Notes on big NGOs, Climate Change, Green Energy, Cultural Capitalism, etc.

Capitalism

(i) How can one know the sanctity of the big civil society organisations that are countering the anti-climate movement? Agreed that they are working for the good of all, but what is the sub-text of their speech? Does their big multinational size and way of working makes them similar to the companies they are against? If not, what makes them different?

(ii) The book Protest Inc. ‘highlights the enclosure of activism in increasingly large and bureaucratic NGOs. In the NGO world, there are three dominant, interconnected imperatives: winning victories, getting credit for one’s accomplishments, and raising money. In many, perhaps most, contexts today, the desire to be “effective” compels NGOs to a certain tameness. We see this, for example, in the severely circumscribed world of climate action advocacy in Washington, DC, today. The imperative to get credit for accomplishments and to raise funds to get more underlie the current fracturing of each progressive cause into an often bewildering array of separate, competing groups, each promoting its own brand. And in our world of creeping corporatocracy and plutocracy, NGO success on all three fronts can benefit greatly from close links to business and family wealth.1

I believe it is vitally important to inject a string input from the Global South into the worldwide civil society struggle against climate change, which today bears a strongly Northern impress.2

(iii) What of the market? Are we to dispose if off? If yes, then how? One of the biggest threats to green energy is its takeover by the market. With all the money divested from the fossil industry, political power and the emerging lucrative opportunity to make profit from the green industry the market may take over it. If it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage.3 And to supplement this is the existence of Intellectual Property Rights which would act as a political weapon by those who possess it. As of now, almost 50 per cent. of patents on solar energy is owned by China. Today Chinese manufacturers make about 50 million solar panels a year — over half the world’s supply in 2010 — and include four of the world’s top five solar-panel manufacturers. What would be the implication of all this on equity? If the same people who owned fossil resources come to own green energy? Then the decades long battle against climate change would be half won. And will we then get caught up for decades again to fight for equity?

(iv) There are arguments that go to the very root of the climate crisis, ie, Capitalism. Isn’t the very structure of our production and consumption at the root of climate change; the mass mania of globalised development and endless growth? Climate change demands that we consume less, but being consumers is all we know. Climate change is not a problem that can be solved simply by changing what we buy – a hybrid instead of an SUV. Jeremy Rifkin designated this new stage of commodification as ‘cultural capitalism’. In ‘cultural capitalism’, the relationship between an object and its symbol-image is inverted: the image does not represent the product, but, rather, the product represents the image. We buy a product – say, an organic apple – because it represents the image of a healthy lifestyle. As the example of buying an organic apple indicates, the very ecological protest against capitalist ruthless exploitation of natural resources is already caught in the commodification of experiences.4 We will have to do away with capitalism as the only solution to climate change.

(v) What will be the power balance of the new world order that we all dream of without keeping the war-for-resource in mind? Will green energy also end America, Europe and its multinationals’ dominance (read war) over the oil rich middle east? What of the military-industrial complex?

(vi) Lastly, how can the world’s citizens, who have a vital stake in a global solution to the climate crisis, become actors in the effort to resolve it? How might civil society organisations, environmentalist groups and political parties across the world forge the collective will and develop the wherewithal to educate the public and governments on the urgency of climate protection and influence climate policy-making and the international negotiating process?5

Notes

  1. http://www.greattransition.org/publication/searching-for-radicalism-in-a-corporate-age
  2. Praful Bidwai, The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis, op. cit., p. XXI
  3. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/may/03/giants-green-world-profit-planets-destruction
  4. Slavoj Zizek, Three Faces of Bill Gates
  5. Praful Bidwai, The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis, op. cit., p. XII
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