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I stand with unions
Out-of-control corporate power is the real cause of climate change
In 2019, I gave the Schneider lecture at the AGU’s annual meeting. My talk, entitled ‘What’s the Real Cause of Climate Change?,’ argued that answer is not greenhouse gases, but concentrated corporate power, which is what’s ultimately responsible for the greenhouse gases.
It started with Reagan, who articulated in his inaugural address that “Government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem.”
Reagan and his cronies then began diminishing the levers of power of the government. One of the most important things they did was relax antitrust enforcement and oversight of corporate mergers. With this new, lenient stance, the 1980s witnessed a surge in corporate mergers, putting us on the road to the creation of the all-powerful corporate behemoths we live with today.
Along with other deregulation, the power of corporations has been accumulating ever since. It was turbocharged by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which increased political spending by corporations and the wealthy, shifting political power away from the average voter.
This has laid bare the error in Reagan’s position. As the government ceases to regulate markets, the power does not descend to the individual. Rather, the power is grabbed by corporations. Today, a small number of corporations control the information we get about our elections, they control what we pay for lifesaving drugs, they control the food system, they control the housing market, and many other things. Their goal is to extract every penny from consumers while paying their workers as little as possible.
You might say there’s nothing wrong with this! You’d rather have profit-minded corporations running our society rather than the government. If that’s your stance, please watch this video by Stuart Kirk, then-head of responsible investing at HSBC (he was fired after this). He’s talking about stranded assets and why climate change is not a concern for business:
The argument he makes, which I think is probably correct, boils down to this: the corporate world doesn’t care if the world ends in 10 years — they care about next quarter or, if they’re really a long-term thinker, a few years.
Alas, this is how you get out-of-control climate change. If you plan to live more than a decade, or if you have kids, or you just have a soul, then you should care about the long-term future of the world and therefore want to control climate change. Sadly, corporations don’t.
Because of their enormous market power, these giant corporations absolutely do not give a shit what you think about climate or anything else. You have no power. If you’re an insulin-dependent diabetic, you cannot simply vote with your pocketbook and stop buying their product. If a coal-fired powerplant upwind is polluting your air, you have no recourse. If you don’t like the fact that Facebook promotes genocide, you cannot call Mark Zuckerburg and get him to take the issue seriously.
This brings us back to the strikes, which is the subject of this post. Unions are a counterbalance to corporate power. They empower workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and working conditions, while advocating for policies that support workers and their families. It should therefore be no surprise that, over the past four decades, corporations have worked tirelessly to dismantle unions. And it’s why Amazon and Starbucks have worked so hard to keep unions from forming.
Corporations, aided by the government, have largely been successful in their battle against unions since Reagan, which is why we have seen stagnant wages, dismantling of worker protections, and reduced benefits, while concentrating wealth at the top of the economic ladder.
It’s time for the pendulum to swing back. A well functioning society has a three-way battle for power between the government, corporations, and labor. When one of these gets too powerful, as corporations have today, society loses.
This is why I support the strikes that are going on now, by the UAW and the Writers Guild. To solve the climate problem, we need to reduce the power of corporations. These strikes are the front line in the battle to do this.
So join me in supporting unions and demanding a world where corporate greed is checked and citizens are empowered to shape their own destinies. Together, we can create a world that works for everyone, not just a privileged few.
Here’s a recording of my Schneider lecture
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