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Stanford-Area Movement
(A3M-plus) Reunion

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2014 Stanford-Area Movement (A3M-plus) Reunion
The May 18, 2014 A3M Reunion Discussion on the Political Economy of Climate Change
Summarized by
Alan Ramo and Lenny Siegel
Throughout the reunion there seemed to be general agreement that climate change resulting from human‐caused emissions from the use of fossil fuel represented a severe threat to the planet as well as a momentous political challenge, so we concluded Sunday with an open discussion on the political economy of climate change. Participants agreed that climate change is already here. That is, there will be substantial impacts that cannot be reversed in the short run, only adapted too. However, they also agreed that unless fossil fuels are replaced with renewable energy and society‐wide energy efficiency, the effects will be even worse as temperatures climb. No one really knows how much global temperature averages will climb above pre‐industrial levels, but it is likely to be between 2º and 4º C.
We discussed to what degree modern industrial capitalism could resolve climate change—or at least limit greenhouse gas emissions to keep the problem from getting worse. Noting that our economic system today is inherently wasteful, a number of people suggested that fundamental revolution would be needed. Others, noting the flexibility of capitalism, observed that many capitalist countries, such as Germany, are more aggressively developing renewable energy than the U.S. And despite gridlock in Congress on the issue, powerful U.S. interests recognize that climate change is bad for everyone, including capitalists. New coal‐fueled power plants are not being built in the U.S. In California even natural gas power plants are successfully being resisted. In Silicon Valley, tech leaders are in the forefront of the fight against climate change because they believe they can make money in “green tech.”
Some people noted that it’s too soon to know whether China’s centrally planned but mixed economic system is capable of transforming itself more rapidly that the U.S. model. On the one hand, China’s burning of coal is one of the world’s largest, and growing sources of greenhouse gases. On the other hand, China very rapidly became the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels.
As the discussion progressed, most participants seemed to believe that we need to reverse climate change immediately, but that the fundamental economic change that many of us felt imminent forty to fifty years ago lies in the future, if at all. We examined the concept of revolutionary reforms, an approach taken in the past by many in the labor movement. That is, the demands we make to curb greenhouse gas emissions should be linked to the question of who controls the means of production. To the degree that the climate reform movement is immediately successful, we help save the plant. To the degree that reforms prove more difficult, we demonstrate how undemocratic and irrational our current form of capitalism is.
Some suggested that educating the public, as well as ourselves, about the science of climate change was important to facilitate change. It is essential for activists to know the facts. It’s also important to make strategic alliances to promote the expansion of renewable power and various approaches to society‐wide energy conservation.
Lenny brought up two examples of such alliances from his current political work. With others, he has successfully advocated that the U.S. military, the villain of our other discussions reunion week‐end and perhaps that world’s largest consumer of fossil fuels, reduce its use of fossil fuels by developing both distributed and utilityscale solar power installations. He pointed out that it is more difficult for Republican climate‐change deniers to block renewable energy programs when they are linked to national security. Just as military acquisition supported the early development of the semiconductor and computer industries, military cooperation with renewable energy developers will strengthen that industry while reducing military pollution.
He also raised the question whether it makes sense to support Google and other Silicon Valley companies that promote renewable energy when, at the same time, they are exacerbating climate emissions by concentrating employment in the local area without adequate housing and transportation. The answer, he argued, is to organize local residents and workers to take control over the location of employment, as well as housing and infrastructure. Participants supported his work, and some pointed out that California now requires counties to develop sustainability plans with climate change in mind.
Overall, reunion participants viewed organizing around climate change, including making alliances with those historically responsible for creating the problem, as essential work to save lives, civilization, and natural ecosystems. The only way we will find out how much can be done before more fundamental economic changes take place is to try.