Naming Names – Ninety Companies Destroying the Planet


Naming Names: The 90 Companies Destroying Our Planet

 Jon Queally,
Previously Published by Common Dreams

Analysis highlights the small number of profit-driven entities that are driving us towards destruction, but can a climate revolution from below challenge their rule?

90 companies

Chevron Texaco was the leading emitter among investor-owned companies, causing 3.5% of greenhouse gas emissions to date, with Exxon not far behind at 3.2%. In third place, BP caused 2.5% of global emissions to date. (Guardian)

Narrow it down to the real power-brokers and decision-makers—the CEO’s of fossil fuel companies or the energy ministers from the largest petro-states—says climate researcher Richard Heede, and the actual individuals most responsible for the political world’s continued refusal to address the planetary crisis of climate change “could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two.”

In a newly compeleted study by Heede and his colleagues at the Climate Accountability Institute, their analysis shows that a mere 90 companies, some private and some state-owned, account for a full two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions that are now driving perilous rates of global warming.

Offered in advance to the Guardian newspaper, which created an interactive representation of the study’s findings, the report comes as climate negotiators from around the world continue talks in Warsaw, Poland this week in the latest (what looks so far like a failed) attempt to solidify an emissions agreement designed to stave off the worst impacts of climate change this century.

As the Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg reports:

Between them, the 90 companies on the list of top emitters produced 63% of the cumulative global emissions of industrial carbon dioxide and methane between 1751 to 2010, amounting to about 914 gigatonne CO2 emissions, according to the research. All but seven of the 90 were energy companies producing oil, gas and coal. The remaining seven were cement manufacturers.

The list of 90 companies included 50 investor-owned firms – mainly oil companies with widely recognised names such as Chevron, Exxon, BP , and Royal Dutch Shell and coal producers such as British Coal Corp, Peabody Energy and BHP Billiton.

Some 31 of the companies that made the list were state-owned companies such as Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Aramco, Russia’s Gazprom and Norway’s Statoil.

Nine were government run industries, producing mainly coal in countries such as China, the former Soviet Union, North Korea and Poland, the host of this week’s talks.

Though the global public has been flooded with one scientific research paper after another warning of the perils of not addressing the role of carbon emissions, experts agree that the political will on the state, national, and global level has simply not been created.

The reason for that, of course, is the stranglehold that the very profitable fossil fuel companies—whether state-owned  entities or private corporations—retain on the political systems within which they operate. At the global level, that political system is known as the United Nations, but so far the talks taking place in Warsaw are seeing almost no progress on a deal. On Wednesday, the world’s poorest nation’s walked out of the COP19 talks and the wealthiest nations—including the US, Canada, Australia, and the EU states—showing less and less courage despite the increasingly dire warnings from experts and scientists.

Michael Mann, a U.S. climate scientist who spoke to the Guardian about the possible impact of the list, said he hoped it would bring greater scrutiny to the gas, oil and coal companies who are most responsible for past emissions because these are the same companies poised to continue burning the vast carbon reserves still in the ground. “What I think could be a game changer here is the potential for clearly fingerprinting the sources of those future emissions,” he said. “It increases the accountability for fossil fuel burning. You can’t burn fossil fuels without the rest of the world knowing about it.”

And Al Gore added: “This study is a crucial step forward in our understanding of the evolution of the climate crisis. The public and private sectors alike must do what is necessary to stop global warming. Those who are historically responsible for polluting our atmosphere have a clear obligation to be part of the solution.”

The alternative, however—as almost zero progress, and possibly lost ground, has been the result of the last several rounds of international climate talks—is a global uprising from below, led by social justice organizations, environmentalists, and civil society who are willing to act where governments and the private sector have refused.

As Michael T. Klare, an energy expert and professor at Hampshire College, wrote earlier this week at TomDispatch:

If, as is now the case, governments across the planet back an extension of the carbon age and ever increasing reliance on “unconventional” fossil fuels like tar sands and shale gas, we should all expect trouble.  In fact, we should expect mass upheavals leading to a green energy revolution.

None of us can predict the future, but when it comes to a mass rebellion against the perpetrators of global destruction, we can see a glimmer of the coming upheaval in events of the present moment.  Take a look and you will see that the assorted environmental protests that have long bedeviled politicians are gaining in strength and support.  With an awareness of climate change growing and as intensifying floodsfiresdroughts, and storms become an inescapable feature of daily life across the planet, more people are joining environmental groups and engaging in increasingly bold protest actions.  Sooner or later, government leaders are likely to face multiple eruptions of mass public anger and may, in the end, be forced to make radical adjustments in energy policy or risk being swept aside.

In fact, it is possible to imagine such a green energy revolution erupting in one part of the world and spreading like wildfire to others.  Because climate change is going to inflict increasingly severe harm on human populations, the impulse to rebel is only likely to gain in strength across the planet.  While circumstances may vary, the ultimate goal of these uprisings will be to terminate the reign of fossil fuels while emphasizing investment in and reliance upon renewable forms of energy.  And a success in any one location is bound to invite imitation in others.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

The Koch Brothers’ Amazing Climate Change Denial


Climate Change, Propaganda  and the Koch Brothers.

What can we believe? Our own eyes? The press?  Much has been said and written about the power of the media, and the rich whose tool it is to achieve their ends. Furthermore the very rich corporations are welcome lobbyists, welcomed to political conferences. They fund think-tanks and ensure their ‘truth’ is perceived as fact, even when scientific evidence proves otherwise. Perhaps the most dangerous example is that of the growing denial of climate change resulting from human activity.

This short animation details the effort of billionaires oil barons Charles & David Koch to undermine belief in climate change and prevent legislation that threatens their profits. By pouring money into bogus scientific studies and funding third parties such as Think Tanks and Front Groups (posing as everything from Seniors groups to Women’s groups) the public is led to believe a genuine scientific debate is raging. In truth, as one climate denier candidly admits, those doubting the science are just a small, if brilliantly coordinated, minority.

The piece was made by Australian filmmaker Taki Oldham and incorporates footage from his 55 min. documentary The Billionaires’ Tea Party (2011).

Big thanks to the visual effects team at Hungry Beast  as well to the team at Greenpeace for their great research on the Koch Brothers

GM Food, Is it Feeding the Needy or the Greedy – Banana Splits


Feeding The Hungry, Or The Greedy?

As Uganda prepares to legalise GMO, supporters say it will save a farming industry gripped by epidemic blights, and help alleviate hunger and malnutrition. Opponents believe it is a neo-colonial conspiracy that connects the White House to billion-dollar multinational corporate greed.


 MIRANDA GRANT FOR THE GLOBAL MAIL, previously published here

Alice Kulabigwo tending her crops in Luwero

The midday sun is searing over Alice Kulabigwo’s farm in Luwero, north of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, as she inspects the blackened stem of one of her banana plants. It’s infected with Black Sigatoka, a major scourge for Ugandan farmers. Nearby, her cassava plants are also frequently destroyed by “brown streak”, an insidious disease which turns the starchy root vegetable into a putrefied soggy brown mess.

A retired teacher, Kulabigwo, like eight out of 10 Ugandans, has also farmed part-time for years to help make ends meet. Now she tends fulltime to a 10-hectare plot at her ancestral home, growing cassava, beans, pumpkin, a few pawpaw trees, and Uganda’s staple food, the banana.

Kulabigwo also knows all about the devastating Banana Xanthomonas Wilt that rapidly kills entire banana plants and ruins the soil around them. In some areas of the country wilt and Black Sigatoka have forced almost every farmer to destroy their banana crops. Brown streak afflicts 60-70 per cent of Uganda’s cassava growers, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

For Uganda, the world’s largest consumer of bananas and the second largest banana producer, these diseases are economically devastating. Uganda loses five per cent of its GDP to malnutrition and hunger according to a recent government study. At the same time, the country depends on agriculture for a quarter of its GDP.

“There are very many people who don’t have [food],” says Kulabigwo. “Some people are hungry, are starving.”

Depending on whom you speak to, this may all soon change, with Uganda poised to open its borders to genetically modified organisms (GMO). A series of trials of genetically modified (GM) crops specifically engineered to be resistant to wilt, brown streak and a host of diseases that are blighting Uganda’s crops has yielded promising results. Proponents say GMO would take Uganda’s subsistence farming to a viable commercial level, while also feeding the local population.


Banana and cassava farmer Alice Kulabigwo, in Luwero, Uganda

But there are also opponents of GMO, eager to warn farmers of rapacious multinationals which they say will not hesitate to patent seeds, jack up prices, and lay waste to the country’s biodiversity and subsistence-farming culture. Still others regard the push for deregulation of GMO as a neo-colonial conspiracy that connects the White House to this billion-dollar multinational corporate greed.

In Luwero, Kulabigwo admits she does not know whether GMOs are good or bad.

“I think it’s God’s plan. I cannot express myself on this [GMO],” she says driving a hoe into the ground at the base of a cassava plant.

She stops her work and looks up. “You tell me. Is it good?”

The Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, which would set the legal framework for Ugandan farmers to buy GM seeds and plants, and to export GM produce, has been in approval limbo since 2003. Some say that this is just how long things can take in Africa, where the passage of legislation is frequently stalled by cabinet reshuffles, elections, MPs fearing backlash from their constituents, the prioritising of other bills or the lack of education about GMO among both the public and MPs.

Progress seemed to have been made in recent months. Scientists at Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) told The Global Mail that GM seeds and foods, such as a vitamin-A-enriched banana or disease-resistant cotton may be available in Uganda as early as mid-2014. A second reading of the bill has long been scheduled for September. If it passes, the bill will go to a vote at a third reading, then to President Yoweri Museveni to be signed off and made into law.

Early this month, however, reading of the bill was once again delayed with the release of a full parliamentary schedule. And Museveni’s recent hiring of prominent anti-GMO advisor Morrison Rwakakamba as a Special Presidential Assistant has sent mixed messages to all interested parties, including parliament and the public.

Meanwhile, a report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) found that delaying the approval for planting GM bananas potentially costs Uganda between US$179 million and US$365 million a year.

The uncertainty has been enough to exhaust, at least temporarily, the patience of agritech-industry Goliath, Monsanto. In 2009 and 2010, the company began well-publicised trials of several strains of GM cotton, ready for use with the company’s own pesticide, Roundup.

Monsanto’s former country representative Wilfred Kamulegeya says the trial was halted when it stopped funding the partnership with Uganda’s NARO.

“The trial would most likely restart when the bill passes,” he says.

The World Bank’s Millennium Science Initiative, launched in 2006, also had invested in the development of GM technology in Uganda, providing $US33 million over six years to Ugandan universities and research institutions, to enable them to pursue agricultural biotechnology schemes. But this became an example of how difficult it can be to drive a project to completion in Uganda, when the program, which was jointly funded by the Ugandan government, was cut without warning in the 2012 budget.

Deputy Agriculture Minister and science and technology advisor to the President, Mijumbi Nyiira, told The Global Mail that the government is committed to GMO, but that advocates for the technology must be patient.

“It may be frustrating for the scientists, but if they are true Ugandans and patriotic, they should also be realistic. We are not passing the bill because they are frustrated. We should pass the bill because it is in the interest of the people,” he says.

Despite interruptions to funding, research into the benefits of GM crops for Uganda continues with several ongoing trials. Ugandan scientist Enoch Kikulwe, now based at Goettingen University in Germany, believes using GMO for Uganda’s banana production will alleviate poverty, and contribute to overall sustainable social and economic development.


GM cassava trial site at the NCRR headquarters

In an ongoing trial, launched in 2010, National BioResource Project (NBRP) scientists have used protein from two sweet pepper genes to create a banana resistant to wilt. But Kikulwe cautions against over-optimism about the results of contained, small-scale trials.

“Although GM bananas look promising for large-scale multiplication and dissemination, empirical evidence of the success of such organisms is still limited,” he says.

Kikulwe says losses caused by banana disease make the opportunity cost to farmers of not using the GM banana technology extremely high.

His research into the feasibility of vitamin A-enriched bananas, through a GMO process of “bio-fortification” conducted by NARO, found it would be a positive step for Uganda if the scheme proved to be “cost effective”.

According to the World Health Organization, vitamin A deficiency, which can cause blindness and weakening of the immune system, remains a public-health problem in Uganda. Anaemia (an abnormally low red-blood-cell count) is an associated problem, and vitamin-A deficiency is “unacceptably high” in children under five years of age.

Kikulwe, is positive about the trials, and underscores the potential benefits of biofortification.

“Biofortifying bananas, especially cooking banana, results in huge health benefits and has positive impacts on household well-being in both the highlands and lowlands regions of Uganda,” he says.

Uganda’s NARO is promoting such work to non-government organisations (NGOs), journalists, politicians, consumers and farmers in efforts to get the Biotechnology and Biosafety bill enacted.

At the end of July, The Global Mail attended a field trip to NARO’s National Crops Resources Research Institute (NCRRI) headquarters at Namulonge, 30 kilometres north of Uganda’s capital Kampala.

Huddled onto a dented minibus we drive an hour or so and are shown the laboratories and field trials NARO says prove the benefits of introducing a GMO cassava to Ugandan farmers. Like the banana, cassava, a starchy, tasteless root in its unprocessed form, is a staple of the Ugandan diet, and the plant comes under constant attack from brown streak disease.


The root of a cassava plant infected with brown streak disease

Surrounded by genetically modified cassava plants, grandmother of five and chairperson of the Luwero District Farmers Association, Magaret Bamukawa, is politely arguing with one of the NCCRI’s field-trial managers.

“Are you sure it’s safe?” she asks with a cynical look.

“I am sure,” John Odipio says, standing waist-high in the verdant field. He turns over the leaf of a non-genetically modified cassava plant to show the scores of bugs – killers known as ‘white fly’, they transmit brown streak and the African cassava mosaic virus – underneath; he then turns over another leaf, of a GM cassava plant, on which there is no white fly to be seen.

With us is British author, journalist and environmentalist Mark Lynas, who last year famously, or infamously depending on where you sit, made a landmark apology for his once “anti-science position” of opposing GMOs when he was associated with Greenpeace.

A former anti-GMO activist who destroyed GMO field tests such as the one in which we stand, Lynas is now a leading promoter of GMO.

“I think when the message gets through to Europeans that productivity does matter to small-hold farmers in Uganda then they will come around and support this agenda,” Lynas tells journalists.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is a major promoter, supporter and funder of GMO, flew Lynas to Kampala to speak at the first ever ‘National Bio-Safety Conference for Uganda’, a three-day talkfest held at the end of July at the country’s premier university, Makerere.


Mark Lynas is speaking to Magaret Bamukawa, chairperson of Luwero District Farmers Association, during a tour of the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NCRR) headquarters

During the conference, Lynas urged Ugandans to support the bill: “The media in Europe, the UK and America use this term ‘Frankenstein foods’, coined 15 or so years ago, to demonise the technology from the very beginning. I think the situation is changing though. Scientists have been very slow to wake up, but they have now realised that they could lose an entire appeal for technological progress to public superstition, unless they could more successfully inform society about their work,” he says.

Bamukawa leaves convinced of the safety of GMOs.

“I first heard of it [GMO] a decade ago. After the three-day conference and the field visit to the laboratories, I am convinced GMO is not really a danger to the Uganda consumer or farmer,” she says.

But the message of Lynas and others has met with less success elsewhere. Sarah Namubiru, District Agricultural Officer for Luwero, says she regularly encounters farmers who are against GMO.

“They refer to GMO as something that is coming from outside Uganda, it is foreign and they are saying these people are always coming, they’ve always exploited us,” she says.

“For them they don’t know what a GMO is. There is no wide publicity. They hear rumours and rely on that.”


Sarah Namubiru stands on her land

Some opponents of introducing GMO to Uganda claim that the technology will not significantly address food-security concerns. Associate Professor Matthew Schnurr, a Canada-based researcher, says that central to the debate in Uganda is an ideological feud between competing development theories on how to reduce global hunger and malnutrition.

“GMOs are a solution that fit within the view that hunger is a technical problem; that is, the best means of combating hunger is to increase yields. But data shows that the real roots of hunger are political. I’d like to see Uganda engage in a broader conversation around how best to tackle the issue of hunger that recognises these political roots,” he says.

For Dr Olupot Giregon, a senior lecturer at Makerere University’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and one of the country’s most outspoken critics of the bill and GMO, the root of hunger in Uganda is not food supply, but corruption, poor planning and mismanagement.

“Food security is more about economics, social justice, good governance, fairness and peace. Is GMO going to solve all those problems?” he says.

Giregon points to the collapse of the textile industry in the 1970s, and the prolonged political instability that followed. Any current food crisis, he says, has more to do with a lack of infrastructure or modern techniques or poor soil quality.

“The kidnapping and rape by the Lord’s Resistance Army meant people were too scared to go into the fields,” he says. “How will GMO solve this?

Giregon is no stranger to controversy; for example, he’s known for having branded colleagues who support GMO and the bill as “bio-terrorists.” He also draws a straight line between the White House, the US Department of Agriculture, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), companies like Monsanto and the GMO push in Uganda.

“Corporate America is the one in charge. The traditional America cannot exist without these ‘dirty deals’ [between government and big business]. They have let the corporations run the government.”


Luwero district, Uganda

Topping the list of those opposed to GMO in Uganda is non-government organisation, The Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM), a civil-society umbrella organisation for 45 Ugandan NGOs.

PELUM’s donors come mainly from Europe, and include Oxfam, Christian group Bread for the World, and German Catholic organisation Misereor, and international aid and development agency, Caritas.

While acknowledging PELUM’s “foreign support”, its spokesman, Richard Mugisha, describes the GMO push in Uganda as “neo colonial”, a contemporary form of slavery for African farmers.

“Our concerns centre on agriculture, environment and economic degradation. GMOs will lead to perpetual enslavement of small farmers by corporations, by controlling all the seed and forcing us to buy on their terms, season upon season,” he says.

“We fear that contamination of our agriculture and seed with GMO will mean the loss of export markets to countries in Europe that have already rejected GMO foods.”

Mugisha, who earlier this year lodged a formal submission against the bill to the Parliamentary Committee of Science and Technology, says seeds patented by corporations that sell them will ultimately bring higher costs to the farmer.

Much of the macro structure for GMO research funding, promotion, and lobbying comes from outside Uganda, via a myriad of organisations, most of which were unwilling to discuss their work with The Global Mail. In fact, hostility, sensitivity and plain evasiveness, characterised our discussions with the major supporters of GMO in Uganda.

According to Schnurr, USAID is the single most important organisation supporting GMO research in Uganda. He points to one of the world’s leading programs, the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP), which was set up in 1991 as the research arm of USAID’s Collaborative Biotechnology Initiative.


Test vials for GM cassava, yam and sweet potato at the NCCRI headquarters

Designed to promote biotechnology in Asia and East Africa, ABSP II (the second phase of the project) is a scheme run through Cornell and Michigan universities and has more than 20 partners from the private and public sectors, including USAID and Monsanto.

“ABSP II acts primarily as a liaison between NARO and Monsanto, the major technology donor for much of the GM materials used by NARO scientists,” Schnurr says.

stated aim of USAID is to promote and integrate GMO in developing countries. The agency is also open aboutpursuing the interests of American corporations. It has stated: “U.S. foreign assistance has always had the twofold purpose of furthering America’s foreign policy interests in expanding democracy and free markets while improving the lives of the citizens of the developing world.” Monsanto, Dupont Pioneer and other leading biotech companies are headquartered in the US, where the majority of global GM food production takes place.

When The Global Mail requested an interview with USAID, both its Kampala office and Washington headquarters refused, but offered a brief statement via a spokesman:

“The end goal is to improve farmers’ income and food security status through improvements in agricultural productivity.

“USAID does not fund any NGOs to pursue GMOs in Uganda” the statement says.

However, the spokesman states that USAID does channel funding through a grant to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). In turn IFPRI “works with local partners, including public, private, and civil society entities, to advance the dialogue on biosafety”.

IFPRI manages the Uganda-based Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) that has “partnered with local institutions and USAID-funded projects to develop biotechnology and biosafety capacity in Uganda”.

Another group promoting GMO in Uganda is the Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development (SCIFODE) that according to its website, focuses on “the demystification of biotechnology in Uganda … through communication and public engagement”.

Since 2007, SCIFODE has regularly held GMO workshops and field trips, including the NCRRI field trip and biotech conference we attended and, again according to the site, has “close linkages with parliament”.

A representative for SCIFODE, which also funded the first national biotechnology conference, would tell us only that it “did not promote [GMO] but demystified issues on GMO”.

Washington-DC-based IFPRI, in turn, says on its website that it promotes, “sustainable solutions for ending poverty and hunger”. Its donors include numerous bodies, from Pepsico, to USAID, to Yale University, to Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In 2010 the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation disclosed that it had bought 500,000 Monsanto shares, which were then worth around $23 million, and these have grown in value to approximately $50 million. South Africa-based agricultural watchdog the African Centre for Biosafety also revealed that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was teaming up with agribusiness multinational Cargill, on a $10 million GMO project to “develop the soya value chain” in Mozambique.

After exchanging several emails with Amy Enright, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation communications officer, seeking an interview about the GMO legislation and information about its funding in Uganda, all she could only offer was a link to a blog post about Rwanda’s agricultural success because, she said, “I don’t have anyone immediately available.” The Foundation’s Africa director, Laurie Lee also did not respond to requests for an interview.


A man and boy head to Saturday market, just outside Luwero town

Pro-GMO group the Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium, which has been described by its chairman, and biotech entrepreneurErostus Nsubuga, as a coalition of policymakers, scientists, private-sector leaders, government and civil-society groups, didn’t respond to emailed questions about its relationship with the Uganda National Council for Science & Technology, a government agency with which it shares an office.

The UNCST national guidelines for GMO field trials acknowledge in the 2006 and 2007 reports that they “are highly grateful to USAID Uganda Mission for providing the financial support through PBS that enabled the production of these manuals”. A UNCST report in 2011acknowledges the PBS but with no mention of USAID.

Despite a reluctance to discuss the topic, the US government has shown itself to be unwavering in its support of bringing GMO to developing countries. WikiLeaks released US cables in 2010 that revealed prolonged lobbying of the Vatican to persuade the Pope to support GMO foods. Similar cables revealed US officials in France and Germany had urged Washington to devise penalties and retributive responses to European countries that rejected GMO.

It is a similar story in Africa: WikiLeaks revealed that the US embassy in Accra had requested $13,700 to engage a biotechnology expert to spend a week promoting GMO, “as public opinion in Ghana is divided”.

For his part, Minister Nyiira acknowledges the outside influences, but says it’s the foreign-funded NGOs that are “confusing and misleading” the debate.

“My position, and it is the position of the ministry, [is that] we are not going to sell our national interests because of other people’s interests,” says Nyirra.

Schnurr, who has been studying Uganda’s GMO debate for four years is still baffled by many aspects of it.

“It is still incredibly difficult to understand who everyone is, who is funding who, who is making the decisions, which third party or intermediary is related to which government organisation or research centre’s trial,” he says.

“There are complex layers of funding arrangements, intermediary organisations, as well as myriad formal and informal relationships connecting government, corporate capital, research scientists, development agencies and lobby groups – all enrolled in promoting and maintaining the consensus towards [allowing] GM in Uganda,” Schnurr says.

MP Robert Kafeero Ssekitoleko, vice chairman of Uganda’s Parliamentary Committee of Science and Technology, says it is not the first time external forces have competed to shape Ugandan government policy.

“In Uganda we are not self-reliant. All these government policies are supported by development partners like USAID and others. It is not specifically about this bill … they’ve been our partners for all the time.”

Ssekitoleko is scrutinising the recommendations in the bill and will be presenting them to parliament in a report that was due in September. He argues that the most important task is to remove the emotion that has hijacked the debate.

“We think they have good intentions. But if there are bad intentions we shall detect it,” he says.

The Climate Crisis and a Unified Left Agenda – Naomi Klein


Overcoming ‘Overburden’: The Climate Crisis and a Unified Left Agenda

Why unions need to join the climate fight

Author and journalist Naomi Klein speaking at the founding UNIFOR convention in Toronto on Sunday, September 1, 2013. (Photo: UNIFOR website)The following remarks were delivered on September 1, 2013 at the founding convention of UNIFOR, a new mega union created by the Canadian Autoworkers and the Canadian Energy and Paper Workers Union. First published by Common Dreams.


I’m so very happy and honoured to be able to share this historic day with you.

The energy in this room — and the hope the founding of this new union has inspired across the country – is contagious.

It feels like this could be the beginning of the fight back we have all been waiting for, the one that will chase Harper from power and restore the power of working people in Canada.

So welcome to the world UNIFOR.

A lot of your media coverage so far has focused on how big UNIFOR is — the biggest private sector union in Canada. And when you are facing as many attacks as workers are in this country, being big can be very helpful. But big is not a victory in itself.

“We need to figure out together how to build sturdy new collective structures in the rubble of neoliberalism.”

The victory comes when this giant platform you have just created becomes a place to think big, to dream big, to make big demands and take big actions. The kind of actions that will shift the public imagination and change our sense of what is possible.

And it’s that kind of “big” that I want to talk to you about today.

Some of you are familiar with a book I wrote called The Shock Doctrine. It argues that over the past 35 years, corporate interests have systematically exploited various forms of mass crises – economic shocks, natural disasters, wars – in order to ram through policies that enrich a small elite, by shredding regulations, cutting social spending and forcing large-scale privatizations.

As Jim Stanford and Fred Wilson argue in their paper laying out UNIFOR’s vision, the attacks working people in Canada and around the world are facing right now are a classic case of The Shock Doctrine.

There’s no shortage of examples, from the mass slashing of salaries and layoffs of public sector workers in Greece, to the attacks on pension funds in Detroit in the midst of a cooked up bankruptcy, to the Harper government’s scapegoating of unions for its own policy failures right here in Canada.

I don’t want to spend my time with you proving that this ugly tactic of exploiting public fear for private gain is alive and well. You know it is; you are living it.

I want to talk about how we fight it.

And I’ll be honest with you: when I wrote the book, I thought that just understanding how the tactic worked, and mobilizing to resist it, would be enough to stop it. We even had a slogan: “Information is shock resistance. Arm yourself.”

But I have to admit something to you: I was wrong. Just knowing what is happening – just rejecting their story, saying to the politicians and bankers: “No, you created this crisis, not us” or “No, we’re not broke, it’s just that you are hording all the money” may be true but it’s not enough.

It’s not even enough when you can mobilize millions of people in the streets to shout “We won’t pay for your crisis.” Because let’s face it – we’ve seen massive mobilizations against austerity in Greece, Spain, Italy, France, Britain. We’ve occupied Wall Street and Bay Street and countless other streets. And yet the attacks keep coming.

Some of the new movements that have emerged in recent years have staying power, but too many of them arrive, raise huge hopes, and then seem to disappear or fizzle out.

The reason is simple. We are trying to organize in the rubble of a 30 year war that has been waged on the collective sphere and workers rights. The young people in the streets are the children of that war.

And the war has been so complete, so successful, that too often these social movements don’t have anywhere to stand. They have to occupy a park or a square to have a meeting. Or they are able to build a power base in their schools, but that base is transient by its nature, they are out in a few years.

This transience makes these movements far too easy to evict simply by waiting them out, or by applying brute state force, which is what has happened in far too many cases.

And this is one of the many reasons why the creation of UNIFOR, and your promise of reviving Social Unionism – building not just a big union but a vast and muscular network of social movements – has raised so much hope.

Because our movements need each other.

The new social movements bring a lot to the table – the ability to mobilize huge numbers of people, real diversity, a willingness to take big risks, as well as new methods of organizing including a commitment to deep democracy.

But these movements also need you – they need your institutional strength, your radical history, and perhaps most of all, your ability to act as an anchor so that we don’t keep rising up and floating away.

We need you to be our fixed address, our base, so that next time we are impossible to evict.

And we also need your organizing skills. We need to figure out together how to build sturdy new collective structures in the rubble of neoliberalism. Your innovative idea of community chapters is a terrific start.

It’s also important to remember that you are not starting from scratch. A remarkable group of people gathered a little less than a year ago for the Port Elgin Assembly and produced what they called the Making Waves agenda.

The most important message to come out of that process is that our coalitions cannot just be about top-down agreements between leaders; the change has to come from the bottom up, with full engagement from members.

And that means investing in education. Education about the ideological and structural reasons why we have ended up where we are. If we are going to build a new world, our foundation must be solid.

“We can’t just reject their lies. We need truths so powerful that their lies dissolve on contact with them. We can’t just reject their project. We need our own project.”

It also means getting out there and talking to people face to face. Not just the public, not just the media, but re-invigorating your own members with the analysis we share.

But there’s something else too. Another reason why we can’t seem to win big victories against the Shock Doctrine.

Even when there is mass resistance to an austerity agenda, and even when we understand how we got here, something is stopping us – collectively – from fully rejecting the neoliberal agenda.

And I think what it is is that we don’t fully believe that it’s possible to build something in its place. For my generation, and younger, deregulation, privatization and cutbacks is all we’ve ever known.

We have little experience building or dreaming. Only defending. And this is what I’ve come to understand as the key to fighting the Shock Doctrine.

We can’t just reject the dominant story about how the world works. We need our own story about what it could be.

We can’t just reject their lies. We need truths so powerful that their lies dissolve on contact with them. We can’t just reject their project. We need our own project.

Now, we know Stephen Harper’s project – he has only one idea for how to build our economy.


Dig lots of holes, lay lots of pipe. Stick the stuff from the pipes onto ships – or trucks, or railway cars – and take it to places where it will be refined and burned. Repeat, but more and faster. Before anyone figures out that this is his one idea, and what has allowed him to maintain the illusion that he is some kind of responsible economic manager, while the rest of the economy falls apart.

It’s why it’s so important to this government to accelerate oil and gas production at an outrageous pace, and why it has declared war on everyone standing in the way, whether environmentalists or First Nations or other communities.

It’s also why the Harper government is willing to sacrifice the manufacturing base of this country, waging war on workers, attacking your most basic collective rights.

This is not just about extracting specific resources – Harper represents an extreme version of a particular worldview. One that I sometimes call “extractivism”. And others times simply call capitalism.


It’s an approach to the world based on taking and taking without giving back. Taking as if there are no limits to what can be taken– no limits to what workers’ bodies can take, no limits to what a functioning society can take, no limits to what the planet can take.

In the extractivist mindset, labour is a commodity just like the bitumen. And maximum value must be extracted from that resource – ie you and your members – regardless of the collateral damage. To health, families, social fabric, human rights.

When crisis hits, there is only ever one solution: take some more, faster. On all fronts.

So that is their story – the one we’re trapped in. The one they use as a weapon against all of us.

And if we are going to defeat it, we need our own story.


So I want to offer you what I believe to be the most powerful counter-narrative to that brutal logic that we have ever had.

Here it is: our current economic model is not only waging war on workers, on communities, on public services and social safety nets. It’s waging war on the life support systems of the planet itself. The conditions for life on earth.

Climate change. It’s not an “issue” for you to add to the list of things to worry about it. It is a civilizational wake up call. A powerful message – spoken in the language of fires, floods, storms and droughts — telling us that we need an entirely new economic model, one based on justice and sustainability.

It’s telling us that when you take you must also give, that there are limits past which we cannot push, that our future health lies not in digging ever deeper holes but in digging deeper inside ourselves – to understand how ALL our fates are interconnected.

“Climate change. It’s not an ‘issue’ for you to add to the list of things to worry about it. It is a civilizational wake up call.”

Oh, and one last thing. We need to make this transition, like, yesterday. Because our emissions are going in exactly the wrong direction and there’s very little time left.

Now I know talking about climate change can be a little uncomfortable for those of you working in the extractive industries, or in manufacturing sectors producing carbon-intensive products like cars and planes.

I also know that despite your personal fears, you haven’t joined the deniers like some of your counterparts in the U.S. – both of your former unions have all kinds of great climate policies on the books.

And this isn’t some recent conversion either: the CEP courageously fought for Kyoto all the way back in the 90s. The CAW has been fighting against the environmental destruction of free trade deals even longer. [Former CEP President] Dave Coles even got arrested protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. That was heroic.

But…how to say this politely?…I think it’s fair to say that climate change hasn’t traditionally been your members greatest passion.

And I can relate: I’m not an environmentalist. I’ve spent my adult life fighting for economic justice, inside our country and between countries. I opposed the WTO not because of its effects on dolphins but because of its effects on people, and on our democracy.

The case I want to make to you is that climate change – when its full economic and moral implications are understood — is the most powerful weapon progressives have ever had in the fight for equality and social justice.

But first, we have to stop running away from the climate crisis, stop leaving it to the environmentalist, and look at it. Let ourselves absorb the fact that the industrial revolution that led to our society’s prosperity is now destabilizing the natural systems on which all of life depends.

I’m not going to bore you with a whole bunch of numbers. Though I could remind you that the World Bank says we’re on track for a four degrees warmer world. That the International Energy Agency –not exactly a protest camp of green radicals – says the Bank is being too optimistic and we’re actually in for 6 degrees of warming this century, with “catastrophic implications for all of us”. That’s an understatement: we haven’t even reached a full degree of warming yet and look at what is already happening.


97% of the Greenland ice-sheet’s surface was melting last summer – as Bill McKibben says, we’ve taken one of the great features of the planet and broken it.

And then there are the extreme weather events. Hell, I was in Fort McMurray this summer and the contents of the town’s museum – literally, its history – was floating around in the water.

I was trying to get interviews with the big oil companies but their headquarters in Calgary were all empty as the downtown was dark and the city was frantically bailing out from the worst flood it has ever seen.

And not even the provincial NDP had the courage to say: this is what climate change looks like and we are going to have a lot more of it if those oil companies get their way.

We know that this climate emergency is only getting more dire. And our excuses about why we can’t do anything about it – why it’s somebody else’s issue – are melting away.

But engaging on climate does not mean dropping everything else you are doing and turning into a raving environmentalist.

Because I know that the fights you are already waging against austerity, against new free trade deals, against attacks on unions have never been more important.

Which is why I’m not calling you to drop anything.


My argument is that the climate threat makes the need to fight austerity all the more pressing, since we need public services and public infrastructure to both bring down our emissions and prepare for the coming storms.

“Confronting the climate crisis requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook — and that we do so with great urgency.”

Far from trumping other issues, climate change vindicates much of what the left has been demanding for decades.

In fact, climate change turbo-charges our existing demands and gives them a basis in hard science. It calls on us to be bold, to get ambitious, to win this time because we really cannot afford any more losses. It enflames our vision of a better world with existential urgency.

What I’m going to show you is that confronting the climate crisis requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook — and that we do so with great urgency.


So I’m going to quickly lay out what I believe a genuine climate action plan would look like. And it’s not the market-driven non-sense we hear from some of the big green groups in the U.S. – changing your light bulbs, or carbon trading and offsetting. This is the real deal, getting at the heart of why our emissions are soaring.

And you will notice that a lot this will sound familiar. That’s because much of this agenda is already embraced in the vision of your new union, not to mention everything you have been fighting for in the past.

First of all, we need to revive and reinvent the public sphere. If we want to lower our emissions, we need subways, streetcars and clean-rail systems that are not only everywhere but affordable to everyone.

We need energy-efficient affordable housing along those transit lines. We need smart electrical grids carrying renewable energy. We need garbage collection that has, as its goal, the elimination of garbage.

And we don’t just need new infrastructure. We need major investments in the old infrastructure to cope with the coming storms. For decades we have fought against the steady starving of the public sphere.

“It is not hyperbole to say that our future depends on our ability to do what we have so long been told we can no longer do: act collectively. And who better than unions to carry that message?”

Again and again we’ve seen how those decades of cuts have left us more vulnerable to climate disasters: superstorms bursting through decaying levees, heavy rain washing sewage into lakes, wildfires raging as fire crews are underpaid and understaffed. Bridges and tunnels buckling under the new reality of heavy weather.

Far from taking us away from the fight for a robust public sphere, climate change puts us right in the middle of it –  but this time armed with arguments that raise the stakes significantly. It is not hyperbole to say that our future depends on our ability to do what we have so long been told we can no longer do: act collectively. And who better than unions to carry that message?

The renewal of the public sphere will create millions of new, high paying union jobs – jobs in fields that don’t hasten the warming of the planet.

But it’s not just boilermakers, pipefitters, construction workers and assembly line workers who get new jobs and purpose in this great transition.

There are big parts of our economy that are already low-carbon.

They’re the parts facing the most disrespect, demeaning attacks and cuts. They happen to be jobs dominated by women, new Canadians, and people of colour.

And they’re also the sectors we need to expand massively: the care-givers, educators, sanitation workers, and other service sector workers. The very ones that your new union has pledged to organize. The low-carbon workers who are already here, demanding living wages and respect. Turning low-paying low-carbon jobs into higher-paying jobs is itself a climate solution and should be recognized as such.

Here I think we should take inspiration from the fast-food workers in the United States and their historic strikes this past week. They are showing how this organizing can be done. Maybe it will turn out to be the first uprising in a sustained rebellion fighting for both real wages and real food!  One in which the health of the workers and the health of society are inextricably linked.

It should be clear by now that I am not suggesting some half-assed token “green jobs” program. This is a green labour revolution I’m talking about. An epic vision of healing our country from the ravages of the last 30 years of neoliberalism and healing the planet in the process.

Environmentalists can’t lead that kind of revolution on their own. No political party is rising to the challenge. We need you to lead.


So the big question is: how are we going to pay for all this?

I mean, we’re broke, right? Or so our government is always telling us.

“I am not suggesting some half-assed token ‘green jobs’ program. This is a green labour revolution I’m talking about.”

But with stakes this high, crying broke isn’t going to cut it. We know that it’s always possible to find money to bail out banks and start new wars. So that means we have to go to where the money is, and the money is with the fossil fuel companies and the banks that finance them. We have to get our hands on some of their super profits to help clean up the mess they made. It’s a simple concept, well established in law: the polluter pays.

We know we can’t get the money by continuing to extract more. So as we wind down our dependence on fossil fuels, as we extract LESS, we have to keep MORE of the profits.

There’s lots of ways to do that. A national carbon tax and higher royalties are the most obvious. A financial transaction tax would be a big help. Raising corporate taxes across the board would too.

When you do that, suddenly, digging holes and laying pipe isn’t the only option on the table.

Quick example. A recent study from the CCPA compared the public value from a five billion dollar pipeline – Enbridge Gateway for instance – and the value from the same amount of money invested in green economic development.

Spend that money on a pipeline, you get mostly short-term construction jobs, big private sector profits, and heavy public costs for future environmental damage.

Spend that money on public transit, building retrofits and renewable energy, and you get, at the very least, three times as many jobs…not to mention a safer future. The actual number of jobs could be many times more than that, according to their modeling. At the highest end, green investment could create 34 times more jobs than just building another pipeline.

And how do you raise five billion dollars for public investments like that? A minimal national carbon tax of ten dollars a tonne would do the trick. And there would be five billion new dollars every year. Unlike the one-off Enbridge put on the table.

Environmentalists, and I include myself here, have to do a much better job of not just saying no to projects like Northern Gateway but also forcefully saying yes to our solutions about how to build and finance green infrastructure.

Now: these alternatives makes perfect sense on paper, but in the real world, they slam headlong into the dominant ideology that tells us that we can’t increase taxes on corporations, that we can’t say no to new investment, and moreover, that we can’t actively decide what kind of economy we want – that we are supposed to leaving it all to the magic of the market.

Well – we’ve seen how the private sector manages this crisis. It’s time to get back in there. This transition needs to be publicly managed. And that will mean everything from new crown corporations in energy, to a huge re-distribution of power, infrastructure and investment.

A democratically-controlled, de-centralized energy system operated in the public interest. This agenda is increasingly being described as “energy democracy” and it’s not a new idea in the union world – Sean Sweeney of the Global Labor Institute at Cornell University is here today, and many fine trade unions – including CEP – have been working on this agenda for years. It’s time to turn energy democracy into a reality here in Canada. “Power to the people” is a terrific slogan to start with.

As you all know, there have been some modest attempts by provincial governments to play a more activist role in bringing about a green transition, while resisting the pressure to double down on dirty energy.

But in those cases, we’re starting to see something very disturbing. In the provinces where governments have taken the most positive, bold action, they’re getting dragged into trade court.

And that brings me to the last piece of a real progressive climate agenda.


It’s time to rip up so-called Free Trade deals once and for all. And we sure as hell can’t be signing new ones.

You’ve fought them for decades now, since the CAW played such a pivotal role in the battle against the first Free Trade deal with the US. You’ve fought them because they undermine workers rights both here and abroad, because they drive a race to the bottom, because they hyper-empower corporations.

“It’s time to rip up so-called Free Trade deals once and for all. And we sure as hell can’t be signing new ones.”

And you were right – even more right than you knew. Because not only is corporate globalization largely responsible for soaring emissions, but now the logic of free trade is directly blocking us from making the specific changes needed to reduce climate chaos in response.

A couple of quick examples.

Ontario’s Green Energy plan is far from perfect. But it has a very sensible “buy local” provision so that wind and solar projects in Ontario actually deliver jobs and economic benefits to local communities.  It’s the core principle of a just transition.

Well, the World Trade Organization has decided that this measure is illegal.

The CAW is already in a coalition fighting back – but more green policies will face the same corporate challenges.

Here’s another example. Quebec banned fracking – a courageous move that has been taken up by two consecutive governments.

But a US drilling company is planning to sue Canada for $250- million dollars under NAFTA’s Chapter 11, claiming the ban interferes with its “valuable right to mine for oil and gas under the St. Lawrence river.”

We should have seen this coming. A WTO official was quoted almost a decade ago, saying that the WTO enables challenges against “almost any measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

In other words, these maniacs think trade should trump everything, including the planet itself. If there has ever been an argument to stop this madness, climate change is it.

The battle lines have never been clearer. Climate change is the argument that must trump all others in the battle against corporate free trade. I mean, sorry guys, but the health of our communities and our planet is just a little more important than your god-given right to obscene profits.

These are moral arguments we can win.

And we don’t have to wait for governments to give us permission. Next time they close a factory making fossil-fuel machinery – whether cars, tractors, or airplanes – don’t let them do it.

Do what workers are doing from Argentina to Greece to Chicago: occupy the factory. Turn it into a green worker co-op. Go beyond negotiating a last, sad severance. Demand the resources – from companies and governments – to start building the new economy right now.

Whether that’s electric trains or windmills. Watch that factory turn into a beacon for students, anti-poverty activists, environmentalists, First Nations. All fighting together for that vision.

Climate change is a tool. Pick it up and use it. Use it to demand the supposedly impossible.

It’s not a threat to your jobs, it’s the key to liberation from a logic that is already waging a war on the entire concept of dignified work.

So all we need is the political power to make this vision a reality. And that power can be built on the urgency and science of the climate crisis.

“Climate change is a tool. Pick it up and use it. Use it to demand the supposedly impossible.”

If we stay true to a clear vision that these changes are what is required to stave off an ecological collapse, then we will change the conversation.

We’ll escape from the clutches of narrow free-market economics, where we are constantly told to ask for less and expect less and we will find ourselves in a conversation about morality – about what kind of people we want to be, about what kind of world we want for ourselves and our kids.

If we set the terms of that conversation, we back Stephen Harper up against the wall.

We finally hold him accountable for the lethal ideology he serves – the one that he has been hiding behind that bland and boring mask of his.

That’s how you shift the balance of forces in this country.

If UNIFOR becomes the voice for a boldly different economic model, one that provides solutions to the attacks on working people, on poor people, and the attacks on the Earth itself, then you can stop worrying about your continued relevance.

You will be on the front lines of the fight for the future, and everyone else – including the opposition parties – will have to follow or be left behind.


I believe that a key to this shift is deepening your alliance with First Nations, whose constitutionally guaranteed title to land and resources is the biggest legal barrier Harper faces to his vision of Canada as an extraction and export machine – a country-sized sacrifice zone.

As my friend Clayton Thomas Mueller says, imagine if the workers and First Nations actually joined forces in a meaningful coalition – the rightful owners of the land, side by side with the people working the mines and pipelines, coming together to demand another economic model?

People and the earth itself on one side, predatory capitalism on the other.

The Harper Tories wouldn’t know what hit them.

But this is about more than strategic alliances. As we tell our own story of a different Canada to stand up to Harper’s story about endless extraction, we will need to learn from the Indigenous worldview. The one that understands that you can’t just take and take, but also care-take, and give back whenever you harvest. That five-year-plans are for kids, and grownups think about seven generations. A worldview that reminds us that there are always unforeseen consequences because everything is connected.

Because building the kinds of deep coalitions that we need begins with identifying the threads that connect all of our struggles. And indeed that recognize they are the SAME struggle.

I want to leave you with a word that might help. Overburden.


When I was in the tar sands earlier this summer, I kept thinking about it. Overburden is the word used by mining companies to describe the “waste earth covering a mineral deposit.”

But mining companies have a strange definition of waste. It includes forests, fertile soil, rocks, clay – basically anything that stands between them and the gold, copper, or bitumen they are after.

Overburden is the life that gets in the way of money. Life treated as garbage.

As we passed pile after pile of masticated earth by the side of the road, it occurred to me that it wasn’t just the dense and beautiful Boreal forest that was “overburden” to these companies.

We are all overburden. That’s certainly the way the Harper government sees us.

  • Unions are overburden since the rights you have won are a barrier to unfettered greed.

  • Environmentalists are overburden, because they are always going on about climate change and oil spills.

  • Indigenous people are overburden, since their rights and court challenges get in the way.

  • Scientists are overburden, since their research proves what I’ve been telling you.

  • Democracy itself is overburden to our government – whether it’s the right of citizens to participate in an environmental assessment hearing, or the right of Parliament to meet and debate the future of the country.

This is the world deregulated capitalism has created, one in which anyone and anything can find themselves discarded, chewed up, tossed on the slag heap.

But “overburden” has another meaning. It also means, simply, “to load with too great a burden”; to push something or someone beyond their limits.

And that’s a very good description of what we’re experiencing too.

Our crumbling infrastructure is overburdened by new demands and old neglect.

Our workers are overburdened by employers who treat their bodies like machines.

Our streets and shelters are overburdened by those whose labour has been deemed disposable.

The atmosphere is overburdened with the gasses we are spewing into it.

And it is in this context that we are hearing shouts of “enough!” from all quarters. This much and NO further.

We heard it from the fast food worker in Milwaukee, who went on strike this week holding a sign saying, “I am worth more” and helped set off a national debate about inequality.

We heard it from the Quebec Students last summer, who said “No” to a tuition increase and ended up unseating a government and sparking a national debate about the right to free education.

We heard it from the four women who said “No” to Harper’s attacks on environmental protections and indigenous rights, pledging to be Idle No More, and ended up setting off an indigenous rights uprising across North America.

And we are hearing “Enough” from the planet itself as it fights back in the only ways it can.

Everywhere, life is reasserting itself. Insisting that it is not overburden.

We are starting to realize that not only have we had enough – but that there is enough.

To quote Evo Morales, there is enough for all of us to live well. There just isn’t enough for some of us to live better and better.

“We are starting to realize that not only have we had enough – but that there is enough.”

To close off, I want to read an excerpt from Article 2 of your brand new constitution.

Words that many of us have been waiting a very long time to hear. Words that you may have already heard today, but they bear repeating.  Here goes…

“Our goal is transformative. To reassert common interest over private interest.

Our goal is to change our workplaces and our world. Our vision is compelling.

It is to fundamentally change the economy, with equality and social justice, restore and strengthen our democracy and achieve an environmentally sustainable future.

This is the basis of social unionism — a strong and progressive union culture and a commitment to work in common cause with other progressives in Canada and around the world.”

Brothers and Sisters, all I would add is: don’t say it if you don’t mean it.

Because we really, really need you to mean it.

Thank you.

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