Monday, January 28, 2008

Climate Fraud, Carbon Profits

Here is an amazingly well done analysis of the Carbon Trading program that folks like Gore seem to love so much by Uri Gordon. While you are at it, check out Uri's blog at AnarchyAlive! and by his new book Anarchy Alive!: Anti-authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory (Pluto Press). The book is really good and Uri is easily one of the brightest people out there writing about anarchism.


Climate fraud, carbon profits
By Uri Gordon

By the looks of it, environmentalists should be celebrating a great victory. For decades, their warnings about the devastating consequences of pumping billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year were met with a strange combination of arrogance, paralysis and denial. Now, everybody seems to finally recognize the gravity of the problem.

A recent BBC survey polled 22,000 people in 21 countries to find that an overwhelming 80 percent believe that human activity is a significant cause of climate change. And no less than 70 percent say they are willing to change their lifestyles - even in the U.S. and China, the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases. Climate change is the hot new topic around dinner tables, young couples calculate their “carbon footprint,” and jetting around the world with a slideshow on the subject is enough to get you awarded a Nobel Prize.

But is this sudden rush to jump on the climate bandwagon really so encouraging? Not if you look at the bigger picture. One might have expected, for example, that the vindication of environmentalists’ warnings would also translate into more attention to the solutions they have been offering all along: reduced consumption, diversified and self-reliant local economies, and an end to our civilization’s obsession with economic growth at all costs.

But these options remain largely silenced and ignored. Instead, the new hype around climate change is being shaped almost exclusively by global political and business elites, and their interests seem unchanged: more power, more money.

Much has been made of the “success” of the recent climate conference in Bali, where U.S. negotiators finally succumbed to international pressure and ceased to stonewall progress toward a new climate treaty. But the real story remains the flawed content of the Kyoto Protocol and whatever succeeds it. In fact, the international framework on climate change merely strengthens the same global system of inequality and exploitation, whose logic of infinite growth is what landed us in this mess in the first place.

Its centerpiece is a new global market - the trade in carbon dioxide. Major polluters can now buy carbon credits that allow them to pay someone else to reduce emissions, instead of cutting their own pollution. Meanwhile, under the innocuously named Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), governments and corporations can generate new carbon credits out of thin air by financing renewable energy and/or “offsetting” projects that allegedly absorb greenhouse gases.

All this will certainly put more money into the global economy and generate new investment opportunities. Israel, for its part, managed to get itself defined as a “developing country” in the Kyoto Protocol and is not required to reduce emissions, at least until 2012. But it has already drawn undisclosed millions in CDM investments - including schemes for methane capture from the Hiriya landfill and Kibbutz Nirim’s pig farm. But whether turning the atmosphere into just another commodity does anything to effect climate change remains highly debatable.

Environmental-justice organizations like Carbon Trade Watch argue that the CDM system is highly flawed. With no regulatory framework to verify claimed reductions, hundreds of credit-generating projects are being realized under corporate self-monitoring, dangerously relying on the polluters’ own integrity. These potential conflicts of interest were at the heart of the Enron and Arthur Andersen scandals, both pioneers in emissions trading.

Moreover, a ham-fisted approach to ecological complexity guides the use of vast single-crop plantations to allegedly “sequester” carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, generating carbon credits for investors to use or sell on. There is only limited scientific understanding of the complex mechanisms of carbon exchange between forests, oceans and atmosphere, and the damage done by these projects may outweigh their benefit. The World Bank’s flagship CDM project in Brazil, started in 2002, involved planting 23,000 hectares of eucalyptus - displacing local communities, destroying biodiversity and the water table, and poisoning the soil with pesticides.

Still, entrepreneurs charge ahead with plantations. The incentive to develop the emerging offset industry takes precedence over any genuine concern for climate stability.

So much for profit. As for power, it takes only a small dose of cynicism to realize that the climate crisis is becoming a new weapon in our governments’ politics of fear-mongering. Our leaders no longer bother promising us welfare or peace - only protection from drummed-up menaces, ranging from terrorism to juvenile delinquency. As long as the alarmist talk is not backed up by any form of action that would jeopardize the existing structure of wealth and power, the climate is a convenient way to keep us scared and obedient.

What is frightening about economic decentralization and local self-reliance is not that they are difficult to achieve - social and ecological approaches to planning and productivity have been successfully tested for years, from England to Cuba to Japan. The real problem is the threat that self-reliant, resilient local economies might pose to the state-capitalist regime. If communities controlled their own food and energy sources, they might turn out to be a bit too independent, a bit too difficult to exploit and command.

And this prospect makes our leaders shake in their shoes.

Uri Gordon teaches environmental politics at the Arava Institute. His book “Anarchy Alive!” was recently published by Pluto Press.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I really like reframing things....really I do.

So I am constantly reframing and rethinking about my prospectus and research project. Here is how I have it now. This is probably more useful to read then my long sections that I posted earlier. I need to rewrite and edit those. How does this question look? Is it still confusing?

Diss Q: What does the tension between anarchist movements and state agencies demonstrate about the relationship between the state and social movements more generally?

The relationship between social movements and governmental institutions is always one of regulation and control. This relationship is hidden when social scientist use pressure groups or any policy driven movement because these groups have already agreed to accept the confines that the state places on them. They accept these confines in an attempt to have access, or at least greater access, to agenda setters and the policy cycle. With some anarchist groups there is no agreement to accept the state's limitations on action. This is seen through the banner group Food Not Bombs, an anarchist group that distributes food without seeking permits or enacting a 501©3 non-profit status, as well as squatter communities, and the radical forest defense movement. These movements all attempt to have a political life outside the regulated and confining space that the state grants. In response to anarchist group's, government institutions attempt to maintain regulatory power over public space by recapturing the political spaces that anarchist movements have liberated and placing this groups within the regulatory space of the state. This can be done by attempts to integrate anarchist groups within traditional venues, by forcing them to accept permits or non-profit status, or by bringing the groups within the panoptical vision of the state through infiltration and surveillance.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Introduction section to Prospectus

Since I have already posted a draft of my dissertation question, I feel that posting the introduction is important. In fact, I should have done the intro first, since it frames why the dissertation question is important. Enjoy the intro and let me know what you think of it. Did I miss something? Does my spelling suck? Should I start with the discussion about Seattle? Is something really awkward? Let me know!

"Anarchism is not a concept that can be locked up in a word like a gravestone. It is not a political theory. It is a way of conceiving life, and not something final: it is a stake we must play day after day"- Alfredo M. Bonanno (Bonanno 1996)

For much of the 20th century, anarchism was "Marxism's poorer cousin, theoretically a bit flat-footed but making up for brains, perhaps, with passion and sincerity"(Graeber 2004). Though the anarchist movements had a few high points during the 20th century, such as Nestor Mahkno and the Ukrainian revolt (1916-1919), the uprising at Kronstadt (1921), the revolutionary actions of the Catalonian anarchists during the Spanish Civil War (1930-1936), and the Paris Uprising of '68, the presence of anarchism waned. Instead, following the success of the Bolshevik revolution, Marxist-Leninism became the dominant political ideology on the left. By the 1950s it seemed as though Anarchism was being relegated to the dustbin of history.

However, starting with the late 1960s, anarchist theories and tactics reemerged within the anti-war, women's, queer, and environmental movements. Anti-authoritarianism gave the New Left a way to revolt against parents, politicians, and orthodox Marxists. While at the same time, consensus decision-making, the affinity-group model, and the concept of direct action allowed the anti-nuclear and the environmental movements a way to put their beliefs into action (Epstein 1991). The widespread use of these tactics made many of the new social movements appear to be embracing a nascently anarchist politic(Melluci 1989). The connection between anarchism and the new social movements developed further throughout the 1970s and 80s with the anti-nuclear movement(Epstein 1991), the feminist movement(Ehrlich 2002; Hansen 2002), and the environmental movement(Abbey 1976; Manes 1990; Bookchin 1991; Hansen 2002), all garnering a vocal and active anarchist wing. The relationship between new social movements and anarchism was not one sided; anarchism was also radically altered by politics of the 1960s and 70s (Day 2005). For example, class interests lost their standing as being the essential component of politics while race, gender, sexual orientation, and environmental conditions took its place.

During the 1990s the United States saw an increase in anarchist activism. One of the most widespread anarchist entities that thrived during the 1990s was Food Not Bombs. Food Not Bombs is banner group that distributes free vegetarian meals as a means of practicing mutual aid, a central concept within Kropotkins' theory of anarchism. A handful of Clamshell Alliance activists originally formed Food Not Bombs in 1981 and former Abalone Alliance members, in 1988, started up the second chapter of the group in Berkeley, California. Food Not Bombs is now one of the most popular anarchist entities with over 200 chapters in the United States and 400, recognized chapters, existing on five continents. During the 1990s anarchist "organizations" (Love and Rage, Anti-Racist Action, Anarchist Black Cross, Crimethinc ex-Workers Collective, Direct Action Network), journals (Fifth Estate, Anarchy: A Journal of desire Armed, Earth First! Journal), squats (ABC No Rio, C-Squat), and infoshop/autonomous spaces (Arise, The Lucy Parsons Project) flourished. During this time period, Uri Gordon has argued that anarchism started to redefine itself and became "a recognizable social movement in its own right, with a scale, unity and diversity unseen since the 1930s" (Gordon 2005).

Even though anarchism appeared to be a growing political movement it received little attention by academics, media elite, politicians, or mainstream culture at all. In fact, most Americans first saw "an anarchist" in protest images from the World Trade Organization protest in Seattle. Discussing the anarchist presence in Seattle, Time Magazine on December 13, 1999 stated in a headline "Anarchists lead Seattle into Chaos." The article, which spent pages trying to understand the beliefs of the anarchist protests, ended up dismissing the entire movement as consisting of "thousands of mostly young activists populating hundreds of mostly tiny splinter groups espousing dozens of mostly socialist critiques of the capitalist machine." This small movement, according to Time and the rest of the mainstream press, was hypocritical, overly violent, and fringe. Yet, Time had to ask, "Is Anarchism the face of 21st century activism?" Not surprisingly their answer was "no."

It is important to state that the anarchism did not emerge out of the Seattle protests but that the anarchist presence in Seattle represented over a decade of grassroots organizing by anarchist activists throughout the country. The result of their organizing is the backbone of the contemporary anarchist movements; the 200 known chapters of Food Not Bombs in the United States; the countless community info-shops and collectively run squats; and the extensive direct action networks that now exist within most major US cities. What Seattle represented was the hard work, dedication, and advances that occurred among the anarchist milieu; it showed that anarchists could organize and radically disrupt politics as usual.

Though anarchist politics have been an important component of contemporary radical politics, academics have paid little attention to it. Confronting the lack of academic work on anarchist politics, David Graeber in his New Left Review, "The New Anarchists", states that, "It's hard to think of another time when there has been such a gulf between intellectuals and activists; between theorists of revolution and its practitioners" (Graeber 2002). In recent years a handful of academics, including Graeber himself, have narrowed this gulf.

Since 2001 a handful of academic articles (Day 2004; Smith 2007; Williams 2007), a few unpublished PhD dissertations (Gordon 2005; Robertson 2007), and a slew of books (Hardt and Negri 2000; Newman 2001; Call 2002; Graeber 2004; Olson 2004; Wark 2004; Carter 2005; Day 2005; Hardt and Negri 2005; Sepulveda 2005; Best and Nocella 2006; Sitrin 2006; Graeber 2007; Graeber 2008) have delved into questions central to contemporary anarchism. These activist/academics comprise what I call the "new anarchist academics."

One of the results from this new research on anarchism is the claim that the new anarchist movements are radically different from earlier conceptions of anarchism. According to Uri Gordon,
The contemporary anarchist movement is 'new' in the key sense that it does not form a continuity between the workers' and peasant' anarchists movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth century...rather it represents the revival o anarchists politics over the past decade in the intersection of several other movements, including radical ecology, feminism, black and indigenous liberation, anti-nuclear movements and, most recently, resistance to neoliberal capitalism and the 'global permanent war"(Gordon 2005).

In other words, anarchist academics are claiming that a new unique form of anarchism has come to fruition in the 1990s, one that combines the lessons from new social movements with a strong commitment to resist domination, hierarchy, and illegitimate authority. According to the new anarchist academics, the new varieties of anarchisms reject class as being central to their politics (Day 2005) and instead embrace the categories popularized by the new social movements (NSM)- gender, race, and sexual orientation (Day 2005; Gordon 2005). Most importantly, the new anarchist movements do not wait for a global social revolution but instead engage in pre-figurative politics by creating new institutions within the vestige of the current system.

Next, I will discuss the pressing questions that the dissertation will address, followed by a discussion of pertinent previous research, and a discussion of research methodology. The final section will provide a short time-line for the completion of the dissertation.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

What I have been doing

So I have been very busy writing my prospectus and neglecting my blog. In a way of working on both I am going to paste my "dissertation question". Let me know what you think? In about 2 days I will put the next section. This way I can get my whole damned thing up and maybe get a comment or two about it (anything is welcome). Also, if you want to read or give me some more detailed feedback email me and I can, and would really like to send you my prospectus.

Dissertation Question:

"The term new social movements is rapidly approaching its sell-by-date"(Crossley 2003).

For this dissertation I have two central questions that I want to answer. First, how has anarchism been able to reemerge as a political force during the 1990s and 2000s? In doing so, I will first have to address, empirically, whether anarchism has reemerged and if it has, whether the new anarchisms are in fact unique. This research will provide much needed empirical evidence, if it exists, for the "new anarchist academics" claims. This is especially pressing since the majority of their work has tended to be either theoretical or based off their personal activist accounts. The one exception is the forthcoming book by David Graeber's Direct Action: An Ethnography, which details the authors' experience working with and organizing the anarchist resistance to the IMF in Quebec, Canada.

Secondly, and more important, what does the relationship between the anarchist movements and state agencies tell us about these relationship, more generally? The relationship between state institutions and political social movements has became a pressing question for the political science side of social movement theory (Banaszak 1996; Costain and McFarland 1998; Rhomberg 2004; Morgan 2007) and there is currently no consensus on the process. Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that the current empirical research examines the relationship between pressure groups, that are actively trying to get a seat at the table, and state agencies, which want to limit their political influence. The anarchist movements I will look into provide a unique perspective on this debate; since the new anarchist movements do not want a spot at the decision-making table and claim to exist outside, or counter to, the State. Because of their standing, this allows for a unique glimpse into power relationships.

Of course, it is naive to believe that these groups can exist fully removed from the envelope of the state, especially in the modern era of surveillance and regulation. But, these groups' attempts to remain independent often force the state agencies to over react; which illustrates the importance of "inclusion" that city governments and state agencies place on social movement actors. Overall, the relationships and interactions between anarchist movements and state institutions is uniquely complex and highlights tensions and relationships that always exist but are generally over looked.

As empirical case studies for the second question, I will examine two new anarchist political movements and their relationships with state agencies: the militant forest defense movement and Food Not Bombs. The first case study provides an example of how a new anarchist movement attempts to subvert and disrupt the current institutions, will providing an open space of new institutions to thrive, such as the concept of the free-state which is modeled as a temporary autonomous zone in the woods. The actions of the forest defense movement are not removed from the political process. Instead a complex relationship exists between the radical forest defense activists, with their open hostility towards the state, and state agencies (Forest Service, BLM, Police Agencies, the FBI) attempts to co-opt, include, or eradicate the movement.

The second example, Food Not Bombs illustrates the pre-figurative politics that have became central to the new anarchist movements. In addition, Food Not Bombs rejects city funding support and also does not have the 501(c)3 non-profit standing. In the words of one Food Not Bombs activist,
People often ask if we are a non-profit, tax exempt corporation. Generally, we are not interested in the bureaucracy needed to maintain such an organization. Sometimes, you might use an "umbrella" to assist in arranging a particular donation of money that specifically needs to be given to a non-profit, tax-exempt group. This is fine and it is usually not too difficult to find a tax-exempt organization to do this for you. Specifically, do not seek permission from any government agency to engage in the work you do. Once a group becomes a tax-exempt organization, the I.R.S. has the right to oversee all aspects of its operation and limits much of what it can do. Rather than try to hide from them, we prefer to ignore them (Ewald).
Thus, unlike other hunger relief agencies, Food Not Bombs actively rejects government support and non-profit standing in an attempt to remain independent from state control. This is a requirement if Food Not Bombs wants to complete its stated goal of creating an alternative institution for distributing food outside the confines of the state. Historically though, city governments have not been willing to accept Food Not Bombs rejection of state control. Most Food Not Bombs chapters in the United States have experienced police harassment, fines (for distributing food without a license), or overt government surveillance (ACLU website, Food Not Bombs website). Because of the hostile tension between Food Not Bombs chapters and city agencies, it becomes an interesting case study for understanding how city governments integrate or suppress social movements, and how groups attempt to remain politically independent of state regulation and control.