmospheric Destruction and Human Survival,’ by Kenneth Neill Cameron, a Center for Ecological Socialism pamphlet, P.O. Box 8467, Santa Cruz, CA 89561.
On agriculture-related issues:
The Agribusiness Examiner: a vehicle for monitoring corporate agribusiness from a public interest perspective and to pro- vide facts, background, analysis and educational on corporate agribusiness.
Editor/Publisher: A.V. Krebs, PO. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98203-0201
‘The Limits of Environmentalism Without Class: Lessons from the Ancient Forest Struggle in the Pacific Northwest’ by John Bellamy Foster, in Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, Vol. 4, No. 1, March, 1993.
On Cuba: ‘The Struggle for Ecological Agriculture in Cuba,’ by Richard Levins, in Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, Vol. 5, No. 1, Fall, 1990. ‘Green Cuba,’ by Virginia Warner Brodine, in Multinational Monitor, November 1992.
On environmental imperialism:
Environment Under Fire, Imperialism and the Ecological Crisis in Central America, by Daniel Faber, Monthly Review Press, NY, 1993.
On energy, especially renewable, and problems of nuclear energy:
Nucleus, the magazine of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and UCS briefing papers, books, and videos, UCS Publications, 26 Church St., Cambridge, MA 02238.
On democracy vs. corporate power:
‘Fueling the Flames: Labor and Greens must join forces to stop Bush’s assault on the planet,’ by David Moberg, In These Times, 1 April 2002.
Globalization from Below: the Power of Solidarity, by Jeremy Brecher, Tim Costello, and Brendan Smith. South End Press, Cambridge, Mass, 2000.
Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy, by the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy. Apex Press, 2001.
‘Population and the Environment,’ by Walden Bello, Food First Action Alert, Winter, 1992-1993, Institute for Food and Development Policy, 145 Ninth Street, San Francisco, CA 93103-3584.
On ‘Free’ Trade Agreements:
Stop the FTAA site: http://stopftaa. org
Global Exchange: http://store.globalexchange.org/ftaaifg.html
National Radio Project: http://www.radioproject.org/transcripts/1301.html
On Rochdale Principles of Cooperatives:
Books cited in this pamphlet:
Our Stolen Future, by Theo Colburn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers, Dutton Books, New York, 1996. The web site http://www.ourstolenfuture. org is the best single place to learn about the latest studies on hormone-disrupting chemicals.
Fear at Work, Job Blackmail, Labor and the Environment, by Richard Kazis and Richard L. Grossman, New Society Publishers, P.O. Box 382, Santa Cruz, CA.
Dangerous Premises, (an insider’s view of OSHA enforcement), by Don J. Lofren, ILR Press, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14851-0952.
Global Dumping Ground, by the Center for Investigative Reporting and Bill Moyers, Seven Locks Press, Washington DC. The Energy Ripoff, by Gus Hall, International Publishers, New York, 1974.
Making Peace with the Planet, by Barry Commoner, Pantheon Books, New York, 1990. The same author’s The Closing Circle, Alfred A. Knopf, 1971, remains one of the best primers on the environmental crisis. Commoner is a scientist who writes with a passion for both people and nature, and an understanding of how ecology and economics interact.
American Cities: a Working Class View, by Morris Zeitlin, International Publishers Co. Inc., New York, 1990,
The Cancer Stage of Capitalism, by John McMurty, Pluto Press, London 1999.
Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism, by Michael Parenti. City Lights Books, San Francisco, 1997.
Globalization from Below, by Jeremy Brecher et al. South End Press, Boston, 2000.
The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?, by Joel Kovel, Fernwood Publishing, Halifax 2002
The Corporation: Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, Joel Bakan, Free Press, New York, 2004.