I want to start off this post by highlighting a term that I think can apply to the tactics of the Obama administration and their effective subversion of real solutions to environmental problems.
By no means is co-optation a new model, unique to Obama’s presidency– in fact, its probably the primary mode though which modern capitalism acquires new markets, while absorbing its less militant critics– But the way neoliberalism has attempted to hijack the climate movement is especially dangerous; not only for the Earth but also for the potential this crisis has of spurring a powerful social movement.
A shot of the cute corporate sponsored PR campaign being waged by the city of Copenhagen is an almost laughable example of how the greenwashing (environmental co-optation) of corporate influence can make a blatantly rigged solution like cap-and-trade seem like an unprecedented expression of progress: Brought to you by human ingenuity and the power of the free-market.
In late 2008, as incredulous Americans got their first taste of a especially catastrophic market bubble burst, you could feel a certain wake-up call being sounded to the Western superconsumer that there was something very unstable that was dangerously intrinsic to the way global capitalism had secured its international markets.
There seemed to be a genuine moment of clarity where the notion of unlimited, unchecked growth became patently absurd and its evidence was staring us in the face. It took the form of bank bailouts, AIG bonuses, investor fraud, and speedy returns to record profits in the financial sector (which had been freshly reinvigorated with emergency taxpayer money) For many young people, an internalized faith in the performance of modern globalized capitalism was broken for the first time. Generations brought up under the impression that there was some divine sanctity in the incentivisation of greed had to come to terms with a massive economic meltdown that could actually pose a threat to the ever proverbial American Dream.
It was my hope that this new, mainstream, critical narrative would be applied to the crisis as presented by Climate Change. What shouldn’t have been surprising is the way in which large segments of the modern environmental movement were seduced into thinking that the only way to solve the Climate Crisis would be to open up new speculative markets in carbon trading while granting offsets to polluting industries, because like Wall St. financial institutions, they are too big to fail. Its either Carbon Trading or nothing, so we’re told.
Never mind that the United States came to the bargaining table with embarrassingly low emission reduction targets. Never mind the fact that the United States and a couple other wealthy countries drafted an offensive treaty behind closed doors and tried to call it a day. Never mind that a report was leaked basically admitting that the US has no interest in keeping temperature rise below catastrophic levels of warming. While scientists are calling for a return to 350 ppm of atmospheric Co2 concentrations, the US concedes that levels may rise to 770 ppm after the Copenhagen Accords are enacted…if they are enacted… a potentially enacted non-binding agreement written by the US and other corporate states. This is the best our political and economic institutions will allow.
Never mind all that. To think that the outcome would have been anything but a sham with touchy delegates playing a game of emission chicken while an entire continent pleads for their survival would be naive on the part of climate activists. Unfortunately, misplaced hope is often a symptom of naivete. The fact that the mechanisms being proposed by developed countries to combat climate change are based in a fundamentally unsustainable system, namely capitalist driven production, ought to spark disgust in anyone wishing to play any role in preserving a human friendly biosphere.
Hopefully, environmentally minded folks will take COP15 with a grain of salt and realize that its not situational–its systemic, and when power becomes institutionalized to the point where it would sacrifice the future lives of millions for bottom-line profits and short-term security then it becomes time for confrontation–not co-optation.