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Patrick Bond: Global elites not interested in changes effective policy requires

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. So the climate change conference in Durban is over. And what happened to the urgency about dealing with climate change? You sure wouldn’t have seen it, given what came out of Durban, and you certainly don’t see it when you look at the public policy coming out of North America, certainly out of Russia, Japan, more or less out of Europe. If you look at the media just only two, three years ago, we were being told things were almost apocalyptic. The media itself has lost almost complete interest in the climate change debate. And certainly in Washington there is no debate about what to do about climate change, certainly not in Congress or to do with the White House. Barack Obama doesn’t seem to have mentioned the words climate change in at least a year, if not more. Now joining us to talk about why all this might be happening is Patrick Bond. Patrick is the director of the Centre for Civil Society in South Africa. He’s a professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. And he’s also the author of the recently released books The Politics of Climate Change and Durban’s Climate Gamble. Thanks for joining us, Patrick.


JAY: So what’s your sense of this? The global elites, as you called them in another interview, you know, were all up in arms about climate change in one way or the other just a couple of years ago. Now nary a word.

BOND: Well, some of them were, and indeed, I’d say, based on what we experienced in South Africa at the beginning of December, an awareness that the scientists are raising hell. I mean, James Hansen, the great NASA scientist, has just put another report out saying that the 2 degree mark is utterly incompatible with human life because of–once you get into this sort of 2 degree range, you’re getting into the tundra melts and the incredible flows of methane out of the Arctic [crosstalk]

JAY: Just really quickly, for people that haven’t followed, what’s the significance of the 2 degrees?

BOND: Well, that’s where if we do nothing, probably by 2050 we’ll hit 2 degrees. We’re nearly at 1, 1 degree Centigrade increase, and already the incredible storm events that have [crosstalk]

JAY: And this is the increase, essentially, from the beginning of modern industrialization, what the temperature has risen to.

BOND: Yeah, that’s right. And that’s what’s widely acknowledged–virtually all scientists agree it comes from what we as human beings have done, and particularly those in the advanced industrial countries, by emitting carbon and five other major greenhouse gases, methane now being one that’s on everyone’s lips because of the concern that so much of the sort of tipping effect that will create a runaway climate change can come from methane sources that the UN is now just beginning to factor into its reports. That does mean a panic. And so we did feel, certainly, the African countries whose delegates in Durban were really warning that the continent will be cooked and that there’s–as Pablo Solon, the Bolivian negotiator put it, there’s a premeditated genocide and ecocide by those delegates who refuse to do anything. And the case of Canada comes up to the top, as well ask pretty much anyone from Washington, whether the State Department or the World Bank. And those are probably the main reasons. We’ve just seen no [incompr.] leadership, that is, politicians who–batting for their own national elites and fossil fuel interests simply don’t want the major emissions cuts, when we’re talking probably 50 percent required in the north by 2020. So ratcheting down those greenhouse gas emissions now by 2, 3, 4 percent a year so we can get into the safer range, where probably we’d say below–well below 1.5 degrees Centigrade. I mean, already a third of the glaciers in Bolivia and the Andes have melted, and small islands look to definitely be underwater, some of them negotiating very hard, others being corrupted and bought out. And it’s a very, very tragic situation when the power of big politicians and the failure of the media–. And to some extent, Paul, I’d say the media was joined by NGOs who had raised hell a couple of years ago about climate change and then went to sleep. I mean, really, their disappointing performance in 2010 is part of the reason that there was no legislation in the U.S. I mean, it wasn’t very good–it was bad legislation, but there was no real push from the populace, except for a few sites where activists–and maybe a couple of hundred sites across North America, the tar sands most importantly, and other sites where there’s coal-fired power plants or major oil scandals, like the BP disaster, those raised the issue of climate. But we’ve got to do more. And I think what encourages me, Paul, Occupy, that began to make the links from September/October onwards to big business doing whatever the hell they want without any regard for people or planet. And when some of the activists from the White House protests at the end of August, early September, like Bill McKibben of, went out to Occupy Wall Street, it was quite a strong intrinsic link between those fighting high finance and those fighting fossil fuels. [crosstalk]

JAY: From the global elites themselves there had been interest in this issue, for whatever their intention was. And a lot of this tone was set in the American debate, or lack thereof, once this seemed to get paralyzed in Congress, and particularly once the Obama administration stopped talking about it as policy it was pursuing. It seems to have just dropped off the map. And I guess if–for much of the world, if they feel the United States is not going to do anything about it, then what’s the point of anybody else doing it anything about it?

BOND: Yes. But, I mean, let’s not forget that the main audiences to which the politicians–. For example, the Republican Party elites, these leaders, pretty much all of them are climate change denialists of one sort or another. But they are speaking to a whimsical crowd, right? I mean, the U.S. public, for example, as soon as Sarah Palin was nominated as the vice presidential candidate with John McCain, McCain shot ahead of Obama in August 2008 and then swung back the other way a few days later. These are obviously people manipulated and brainwashed, if you take the mass of public opinion, by clever marketers and politicians. Now the big problem is Barack Obama did come into his presidency saying he would put in a big cap and trade plan, and he realized that was going nowhere, and the vested interests to not do anything were too strong. And he’s proven himself to be one of the weakest presidents ever. And I think he may lose the reelection on that basis, that he just doesn’t seem to have any spine. For example, just as the protesters in White House were locking down 1,250 arrested, he was refusing the Environmental Protection Agency smog regulations, which were very important for the climate fight, because big business, big oil didn’t want them. And he’s got a huge network of right-wing lobbyists and Wall Street, you know, sort of bankers trying to give him $1 billion for the next campaign who just don’t want to see any action. [crosstalk]

JAY: But when you look at the polling in the United States–when you look at the polling in the United States, the numbers of people that believe climate change is a problem keep going down year-to-year over the last two, three years, until you get to a state now where I think it might–I have to look at the most recent numbers, but it may be 50-50.

BOND: Below 40 percent, yeah.

JAY: Yeah, at least half the country doesn’t believe it, and maybe a little more than half. Is there some issue there in terms of the effectiveness of how scientists and their–others are dealing with this? I’ll give you an example. We’ve been trying to organize a science-based climate change debate, you know, with scientists and with skeptics, and on the whole the scientists who are working on climate change won’t debate the skeptics. They say it gives this other position credibility to debate it, which–I can understand the argument under certain conditions, but we’re in a society where, you know, more than half the people don’t believe it anymore. Don’t you have to have that science debate?

BOND: That may be the case. I mean, I’ve only seen two situations where denialists really prevented good public policy from occurring. One was during apartheid. There were in white South Africa plenty who said blacks have it better in South Africa than any other country in Africa, and it took tough activism to overcome those. And now there’s nobody who in South Africa says, oh, we supported apartheid or [incompr.] The second case was AIDS medicines. And that was where a variety of forces–California scientists and the president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki–denied that HIV caused AIDS and that the medicines would help. And, again, it was tough activism at the base. So the next question, really, is where is that tough activism, and why is it so hidden? I do believe that from having spent a year on sabbatical in the U.S. and written a book, The Politics of Climate Justice, that the activism is very, very strong. North America probably has a strong network of climate justice proponents and frontline critics of extraction and people really thinking through what a new, transformed, just-transition society that doesn’t depend on fossil fuels would look like. And those are activists who just aren’t given a chance to speak, except on The Real News and a few other progressive stations.

JAY: One of the arguments I’ve heard is that a lot of the proposals that were made by the Obama administration, as well as a lot of the other proposals that are being supported by a lot of the mainstream green groups, are these sort of market mechanisms of taxes that–you know, cap and trade. But they’re all kind of mechanisms that in fact might increase the cost of energy for ordinary people, not really cost big business much, and are of dubious effectiveness. And if one believes that about those policies, how much of the responsibility for why people aren’t buying in goes to some of the green organizations who are pushing this kind of a market mechanism and aren’t just straightforwardly calling for forms of regulation?

BOND: Well, you’re exactly right, Paul. The yuppie greens, as I’d call them, who do believe that because corporations are so powerful you have to work with them and work with their rhythms and work within their logic, they’ve shown again and again that they can’t even get the legislation required and get the support from big business to get their carbon trading schemes up and running. We’ve seen how when other schemes have been running, especially in Europe, they’re subject to fraud, manipulation, extraordinary volatility, just like any commodity. So to give financial markets the responsibility to save the planet’s, I think, an absolute no-win situation. And ordinary people can comprehend that. You’re right as well that in the British Columbia case of a tax on gasoline, that was very heavily borne by poor and working people, who through no fault of their own are living quite a long way from their jobs, given the speculative prices of real estate. So definitely all of these issues have to be tacked together with justice and equity and its concern about a transition where working-class people are not going to be displaced from fossil-fuel intensive jobs, but instead be given the same pay and benefits–better benefits, of course, with everybody losing their benefits, terribly important–to make sure that state-owned and state-driven, new, just-transition strategies for renewable energy and public transport and new production systems are at the top of the agenda. So there are a few campaigns that are trying to do that. Britain and South Africa have “1,000,000 climate jobs” campaigns, and farsighted unionists are picking these up and beginning to make the alliances we’re going to need between labor climate activists and the environmental movement and communities. But we really haven’t seen enough of that. And it’s a matter of time. As I said, with the anti-apartheid movement, with the treatment movement for AIDS medicines, it took a while to get the coalitions together. The main thing is, if you’ve got denialists, it is a bit of a distraction, a waste of time, because we really need to be putting all our efforts into building the coalitions and finding the confluence of interest that will begin to fight against the Koch brothers, those other big oil guys, who are really funding the denialists and all of the sort of carbon trading gimmicks. And those are the big enemies we have, the politicians, the negotiators, and it’s a formidable force. But don’t forget we’ve taken down such forces in history and we must again.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Patrick.

BOND: Thank you. Good, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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