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November 18, 2013 · By Jonas Bruun and Robbie Watt
We are half way through the 19th summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in cold, grey Poland. Far away in the Philippines thousands of people have lost their lives to Typhoon Haiyan and hundreds of thousands struggle to find food, water, and shelter.
This typhoon makes climate chaos dramatically visible as current reality—not just future possibility. The pictures and stories of the devastation are a reminder that as the planet warms, mega-storms like Haiyan are expected to become more frequent and more fierce. A typhoon hit the Philippines at the time of the COP last year too, as if devastating storms are becoming a ‘new normal’ at the climate negotiations.
The immediate and future impacts of climate change make the case for an urgent response – yet in Warsaw delegates seem to be responding with words instead of action.
As has been the case since the signing of the climate convention in 1992, a priority of international negotiations is for rich countries to agree and then act to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. Commitments are not really on the table here, but are supposed to be agreed by 2015, when the summit meets in Paris. Unfortunately governments are not showing much ambition, and are even outlining plans to do less than they had previously agreed to. Australia, Japan and Canada have been set a bad example to this effect, while the United States’ position as a laggard has hardly changed.
There are plenty of technical questions under discussion here in various work programmes and subsidiary bodies, keeping the delegates busy. But without any ambition on pollution cuts we are left with the clear impression of running around going nowhere, like a hamster racing round on the exercise wheel in its cage. With the meeting rooms arranged in a ring inside the circular national stadium, delegates are literally running around in circles at this negotiation.
Officials in Warsaw are already resigned to the idea that we must wait until 2015 before reaching a new global climate deal, and many countries—particularly developed ones—have accepted the notion that we’ll wait another five years after that before any of these plans are implemented. If that happens, the next 8 years will be filled with another ‘normal’ at these negotiations – all talk and no walk.
Only an emotional speech by Philippine head of delegation Naderev Sano about the lives and livelihoods lost in his home country and his pledge to fast until “a meaningful outcome was in sight” seemed capable of rousing the attention of both delegates and international media.
‘Green’ Corporate Sponsorship
Meanwhile, another ‘new normal’ is emerging at the climate summit. The negotiations in Poland have attracted an unprecedented number of corporate sponsors and lobbyists from big business and dirty industry, such as General Motors and the French energy conglomerate Alstom.
ArcelorMittal—one of Europe's most polluting firms, with a track record of lobbying to make millions out of Europe's failing experiments with carbon markets—constructed the temporary steel boxes in the national stadium (where the talks are taking place) to house plenary sessions, giving the impression that climate negotiations are literally being imprisoned under corporate control.
An entire floor in the stadium has been dedicated to private companies peddling ‘solutions’ to the climate crisis in the form of false-hope technologies such as pumping pollution underground and burning trash. Negotiators can relax in Emirates Air beanbag chairs, strategically placed all around the stadium. And many delegates carry complimentary goody-bags, a gift from the 11 official for-profit partners representing the aviation, auto, fossil fuel, and heavy industrial sectors.
The Polish government defends corporate sponsorship, claiming that the businesses involved provide ‘green’ products and services. In making this claim, the Poles are ignoring the compelling evidence of these firms’ environmental destruction and are legitimizing their dangerous presence at the negotiations, as outlined in the COP19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying.
Of course the private sector has to be part of solving the climate crisis—but first, they have to get out of the business of polluting for profit. We find the corporate capture of the climate conference problematic in three major ways.
First, the 11 corporate partners are enjoying privileged access in return for their support while civil society observer organizations—the groups that represent the public interest—have experienced unexpected restrictions in their ability to participate in the UNFCCC.
Second, many of the ‘solutions’ corporate partners offer are not ‘green’ and will not stop the release of greenhouse gases. Instead, these proposals serve to protect corporate interests while creating new opportunities for profit.
Third, climate change is a problem that can only be properly addressed through collective action. However, it’s becoming ‘normal’ to frame climate change as a business opportunity, where companies can make money from flawed carbon markets and the ‘Green Corporate Fund’.
COP19 is being branded as the first full-out corporate COP. This sets a dangerous precedent and should not become a 'new normal.' The apparent normality of disasters and lack of action associated with climate politics is already bad enough.
November 18, 2013 · By Andrew Small
Money may be protected speech but apparently, speech that asks for money is not.
Two recent legal cases about money and free speech unveil a contradiction in our application of the First Amendment. One deals with the right of the rich to influence politics with a lot of money, the other deals with the right of the poor to ask for a little to buy a meal or bus ticket.
On October 8, the Supreme Court heard arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) that could open the floodgates on unlimited campaign contributions. If McCutcheon succeeds, the case could lift limits on how much money an individual can spend in an election cycle.
If the Court sides with McCutcheon, it could strike down aggregate limits on campaign contributions in the name of free speech. Currently, the donation limit is $48,000 per cycle, which enables giving the maximum amount of money to 18 national candidates per election. Even if the FEC could still limit donations to a single campaign, rich donors would see a new rush of power, gaining influence in more elections. Every politician in the country would basically need to beg this small group to finance their next job interview with the American people.
If the court overturns years of campaign finance reform, it will take a constitutional amendment to distinguish unlimited campaign money from protected speech.
Meanwhile, the homeless and unemployed are experiencing the right to express their need for money taken away.
In Arizona, a 77-year-old woman was arrested for asking an undercover cop for a bus fare under a state law that forbade panhandling. This law was subsequently challenged in federal court and overruled, but other similar laws exist nationwide.
Since the recession, the U.S. has passed a litany of laws making it illegal to ask for even a small amount of cash. Cities and states across the country have banned panhandling and "loitering to beg" in response to increased poverty.
The state of Michigan faces a similar challenge to its panhandling law. Even some more liberal cities have proposed or implemented panhandling bans, like Baltimore, MD, Bennington, VT, and Worcester, MA.
We are becoming a nation where free speech is granted only to the rich and powerful while the rest of us are increasingly rendered utterly voiceless.
Andrew Small is an intern of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
November 12, 2013 · By Oscar Reyes
To mark the start of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP19) in Warsaw, Poland, a new series of Climate Justice briefings has been released offering critical perspectives on a number of the crucial issues under discussion.
First up, A Vision for Equity argues that negotiations should focus on setting a “global emissions budget” to keep temperature rises within the 1.5 degree target that would avoid dangerous climate change. Using historic emissions data as well as records of current per capita emissions, it calculates what developed and developing countries would need to do within that framework to contribute their fair share to addressing the climate problem.
A system of international climate controls based on science and the principles of equity is needed to achieve that target, which means climate negotiators should resist any attempts to deregulate international climate controls. That’s the subject the next briefing, which sets out a case against the “pledge and revenge” approach that many developed countries are pursuing within negotiations for a new international climate treaty.
The new system risks being even weaker than the outgoing Kyoto Protocol, while threatening to retain or even expand upon the carbon markets—one of the most problematic aspects of the existing agreement. This briefing on markets explains why carbon trading is not the answer. Instead of setting up “new market mechanisms,” the failure of existing markets should be grounds for a moratorium on the development of new ones.
Non-market approaches should be pursued instead, and that’s the subject of the fourth briefing in this series, which looks at the positive role that could be played by Globally Funded Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariffs.
Background on COP19
The web is awash with reports on the UN climate talks, but to cut through to the core issues you could do far worse than starting with this useful guide to “the Big Fights, Red Lines and Initial Predictions” from [Earth in Brackets], who will also be blogging and tweeting. Our colleagues at climate-justice.info have also issued this useful media background briefing covering the basic issues from Poland, alongside some snappy quotes.
The Warsaw conference is being hailed in some quarters as a “finance COP,” the implication being that debates on the money needed to address climate change will take center stage. At the same time, we’re witnessing an attack upon and dilution of the very notion of “climate finance”, which refers to public transfers of resources from developed to developing countries. Brandon Wu of ActionAid USA picks up the story here.
In other quarters, COP19 is being talked about as a haven for corporate lobbyists – an impression that the Polish Presidency of the meeting has done little to counter, by seeking sponsorship from “climate crooks” such as ArcelorMittal, Alstom and BMW. Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute look at corporate influences on the UN Climate Change Conference with itsCOP19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying. They’ll also be blogging from Warsaw.
During the COP itself, it’s easy to miss the latest developments with several meetings taking place simultaneously. Third World Network’s briefing papers are an invaluable resource to find out who said what in the meeting halls of Poland’s national stadium.
And finally, as the COP in Warsaw gets underway in the shadow of the deadly Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, it’s worth pausing to take in the words of that country’s lead negotiator, Yeb Sano, who reminded delegates of the true costs of continued inaction on climate change.
October 28, 2013 · By Robin Broad and John Cavanagh
With the help of Forbes magazine, we and colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies have been tracking the world’s billionaires and rising inequality the world over for several decades. Just as a drop of water gives us a clue into the chemical composition of the sea, these billionaires offer fascinating clues into the changing face of global power and inequality.
After our initial gawking at the extravagance of this year’s list of 1,426, we looked closer. This list reveals the major power shift in the world today: the decline of the West and the rise of the rest. Gone are the days when U.S. billionaires accounted for over 40 percent of the list, with Western Europe and Japan making up most of the rest. Today, the Asia-Pacific region hosts 386 billionaires, 20 more than all of Europe and Russia combined.
In 2013, of the nine countries that are home to over 30 billionaires each, only three are traditional “developed” countries: the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Next in line after the United States, with its 442 billionaires today? China, with 122 billionaires (up from zero billionaires in 1995), and third place goes to Russia with 110. China’s billionaires have made money from every possible source. Consider the country’s richest man, Zong Qinghou, who made his $11.6 billion through his ownership of the country’s largest beverage maker. Russia’s lengthy billionaire list is led by men who reaped billions from the country’s vast oil, gas and mineral wealth with devastating consequences to the environment.
Germany is fourth on the list with 58 billionaires, followed by India (55), Brazil (46), Turkey (43), Hong Kong (39), and the United Kingdom (38). Yes, Turkey has more billionaires than any other country in Europe save Germany.
Moving beyond these top nine countries, Taiwan has more billionaires than France. Indonesia has more billionaires than Italy or Spain. South Korea now has more billionaires than Japan or Australia.
This surging list of billionaires is tribute to the growing inequality in almost all nations on earth. The richest man in the world, for example, is Carlos Slim of Mexico—with a net worth of $73 billion, comparable to a whopping 6.2% of Mexico’s GDP. The world’s third richest person is Spain’s retail king, Amancio Ortega, who has accumulated a net worth of $57 billion in a country where over a quarter of the people are now unemployed.
U.S. billionaires still dominate. The United States’ 442 billionaires represent 31% of the total number. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett remain numbers two and four, and are household names given the combination of their wealth, their philanthropy, and their use of their power and influence to convince other billionaires to increase their own charitable giving.
But, also among the 12 U.S. billionaires in the top 20 richest people in the world are members of two families who have used their vast wealth and concomitant power to corrupt our politics. Charles and David Koch stand at numbers six and seven in the world; they have drawn on a chunk of their combined $68 billion to fund not only candidates of the far right but also political campaigns against environmental and other regulation. So too do four Waltons stand among the top 20; their combined wealth of $107.3 billion has skyrocketed thanks to Walmart’s growing profits as the company pressures cities and states to oppose raising wages to livable levels.
How have the numbers changed over the years? Let’s travel back to 1995, a time of surging wealth amidst the deregulation under the Clinton administration in the United States, and the widespread pressure around the world to deregulate, liberalize, and privatize markets.
In 1995, Forbes tallied 376 billionaires in the world. Of these, 129 (or 34%) were from the United States. The fact that the number of U.S. billionaires rose to 442 over the next 18 years while the percentage of U.S. billionaires fell only from 34% to 31% of the global total is testimony to how the deregulatory and tax-cutting atmosphere in the United States under Clinton and Bush proved so favorable to the super-rich.
Notable over these past 18 years is that the so-called developed world has been eclipsed by the so-called developing world. In 1995, the billionaire powerhouses were the United States (129), Germany (47), and Japan (35). These three countries were home to 56% of the world’s billionaires. No other country came close, with France, Hong Kong, and Thailand tied in fourth place, with 12 billionaires each. Russia and China didn’t have a single billionaire in 1995, although for Russia, Forbes admitted that financial disclosure in that country in the years after the Berlin Wall fell was sketchy. And, in 1995, Brazil had only eight billionaires and India only two.
Today, these four countries (Russia, China, Brazil, and India) host 333 of the world’s 1,426 billionaires—23% of the total. And, Japan’s total number of billionaires has actually fallen in the last 18 years, from 35 to 22.
The figures offer a dramatic snapshot of the relative decline of the United States, Europe, and Japan in less than two decades and the stunning rise of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, as well as the rest of Asia. And, they remind us that countries where income was relatively equal twenty years ago, like China and Russia, have rushed into the ranks of the unequal.
Across the globe, the rapid rise of billionaires in dozens of countries (again, with Japan as the notable exception) is testimony to how the deregulatory climate of these past two decades sped the rise of the super-rich, while corporations kept workers’ wages essentially flat.
Suffice it to say: More equal and more healthy societies require a vastly different approach to public policy. As IPS Associate Fellow Sam Pizzigati has chronicled, fair taxes created a vast middle class in the United States between the 1940s and 1960s. Such fair tax policies are needed today the world over if the gap between the super-haves and the have-nots is to be narrowed rather than widened.
October 22, 2013 · By John Cavanagh
Thanks so much to all of you who made our IPS 50th Anniversary extravaganza a whopping success. From October 11 to 13, nearly 1,000 people were involved in some way in celebrating our past five decades of turning ideas into action and envisioning a bold, progressive future. In all, we hosted 21 events, including an alumni reception, inter-generational dialogues on the future of progressive movements, workshops on politics and the arts, the world's first "Idea Slam," a tribute to IPS Fellow Saul Landau, a celebratory dinner, and finally a gala at Union Station with Joy Zarembka, John Cavanagh, Harry Belafonte, Amy Goodman, Ai-jen Poo, and Sarita Gupta.
In the weeks to come, we will add to this page the videos of the Idea Slam and many of the other IPS 50th events.
Here is a sampling of photos from the weekend.
Here is a 4 minute film on IPS at 50 by former IPS Newman Fellow Farrah Hassen:
Public Scholarship at IPS
Here is an 8 minute film on by Farrah Hassen:
Remembering Orlando and Ronni
Here is a 9 minute tribute to Saul Landau by the cinematographer Haskell Wexler:
A tribute to Saul Landau by Haskell Wexler
And, here is the 2-hour celebration of Saul Landau, featuring Harry Belafonte, Ariel Dorfman, 3 of Saul's children, and many more:
IPS Celebration of Saul Landau