John Feffer – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 01 Jun 2023 03:12:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Environmental Hazard: How Russia’s War in Ukraine Threatens the Planet Thu, 01 Jun 2023 04:04:54 +0000

The war has cost lives and destroyed the Ukrainian economy. But it has also been a major environmental hazard.

( Foreign Policy in Focus) – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 has resulted in the deaths so far of more than 8,700 Ukrainian civilians, including more than 500 children. It has caused a massive drop in the country’s economic output, with GDP declining by 29.1 percent.

And it has had widespread consequences for the environment: inside Ukraine, in surrounding countries, and beyond.

Russia has occupied at least 25 percent of Ukraine’s renewable energy facilities and destroyed about 6 percent of the country’s renewable energy capacity. The war has rendered 40 percent of the country’s energy system at least temporarily inoperable. The air, soil, and water of Ukraine have been severely contaminated, with more than 1,000 industrial, agricultural, and maritime cases tracked by the Ukrainian NGO Centre for Environmental Initiatives “Ecoaction.” Thousands of landmines pose a continued risk to residents and farmers.

An even greater environmental catastrophe lies in wait at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest such facility in Europe. A meltdown at Zaporizhzhia on the order of the Chernobyl accident would have even greater impact than what happened on the territory of Ukraine in 1986.

“The difference is that Zaporizhzhia is close to the Black Sea and the Azov sea,” reports Yevheniia Zasiadko, the head of the climate department at Ecoaction and a climate policy expert. “So, it might also impact the whole marine ecosystem. The Russians are planting mines and exploding bombs on the territory of the Zaporizhzhia station.” The plant was built to withstand certain shocks, but the risks remain high.

Although Ukraine’s carbon footprint has likely decreased as a result of the war’s impact on the economy, the invasion has caused considerable unnecessary emissions. In collaboration with several international NGOs and the Ukrainian environment ministry, Ecoaction has calculated that the war-related greenhouse gas emissions equal the amount of carbon into the atmosphere as the country of the Netherlands or Belgium emitted over the same period. Fully half of those emissions come from the destruction of civilian infrastructure and its subsequent reconstruction.

Although the conflict is still ongoing, Ukraine has been able to rebuild in areas that aren’t too close to the conflict zones. The government has pledged to “build back better,” but there have also been enormous pressures to prioritize speed over sustainability.

“We want to build the country to be greener,” says Anna Ackermann, a board member of Ecoaction and a policy analyst at the International Institute for Sustainable Development working on the green reconstruction of Ukraine. “It’s not only about the environment. It’s also a lot about public participation—how to make sure that the communities are engaged—and how to make sure that International funds are effectively used. We shouldn’t be rebuilding roads or cities the way they were. In eastern Ukraine, where the war is still going on, these regions depended on heavy industry, coal, and so on. No one will be investing in coal anymore, and some of this heavy industry is also based on coal.”

Even as Russia’s war in Ukraine causes untold environmental consequences, it is also paradoxically pushing the world toward a tighter embrace of renewable energy. In Europe, for instance, coal consumption and carbon emissions hit their post-COVID peak in September 2022 but have been declining ever since. “Renewables and nuclear power were responsible for a record 39 percent of global electricity generation last year,” according to Fortune in 2023. “The gains came almost entirely from new wind and solar installations, which now account for a record 12 percent of global electricity generation, up from 10 percent in 2021.”

Ukraine, too, has discovered that renewable energy can be a tool of resistance. As Russia massively targeted the country’s energy infrastructure, some institutions from hospitals to schools turned to solar power, a relatively cheap and decentralized alternative, to keep the electricity on.

At a Global Just Transition webinar, Zasiadko and Ackermann discussed the many adverse environmental impacts of Russia’s war on Ukraine. But they also reflected on how post-war recovery can allow Ukraine to leapfrog into a Greener future.

Russia’s Devastation

It’s not easy to address environmental disasters during a war.

“The first reaction of most of the staff members of Ecoaction was that everything that we had been doing before was not relevant somehow after the Russian invasion,” recalls Anna Ackermann. “So that’s why we started to search for ways to help Ukraine and to do at least something. One thing we thought was important was to collect data about damage to the environment. This work is still going on, thanks to the support of our volunteers.”

The Ukrainian Ministry of Environment reached out to Ecoaction and other Ukrainian civil society organizations “during the second week of the war to help with monitoring because it was clear that the environmental consequences were huge,” adds Yevheniia Zasiadko. “We need to talk not only about war crimes and crimes against humanity, but also environmental impact. It’s been 14 months since the invasion, and we’ve compiled almost 1,000 cases. At the beginning, half our team at Ecoaction was involved in monitoring.”

That team divided the country up by region to assess damage to industrial facilities, energy safety, nuclear safety, and the war’s impact on marine, livestock, and waste. It has recently relied more on volunteers as well as media reports and government statistics to compile its cases.

“The largest damage in terms of cost has been to housing, buildings, industry, and infrastructure like road and rail,” Ackermann notes. “The price tag for this direct damage is $140 billion, which is much more than the annual state budget of Ukraine. This figure takes into account how much it would cost to actually rebuild Ukraine better according to European Union standards and not just the old Ukrainian standards. As the Russian invasion continues, this price is increasing every day.”

There are some obvious limitations to these assessments. For one, the Russian attacks have been so intense in some areas that it’s hard to grasp the full environmental impact. “In my hometown, we actually had thousands of missile strikes, so it was not possible to monitor missile by missile,” Zasiadko relates.

Also, there is very little information available for the Russian-occupied territories. “There is no independent journalism or any Ukrainian representatives in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions,” she continues. “We couldn’t even go to these occupied regions after 2014, so we don’t know the real situation, which is now much worse.” In that region, for instance, dozens of coal mines have been flooded since the war began in 2014, which not only renders them inoperable but threatens to pollute surrounding territory.

Then there’s the issue of demining the country. “Some experts estimate that it will take 10-15 years to demine all of Ukraine after the war,” Zasiadko reports. “That’s a minimum. In the example of the Balkans, 30 years after the wars in former Yugoslavia, there’s still heavily mined territory that poses a high risk. Russia has also mined the Black Sea, which also affects Georgia, Turkey, and Romania.”

Pollution, like mines, can have considerable future consequences. “Our team is planning a fact-funding mission to liberated territory to understand the real impact of pollution on the soil and the water and to actually understand the real risks for us,” she says, adding that contamination will eventually make its way into the food supply. “The moment when the territory is liberated people usually start to grow something on the land, even though it can be heavily polluted.”

Ukraine is a primarily agricultural country. “Soil is a very important resource for Ukraine since 40 percent of our economy comes from agriculture,” Zasiadko says. “And this soil has been heavily polluted from the military action.” Using soil samples from the Kharkhiv and Kherson regions, Ecoaction identified physical damage from vibration, radioactivity, and thermal impact, including the release of chemical pollution, all of which threatens both agricultural production and the health of surrounding communities.

France, after World War I, similarly had to deal with polluted lands, part of which was declared uninhabitable because of chemical contamination and unexploded ordnance. These became effectively nature-protected zones. “Maybe it’s good that we will have more nature-protected zones in Ukraine,” she adds. “But it won’t be because of biodiversity but because it’s too dangerous to grow anything or do anything on that land.”

Then there are the consequences of the destruction of industrial facilities. “In the east and south of Ukraine in particular we had a lot of industry,” Zasiadko points out. “When the Russians attacked, they damaged or destroyed many industrial facilities in Kharkhiv, Zaporizhzhia, and Dnipro. During first year of the full-scale war, 426 large or medium-sized enterprises were damaged or destroyed. Probably everyone saw the pictures of the destruction in Mariupol. But this happened in other places too. We saw a huge risk of pollution from the heavy metal and chemical industries, which were bombed. Russia also targeted livestock waste facilities, which contaminated rivers and killed fish. They bombed ships and ferries in the Black Sea and the Azov Sea, which has contaminated the marine ecosystem.”

But perhaps the greatest risk lies with the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which Russian troops occupied and have kept running with Ukrainian staff working under enormous stress. “Specific experts should be working there,” she notes. “Even though the Russians brought in some nuclear experts from Russian nuclear facilities, it doesn’t mean that they actually know how to deal with the facilities, because each plant is unique. So that’s why Ukrainian people are still there, trying to keep safe the whole world from this threat. We have two types of heroes in Ukraine: those in the military and those working in the energy sector like Zaporizhzhia.”

There is also the threat of Russia weaponizing Zaporizhzhia. “Depending on weather conditions—how strongly the wind is blowing and in which direction—an explosion at the plant could affect Europe to the west or lands to the south or north,” she continues. “Experts say that we are still lucky that nothing has happened yet.”

Zasiadko laments that the international response to these nuclear risks has been weak. “Russia’s state atomic energy corporation, Rosatom, still doesn’t face any sanctions,” she adds. “They are still selling nuclear fuel to Europe and to other countries.”

In a report on carbon emissions associated with the war, Ecoaction and its partners looked at five sources that produced approximately 100 million tons of carbon dioxide (or their equivalent). The largest source of emissions, fully half, comes from reconstruction, followed by fires (roughly one-quarter), warfare (just under 10 percent), and the movement of refugees (only 1.4 percent). Also included in the calculations was the leakage connected to the sabotage of the Nordstream pipelines, which accounted for 15 percent of the total amount. These figures only cover the first seven months of the war, though a full-year accounting is in the works.

“In this way, Russia has attacked the whole world,” Zasiadko says. “The war is affecting the whole climate discussion.”

Building Back Better

Ukraine is a huge country. If it entered the European Union, it would suddenly become second largest member by territory. The war is concentrated in the eastern and southeastern parts of the country. So, different regions experience the war in different ways: some through direct ground attacks, others through aerial bombing, and still others mostly from the movement of refugees and relocation of businesses.

“In the north, some territories were temporarily occupied by Russia in February and March last year, and then liberated by the Ukrainian army,” Anna Ackermann points out. “The damage was huge, but demining is already happening and so is reconstruction. The whole world heard about Bucha, which was heavily destroyed. It’s already been rebuilt. You can actually go there and see how this is happening. Meanwhile, cities in the east are still being destroyed, even erased: Bakhmut, Vuhledar, Marinka.”

For those areas of the country destroyed by the war—through occupation or by aerial attacks—the Ukrainian government is engaged in an ongoing process of planning and reconstruction. “We are thinking about how to improve, how to enlarge, how to change the economy, and so on,” she continues. “And now the question is: who’s going to pay? Who’s going to rebuild? Ukraine will not be able to do all this. The economy has shrunk, and we don’t have enough resources because everything is going into fighting the aggressor at the moment.”

One option has been to divide the country into zones of international support. According to one map considered by the Ukrainian government, different countries would take primary responsibility for financing the reconstruction of different Ukrainian regions: Canada for Sumy, Germany for Chernihiv, and so on. With Ukraine becoming an EU candidate member in 2022, the EU is likely to take the overall lead in terms of reconstruction, with the United States and other G7 countries playing important but secondary roles. Also, as Ackermann notes, because of its candidate status, “Ukraine has to be moving toward European standards, climate neutrality goals, and other EU policies.”

Environmental standards play an essential role in this process. “We have dirty industries based on coal,” she continues. “Do we want to rebuild new heavy industries? What will happen with our coal mines? We have to transition to something else, to another type of economy. NGOs are trying to shape the discussion of this transition. But it’s progressing slowly.”

The essential challenge is to balance the need to build back sooner and the desire to build back better. “No country after a war has been built back that much better,” Ackermann observes. “No country was thinking really long term. Many of our colleagues from European countries where cities were rebuilt after the Second World War say that it was more about mass production and building back faster, definitely not about better.”

The motto “build back better” applies across the economy. “Here in Ukraine,” she continues, “we will have to transition from fossil-fuel power plants to renewables, from energy-inefficient buildings (of which we have a plenty) to using heat pumps and improving the energy efficiency of our building stock, to using new types of transportation.”

Ukraine has come to a new appreciation of renewables as a result of the war. “If we think about a destroyed thermal power plant, to fix it takes months or even years,” Ackermann reports. “But with solar panels, if several are shelled, you can move them around. You can quickly fix them and in just a few weeks the array works again. Some Ukrainians had their lives saved because their communication was sustained during the occupation. Thanks to the solar panels on their roofs, they could call their relatives to say that they were fine despite the blackouts when there there was no electricity.”

Ecoaction realized during the early days of reconstruction that it was important to provide concrete examples of the importance of renewables and Green building techniques. “Together with other NGOs, we worked to rebuild the energy system of a hospital in the north of Kyiv, not far from Bucha, in the city of Horenka,” she relates. “It’s a small hospital that was shelled by the Russian army. It was repaired. Then we put solar solar panels on top with energy storage and heat pumps. Ukraine can get quite cold in the winter, so we need good heating. This system also works during cloudy weather. It started up in January this year, and we calculated how much it actually costs. Now we have infographics to show to the government and our international partners. We brought them there to demonstrate why It was important.”

To replace destroyed energy infrastructure, outside donors sent diesel generators to Ukraine. “This was really critical and important,” she continues. “Running these generators is super expensive, in addition they are usually noisy and polluting. So, we wanted to show how renewables could be part of the critical infrastructure for hospitals, for water supply facilities, for kindergartens and schools that restarted their work recently. We are working with international partners to scale this up as much as possible, and the government also became interested in having this sort of installation around Ukraine. For us today it’s less about climate friendliness and more about resilience and security.”

Ackermann sees lessons here for the rest of the world as well. “These stories of resilience can affect a lot of people and show that these systems can work well,” she says. That includes building model cities that can inspire other countries. “What about having the first climate-neutral city in the whole of Europe?” she asks. “We’re working with coal mining communities, and they’d love to be this kind of pilot. It’s very sad, but making a city that was completely destroyed climate neutral is easier than remaking an intact city.”

One major obstacle to reconstruction efforts is labor. More than two million Ukrainians lost their jobs after Russia invaded last year with the destruction of industries and the mass displacement of people. At the same time, the military has absorbed many able-bodied personnel, and millions more fled the country. All of this has contributed to a shortage of skilled workers in the construction sector.

“We have to think about people coming back, and not just coming back but returning to rebuilt houses and roads and places to work,” Ackermann observes. “That’s why rebuilding Ukraine is also about rethinking what kind of economy we are building.”

It’s also about what place Ukraine will occupy in Europe. Will it just be a source of raw materials or agricultural goods?  “We have to be an equal partner in this discussion,” she continues. “We have to be higher in the value chains of the whole of the EU. If we talk about building a green economy, we could be producing heat pumps that everybody needs now in Europe and beyond. We could be producing high-standard energy-efficient materials. Ukraine is already producing parts for wind turbines. There was a big factory in Kramatorsk, now quite close to the front line, and this production moved to the western part of the country. Together with German companies, they are planning to enlarge. This is the kind of example we need to expand upon. The question is, how many countries want to have Ukraine as a competitor? Probably no one, so Ukraine has to be fighting for this.”

Part of the rebuilding process is environmental restoration. Ecoaction is currently researching the new kinds of pollution associated with the war and how best to restore soil and water. Then there’s the question of dealing with military waste, which the country has little experience in addressing. “We don’t have the human resources to deal with this issue,” Zasiadko laments.

Photo by Alex Fedorenko on Unsplash

Another key part is democratic participation. “One of the best reforms in Ukraine before the war was decentralization,” she continues. “During the first period of the war, the cities survived because of this decentralization. During the last year, people and local authorities actually felt that they can decide for the communities. They have their own money, they can make decisions. And these cities are looking for partners to rebuild better. One of the best example is Irpin,” a liberated suburb of Kyiv that The New York Times has dubbed a “laboratory for rebuilding.”

International Environmental Solidarity

The countries of the Global North have sided with Ukraine in its struggle against Russia. Much of the rest of the world condemned Russia’s invasion but has not levied sanctions against Russia or provided military support to Ukraine. Could environmental solidarity—around climate debt, for instance—serve as the basis for greater cooperation between Ukraine and the Global South?

“I can understand why there is less support from the Global South, which depends from country to country,” Anna Ackermann observes. “Before February 24, 2022, most people associated Ukraine with post-Soviet countries, including Russia. Then, everybody started discovering us, and we are also discovering the world. Now our diplomats started reaching out to secure international support.”

Russia, on the other hand, has long worked around the world to cultivate ties. “Promoting their culture, setting up embassies everywhere,” she continues. “They’ve had the resources. And we see the results of this kind of strategic work. Unfortunately, Ukraine did not do that.”

“Climate-related and energy transition-related issues offer some potential links,” Ackermann points out. “In terms of the production of critical raw minerals needed for the energy transition, Ukraine is in the very same position as many countries of the global South.”

Ukraine, like many countries in the Global South, is burdened with a lot of debt. “I’ve heard discussions that perhaps this debt should be forgotten,” she notes. “But in fact it keeps increasing. We hear a lot about countries claiming that they give a lot of assistance to Ukraine, but we never know if it’s a loan or a grant. Probably only our government knows all of the details.”

Ackerman understands why the government solicits all types of foreign investments. “Government officials see the very bad situation our economy is in, so their only thought is how to get any investments at all when there is no insurance, no guarantees for anyone,” she observes. “There is already big interest for reconstruction. Hundreds of German companies are in the queue to enter once the war is over, and the same applies to Italian companies and many others.”

Looking Ahead

Ecoaction has developed a detailed call to action for the international community around energy and environmental issues. At the top of the list is “strengthening Ukraine’s emergency response capacity” and demilitarizing and de-occupying the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. Ecoaction needs help in its monitoring efforts. And this includes building up their corps of experts, a problem that goes back at least to 2014 when the war with Russia started. The lack of expertise applies in particular to addressing environmental consequences such as land mines.

The call to action isn’t just focused on the here and now. It calls for holding Russia responsible for all of the consequences of the war and developing a global environment peace and security agenda that emerges from the wreckage of the conflict.

Nor should the international community wait before committing to long-term projects. “We don’t have to wait until the war is over,” Yevheniia Zasiadko says. “Reconstruction is happening now, so it’s important to have this vision of green sustainability.”

The war has had even larger climate implications. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine actually led to an acceleration of the energy transition as countries realized their dependence on fossil fuels,” Anna Ackermann observes. “This very tragic situation has led to many changes in climate policies—in the EU, of course, but also around the world. It revealed the vulnerability of countries to global agricultural trade, so hopefully countries will work on increasing sustainable domestic food production.”

And then there’s the link between climate and security. “We should work to combine security issues with the environmental and climate agenda,” Ackermann concludes. “This war revealed so many things that we hadn’t seen, that we didn’t want to see, so we’d closed our eyes. Now they are revealed, and we have to be working on that.”

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

The Market Won’t Save Us: How to Rapidly Reduce Deadly Fossil Fuel Use Thu, 25 May 2023 04:02:48 +0000

Hint: rationing is a better approach than markets.

( Foreign Policy in Focus ) – The burning of fossil fuels—oil, coal, natural gas—is responsible for nearly 90 percent of global carbon emissions. Despite almost-universal recognition of the need to reduce the use of those fossil fuels, the industrialized world is having the hardest time breaking its addiction. The economic rebound from the COVID-19 shutdowns generated the largest ever increase in global emissions from fossil fuels in 2021—around 2 billion tons. The increase in 2022 was considerably more modest—thanks to a surge in renewable energy investments—but it was an increase nonetheless. Meanwhile, subsidies for fossil fuel consumption rose to a record $1 trillion last year.

The prevailing approach to reducing dependency on fossil fuels has been price-based—either by way of a carbon tax or some form of emissions trading scheme. Around two dozen countries levy carbon taxes: establishing a price for carbon and making emitters pay that price per unit of carbon consumed. Meanwhile, under the various “cap-and-trade” systems in place in the European Union and other places, a “cap” on emissions is established through the issuance of permits. But industries can exceed their “cap” by simply paying a penalty, while those that don’t use the full value of their permit can effectively sell their allowance to others.

One problem with the carbon tax is that the price of carbon has traditionally been set too low, so that producers and consumers do not feel the economic push to abandon fossil fuels. The problem with the cap-and-trade mechanism is that it has generally moved carbon emissions around rather than substantially reduce them.

“As I’ve explored with colleagues in peer-reviewed work in the past, ‘cap-and-trade’ almost invariably contains no meaningful cap,” explains Shaun Chamberlin, an author and activist who has advised the UK government on carbon rationing and was involved with the Transition Towns and Extinction Rebellion movements from the outset. “It always has some form of safety valve mechanism, which basically means that if the price gets out of hand, the cap is ignored.”

Accordingly, the market has failed to guide the global economy to a fossil-fuel-free future in the time frame necessitated by rising temperatures and other effects of climate change. Scientists now estimate that the world will pass the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees over pre-industrial levels in the first half of the 2030s. Market-based approaches tend to reinforce the status quo rather than transform the structures that have created the problem in the first place.

By contrast, in crises characterized by scarcity, one common solution has been to ration valuable resources. During wartime, for instance, many commodities have been rationed, from food to energy. During natural disasters, water might be rationed. Such systems introduce a measure of equity to prevent the rich and the powerful from simply buying up the scarce items and the unscrupulous from engaging in price-gouging to make quick profits. In such circumstances the cap on consumption is obvious since more food, energy, or water is simply not available.

With fossil fuels, the urgency is not around scarcity—there’s still a lot of oil, natural gas, and coal under the ground and ocean (though it’s not limitless). Rather, the international community must act quickly because of the collective harm that fossil fuels produce. As such, the various plans put forward to ration fossil fuel use are not temporary measures that elapse when surpluses return. Rather, “the cap-and-ration” approach establishes a cap that declines over time to eliminate dependency “in a way that ensures sufficiency, equity, and justice for all,” observes Stan Cox, a research fellow in ecosphere studies at the Land Institute. “These policies would include, at a minimum, careful allocation of energy among economic sectors and fair-share rationing for consumers.”

Using rationing to reduce fossil fuel use—especially in the Global North—has already come close to political reality. The UK government commissioned a feasibility study of such a rationing system, Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs), which reported positive findings in 2008, and a significant number of MPs supported the implementation of a TEQs system in 2011. The idea also attracted interest from the European Commission in 2018, because it offered the means to actually implement and achieve the carbon capping targets set by the politicians.

Since these caps are designed at a national level—based on internationally agreed-upon carbon reduction targets like those of the Paris agreement—they are subject to democratic decision-making. But they don’t necessarily reflect global justice.

“It doesn’t take into account the existing climate debt,” points out Ivonne Yanez, an Ecuadorian environmentalist and founder member of Acción Ecológica and Oilwatch international. “The richer countries have historically ‘occupied’ the atmosphere with their emissions. So, these carbon budgets are calculated without regard to this historic injustice.”

Via Pixabay.

In a March 21 session sponsored by Global Just Transition, Chamberlin, Cox, and Yanez discussed the value of rationing fossil fuels as a method to address the worsening climate crisis.

Beyond Carbon Pricing

The United Kingdom has a carbon budget that is legally binding—at least theoretically— and that restricts the amount of carbon emissions the country as a whole can emit over each five-year period. It was the first country to enact such a measure.

“As our government never tires of telling us, here in the UK we’ve been ‘leading the world in carbon budgets since 2010,’” Shaun Chamberlin notes. “Our Climate Change Act said we would reduce emissions in the UK by 80 percent by 2050. What we don’t have—and don’t look to have anytime soon—is any reasonable plan for actually delivering on these targets. Instead, we have a Climate Change Committee that regularly puts out reports saying, ‘Actually, we’re nowhere near delivering on what the government promised in its legally binding targets.’”

According to its targets, the UK is supposed to cut its carbon emissions by 68 per cent by 2030 (relative to 1990 levels) in order to reach net zero by 2050. But the government has admitted that even in the best of circumstances—should all projected cuts be made and the latest carbon-capture technology actually work—the UK will still only hit 92 percent of its 2030 goal. In other words, their strategy based on carbon pricing continues to fail.

“There’s been such a focus, and rightly so, on agreeing to globally appropriate carbon budgets that are sufficiently steep to address the problem of climate change, but also not so demanding that that they destroy economies and lives,” Chamberlin explains. “But there’s been so little focus on the parallel question of how we actually reduce Global North emissions by 90 percent in 20 years, or whatever we consider to be radical emissions reductions.”

The plan the UK almost adopted more than a decade ago—Tradable Energy Quotas or TEQs—would have taken a very different approach. “TEQs emerged from a different paradigm to the whole carbon pricing approach,” Chamberlin explains. “There’s this impossible tension built into carbon pricing. We need to make carbon sufficiently expensive that it gets driven out of the economy. But at the same time, we need to keep energy affordable.”

According to the International Energy Agency, however, about 80 percent of global energy still comes from fossil fuels, a level that has remained consistent for decades. “So, if our energy is so highly carbonized, it becomes—unsurprisingly—impossibly difficult to raise the carbon price without raising the energy price,” Chamberlin points out. The carbon pricing approach has not been able to square this circle.

“What TEQs would do is turn that on its head,” he continues. “By removing any need to raise carbon prices, it would unify everybody in common purpose around genuinely shared and actually compatible goals—minimizing the destabilization of our climate while striving to keep energy services available and affordable. And it would make the economy exist within a carbon budget, rather than the other way around.”

TEQs Explained

The TEQs system, established by economist and cultural historian David Fleming in 1996, is a national-level system for capping and then reducing the fossil fuel-based energy consumption of all energy users—individual, institutional, and corporate.

“It’s a national system for implementing national carbon commitments agreed by the government of that country,” Chamberlin explains. “All individuals within that country receive an unconditional, equal, and free entitlement of what are called TEQs units, which you might think of as electronic ration coupons. To purchase any fuel or energy anywhere in the economy, these units have to be surrendered alongside the usual payment of money. So, you go to the gas station, you pay in cash or by credit card, and you also surrender some of these TEQs units.”

He continues, “Your entitlement will be an equal proportion of the national carbon budget. If you use less than that, if you are a below-average energy user, then you’ll have some spare left from your entitlement which you receive each week, and you can sell that spare back to the issuer. So, those who are energy-thrifty get a financial benefit from using less. Those who want to use more than their entitlement can buy those spare units, but of course they’re then effectively paying the more energy-thrifty people for the benefit of doing so.”

The system is administered by a registrar that issues the quotas. “In the UK, around 40 percent of emissions come from individuals and households, and around 60 percent of emissions come from industry and companies and non-household energy users,” Chamberlin says. “In line with those proportions, 40 percent of the budget goes to individuals while 60 percent goes via an auction to all other users. Only individuals and households get the free TEQ units; all other energy users need to purchase the units they need, which sets a single national price. The only place that anybody can get their TEQ units is from the registrar. There’s no trading between you and your neighbor directly. If you want to sell some units, you sell them to the registrar. If they want to buy some units, they buy them from the registrar.”

Since TEQs units are necessary for all energy use, and are only issued in line with the national carbon cap, the national carbon cap can’t be exceeded. “As such, carbon pricing is unnecessary—and without that artificial need to raise the price of energy, everyone’s focus can turn to keeping energy as affordable as possible and life as good as possible under the cap,” he continues.

The other key part of the system is a rating system. “The government will assess each energy retailer in the country for the carbon intensity of its fuel,” Chamberlin explains. “For example, if one oil company has a more carbon-efficient refining process than another, their petrol will require fewer TEQs units from the consumer at the point of purchase. This creates an incentive all the way through the economy for lower carbon processes. And of course, relative to any oil producer, renewable energy is going to require vastly fewer TEQs units. Not none, because there is still fossil fuel used in the production of wind turbines or solar panels, but vastly fewer.”

And because the carbon-intensity of energy/fuels is assessed and rated where they enter the economy, there is no need for impossibly complex lifecycle analysis of products. “We don’t need to figure out how much carbon went into every bag of crisps,” Chamberlin continues. “There’s no need to measure the emissions that come out of every chimney or every car exhaust pipe. Instead, the rating system applies upstream, and people engage with it downstream.”

Equity is also built into the system. “At any point, people can go to the registrar to purchase more TEQs units if they feel that they need them, and at any point people can sell,” Chamberlin adds.  “Because the number of units issued into the economy is fixed by the carbon budget, the price at any given time is determined by the demand. If lots of people are really struggling to live under the carbon budget, there are going to be lots of people trying to buy TEQs units, which will drive the price up. This creates a very clear message to the whole society that it’s not adapting very well to the budget, which creates a common purpose and real political momentum behind decarbonizing the economy and bringing that price down for everyone. Equally, if the price is dropping, just about everybody’s going to welcome that. Everybody has access to units at the same price at any time. The national price fluctuates in line with national demand. And buying and selling is very straightforward, like topping up a mobile phone.”

“The system we have today is essentially rationing by wealth,” he notes. “There’s only so much energy available and the richest get it. TEQs would move us from this system in which you burn what you can afford, to a system which fairly shares out what we can collectively afford to burn, while facilitating the radical reductions that an understanding of climate science demands.”

TEQs would also generate money through the auctioning of the units to non-household energy users such as industries, which is then used to subsidize consumers who are hardest hit by the price of fuel or to invest in difficult-to-fund infrastructure projects like public transportation.

Gas stations and electricity generators would surrender their TEQs when they purchase from wholesalers. “When they buy their fuel from suppliers or from the drillers or the extractors or the importers, they have to surrender units,” Chamberlin continues. “No matter whether that’s all integrated into one company or whether it’s 20 companies along the line, eventually those units end up with the people who are bringing the energy into the economy, whether they’re extracting it within the national borders or importing it. In order to have their license to operate, they have to surrender those units back to the registrar. So, you have a circular system.”

Chamberlin enumerates the benefits of the system. “It doesn’t take money from people in the way taxation does, so it’s actually improving their situation,” he says. “It benefits the poorer in society, because they tend to use less energy, but also provides assured entitlements to energy for all. It addresses fuel scarcity as well as guaranteeing emissions reductions. It’s not cumbersome or difficult for ordinary people to deal with, but does actively integrate into our daily lives the importance of reducing energy usage. And it provides a new paradigm of leadership for the nation that allows us to actually achieve our climate change targets, by making the economy exist under a carbon cap rather than the other way around.”

Approaching Implementation

The UK first funded research into the TEQs system in 2006. Two years later, the government enacted the Climate Change Act, and the government launched a full feasibility study into TEQs. The conclusion, however, was that the TEQs system was “ahead of its time.”

“The government decided instead to focus on what it called international abatement,” Chamberlin laments. “In other words, rather than actually reducing UK emissions, the government intended to pay other countries to reduce them on its behalf, because that was more economically efficient. That same year, 2008, the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee, which is the official body that reviews Parliament’s proceedings, was incredibly critical of this position, saying that the government should be looking at this much more urgently and pushing forward toward implementation.”

Three years later, an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change published a report on TEQs that garnered international media coverage, received the endorsements of a number of prominent people, “and again was essentially ignored by the government,” Chamberlin recalls. In 2015, Chamberlin teamed up with two academics to publish a peer-reviewed paper on TEQs in the journal Carbon Management. That year, and again in 2018, the European Commission took up the issue but failed to implement the system.

His experience of the details behind these headlines has made Chamberlin somewhat wary. “If we do again get TEQs anywhere close to political implementation, we’re going to again face a determination to undermine it,” he says. “Let’s imagine a global campaign for TEQs over the next five years that creates irresistible political momentum. There would come a point at which the people within some government department or corporate think tank would say, ‘Yeah, that’s fine but we just need to put in this little safety valve to make sure that prices don’t get too high.’ And the significance of that—essentially changing it back into yet another carbon-pricing policy—will be something that only us policy-wonks will understand. The danger here is that something implemented under the name of TEQs or rationing will not actually be either, and they’ll be able to channel all of that political momentum into something that just maintains the status quo. So, for me that’s a central challenge—how can we defend the core facets of the system as it gets closer to political reality?”

Who Makes the Decisions?

Despite many discussions of clean transitions and dramatic cuts in carbon emissions, the Global North remains a heavy consumer of fossil fuels. The United States, for instance, is the leading consumer of oil and natural gas in the world. (China and India, however, are the leading consumers of coal.)

These consumption rates have not only kept carbon emissions high but have shaped the conversation to focus on carbon budgets—how much is still feasible to emit—rather than simply slashing extraction and consumption as quickly as is feasible. TEQs could be put to work in support of either aim but, as Chamberlin points out, “TEQs offers no help with political agreement on how rapidly nations should cut fossil fuel use—rather it offers the means to make it possible to achieve more radical and rapid energy use reductions in the Global North, when or if that aim is deemed politically acceptable.”

Ivonne Yanez works for Acción Ecológica in Ecuador, which has “worked on climate change for more than 20 years,” she points out. “Also, for more than 20 years, we have supported the idea of leaving fossil fuels in the ground. This is the most important premise that we have to take into account in defining any policy regarding carbon dioxide reductions, regarding energy, or any energy transition or transformation.”

Chamberlin agrees: “Absolutely the priority should be to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Then, the question becomes, how do we get that to happen? One of the things we need to do is for people in the Global North to learn to live without using as much energy as they do, which is where TEQs comes in.”

Yanez points out that carbon budgets are established by national governments. The budgets that count, in terms of having an impact on oil and gas production and consumption, are those of Global North countries. These are the same countries that are responsible for fully half of global emissions since the start of the Industrial Revolution. “So, when a commission establishes the UK carbon budget, is it taking into account the current consumption of energy in the country or the 50 less percent energy that the UK should be consuming according to a fair calculation of climate justice?” she asks.

“I agree that the idea of a carbon budget is itself problematic,” Chamberlin replies. “To my point of view, there is no acceptable carbon budget left to burn. We’re already at a point where the climate has been destabilized and is having profoundly undesirable effects. We’re torn between the physical reality and the political reality: if I could click my fingers and transform both of those, I would. But the reason why countries aren’t willing to say, ‘Yes, we’ll just stop emitting carbon tomorrow’ is because their whole economy is dependent on the fuel that contains that carbon. And hence we’ve got this huge and very dysfunctional UN process of countries trying to negotiate among themselves over what would be an appropriate carbon budget.”

Ensuring Equity

Fossil fuels are quite cheap to use—because governments use subsidies to keep prices low for consumers and because the environmental costs of extraction and use are not factored into the price tag. This means that an increase in fuel prices disproportionately affects the consumers who can least afford to buy solar panels or switch to an electric vehicle. It also means that increasing the price of gas is politically unpopular.

“TEQs and other cap-and-ration systems have solid potential to gain broad political acceptance,” Stan Cox says. “As long as it’s clear that the majority in society under these systems would have guaranteed access to affordable energy to meet their needs and with greater economic security than they may even have today.”

Cox and his colleague Larry Edwards, an engineer and environmental consultant, have developed a system similar to TEQs that they call “Cap and Adapt.” The difference is that the caps and the rations are measured in terms of barrels of oil, cubic meters of gas, and tons of coal, rather than carbon units.

The rationing in these systems, Cox explains, doesn’t put the burden of emission reductions on individuals in households by limiting their consumption. Rather, it’s the declining cap that ensures the reductions in total emissions. “Such a straight-ahead rationing program is meant to ensure that everyone has enough and that access is equitable,” he says. “In these systems, rationing is not the bully, rationing is your friend. It’s something to make society fairer and ensure sufficiency.”

Such systems would ideally dovetail with “a comprehensive industrial policy that directs energy and other resources toward the production of essential goods and services and away from wasteful and unnecessary production,” he adds. “Such policies, for example, could divert resources away from military production and toward development of green infrastructure and retrofitting buildings. Or away from aircraft and private vehicles and toward public transportation. Or away from the construction of McMansions toward affordable, energy-efficient, durable housing. Or from the production of feed grain for cattle and toward grains and legumes for food. Or, overall, away from luxury goods and towards basic necessities.”

Cox also proposes a more comprehensive approach that goes beyond price controls and rationing: “a system of universal basic services that guarantees every household sufficient access to essential goods and services, including such things as public water and energy supplies, medical services, public education, and transportation, good quality food, affordable housing, green space, clean air, and public safety without repression.” He is quick to clarify. “I don’t mean that everything would be free. But there would be some guarantee that people, no matter what their income, would have access. Could all of this be feasible? Yes, by focusing energy supplies on essential goods and services rather than on wasteful, solely-for-profit production. It would also mean the sacrificing of growth for growth’s sake.”

Movements in the Global South have also been addressing the problem of unrestrained growth. Yanez points out that the term “degrowth” has little resonance “because how can we ask the indigenous people to degrow? I’d rather talk about post-growth or this idea of living well: buen vivir in Spanish or sumac kawsay in Quechua.”

“The degrowth movement is centered mainly in Europe,” Cox concedes, “but it has been very valuable in envisioning what a degrowth or postgrowth society would look like, and pointing out the differences between economic growth and the growth of human well-being. The movement purposely has not gotten into mechanisms to achieve degrowth. But I think it’s important for society to see that we have to choose between growth or survival, and that if we do what’s necessary for survival, we won’t have growth. We in the affluent societies would be better off with less, and in the meantime, there are going to be other solutions in non-affluent societies.”

Actions Together

Although a rationing system for fossil fuels has yet to be implemented by any national governments, several states have joined together to end their dependency on oil and gas. Led by Denmark and Costa Rica, the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance members have pledged to end new exploration for oil and gas. Under the new leadership of Gustavo Petro, Colombia too wants to join their ranks, which is significant given the country’s economic dependency fossil fuel exports. In 2018, Ireland became the world’s first country to divest from fossil fuel funds.

The Pacific island nations of Tuvalu and Vanuatu, meanwhile, are leading an initiative at the UN level to pass a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty that would end the expansion of fossil fuel production, phase out existing fossil fuel infrastructure, and accelerate a just transition to clean energy.

There have also been many initiatives from below to reduce fossil fuel use. One path has been to stop extraction. “For decades, movements of indigenous peoples, campesinos, and fisherfolk have been fighting against climate change,” Ivonne Yanez points out. “And how? They do not talk about carbon emissions or reductions. They just want to stop oil, gas, and coal extraction. Here in Ecuador, for example, there are so many communities resisting oil extraction and being criminalized because of this.”

Yanez also notes that acting together means not only solidarity among peoples but establishing stronger links with the rest of nature. “It would be good to incorporate in the TEQs proposals and debate the point of view of non-humans, including the stones and the spirits,” she proposes.

Chamberlin strongly agrees on both points. “I myself have been arrested in trying to shut down fossil fuel extraction sites, and I was one of the first arrestees with Extinction Rebellion,” he relates. “TEQs is an attempt to translate some of the wisdom of restraint and absolute limits into the language of a sick empire. This is an attempt from within an omnicidal culture to limit some of the damage that it’s doing.”

He continues, “Ultimately, it’s not about the growth or degrowth of the market economy. It’s about getting ready for the moment when the system collapses under the weight of its own unsustainability. We have inherited a system that depends on growth; that growth will end by accident or by design, and soon. After this system fades into history, future systems will again be based on informal relationships between beings on the planet just like they always have been in the past before these few centuries of madness. The older cultures on our planet know how to live in that world and we should absolutely be listening to them more.”

“In the meantime, we would doubtless be wise to slash emissions as drastically as we can,” he concludes. “And it is surely beyond time to move from the endless debates over ‘fair’ carbon budgets to the actual work of reducing fossil fuel consumption in the Global North, in solidarity with the indigenous-led resistance in the Global South working to stop fossil fuel extraction. For this, cap-and-ration—whether TEQs or other closely-related proposals—appears the only policy paradigm suited to cut the paralyzing Gordian knot that carbon pricing has tied us into.”

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

The Shift from Pink to Green in Latin America: Can the United States Become a Green Good Neighbor? Wed, 05 Apr 2023 04:04:52 +0000 ( ) – Gustavo Petro doesn’t just want to transform his own country; he wants to change the world. The new leader of Colombia, who took office last August, is targeting what he calls his nation’s “economy of death.” That means pivoting away from oil, natural gas, coal, and narcotics toward more sustainable economic activities. Given that oil and coal make up half his country’s exports — and Colombia is the world’s leading cocaine producer — that’s not going to be easy.

Still, if Colombia were to undertake such a pivot, it would prove to other countries similarly addicted to such powerful substances — including the United States — that radical change is possible. With the latest news that the international community will almost certainly fall short of its carbon reduction target for 2030, Colombia’s pathbreaking detox effort has become more urgent and significant than ever.

Not surprisingly, Petro and Francia Marquez, his environmentalist vice president, have encountered significant resistance to their plans, even from within their own ranks. Although they immediately declared a moratorium on new oil and gas drilling as part of a bid to phase out the country’s fossil-fuel industry, their own finance and energy ministries, fearing the moratorium’s effect on the economy, refused to rule out such future contracts. The government also proposed a major new tax on oil exports, only to quickly scale it back in the face of widespread industry resistance, including from the state-owned oil company Ecopetrol. 

An even bigger challenge comes from the monstrous debt problem the Petro administration faces. Fully one-third of government revenues flow toward servicing Columbia’s huge foreign debt. Similarly shackled to onerous interest payments, much of the Global South has been forced to extract ever more resources simply to pay the never-ending bills from international banks.

Still, whatever problems he faces, Petro represents something new.  After all, the Latin American left has long favored more mining and drilling to boost exports, trade, and government revenues. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) has typically pursued the renationalization of the oil industry to (yes!) boost production. That’s also been the strategy of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) in Brazil, while the Peronist government in Argentina has focused on an attempt to significantly increase offshore oil drilling. Progressivism in Latin America, as in many other parts of the world, has long been inextricably linked to raw material extraction designed to distribute more wealth to the poor, while closing the gap with the richer North.

Sadly, however, despite similar growth strategies pursued by left, right, and center governments, the countries of the region have collectively failed to achieve either of those goals. Latin America remains the most economically unequal region on the planet. Instead of beginning to catch up to the North, it has fallen ever further behind. In 1980, per capita gross domestic product (GDP) on that continent was 42% of the G7’s, the world’s most industrialized countries. By 2022 — notwithstanding all the wealth scratched from the ground and the sea, the promises of the advocates of free trade, and the efforts of progressive politicians who won power — the region’s GDP per capita had fallen dramatically to 29% of the G7 countries.

Now, Colombia is trying something different. The electoral victory of Petro and Francia has been hailed — or derided — as part of a new “pink wave” in Latin America that’s brought Gabriel Boric to power in Chile, Xiomara Castro to the top spot in Honduras, and Lula back to the presidency of Brazil.

But given what Petro and Francia are attempting, simply identifying them with that pink wave would be misleading. They are, after all, offering a fundamentally different paradigm of economic development, one that’s more green than pink.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the first rule of holes: if you find yourself in one, stop digging. For decades, Latin American countries have tried to dig themselves out of poverty — drilling for oil, mining for lithium — only to find themselves in an ever-deeper pit.

Colombia is the first country to declare that it wants to stop digging. Will the world, and particularly the United States, now lend a hand in pulling it out of its economic hole?

The Pink Wave That Isn’t

The left might seem to be on the march in Latin America, but a closer look at recent election results reveals a somewhat different picture.

In Brazil, right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro should have been defeated in a landslide in last year’s presidential election. After all, the “Trump of the tropics” had presided over a Covid-19 catastrophe that left Brazil in second place globally (after the United States) in the number of deaths from that pandemic. He had initially run on an anticorruption platform, but his administration was so rife with economic misrule that it may, in the end, leave Bolsonaro behind bars. And far from reassuring Brazilians that he was committed to democracy, he repeatedly praised the country’s long-gone military dictatorship, even reinstating commemorations of the day the armed forces took over in 1964.

Not only did Bolsonaro almost beat Lula — the margin of victory was less than 2% — his Liberal Party expanded its already impressive power base in the country’s bicameral Congress. And Brazil wasn’t the only country in the region where the far right came close to victory. Right-wing parties nearly won last year’s elections in Chile and Colombia, too.

Nor is the rest of the region anything like a pink paradise. In El Salvador, right-wing populist Nayib Bukele has pulled a Putin by expanding his control over all three branches of government. Uruguay, once a leftist enclave, shifted to the right in the 2020 elections, as did Ecuador in 2021. And left populist Pedro Castillo, elected president of Peru in that year, now sits in prison after his ouster following an attempted coup. Meanwhile, according to the latest polls, the most likely politician to replace the current right-wing government in Guatemala, Zury Rios, the daughter of legendary dictator Rios Montt, is even further to the right.

In addition, three supposedly leftist governments — Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela — are actually despotic regimes that have imprisoned dissenters, left and right. Other leftist governments are gesturing in that direction as well, with Bolivia’s Luis Arce recently arresting his chief rival and Mexico’s AMLO defunding an electoral oversight body.

Meanwhile, in Argentina, President Alberto Fernandez, who heads a center-left Peronist coalition with former president Cristina Kirchner, has seen his popularity drop precipitously. His party, in fact, lost big time in midterm elections in 2021, and 67% of Argentines now have unfavorable views of him in the run-up to the next election in October.

The Argentine case is a reminder that what might look like either a “pink wave” or a “counter-pink wave” is just rage against incumbents. Latin Americans have “thrown the bums out” in 15 of the last 15 elections. As elsewhere in the world, a significant portion of the electorate holds incumbents across the board responsible for the failure of economic reforms to deliver prosperity. Right-wing populists have also used the politics of hate — against immigrants, the LGBT community, women, the indigenous, and people of African descent — to speed their ascent, with a big assist from social networks and right-wing media. As in the United States, this White, male, homophobic backlash has begun to merge with the economic resentment felt by all those globalization has left behind.

That’s what makes the Colombian example so precious: it’s the exception, not the rule. The only other leader who comes close is Gabriel Boric in Chile. Having appointed a climatologist to be his environmental minister, Boric is committed to reducing carbon emissions and finding new, sustainable livelihoods for those in the country’s “sacrifice zones.” But he’s no less committed to positioning Chile as a leading exporter of lithium, a key component in rechargeable ion batteries, whose extraction nonetheless poses serious environmental and social risks. In Latin America, after all, commodities like lithium are king. Between 2000 and 2014, its countries enjoyed a commodity boom that lifted exports and spurred growth (though not enough to bridge the economic gap with the richer North).

China, which absorbed only 1% of Latin America’s exports back in 2000, but now takes almost 15% of them, has been encouraging the region to ramp up extraction. Currently, South America’s leading trade partner — and number two for Latin America overall — China wants raw materials like oil, copper, and soybeans to feed both its industries and its people. It has also boosted imports of materials critical for renewable energy products like lithium for batteries and balsa for wind-turbine blades.

The “open veins of Latin America” that Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano eloquently chronicled so long ago are increasingly being bled by China.

Green Good Neighbor?

Latin America is not simply a supplier of raw materials for the energy transitions of China and the global North. It’s in the midst of a transition of its own. In fact, it’s currently building four times more solar capacity than the European Union and so creating a basic new energy infrastructure that should boost by 70% the amount of electricity solar power will provide to the region. Add in wind power and renewable capacity is set to increase by a startling 460% by 2030.

Most of this capacity is, however, concentrated in a handful of countries led by Brazil, Colombia, and Chile. To date, those three, along with Mexico and Peru, are responsible for 97% of added solar capacity. The sustainable energy transition, in other words, threatens to divide the region into a rising clean bloc and a still all-too-dirty one.

This is where the United States could come in.

In the 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration unveiled a new approach to Latin America: the Good Neighbor Policy. Reversing a century of U.S. meddling, that new policy stressed nonintervention and noninterference in the region, while encouraging more trade and tourism. There was, however, nothing altruistic about it. Roosevelt wanted to open Latin America to U.S. exports, gain access to critical resources, and later secure its support in World War II.

Today, a different challenge requires the United States to link arms far more strongly with its neighbors to the south. European countries are pulling together to fight climate change with a European Green Deal. Washington needs to attempt to do the same with Latin America.

After all, China is challenging the U.S. for economic predominance in its own backyard, while expanding trade there at an astounding pace. It sent billions of dollars in aid and loans to the region at the height of the Covid pandemic and directly invested as much capital as it has in the European Union.

To enlist Latin Americans in a common struggle — or even just to remain minimally relevant — Washington needs to offer something different. So far, the Biden administration’s moves have been frustratingly modest. True, it has requested $2.4 billion in aid for the region in 2023, the most in a decade. Still, compare that to the $3.3 billion in annual military assistance the U.S. sends to Israel alone or the $75 billion in assistance dispatched to Ukraine last year.

It’s time for the Biden administration to introduce a Green Good Neighbor Policy aimed at making Colombia the rule, not the exception. Latin America as a whole needs to transition from fossil fuels and the United States could speed that process by supporting a regional Green infrastructure fund. Call it the Green Road Initiative (in contrast to China’s Belt and Road Initiative).

So far, the administration has made some promises. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged last year that the United States would help the region achieve “growth with equity.” According to a recent report, a sustainable energy transition in Latin America could create over 10% more jobs by 2030, turning Blinken’s words into reality. The administration has also promised that future trade agreements won’t have provisions — found in most current ones — that allow corporations to sue governments over regulations that affect their bottom lines. An important region-wide bank, meanwhile, is starting to support more Green infrastructure projects.

But all of these are, at best, half-steps. If the Biden administration truly wanted to make a difference, it would create a Green Bank to help fund that Latin American energy transition, while restructuring — or better yet, canceling — the debts that have so crippled efforts like Colombia’s to finance a serious economic transformation. This regional plan could even include illiberal outliers like Cuba, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. As with China, green cooperation doesn’t require agreement on a checklist of issues any more than arms control deals with the Soviet Union required a consensus on human rights during the Cold War.

This is not altruism. As in Roosevelt’s era, a more prosperous and environmentally sustainable Latin America would be less likely to send waves of immigrants to the United States, while creating more markets for U.S. goods. Oh, and it would also ensure a further reduction of carbon emissions globally so that maybe, just maybe, Florida won’t disappear into the ocean.

Colombia is a small, scrappy country that faces long odds like the little engine that thinks it can, thinks it can, thinks it can…

But to ensure that it indeed can, that such a monumental transition will ever take place, help is needed and soon. That’s especially true given the second law of holes: even when you stop digging, you’re still at the bottom.

A strong push from a green good neighbor could help Columbia — and the rest of us — begin to climb out and scale new heights.


Ukraine and the Lessons of the Iraq War Sat, 25 Mar 2023 04:02:11 +0000 By John Feffer | –

( Foreign Policy in Focus ) – Leaving aside the manufactured justifications, the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to reassert U.S. power in the Middle East and reduce the influence of Iran. It wasn’t terrorism or yellow cake or even Saddam Hussein’s appalling human rights abuses that motivated one of the most tragic of U.S. foreign policy blunders.

The call of the peace movement 20 years ago–invading troops out!–should be the call of the peace movement today.

It was geopolitics, stupid.

According to the fevered imaginations of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and their neocon compatriots, Saddam would be the first domino to fall, followed by other autocrats (Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Muammar Qaddafi in Libya) until, boom, democracy upended the ayatollahs in Iran as well. They even imagined, by the mere inclusion of it in an “axis of evil,” that North Korea too would soon experience a Pyongyang Spring.

Saddam did indeed fall. And then Iraq fell apart, thanks to the failure of the Bush administration to develop a coherent post-war reconstruction plan.

But democracy did not take hold in the region, much less in North Korea. Some autocrats have squeaked by, in the case of Assad by ruthlessly suppressing a civil uprising, while others have emerged like Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt and Abdelmadjid Tebboune in Algeria. And several putative democrats, like Kais Saied in Tunisia and Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, have moved solidly into the illiberal camp.

Here’s a koan for the neocons: what’s the sound of one domino falling?

The ayatollahs, meanwhile, haven’t gone anywhere. Iran, by all estimates, increased its regional standing after 2003, becoming a major player in post-war Iraq, growing its influence in Lebanon and Syria, raising its profile among Palestinians through support of Hamas in Gaza, and backing a Shiite faction in Yemen.

So, the invasion of Iraq produced the exact opposite results than intended, despite the loss of over 4,400 U.S. soldiers and the outlay of as much as $2 trillion to fight the war and repair the broken country. Iraqis, of course, have suffered even more: around 300,000 deaths and a state currently hobbled by corruption and in-fighting.

Photo by Daniel Stuben. on Unsplash

Okay, Saddam is gone. But Iran and terrorist entities like the Islamic State have filled the regional vacuum, not the United States or democracy.

U.S. declining influence in the region was on display in the recent agreement that Iran inked with Saudi Arabia. The two perennially adversarial powers agreed this month to restore diplomatic relations, and the king of Saudi Arabia even invited Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to visit Riyadh. This extraordinary development, between two countries that have fought through proxies in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon, has the potential to remap the region.

The United States, the most powerful country in the world and the post-World War II hegemon in the Middle East, had nothing to do with the rapprochement.

It was China that brokered the agreement, a country with a single overseas military base and little history of involvement in the Middle East.

On the twentieth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, the United States has discovered once again how the mighty can be brought low by their hubris.

Who Is Learning the Lessons of Iraq?

The United States has lost a large measure of its global influence, thanks to its fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan. Have subsequent administrations learned the lessons of these misbegotten incursions?

Barack Obama famously tried to pivot from Iraq to “winning” the war in Afghanistan. Today, the Taliban once again rule that country.

Donald Trump pretended as if he’d never supported the Iraq War as part of a half-assed attempt to paint himself as a critic of U.S. military interventions. In fact, it was only because of the concerted efforts of marginally more sensible members of his administration that Trump didn’t plunge the United States into war with Iran or Venezuela.

Biden seems to have partially learned the lessons of Iraq. He followed through on the pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and he has resisted sending U.S. troops to Ukraine. On the other hand, he has pushed the U.S. military budget ever higher and doubled down on containing China.

But the person who has truly not learned the lessons of Iraq comes from a different country altogether: Vladimir Putin.

Last year, Putin did a credible impersonation of George W. Bush by launching a “shock and awe” attack on Ukraine that he thought would be such a cakewalk that it wouldn’t even need proper preparation like updated maps or food enough to feed the invading troops. The “limits of military force” that has become a catchphrase among U.S. policymakers and pundits obviously never penetrated the walls of the Kremlin or the nationalist mindset of the Russian leader.

Strangely, pundits in the West have been slow to draw this obvious parallel. In The Guardian, Jonathan Steele notes that “in spite of the resurgence of US power in Europe as a result of the war in Ukraine, the era of US supremacy in the rest of the world may soon be over.” Well, the erosion of U.S. power been a long time in the making. But what about the end of Russian supremacy in its own sphere of influence? Wouldn’t that be a more apt comparison between the Iraq and Ukraine wars?  The Biden administration has learned at least some lessons from the dreadful blunder. The same can’t be said for Putin, and Russia will inevitably suffer the same geopolitical consequences.

Ishaan Tharoor, in The Washington Post, muses that the United States is unable to build a more effective global coalition against Russia because of its hypocrisy going back to the Iraq War. True, but much of the world is skeptical of U.S. intentions because of U.S. foreign policy misadventures going back a century or more—and also because Russia still has some influence in important countries like China, India, and South Africa. And it is Russian hypocrisy—Putin’s ridiculous claims that he is upholding sovereignty rather than violating it—that’s the more salient feature of the current war. Imperialism is never having to say you’re sorry (or make sense, for that matter).

And in the Boston Globe, Andrew Bacevich makes the off-base argument that “Biden appears to believe that the Ukraine war provides a venue whereby the United States can overcome the legacy of Iraq, enabling him to make good on his repeated assertion that ‘America is back.’”


The war in Ukraine has less to do with the United States than with Vladimir Putin’s quest for power and imperial might. The United States is not the only superpower whose reach exceeds its grasp. Moreover, the Biden administration has responded with arms and support for Ukraine not out of any effort to overcome the legacy of Iraq but to come to the defense of a democracy that has been invaded.

These arguments are all part of an obsessively U.S.-focused “whataboutism” that has permeated the U.S. left’s discourse in particular around Ukraine. Instead of focusing on Russian actions, the anti-war critics will say “what about the U.S. invasion of Iraq?” as if there can only be one badly behaved country in the world and only one touchstone of evil.

Bacevich, again, has tried to make a virtue out of this rhetorical irresponsibility – Giving Whataboutism a Chance—by concluding that “however grotesque, Putin’s ambitions in Ukraine seem almost modest by comparison” to the U.S. crimes in Iraq. Though Bacevich agrees that Putin’s “actions have been those of a vile criminal,” he is effectively arguing that the stakes in Ukraine are somehow not so great as to justify providing the country with sufficient means to defend itself.

The fact that the United States, among others, have failed to do the right thing in the past—or in other parts of the world today—should in no way diminish the importance of doing the right thing right now in Ukraine. Would Bacevich argue that the Biden administration shouldn’t pursue major carbon reductions at home because the United States pumped so much carbon into the atmosphere in the past or is failing to help, for instance, India from kicking the fossil fuel habit today? At its heart, whataboutism provides an intellectual veneer for a paralyzing passivity in the face of evil.

And What About U.S. Influence?

Even as they note the declining global influence of the United States, some analysts nevertheless believe that Washington can somehow wave a magic wand to end the war in Ukraine.

Take George Beebe, in Responsible Statecraft, who makes the problematic assertion that this summer “Ukraine might well have less bargaining leverage, as its battlefield position stagnates and its confidence in enduring American support erodes.” Thus, the Biden administration should press

the accelerator pedal on negotiations with Russia. For example, signaling discreetly to Moscow that we are prepared to discuss the thorny issue of Ukraine’s membership in NATO – an issue Putin regards as central to the war, but which Biden has so far refused to discuss – might help to change these dynamics and reshape Russia’s attitude toward a settlement. 

This assertion is based on several faulty assumptions. Beebe urges the Biden administration to act now because of something—a battlefield stalemate—that might happen this summer and would be more likely to happen if Biden listens to Beebe (talk about self-fulfilling arguments).

Sure, Washington could signal that it will talk about NATO membership with Russia. But Putin actually doesn’t care that much about NATO per se. What the Russian leader wants is to fully incorporate as much of Ukraine into Russia as possible. Barring the installation of a Kremlin-friendly administration in Kyiv, he’ll settle for a structurally weakened country that will never pose any kind of threat—military, economic, political—to Russia.

Finally, what Beebe doesn’t say but rather implies is that the Biden administration should exercise its influence by leaning on Ukraine to negotiate with Russia, particularly if it doesn’t feel compelled to do so by circumstances on the ground.

Yes, of course, the Biden administration could seriously weaken the Ukrainian military by cutting off military supplies. Proponents of this view believe that this will somehow produce a negotiated settlement. The more likely scenario would be a redoubled Russian military assault accompanied by war crimes on a scale that would dwarf the horrors of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The recent indictment of Putin by the International Criminal Court focused on the forced relocation of Ukrainian children. But that’s just a small part of what Putin has wrought: executions of prisoners of war, slaughter of civilians, bombing of civilian infrastructure. Full-scale war against a weakened opponent will bring full-scale war crimes.

All of which suggests that the “pro-peace” critics of Biden’s policy toward Ukraine—from the left and the right—are really the ones who have not internalized the lessons of the Iraq War. The refusal of the United States to make any serious post-invasion plans, the effort to occupy Iraq and dictate its political and economic future, the implicit belief that the invasion would solidify U.S. standing in the region—these all plunged Iraq into years and years of civil war. Anything short of drastically reducing Russian influence in Ukraine will condemn the country to the same.

The U.S. left continuously called for U.S. troops to leave Iraq. Only those who have failed to learn the lessons of the Iraq War would fail to make the same demand of Russia as a prerequisite for a just peace today.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

Corporations are using Trade Treaties to handcuff Efforts to save the Planet from Climate Emergency Fri, 17 Mar 2023 04:02:06 +0000 ( Foreign Policy in Focus) – The global economy hit a new milestone in 2022 by surpassing $100 trillion. This expansion, which has experienced only the occasional setback such as the 2020 COVID shutdowns, has been accelerated by trade. The world trade volume experienced 4,300 percent growth from 1950 to 2021, an average 4 percent increase every year. This linked growth of the global economy and international trade took off in the 1980s as governments embraced the project of globalization, which prioritized the reduction of barriers to trade such as tariffs.

The mechanism by which globalization spread throughout the world, the key strand of its DNA, has been the “free trade” treaty.

“We’ve had 30 years of free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties,” points out Luciana Ghiotto, a researcher at CONICET-Argentina and associate researcher with the Transnational Institute. “They’ve created this enormous legal architecture, what one friend of ours calls the ‘corporate architecture of impunity,’ which has spread like grass and gives legal security and certainty to capital. It has nothing to do with the protection of human rights or environmental rights.”

Indeed, among the many problems associated with the expansion of world trade has been environmental degradation in the form of land, air, and water pollution. More recently, however, attention has turned to the more specific problem of carbon emissions, which are largely responsible for climate change. According to the World Trade Organization, the production and transport of goods for export and import account for 20-30 percent of global carbon emissions.

Embedded in many of the treaties governing trade and investment are clauses that give corporations the right to sue governments over regulations, particularly those addressing the environment and climate change, that adversely affect the expected profit margins of those businesses. These investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions have a “chilling effect on the regulatory system because governments, worried that they will be sued, decide to delay reforms related to climate change,” points out Manuel Perez Rocha, an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. “There have been several cases around the world where companies were able to defeat regulatory changes that favor the climate.”

Trade rules that privilege corporations over the environment are particularly influential in the realm of agriculture, which is an extractive industry no less powerful than mining.

“The global system of trade and investment contributes to the monopoly control by just a few transnational corporations over fossil-fuel-guzzling agrobusiness, whose products are often transported thousands of miles before they reach a dinner table,” relates Jen Moore, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. “At the same time. the system has been decisive in making the lives of millions of small-scale farmers more precarious, undermining their role as a better alternative to mass monoculture operations.”

Carbon emissions are not the only byproduct of the agrobusiness that global trade sustains. “There’s also methane emissions,” adds Karen Hansen-Kuhn, program director at the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy. “A lot of methane comes from meat production. Nitrous oxide, which is 265 times more potent than carbon and stays in the atmosphere over 100 years, results from chemical fertilizers.”
These perspectives on global trade—and more environmentally sound alternatives to the “free trade” model—were presented at a December 2022 webinar sponsored by Global Just Transition project of the Institute for Policy Studies and the Ecosocial and Intercultural Pact of the South.

The Rise of “Free Trade”

Throughout the modern era, states throughout the world protected their domestic economies through tariffs on foreign goods and restrictions on foreign investment. Behind these protective walls, states helped local farmers and businesses compete against cheaper imports and deep-pocketed investors.

But states that depended increasingly on exports of cheap industrial goods and surplus food—aided by transnational companies eager to boost their profits—lobbied for the reduction of these barriers. Arguments for “free trade,” traditionally linked to the presumed benefits of globalization, emerged within the most powerful economies in the nineteenth century, but it was more recently, in the 1970s, that states and international institutions dramatically revived this discourse under the banner of “neoliberalism.”

“When we talk about the circulation of capital, we’re talking about trade,” explains Luciana Ghiotto. “That is, import and export for states and the circulation of thousands of vessels and planes for the transport of commodities all around the world. One of the aims of capital is to make that circulation faster, simpler, and easier. Who would not want to make trade easier or faster? Well, the state.”

Faster and more efficient trade, while more profitable for corporations, also has meant a number of negative consequences for states such as job loss among domestic producers. Because of the wide array of free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties now in force—and the power invested in international bodies to enforce these agreements—states have lost many of the tools they once used to protect or develop national industries.

The spread of the free-trade orthodoxy has had a major impact on the energy industry, which has in turn pushed up carbon emissions. Ghiotto points to the efforts of fossil-fuel corporations to protect their investments in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union as a primary motivation to negotiate an Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) in the early 1990s, which guaranteed a free trade in global energy markets. The ECT was originally signed by 53 European and Central Asian countries. Today, another 30 countries from Burundi to Pakistan are in the queue for membership.

“The ECT is actually a treaty made specially to protect fossil fuel Industries,” Ghiotto continues. “It’s already been used by investors to protect their investments in the face of state policies. But that was 30 years ago. Now, because of the global climate crisis, states are pushing for other kinds of regulations that are jeopardizing the investments of these corporations.”

Energy companies have taken states to dispute settlement in 124 cases, with around 50 against Spain alone because of its reforms in the renewable energy sector. Companies “have used the ECT as a legal umbrella in order to increase business and profits, or simply to protect their investments against state regulation,” Ghiotto adds. Italy, for instance, instituted a ban on offshore drilling only to be hit by a suit from the UK energy company Rockhopper. In November 2022, the ECT arbitration panel ordered the Italian government to pay the company 190 million Euros plus interest.

“Investors in the mining and oil sector have launched 22 percent of the claims against Latin American states,” she reports. “There was the big case of Chevron against Ecuador. But there have been others. For instance, Ecuador had to pay a $374 million penalty to the French oil company Parenco after the state changed some clauses regarding the amount of taxes the company had to pay in order to give back some of the revenues to the Ecuadorian people.”

Agriculture and Climate Change

Global food production generates 17 billion tons of greenhouse gasses every year. That’s about a third of the 50 billion tons of such gasses emitted annually. The production of beef and cow milk are the worst offenders, largely because of the methane that’s released by the animals themselves. But other major contributors include soil tillage, manure management, transportation, and fertilizer.

“Along with Greenpeace and Grain, our institute has been working with scientists to think about how increased fertilizer use is affecting climate change,” Karen Hansen-Kuhn reports. “Fertilizer use has been increasing all over the world. It’s a key part of Green Revolution practices. The scientists we worked with found that the use of nitrogen fertilizer, bringing together the natural gas and the energy used in production along with transportation and the impacts in the field, amounts to more than 21 percent of emissions from agriculture, and it’s been growing.”

According to a map of excess nitrogen per hectare of cropland, countries like China, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, and Venezuela are using more nitrogen for fertilizers than the crops can even absorb. “This excess contributes to more emissions and causes other problems, for instance with run-off into waterways,” she continues. “The incentives right now in the agricultural system are for extreme overproduction, especially around commodity crops, like corn, soybeans, and wheat, which require these cheap chemical inputs.”

Many of these commodity crops are produced for export. Netherlands is the world’s second largest exporter of food; China is the second largest importer of food but also the sixth larger exporter. The challenge is to continue to feed the world while reducing the use of so much fertilizer. “Many countries are advancing important agroecological solutions like crop rotation, using plants that fix nitrogen in the soil, and doing more composting,” Hansen-Kuhn adds. “These techniques are under the control of farmers, so they don’t rely on imports or trade in these chemical inputs.”

Another strategy, embraced by the European Union, has been to use trade rules to reduce the carbon content of imports and exports. “In Europe, they are currently in the process of finalizing a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism,” she reports. “The CBAM mostly applies to things like aluminum, steel, and cement, but fertilizer is part of it as well. A lot of firms in Europe are modernizing their plants so they’ll be more energy efficient. And they say they need protection in order to do that. Under this plan, fertilizer imports coming from other countries that don’t have the same environmental standards would be subject to a fee tied to the price of carbon.”

In theory, the CBAM would push exporting countries to raise their environmental standards and/or make their fertilizer production more efficient. “Maybe these plants will become more efficient,” she adds. “But maybe some firms will just decide to produce fertilizer in other countries. Or maybe in cases where a country has two factories, it will just export from the efficient factory, and there’s no change in emissions.”

On top of that, the CBAM will affect countries very differently. “Most of the fertilizer imports into the EU come from nearby countries like Russia or Egypt,” she continues. “But some imports come from countries like Senegal, where the fertilizer exports to Europe amount to 2-5 percent of their entire GDP. So, the CBAM would be a huge problem for such countries. And there’s nothing in this initiative that would give countries the technology they need to make changes. In fact, there are strong incentives against that in the trade deals. The CBAM provision specifically says that all of the resources generated by the carbon fee will be kept internally to foster the transition within Europe.”

Although CBAM may make European trade greener, it may also widen the “green gap” between Europe and the rest of the world. “We need a transition to agroecology, but what we’re getting in the trade deals lock in new incentives to continue with business as usual,” Hansen-Kuhn concludes. “If we look at the renegotiated NAFTA, there’s a new chapter on agricultural biotechnology that streamlines the process for approving both GMOs and products of gene editing. There are also restrictions on seed saving and sharing. And this new NAFTA will probably be the model for other agreements like the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.”

Action at the Global Level

Civil society organizations have been pushing for a legally binding treaty at the UN level to make business responsible for human rights violations and environmental crimes connected to their operations.

“Since the UN is made up of states, the more industrialized countries who can invest in the world are opposed to such a binding treaty,” Luciana Ghiotto points out. “In the United States, Canada, and Japan, we’ve seen debates about holding companies responsible for human rights violations throughout the production chain. It’s a relatively new political process. But it’s an example of civil society organizations putting a question of human rights and environmental rights at the center of discussion.”

Efforts at the international level are very complicated, Manuel Perez Rocha concedes: “For instance, the World Bank has the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) through which corporations can sue states.” He recommends a more regional approach. “We have proposed a dispute resolution center for Latin America that countries could use after pulling out of ICSID. “Unfortunately, most progressive countries have not embraced this,” he reports.

One of the challenges to persuading governments to embrace these alternatives is corruption. “There’s a tremendous circle of corruption,” he adds. “We’re talking here about the revolving door where public officials who negotiate these treaties then become private lawyers or counselors or board members of the corporations who are lobbying for their adoption. This corruption helps explain why governments sign these treaties even if they’re going to be sued.”

He points as well to the issue of access to critical minerals needed in the green energy transition. “The Biden administration is trying to combat fossil fuels at the cost of communities that live around the deposits of critical minerals like lithium and cobalt,” Perez Rocha explains. “There are a lot of concerns among native populations about how to make this transition to a so-called clean economy without violating human rights and destroying the environment.”

Trade has been a mechanism to make deals around these minerals. “These efforts at near-shoring and friend-shoring have been ways to control the supply chains around minerals and metals,” notes Jen Moore. “The United States in particular but also Canada have made themselves clear: to be identified as a ‘friend’ is to have an FTA or a bilateral investment treaty.”

There have been other actions at the global level related to climate issues and jobs. For instance, the United States brought action against India in the WTO in 2014 over domestic content provisions in its effort to boost solar energy. India returned the favor two years later over similar domestic content provisions in state-level solar policy. “The WTO deemed both rules illegal,” Karen Hansen-Kuhn recalls. “In the United States, the programs continued, I don’t think any changes were made. But when we think of a just transition, it has to be about not just reducing emissions but about creating jobs.”

Resistance to Business as Usual

Resistance to the corporate-friendly trade architecture has come from many corners of the globe. “From the perspective of my work with mining-affected people,” Jen Moore reports, “there’s been a rise in resistance from farmers, indigenous peoples, and other communities facing the detrimental Impacts of this highly destructive model of capitalist development that’s been accompanied by violent repression and militarization and often targeted violence against land and environment defenders.”

For example, after buttressing the fossil-fuel status quo for three decades, the Energy Charter Treaty is no longer unassailable. In November, the German cabinet announced that the country would withdraw from the ECT. It joins a number of European countries—Italy, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Slovenia, and Luxembourg—that have made similar announcements. “In times of climate crisis, it is absurd that companies can sue for lost profits from fossil investments and compensation for coal and nuclear phase-outs,” points out the deputy leader of the parliamentary group of the Greens in the German parliament.

The treaty has a surprise for countries that want out: signatories withdrawing from the ECT are still bound by the treaty for 20 years. There’s also a related problem involving the provisions of other trade treaties.

“European countries are pushing to update treaties with Mexico, Chile, and others to include clauses like the investor-state dispute mechanism, which also allow energy corporations to sue governments,” notes Manuel Perez Rocha. “This is nothing short of neocolonialism being exercised against countries on the periphery.” In response, he urges the “strengthening of national judicial systems so that companies will feel more protected by national systems and not pursue options at the supranational level.”

The backlash to the ECT is nothing new. “The system has created a lot of resistance and critiques since practically day one,” Luciana Ghiotto adds. “I was raised in the spotlight of the battle of Seattle in 1999 against the WTO and the struggles against the Free Trade Area of the Americas.”

Karen Hansen-Kuhn agrees that it’s necessary to claim victories. “Civil society helped weaken the ISDS system,” she notes. “With the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, massive opposition to ISDS was a major reason it fell apart..”

Another form of pushback comes from the field itself. “On our website, we’ve started tracking the adoption of agroecological approaches, which are not just about the inputs but instead look at the fuller picture including food sovereignty, namely each community’s right to choose the food systems it wants,” Hansen-Kuhn continues. She points to Mexico phasing out GMO corn, which relies heavily on the pesticide glyphosate. The government made that decision because of input from civic movements. After objections from the U.S. government, Mexico backtracked somewhat on that commitment by applying the phase-out only to corn for human consumption.

“Mexico is making some concessions, for example allowing GMO for animal feed, but otherwise it’s standing firm despite enormous pressure,” she concludes. “That’s not a complete transition to agroecology, but here’s a country deciding that it will make a change in a food system regardless of what the trade deals say.”

“It’s important to recall the totality of the system supporting corporate control around the world,” Jen Moore says. “Sometimes it feels like we make only piecemeal attempts to go after it.”

Manuel Perez Rocha agrees. “We need to discuss alternatives from different perspectives, which would put an end to the patriarchal, neocolonial capitalist system,” he suggests. “But while we strive for a utopian vision, we also should discuss more realistic, more feasible, and more concrete alternatives. For instance, companies can sue states. Why shouldn’t states have the right to sue companies? Affected communities should also have access to dispute resolutions. We should eliminate the privileges of foreign investors, like the ‘national treatment’ clause, that tie governments down in their efforts to promote local, regional, and national development.”

The Global South has begun to develop a unified voice in the debate on a just energy transition. “In Latin America, we have said that there is no new green deal with FTAs and bilateral investment treaties,” Luciana Ghiotto reports. The region has seen the rise of a number of dynamic organizations from the rural activists in Via Campesina to various indigenous movements and feminist movements articulating a feminist economy. Meanwhile, certain countries have taken the lead. “In its constitution, Ecuador prohibited entry into any international agreements that include international arbitration that compromises the country’s sovereignty,” she adds. “The new neoliberal government is struggling with dozens of lawyers to find a way around it, but they still can’t.”

Another example of successful resistance is the growth of the climate justice movement, which goes well beyond environmental protection and has linked activists across struggles from economic justice and human rights to agroecology and post-growth economics.

“After the disruptions of the last couple years, we can come together more in person,” Karen Hansen-Kuhn notes. “Movements require building relationships in person. We need to come together to build these alternatives.”

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

Why Isn’t Israel Helping the only other Jewish Head of State, in Ukraine? Thu, 02 Feb 2023 05:02:12 +0000 By John Feffer | –

( Foreign Policy in Focus ) – There are currently only two Jewish heads of state in the world. The first, not surprisingly, leads Israel. The second is Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine.

So much for conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the world. We can’t even get together to control the outcome of the war in Ukraine.

They don’t get along.

Religious affiliation by itself does not determine political or military alliances. Plenty of wars have pitted Christians against Christians and Moslems against Moslems. But there are only about 15 million Jews in the world. Especially in the post-Holocaust era, Jewish communities have generally stuck up for one another. Think of American Jews rallying in support of Soviet refuseniks during the Cold War or the huge number of Ethiopian Jews welcomed in Israel (though not always with completely open arms).

Zelensky has certainly played up this natural affinity in his efforts to acquire military weaponry from Israel. He has spoken several times to Israeli audiences, including an impassioned speech to the Knesset.

But Zelensky’s relationship with former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was not especially close and took a turn for the worse when Bennett privately reprimanded Zelensky for publicly pressuring him for more aid. When Israel refused to provide Ukraine with its Iron Dome air defense system, in the face of Russia’s brutal aerial assault on Ukrainian infrastructure, Zelensky couldn’t contain his frustration in an interview with French TV: “You know there are many people in Ukraine of Jewish origin, and there are a lot of Ukrainians in Israel. How is it possible to have this attitude? I was shocked.”

All of Israel’s allies in the West have rallied behind Ukraine. Meanwhile, even as it claims to be fighting Nazis, Russian leaders have made outlandish, anti-Semitic claims, like Sergei Lavrov’s fake news statement back in May that Hitler, too, had Jewish origins and the Russian foreign minister’s more recent comparison of Western strategy in Ukraine to Hitler’s “final solution.” And, of course, Russian attacks have killed real Jews, including Boris Romantschenko, a 96-year-old survivor of four Nazi concentration camps who died when a Russian missile destroyed his apartment building in Kharkiv last spring.

So, why on earth has the world’s only Jewish state failed to support the only other country with a Jewish leader? So much for conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the world. We can’t even get together to control the outcome of the war in Ukraine.

The Return of Netanyahu

Ordinarily, power is attracted to power. How else to explain why authoritarian leaders seem to flock together, regardless of political ideology.

It must be the pheromones.

Donald Trump was so enamored of his “love letters” from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he breached national security to abscond with them after his term in office ended. Several prominent far right-wing politicians—Matteo Salvini of Italy, Marine Le Pen of France—couldn’t wait to kiss the ring of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, despite his background as a communist apparatchik.

So, too, has Benjamin Netanyahu spoken of his close relationship with Putin. Back in 2021, Bibi asked the Russian leader to help out with an Israeli woman detained in Syria. “I spoke twice with my friend Russian President Vladimir Putin,” Netanyahu reported. “I requested his assistance in returning her, and he acted.”

Of course there are much larger geopolitical reasons for the close relations between the Kremlin and the Jewish state. The Israeli government depends on the good graces of the Russian military, which effectively controls the airspace over Syria, to monitor what’s going on near the Israeli border and to bomb Iranian positions over the border. Israel has also in the past relied on Russian channels to Palestinian groups, particularly Hamas.

For these reasons, Israel has condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine but hasn’t enforced the sanctions against the Kremlin or supplied any military assistance to Ukraine. That might change under Netanyahu, but only if Ukraine sides more explicitly with Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories.

One day after he took office late last month, Netanyahu called Zelensky with a specific request. The UN General Assembly was voting on whether to authorize the International Court of Justice to issue a report on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Netanyahu wanted Ukraine to vote against the resolution or at least abstain. In return, he promised to reconsider the provision of the Iron Dome system to Ukraine.

Disappointed that Bibi hadn’t provided a more concrete quid pro quo, Zelensky retaliated by instructing his UN representative not to attend the vote. This gap between Israel and Ukraine is not unbridgeable. But it would be a supreme irony if Ukraine managed to get an air defense system from Israel only by supporting the latter’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land.

Jews Speak Out

Since the invasion of Ukraine last February, more than 20,000 Jews have left Russia for Israel. Thousands of others have gone to other countries. A community that numbered around 165,000 before the invasion is rapidly shrinking.

Last month, one of the more prominent Jews to leave Russia, former chief rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, urged the rest of the community to rush to the exits. “We’re seeing rising antisemitism while Russia is going back to a new kind of Soviet Union, and step by step the iron curtain is coming down again,” he told The Guardian. “This is why I believe the best option for Russian Jews is to leave.” Goldschmidt himself left because he wouldn’t succumb to government pressure to support the war.

The Jewish community in Ukraine, meanwhile, has mobilized to defend the country. It has repudiated Putin’s claims that the Russian army has come to save them from Nazis. “Before the war, we laughed at this,” comments Avraham Wolff, chief rabbi of Odesa and southern Ukraine. “We thought it was a joke. But now, it’s a very painful joke. It hurts. It’s impossible to say that Ukraine is full of Nazis. It’s wrong.”

In a 2018 Pew survey, only 5 percent of Ukrainians said they wouldn’t want Jews as neighbors, the lowest number in the region compared to 14 percent of Russians, 18 percent of Poles, and 23 percent of Lithuanians. Meanwhile, the influx of Ukrainian Jews fleeing Russian-occupied areas in the east has “created a miniature Jewish renaissance in Ukraine’s western regions,” according to The Jerusalem Post.

On the ground in Ukraine and Russia, in other words, Jews have made their choice clear.

Meanwhile in Israel

During his most recently electoral campaign, Netanyahu promised to take another look at Israel’s refusal to offer military assistance to Ukraine. But given his relationship with Putin and the role that Russia plays in Israeli geopolitics, Bibi will not likely change the status quo in any substantial way.

After all, the Israeli prime minister is already busy with radical moves elsewhere.

The new Israeli government is the most right-wing yet, with several noted political extremists, a couple convicted criminals, and representatives of the ultra-Orthodox Shas, Religious Zionism, and United Torah Judaism parties. The head of a far-right, anti-LGBT party, meanwhile, will be in charge of “Jewish national identity.”

Top of the list of priorities for the new government is to press forward on not just expanding Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories but effectively annexing Palestinian land. Several cabinet members come directly from the settler communities, like Itamar Ben-Gvir, the new national security minister who lives in a tiny settler outpost in the West Bank city of Hebron. The person in charge of settlement policy, Bezalel Smotrich, is himself an ultra-Orthodox settler leader.

To facilitate the makeover of Israeli society, Netanyahu has ambitions much larger than simply expanding Israeli territory at the expense of Palestinians. He has taken a page from the handbook of right-wing authoritarian leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán by going after the independence of the courts. In recent years, Israeli courts have been the one government institution that has preserved the civil liberties of citizens.

On this issue, at least, the Israeli public is making itself heard: 110,000 people recently showed up in Tel Aviv for a third week of protests over Netanyahu’s plans to transform the judiciary into his lapdog. “Night is descending upon Israel,” former deputy attorney general Dina Silber told the protestors. “It’s a real alarm… We’re not imagining it.”

In other words, Netanyahu is busy turning Israel into Putin’s Russia: authoritarian governance combined with an ultra-conservative social policy and a colonial occupation of the “near abroad.” The early Zionists drew inspiration and support from the Soviet Union. Today, the right-wing in Israeli is following the example of a reactionary Russia.

Zelensky and Netanyahu may share the distinction of being Jewish leaders. But the Ukrainian should not expect much in the way of military help from Israel. Frankly, the latter is too busy heading in the direction of fascism to be much help in defending a democratic state from Putinism.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

Economic Growth is killing the Planet. How do we Engineer an Alternative? Sun, 22 Jan 2023 05:08:11 +0000 ( Foreign Policy in Focus) – In 1972, the Club of Rome released a report called The Limits to Growth that laid out the damage to the planet and to human beings of unrestrained increases in economic production and population. It was a straightforward extrapolation from then-current trends that took into account limited resources like water, fertile soil, and fossil fuels.

That same year, the United Nations held its first environment conference, which led to the creation of the UN Environment Program. Climate change was barely on the conference agenda, but it would increasingly focus the attention of scientists and policymakers over the next two decades with the introduction of the term “global warming” in 1975, the Montreal Protocol in 1987 that restricted ozone-destroying chemicals, and the creation in 1988 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

For half a century, in other words, the international community has issued warnings about the linked hazards of economic growth and climate change. Despite these warnings across five decades, very little has been done to engineer an alternate to unrestrained growth that can safeguard the planet and yet still secure a measure of prosperity fall all humans.

Current doomsday scenarios of a future dominated by environmental disasters and economic deprivation are not the result of “sudden panicking,” points out Vedran Horvat, the director of the Institute for Political Ecology in Croatia and a panelist at a recent Global Just Transition seminar on post-growth alternatives. “We had 50 years to realize what the Club of Rome said in the 1970s. Already at that time we knew there were limits and boundaries to our growth and that the planet does not have unlimited resources. Already we are too late. But I don’t see that as a reason not to act. Now it’s a question of how we act.”

Similarly, discussion of “peak oil”—of a falling off of oil production—has been around since 1956, when geophysicist Marion King Hubbert predicted that the United States would hit peak production around 1970 while the rest of the world would top out in the early 2000s. Although Hubbert did not anticipate the discovery of new sources of oil, his predictions were only off by a couple decades. The COVID pandemic’s impact on global supply chains, the war in Ukraine, and the rapid transition to electric vehicles have combined to ensure that peak oil demand will arrive in the next few years if it hasn’t happened already.

As with the Club of Rome’s warnings, little has been done to prepare for the depletion of fossil fuels.

“For the last 14 years, we’ve talked about green transition,” observes Simon Michaux, an associate professor of geo-metallurgy at the Geological Survey of Finland. “But there’s been no feasibility study for macro-scale industrial reformation. We had some ideas, but we didn’t cost them out. We didn’t get to the point of determining what kind of power stations we would need, who would pay for them, and what kind of engineering we’d need to keep each one running. Here we are perhaps past peak oil, and we still don’t have a credible plan to phase out fossil fuels.”

The lack of a plan and the urgency of the crisis are two major obstacles. A third challenge is the absence of consensus on how to move forward. “For the last two decades, those of us who are more and more worried about these conditions and the fact that things aren’t changing are aware of just how far we are going down the road we shouldn’t be going down,” says Susan Krumdieck, professor and chair in Energy Transition at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. “We’ve put on our superhero capes to fight. Unfortunately, we’re pulling in different directions.”

One obvious difference in approach is between the richer countries of the Global North and the poorer countries of the Global South. “We’ve seen lots of initiatives like the Green New Deal in the United States which lack the perspective and participation of peripheral economies in the Global South,” notes Renata Nitta, a campaign strategist for Greenpeace International based in Brazil. “When you think of plans to decarbonize the economy and transition to electric vehicles, you have to ask where those raw materials come from. More than half of lithium resources, for instance, are based in Latin America in a very dry area where the mining takes a lot of energy and water and dispossesses traditional and indigenous communities.”

At this point, after a half century of study and debate, the international community has a good understanding of the challenges of economic growth and the urgent threat of climate change and resource depletion. Only recently, however, have scientists, engineers, policymakers, and movement leaders begun to identify the components of an action plan around post-growth alternatives. From “transition engineering” and “degrowth by design” to a new social contract and a new economic model built around the commons, visionary thinkers and activists are finally beginning to pull in the same direction.

Transition Engineering

In 1911, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City. One of the exits was locked while a fire escape was too flimsy to hold all the fleeing workers. Because they could not get out of the building, 146 garment workers died in the flames. It was one of the deadliest industrial accidents in U.S. history. It also set in motion the transformation of working conditions in factories through the improvement of safety standards.

The Triangle fire is not the only example of a man-made disaster. “At that time, roughly 40 coal miners a day were dying on the job in the United States and that year 5,600 UK workers died on the job,” notes Susan Krumdieck. “That isn’t the case anymore. Maybe in Qatar a lot of people are still dying on the job but that’s because they’re not doing what we do, namely safety engineering. We see the emergence of corrective discipline time and again. After the Titanic went down, maritime safety emerged to ensure that that didn’t happen again. After toxic waste disasters like Love Canal, we saw the emergence of processes to prevent those man-made disasters.”

Climate change is also a man-made disaster. Like coal mining deaths and toxic waste dumps, it is a byproduct of the industrial era. Recognition of climate change—and the costs it has already exacted in human lives and environmental deterioration—has led to the creation of what Krumdieck calls “transition engineering,” namely an effort to “downshift fossil fuel production and consumption and then engineer the adaptation and resetting of the energy system and the economic behaviors in that context.”

Krumdieck was motivated to become a mechanical engineer as an undergraduate in 1981 “because of the energy crisis, the OPEC oil embargo, global warming, and the existential threat of biodiversity loss,” she remembers. “For nearly 20 years, I taught people how to put CO2 safely and efficiently into the air. Then in the late 1990s, many like me got distracted by carbon capture and storage and by biofuels because we are engineers and it was very exciting to work on these really impossible things.”

She has since transitioned to transition engineering. “That’s how impact happens: by developing standards, training, and professional organizations,” she points out. “Now is the time for people working on this all around the world to come together and create a discipline.”

She hopes that future historians will look at humanity’s predicament today much as we look back at the Triangle Fire. Transition engineering can potentially transform the way economics work much as safety engineering has radically minimized man-made hazards in the workplace.

“This year, in the UK, fewer than 150 will die on the job,” she concludes. “Not one of those is okay. But 100 years ago, all 5,600 worker lives lost were just the price of the progress of industrialization.”

Addressing Fossil Fuel Dependency

Despite considerable investments by China, the United States, and other countries into renewable energy systems like solar and wind, fossil fuels remain the dominant source of energy in the world. In 1966, oil, gas, and coal supplied approximately 94 percent of all electricity. By 2009, that number had dropped to a little above 80 percent. But over the next decade, even as concern over climate change spiked, dependency on fossil fuels barely shifted, falling to just under 79 percent by 2020. The economic rebound from the COVID lockdowns, coupled with the initial energy shocks associated with the war in Ukraine, has encouraged a greater reliance on fossil fuels, particularly coal, and generated record profits for oil and gas companies.

But the war in Ukraine—and the near universal desire to achieve energy independence from external suppliers—has also inspired many countries to push harder to install renewable energy, forcing the International Energy Agency to revise its estimate of increased renewable capacity by 30 percent. According to the IEA, “renewables are set to account for over 90% of global electricity expansion over the next five years, overtaking coal to become the largest source of global electricity by early 2025.”

The desire for transition may be strong but the physical infrastructure is still lacking. “The task to get rid of fossil fuels is much larger than we thought, so large that we should have been taking it seriously 20 years ago,” reports Simon Michaux. “We need 586,000 non-fossil-fuel power stations to phase out fossil fuel, but there are only 46,000 in the existing system. We don’t have enough minerals to build these new stations.”

Further, those minerals are often in areas of the Global South where extraction poses serious risks to surrounding communities and the environment. “Half the world’s cobalt reserves are in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Renata Nitta points out, adding that such mines are often the locus of human rights abuses. “More than 14,000 children are working in cobalt mines.

The challenge is not just the insufficiency of mineral resources. “Wind and solar are highly intermittent,” Michaux continues. “To become viable, we need a power buffer. My calculations show that such a power buffer would be so large as to be impractical. Which means that wind and solar can’t be the foundational energy system we want it to be. So, we either need to change wind and solar or we need to change electrical engineering to deal with variable power supply.”

One strategy for gradually reducing dependency on fossil fuels is rationing. The United Kingdom, in a plan supported by the Labour and Green parties, considered implementing Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs) as a way to equitably reduce fossil fuel consumption. In a TEQ system, individuals are issued quotas of fossil fuel energy to use, the surplus of which they can sell. Institutions purchase TEQs at auction or buy as needed. The TEQs are linked to carbon reduction goals, and governments can progressively reduce them to meet national and international requirements.

“The system that does the rationing and why is a primary requirement,” Susan Krumdieck points out. “Seats at a Queen concert are rationed: there are only so many. If everyone who wanted to see the concert just showed up it would be a disaster. So, the system that lets us book and manage our expectations is essential. Does that system exist for fossil fuels? No, so let’s build it.”

Simon Michaux agrees that rationing would be sensible, but it would work only if there were sufficient trust in the system, which requires full transparency. “Everyone involved has to understand what’s happening and why,” he maintains.

Because of the war in Ukraine, rationing of energy has already happened throughout Europe. Vedran Horvat points to measures “related to air-conditioning temperatures in offices, the heating of swimming pools, and the lighting of public monuments. This broad range of measures to decrease energy consumption, in the context of the energy crisis in Europe due to the war in Ukraine, is well understood and easily accepted. It is also an issue of solidarity to understand that if we maintain our comfort at an unsustainably high level, it might have detrimental impact on people on the other side of the planet.”

Addressing Growth

Economic growth continues to push greater consumption of energy. The pandemic shutdowns led to a 4.5 percent decline in global energy consumption in 2020, but that was erased by a 5 percent increase in 2021 during the economic rebounds. In the first half of 2022, energy consumption continued to rise by 3 percent.

The war in Ukraine, however, has dampened growth prospects, not only for Russia and Ukraine but for Europe more generally. “At the moment, many European countries are facing zero-growth scenarios and some core European economies are not predicting any growth in the next few years,” Vedran Horvat points out. “Which means that we really need to address questions of how to organize our lives and ensure wellbeing for all in conditions of if not degrowth then at least zero growth. This sort of degrowth, which is imposed by geopolitics, is degrowth by disaster.” This kind of degrowth resembles austerity measures imposed during or after other kinds of disasters, like war or debt default.

A better approach, Horvat notes, would be “degrowth by design.” In this way, “we program our developmental scenarios to satisfy human needs and wellbeing but in ways that don’t lead necessarily to economic growth,” he explains. “This would involve fair and equal redistribution of resources through as much of a democratic process as possible. We should think of how to use the current crisis as an opportunity, A democratic transition to degrowth is necessary if we want to discuss viable alternatives rather than have degrowth imposed by disaster as is now the case.”

Such degrowth by design, argues Renata Nitta, must include a major shift in thinking. “We have to move from a very individualistic, profit-driven society to one that is more based on sharing, on the commons, on valuing care,” she notes. “In this sense, we have a lot to learn from what indigenous and traditional communities are doing and telling us. Their vision of the cosmos is embedded in a different ethic that respects the environment. Deforestation rates inside indigenous areas can be 26 percent lower than other areas. So, these communities are very effective in terms of protecting the environment. We have to ensure that they’re part of the decision-making and we surely have to respect their constitutional rights.”

Who Are the Changemakers?

All transitions need people who help engineer the pivot. These are the changemakers, like the revolutionaries in America and France in the eighteenth century or the Silicon Valley scientists and entrepreneurs who ushered in the computer age.

“When change happens, it’s not a shift in mass consciousness among people as such,” Simon Michaux points out. “It’s a relatively small number of people embedded in our civil service. They’re not necessarily elected officials, they’re people advising those officials. And when they decide to move on things, they can move quickly.” He notes that it’s difficult to work through official channels because the establishment is not interested in change: “They’re having a great time with growth and power and money.” But advisors, who aren’t themselves in charge, are a different matter. “If they decide that they’ve had enough, change happens,” he points out.

Scientists and engineers, too, can play a role. “A network of badly-behaved scientists and engineers who just do stuff without permission,” Michaux continues, can also spur forward a shift in consciousness by developing new ideas, approaches, and innovations and getting information about them into circulation. “Most of humanity is inured to the existing paradigm. So, you only need 4-5 percent of humanity” to understand the new approaches and decide to move on them.

Vedran Horvat looks to trade unions as key players in the process, particularly in Europe where the European Green Deal is decarbonizing economies from the top down and without sufficient attention paid to addressing inequality and injustice. Trade unions, he argues, are essential in forging a new social contract that creates the consensus necessary for degrowth scenarios to move from the fringe to mainstream acceptance.

“Trade unions are sometimes quite difficult but necessary partners to tackle the justice element of moving toward post-growth scenarios,” he concludes. “Post-growth scenarios are not politically represented in democracies, are not related to democratic power in a way to execute such scenarios. So, we must find other ways to have political representation of this shift in the political arena.”

Renata Nitta is skeptical about the notion that technology can solve all environmental and climate challenges. To advance zero-growth alternatives, she says, “we need to redefine the convergence points between state, trade union movements, and all those who might be left behind when adopting this new regime.”

Tipping Points

Change can happen when a critical mass of people abandons an old model in favor of something new. Sometimes that happens as a result of a particular event. For instance, the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 spurred an effort to ban the pesticide DDT. On the climate front, the approach of a number of tipping points—the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet, the complete thaw of northern permafrost—should have already prompted a reconsideration of the push factors behind global warming. Ideally, physical tipping points should translate into perceptual tipping points.

When it comes to economic growth, however, virtually all governments, international financial institutions, and economists—as well as significant majorities of the population—believe that either the status quo is working for them or that directing a larger share of a growing pie will remedy what’s wrong. Only when a critical mass of people understand that the pie can’t keep growing—that unlimited growth is not liberating but ultimately self-defeating— will a tipping point in public opinion be reached.

In April 2010, the largest oil spill in history happened when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Several months later, a massive fire at a ruptured gas pipeline south of San Francisco brought renewed scrutiny to the perils of the fracking industry. Also in 2010, “it was becoming quite clear that the Kyoto protocol was not going to make a blip of difference,” Susan Krumdieck reports. “Those were the galvanizing moments. And that’s when 100 engineers came together to create the Global Association for Transition Engineering. It was clear we were going down a very dangerous path and that we had to help end users adapt to a better way of doing things.”

Another way of discussing tipping points is the notion of sacrifice. When will a critical mass of people willingly accept sacrifices—of their SUVs, frequent air flights, cruise ship vacations, and so on—to save the planet from its multiple environmental threats? Or will sacrifice need to be imposed on an unwilling populace, as China did with its one-child policy beginning in 1980?

“In many countries, social majorities are not accepting that sacrifices need to be made,” Vedran Horvat points out. The stumbling block is not willingness to recycle but willingness to scale back on consumption. “The circular economy obviously has some positive environmental or climate impacts but it doesn’t teach us to consume less,” he adds. “Bringing some resources back into circulation to use again is all good and needed, but it doesn’t require us to consume less. We need to relearn what our lives look like if we consume less.”

Sacrifices can be imposed from above, or they can be agreed upon collectively through a democratic process. “Obviously governments, commissions, and transnational governance regimes are all engaged in delivering quick, top-down solutions without investing time into democratic processes,” Horvat continues. “That’s no reason not to bring this debate into society and, wherever possible, enable citizens to learn how to transform their lives. When we say that we don’t have enough resources, we are not asking what energy is being used for at this moment and whether we need that to maintain the system. Some things must be shrunk or calibrated to the new reality if we are to be more responsible toward future generations and for them to live in a just world.”

As Renata Nitta points out, the Global South has already made sacrifices for centuries through colonial appropriation and its aftermath. But now, the Global South urgently needs help in transitioning away from fossil fuels and addressing the current impacts of climate change. “It took 30 years to agree on financing for loss and damage,” she points out. “We can’t wait another 30 years to define the rules for financing the transition. At the national level, we need to move away from the lobbying of big corporations on governments to create processes that are more bottom up than top down: to include marginal groups and ensure that their rights are being respected. It takes a lot of time, but what other choices do we have? I don’t see any other way to create faster change.”

At the same time, Nitta stresses the importance of utopian alternatives. “We are constantly being bombarded by messages of doom,” she says. “These messages disempower people. For quite some time, the environmental movement was quite good at using “end-of-the-world” messages. But now is the time to change. People are building resilience in communities all over the world. Our job as researchers and environmentalists is to help amplify these ideas.”

Sacrifice won’t come easily to the affluent in the Global North. “We’ve been living a wonderful life in the last century, a golden era of getting whatever we want with a snap of our fingers,” notes Simon Michaux. “What happens if we are moving into a world without enough to go around, when we have to work very hard for less outcome? From a biological point of view—and I learned this from Nicole Foss—energy determines the size and complexity of an organism. If energy is reduced, that organism has to shrink in size and become less complex. If we are stepping into a low-energy future, industry will likewise become simpler and smaller whether we like it or not. There will be a reorganizing of energy around new energy sources. Then people will reorganize themselves around those industrial hubs, and our food production will reorganize around those people.”

In other words, a major fork in the road approaches. “In this way, we’ll decide who we really are and what kind of world we want to live in,” Michaux concludes. “Do we turn against each other or work together?”

Role of the State

The economic trend of the last four decades has been in the direction of reducing the power of the state: privatization of state assets, reduction of regulatory apparatuses, weakening of government leverage over the economy. Some of the policies to address climate change fit into this pattern by emphasizing market-based solutions such as carbon trading. But as the example of Chinese state investments in renewable energy suggests, governments have enormous power to push through economic transitions.

“If a government can come up with a sensible plan that everyone gets behind, more government intervention might work,” notes Simon Michaux. “But if it’s like the Roman Empire, when the government wasn’t acting in the best interests of the majority of the population, then it won’t work. If that happens, there will be less government intervention and a parallel system of governance will emerge, and the social mandate to govern will transfer from one system to the other. We’ll need government in some form, but that government would have to implement a new system that doesn’t exist yet in a paradigm that doesn’t exist yet. My job going forward is to build the tools that try to understand what that paradigm might be and then hand those tools off to people who will go on past me.”

Governments also remain subject to considerable influence from the corporate sector, particularly fossil fuel companies that continue to lobby for subsidies and other favorable terms. “We see at every COP how weak governments are,” Vedran Horvat explains. “They are not able to make agreements that are immune from fossil fuel companies and the corporate sector more generally. The return of government is essential in abandoning fossil fuels for it is governments who ultimately have to operate in the public interest.”

Renata Nitta agrees: “The market won’t resolve the climate and biodiversity crisis. A market mechanism proposed by companies is often little more than greenwashing so that they can maintain business as usual. It’s important to pressure government to keep these corporations accountable and not accept false solutions.”

Time, all of the presenters agree, is of the essence. “Now that I’m a granny, I don’t have time to think about things I can’t do anything about, such as the way the market works or the way politicians work,” Susan Krumdieck reports. “I’m laser-focused on the changes that are required, on a change in a place or a system that can be scaled up.”

Odrast is the Croatian word for degrowth,” points out Vedran Horvat. “The word doesn’t sound negative in Croatian. It means to grow up and be mature. So, we need to be mature enough to cooperate and identify a definite set of options to ensure the survival of future generations.”

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

A New Crop of Disruptor-Politicians is failing the Earth Sat, 14 Jan 2023 05:04:25 +0000 ( Foreign Policy in Focus) – House Republicans, Euroskeptics, Vladimir Putin, and Jair Bolsonaro are the agents of a new kind of political disorder that parallels the chaos of failing states, economic catastrophe, and climate disasters.


Some politicians just hate politics. They get into the game in order to disrupt it. They have such a visceral hatred of governance that, like suicide bombers, they’ve smuggled themselves into government in order to blow it up from within.

Much of the coverage of the multiple attempts to elect Kevin McCarthy as House speaker treated the uprising of the “radical wing” of the Freedom Caucus as a political tactic. The 20 Republicans who opposed McCarthy on more than a dozen votes extracted a series of important concessions before they relented to voting along party lines. In other words, these politicians were playing the time-honored political game of horse trading.

But there’s another way of looking at how these far-right politicians held Congress hostage to their demands.

Back in 2001, the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist mused that he and his cohort wanted to scale back government until it was small enough “to drown in a bathtub.” The struggle between McCarthy, himself a MAGA toady, and the likes of firebrands Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Andy Biggs (R-AZ), was no mere political game. Rather, Americans were glued to their newsfeeds in the new year watching a new generation of self-hating politicians in their attempts to drown the U.S. government in a bathtub.

Don’t believe me? First, let’s take a look at the perps.

Twelve of the 20 holdouts rejected the results of the 2020 election and thus participated in the undermining of U.S. democracy. Several, including Scott Perry (R-PA), reportedly sought presidential pardons from Donald Trump for their efforts to overturn the election. Chip Roy (R-TX) has explicitly said that his work is all about “empowering us to stop the machine in this town from doing what it does.” Lauren Boebert wants to dispense with representative government altogether by making it subordinate to churches.

These are not politicians. They are coup followers waiting for the return of their authoritarian Godot.

Next, let’s look at the concessions this band of not-so-merry pranksters extracted from McCarthy. First there’s the “motion to vacate the chair,” which allows any one member of the House to call a vote to recall the speaker. They should rename this rule the “chaos option,” since it offers pretty much anyone the opportunity to bring the chamber to a standstill over a leadership battle.

Another concession requires spending cuts to accompany any decision to raise the debt limit. Raising the debt ceiling to avoid default has become a fraught process in Democratic administrations as Republicans in Congress use the requirement as a way of forcing government shutdowns (for instance in 2013). During Trump’s tenure, Republicans had no qualms about raising the ceiling since their would-be authoritarian leader was in charge of government and transforming it into a incoherent mess. In the next two years, expect the Republicans to demonstrate just how much they hate government by bringing it to the brink of shutdown as often as possible.

In a third concession, McCarthy agreed to a 10-year budget proposal that caps spending at 2022 levels. Peace activists might be cheered by the estimated 10 percent reduction in military spending such a budget cap would entail. But let’s be serious. The Republicans won’t actually cut from the Pentagon side of the budget. They’d simply slice off more from the non-military side with approximately 18 percent reductions in health-care spending, agricultural supports, child nutrition, and the like.

In other words, the Republicans have turned on the faucets and readied their knives to make government small enough to fit in the bathtub. If they win in 2024, their new slogan will ring out: let the drowning begin!

Not Just the United States

Nigel Farage deserves an award for world’s most self-hating politician. Here was a guy who despised the European Union so much that he couldn’t wait to push his country out of it. Farage was a main force behind the Brexit campaign in the UK, which improbably succeeded in 2016 with a narrowly passed referendum.

And what exactly was Farage’s job at the time?

Why, he worked as a UK representative in the European Parliament! Farage was first elected to the principle representative body of the institution he hated in 2009. He was reelected to his post four more times—even in 2019 after the Brexit vote. For a guy who hated the European Union, you’d think he’d be the first to jump ship. But how could he resist being in the European Parliament on the day when Brexit went into effect in order to gloat big time.

In January 2020, Farage made a final speech in which he declared that:

I am hoping this begins the end of the project. It’s a bad project. It isn’t just undemocratic, it’s anti-democratic and it gives people power without accountability. That is an unacceptable structure… I can promise you, both in UKIP and indeed the Brexit Party, we love Europe – we just hate the European Union.

When he began waving the Union Jack, the speaker of the European Parliament cut him off and told him to leave. That the speaker hadn’t cut off Farage’s mic 11 years earlier proves just how wrong the Euroskeptic was and just how democratic the EU is.

Over the years, Farage had made out like a bandit at the EU’s expense, having taken home $6,000 a month plus a daily allowance of more than $300 for what was, at least to Farage, an anti-job. A couple years ago, the EU fined him for misuse of budget, but frankly he should be forced to forfeit everything he’d ever earned from his political tenure in parliament on the grounds of political malpractice.

Farage is part of a new generation of far-right-wing politicians who don’t believe in politics. They operate in the political world, for democracy is the name of the game in their countries, but they are fundamentally anti-political. Like Donald Trump, they are good at breaking things, but they haven’t a clue about how to forge the political compromises necessary to build things.

Vladimir Putin is a model in this regard. He has systematically deconstructed democracy in Russia, such as it was after Boris Yeltsin stepped down in 1999. He has done whatever he can to sow political chaos in Europe and the United States by supporting Euroskeptics and, in a spectacular series of dirty tricks, Donald Trump. And now, after causing so much damage in Chechnya and Syria, he is busy destroying Ukraine.

Not all far-right actors are anti-political. Viktor Orban, for instance, is an intensely political creature who has cleverly maneuvered his way into power in Hungary and then wielded that power very effectively (though malignly). Georgia Meloni, too, is a crafty politician who has no intention of destroying the institutions she needs to implement her regressive anti-immigrant and “pro-family” policies in Italy.

But all of these imps of the perverse—the MAGlogdytes, Nigel Farage, Vladimir Putin—are the agents of a new kind of political disorder that parallels the chaos of failing states, economic catastrophe, and climate disasters. In practice, they view liberal democracy as a fatally flawed model characterized by stolen elections, deep-state conspiracies, and unacceptable parliamentary compromises. Not surprisingly, these self-hating politicians all gravitate toward the authoritarian end of the spectrum.

They are no doubt watching what is happening in Brazil with bated breath.

Attempted Coups

All self-hating politicians dream of coups.

For Vladimir Putin, the coup was of the slow-motion variety, with political opponents neutralized over a period of time and consolidation of authority taking place within a democratic shell.

Donald Trump, as Maggie Haberman details in her book Confidence Man, reveled in his newfound authority to use Air Force One, invite whomever he wanted to the White House, and order Diet Cokes with a tap of a button on his desk. But as a man of limited imagination and even more limited managerial capability, Trump couldn’t effectively plan for a seizure of power in the aftermath of his loss in the 2020 election. He could only gesture in that direction and rely on a cohort of equally inept advisors (remember Giuliani at the Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference?) and a poorly organized mob that did a lot of damage without achieving any of its goals.

But don’t let ineptitude distract from the central purpose of this circus. As Roger Stone, the intermediary between the mob and the mobster-in-chief, put it on January 6, “Fuck the voting, let’s get right to the violence. Shoot to kill.”

Perhaps January 6 will come to seem like merely a pilot episode. In The New York Review of Books, Fintan O’Toole explains:

If it happens again, it will probably not happen like this. The pilot episode was a disaster because it had no coherent script, too many ham actors, too weak a grasp on the difference between gestures and consequences. But there is much to learn from it. Next time, if there is one, the plot will be much tighter, the action less outlandish, the logistics much better prepared, the director more competent.

Consider, then, what happened this week in Brazil, when followers of Jair Bolsonaro enacted their own version of January 6 a couple of days after the second anniversary of the U.S. debacle, as another failed pilot.

In the Brazilian case, the protesters were not trying to interfere in the handover of power from Bolsonaro to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. After all, Lula held his inauguration last week. The insurrection organizers were instead hoping for the chaos to trigger the Guarantee of Law and Order, allowing the military to step in to suspend democracy.  Toward that end, and with the tacit approval of many members of the security forces on the scene, rioters cranked up the crazy as they breached government buildings in Brasilia. According to one account, “they seemed beside themselves with hate, like a horde of zombies. They were running down hallways, smashing things, urinating, defecating in the corridors and in the rooms on one destruction spree.”

A hardcore band of protestors had been outside the Brazilian Congress for weeks, not unlike the “Freedom Convoy” of truckers in Ottawa at the beginning of last year. Bolsonaro and allies had been collaborating closely with their friends in the United States. Like Trump, Bolsonaro pressed his claims that the election was fraudulent—and, as in the United States, the courts rejected his claims. Like Trump supporters, Bolsonaro fans claim that “leftist infiltrators” were actually behind the violence in Brasilia. Like Trump, too, Bolsonaro has retreated to Florida, the preferred location of sore losers.

Brazilian authorities arrested more than a thousand people in connection with the storming of the Brazilian congress, presidential palace, and supreme court. More importantly, two top security officials have been ordered arrested for their failure to rein in the anti-Lula protestors. Despite the promise of future pro-Bolsonaro protests, these arrests coupled with huge pro-democracy gatherings throughout the country might be enough to quash efforts by the mob leaders and the self-hating politicians that inspired them to destroy Brazilian democracy.

But don’t make the mistake of underestimating these forces of mayhem. As those 20 recalcitrant Republicans once again discovered last week, it’s relatively easy to throw a spanner in the works. They turned the relatively straightforward election of the House speaker into a travesty. For the next two years, they’ll do whatever they can to stop the U.S. government from working, thus undermining what little remains of public trust in these institutions.

Then, if the 2024 election goes their way, they’ll borrow a page from Putin’s book and turn their attention to the larger task of drowning not just government but democracy writ large.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

Forget the Deplorables and Focus on the Persuadables: The Code behind the Far Right’s Success Mon, 19 Dec 2022 05:02:17 +0000 ( – Arizona is ground zero for the wackiest theories and craziest political candidates.

Exhibit A: Kari Lake, the Republican who ran for governor in the recent midterm elections. Though she lost in November, she’s still campaigning — on social media, in the courts, and in her own beclouded imagination. She refuses to accept that Katie Hobbs, her Democratic opponent, won by 0.6% of the vote. It’s a delusion she shares with Donald Trump who tweeted that Lake should be “installed” in the position anyway, like a triumphant coup leader. Lake, Trump, and all-too-many Americans now believe that any election in which a MAGA extremist doesn’t achieve a pre-ordained victory is, by definition, “stolen.”

Then there’s Blake Masters, the losing Arizona Republican Senate candidate, who accused the Biden administration of encouraging millions of immigrants to enter the United States “to change the demographics of our country.” That’s a clear reference to the “great replacement” theory according to which outsiders (foreigners, non-Whites, Muslims), abetted by liberals and globalists, are using immigration and higher birthrates to replace “indigenous” White majorities. It has become ever more popular among White nationalists, alt-right activists, and mass murderers from El Paso to New Zealand who cite it in their manifestos.

Perhaps the craziest of that crew is Ron Watkins, the leading proponent of the QAnon cult of misinformation, who moved to Arizona to run for Congress. According to QAnon, an international cabal of Satanic pedophiles extract and consume a mysterious substance found in the bodies of trafficked children. Oh, and these well-connected devil-worshippers also control the United Nations, the global economy, and even the Oscars.

Watkins never made it out of the primaries, but Lake and Masters ran very close races, while other conspiracy theorists did win seats in the Arizona state senate, including election-denier Wendy Rogers, January 6th insurrection attendee Anthony Kern, and QAnon supporter David Farnsworth. Don’t be fooled by their campaign literature. Those Arizona Republicans and others like them across the country are not conservatives. Rather than preserve the status quo, they want to overturn democratic institutions, as well as elections.

Their success should come as no surprise. A large number of Arizonans believe that the government lies about everything from the Covid pandemic to the availability of water, and paramilitary groups like the Patriot movement have made inroads into that state’s politics. The three most widespread and demonstrably false far-right narratives — globalist-Satanists control the economy, elections are being “stolen,” and foreigners are out to “replace” Whites — flourish in a state that, long, long ago, gave the world Barry Goldwater, the original radical right-wing politician.

But it’s a mistake to attribute the strong showing of those far-right candidates solely to such crazy talk. Exit poll data from the last election suggests that Arizona Republican voters prioritized very real bread-and-butter issues like inflation, which was causing them significant hardship. No matter what you think of rising prices, they’re real, unlike the macabre fictions of QAnon. And it wasn’t only White nationalists who supported such candidates. Kari Lake, for instance, picked up 47% of the Latino vote. 

Sure, the far right attracts plenty of “deplorables” from outright racists and homophobes to QAnon crackpots. But far more of those who support candidates like Kari Lake and her global counterparts — Giorgia Meloni in Italy, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Narendra Modi in India, among others — are actually “persuadables,” voting in their perceived self-interest based on perfectly real economic and political needs. By courting such voters, the far right has managed to pivot from the fringe to the mainstream.

And those same persuadables may now hold the key to the future of democracy.

What Motivates Far-Right Voters

Not so long ago, Sweden would have been considered the un-Arizona. In the post-World War II era, that Scandinavian state became the symbol of democratic socialism. Yet even there, the far right has gained ground, precisely by reaching those persuadables.

For one thing, though Sweden is still far more equitable than the United States, it’s no longer quite so socially democratic. In the 1980s and 1990s, a series of center-left governments cut back on barriers to the free flow of capital and trade, helping to globalize that country’s economy, and paving the way, in 2006, for a center-right government that implemented neoliberal tax cuts and rolled back welfare programs.

The result: a marked increase in economic inequality. From 1980 to 2019, the transfer of wealth to the richest one percent of Swedes was on a par with Thatcherite England and so, by 2017, that country had a greater per-capita concentration of billionaires than any other in Europe, except Switzerland. In 2019, The Economist reported approvingly on the sheer number of Swedish super-rich and also their apparent popularity.

But not with all Swedes, it turns out. The neoliberal globalization of that economy also produced lots of “losers,” who now support the Swedish Democrats. Founded in 1988 and led by neo-Nazis, that party held early meetings that, according to Le Monde, featured “brown shirts and party members performing the Nazi salute, and their security was provided by skinheads.” After new leaders jettisoned the Nazi trappings and focused instead on the immigrant “threat,” the party began to climb in the polls, coming in second in last September’s elections with 20.5% of the vote and so helping a new right-wing government take over.

To break into the mainstream, that previously marginal party increasingly relied on its populist economic platform, offering to increase government handouts and cut some taxes to appeal to working-class voters and the unemployed. Racism and Islamophobia have certainly played a role in boosting support for it, but the party has benefited most from a surge of anger at the economic austerity policies that have made Sweden one of the least equal countries in Europe.

Across that continent, the far-right has relied on anti-globalization messages, effectively raising a middle finger to both the European Union and world financial institutions. In the east, such parties have won power in both Poland and Hungary, while, in the west, they have siphoned off votes from Communist parties in France, Italy, and elsewhere.

If opposition to austerity politics has been the meat and potatoes of such far-right parties, the special sauce has been social messaging, especially about immigration. When it comes to ginning up fear and resentment, border-crossers are the perfect scapegoats. The Sweden Democrats, for instance, have promised to deport immigrants who have committed crimes or are simply “asocial” and they don’t want to accept more migrants unless they come from neighboring (in other words, White) countries.

The far right is obsessed with those who cross not just territorial borders, but also the more conceptual borders of gender, sex, and race. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán changed the constitution to define marriage as solely between a man and a woman, while effectively banning adoption by same-sex couples. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni declared that her party says “yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby, yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology.” Jair Bolsonaro spent his term as Brazilian president denying the existence of racism in his country while undermining the rights of indigenous communities.

At the heart of such far-right social policies is an effort to assuage the anxieties of dominant groups — Whites, men, heterosexuals, Christians — over the erosion of their economic status and reassure them that they won’t suffer a decline in social position as well. In the process, left and liberal parties, which might once have appealed to voters left behind by globalization and neoliberalism, have lost out on what should have been “their” issues.

Crafted to appeal to voter interests, the far-right agenda can often seem far indeed from the universe of conspiracy theories in which Jews control the world through financier George Soros or leaders of the Democratic Party run a child trafficking ring out of the basement of a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. Still, a major reason for the far right’s success has been its ability to toggle between pragmatic policies and extremist messaging.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

A month before the Italian elections, Giorgia Meloni released a curious six-minute video in which she managed to effortlessly switch from English to French to Spanish. In the process, she denounced Nazism and anti-Semitism, while pledging her support for NATO and Ukraine.

In those six minutes, Meloni introduced herself to the rest of Europe as a multilingual cosmopolitan who rejects the fascist roots of her own party. Inside Italy, the video appealed to those appalled by the far right’s flirtation with Vladimir Putin and concerned that its rise to power might jeopardize the European Union’s financial support. Precisely because Meloni didn’t deliver those remarks in Italian, the speech was less likely to alienate her core nationalist supporters.

The Meloni video is a perfect case of code-switching: speaking in different ways to different audiences. Far-right politicians around the world are often remarkably adept at switching the crazy on and off, depending on their audience. Viktor Orbán has typically been careful to keep his anti-immigration views couched in race-neutral terms. Only when talking to ethnic Hungarians in Romania did he frankly admit that Hungarians don’t want to become a “mixed race.” Pauline Hansen, leader of a far-right Australian party, thought she was addressing a gun lobbyist when she floated the outlandish notion that the country’s worst mass shooting in 1996 was a false-flag operation to boost gun control. Running for the Senate in Ohio, J.D. Vance typically voiced many conspiracy-laden views — the 2020 election was stolen, discredited radio host Alex Jones was “a far more reputable source of information than Rachel Maddow” — that he would never have defended before more liberal audiences.

“Dog-whistling” is just another version of this phenomenon, where politicians embed coded language in their speeches to address different audiences simultaneously. References to “law and order,” “family values,” or “globalists” can mean different things to different people. Only the in-crowd will understand the Pepe the Frog image in a right-wing politician’s tweet. Attendees at a Trump rally might hear a catchy tune without realizing that it sounds a lot like the QAnon anthem.

What makes this code-switching and dog-whistling so dangerous is the proximity of the crazy and sane parts of the far right’s discourse. In fact, the three most prominent false narratives just happen to map neatly onto the far right’s three most prominent mainstream appeals.

So, for instance, the economic policies of globalization and neoliberalism have indeed created hardships for certain communities like blue-collar workers, rural residents, and older voters. And while such policies are pushed by powerful institutions like transnational corporations and banks, they are not the result of a Jewish conspiracy, a cabal of Satanists, or a group of globalists with a shadowy “great reset” plan to use Covid to destroy the sovereignty of nations.

Mainstream parties the world over are indeed full of corrupt politicians who often do their damnedest to game the system. Still, the notion that liberals and leftists have “stolen” elections in the United States or Brazil by hacking electronic voting systems or fabricating thousands of ballots has been debunked over and over again.

War, civil unrest, and climate change have indeed created one of the largest waves of refugees and immigrants since World War II. Those poor souls are desperate to find shelter and safety in other countries. But they have no plan to “replace” the majority White populations of Europe, the United States, or Australia. In truth, many would return home if only it were possible.

By their very proximity, the illegitimate arguments borrow a veneer of credibility from the legitimate ones, while the latter derive some raw power from the former. It’s just one short step, for instance, from acknowledging the corruption of political parties to believing they’ve stolen elections. Ironically enough, if anyone’s trying to rig elections, it’s far-right parties — Republicans using voter suppression tactics or Hungary’s Fidesz party controlling the media landscape to reduce the public voice of the opposition. The far-right frequently projects onto its adversaries the very sins it routinely commits behind the scenes.

Worst Case, Best Case

In his September 30th speech announcing the annexation of four provinces of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin engaged in his now-familiar uber-nationalism to justify the abrogation of international law. But he also took several bizarre detours. Western countries, he argued, were advancing toward “outright Satanism.” Moreover, the West “is ready to step over everything in order to preserve the neo-colonial system that allows it to parasitize, in fact, to plunder the world.” Finally, he decried all those who tell children ”that there are various supposed genders besides women and men” and offer them “a sex-change operation.”

These were odd assertions in what should have been a speech focused on geopolitics, but Putin was dog-whistling like crazy. He was sending a message to his far-right supporters at home and abroad that he, too, believed Satanic liberals controlled the world and were indeed “grooming” children to change their sexuality and gender.

Unlike Giorgia Meloni, Putin doesn’t need to move to the center to reassure European allies or win over independent voters. The invasion of Ukraine severed his ties to Europe — even to the European far right — and he’s rigged elections in his own favor for years. His unfettered use of false narratives offers a nightmarish look at what would likely happen if far-right politicians around the world were to win ever more elections, rewire democracies to ensure their future dominance, and begin to take over international institutions like the European Union or even the World Bank. Untethered from the compromises of electoral politics, the far right will forget about those persuadables and, like Putin, let its freak flag fly.

It’s still possible to head off the next set of Putins, Melonis, and Trumps at the pass. But that means avoiding the false temptation to promote comparably crazy stuff or appealing to true deplorables. Instead, a coalition of the sane must try to understand the real political and economic reasons why those persuadables vote for Kari Lake and her brethren — and then craft arguments and policies to win them over.

It can be done. Even as Italy turned to the far right, just enough voters rejected Kari Lake and Jair Bolsonaro at the polls. Despite Trump-driven Republican politics and an Elon Musk-driven Twitter, the crazy can be constrained and the radical right rolled back. But that means engaging citizens where it matters most: their heads, their hearts, and above all their pocketbooks.