As climate journalist Dahr Jamail (The End of Ice, see his talk on Democracy Now) laid out, science shows that we are locked into catastrophic climate change. Our present carbon level in the atmosphere of 412 ppm translates into a 7 degree C temperature rise. The IPCC is so conservative that one of the authors of its recent report said to get an accurate assessment, take our worst case scenarios and double it.
The Guardian, May 2019
In the face of such a rapidly encroaching threat, political niceties and traditional incrementalism and compromise cannot come close to the level of change and upheaval required to solve, or even mitigate, the problem of global climate change.
Climate scientists continue to stress the importance of lowering carbon emissions significantly, yet GHG emissions are currently increasing at an accelerating rate. A 2018 UN study found that unless promised emission reductions under the Paris agreement were tripled, they would cause the global temperature increase to reach 3C by 2100 and continue to rise after that. Even the relatively tame 2018 IPCC report states that we must cut our emissions in half within the next decade. People are feeling that their elected leaders, and mainstream political avenues as a whole, cannot measure up to this task.
The current ineptitude and impotency of the ruling class is unacceptable when the consequences of inaction are so far-reaching. More than ever, it is time for workers – those who will be hardest hit by soaring food and healthcare costs, and by property destruction caused by natural disasters and the rising sea – to exert their power and force the hand of major players (governments and corporations) to avert what is almost certain to be the next global mass extinction.
As such, climate activism of all types is blossoming. Greta Thunberg’s school strikes led to one of the largest global climate demonstrations in history. Extinction Rebellion has shut down major intersections in London and held events around the world. The Sunrise Movement caught the attention of the US when children in San Francisco confronted the Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein over her climate policy. Indigenous groups across the globe have been fighting tooth and nail against resource development on their ancestral lands. And Earth Strike is preparing for a global general strike on 27 September 2019.
Through all of this, as Greta Thunberg has said, one thing must be made clear. There is no greater way to capture the attention of the public, and the powers that be, than a general labour strike. An old and effective strategy, it is the holy grail of activism. And in such dire times, there is no question that a general strike is sorely needed once more. Earth Strike is seeking to revive the general strike in service of a global, apocalyptic problem – one that encompasses the lives of every creature on the face of this planet.
The reason Earth Strike exists is that shutting off the global labor supply will force governments and industry giants to listen. There’s no way to avoid the conversation when profits are in danger of eroding, and production has stalled to a halt. Every day we go into work and spend our time and labor building a system that is burning us alive. The top polluters in the world are directly dependent on this effort. It is time to withhold it.
Some will inevitably argue that labour action is too disruptive, and too messy, but that’s the very point. The system causing this crisis needs to be disrupted. A general strike is an exceptionally powerful tool with a long history of gaining concession. In Iceland in 1975, a women’s general strike was instrumental in guaranteeing equal pay; and in India earlier this year, a general strike by between 150m and 200m workers illuminated the injustices inflicted on them by Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party. We simply don’t have the time to forge a new tool from scratch.
In fact, the opposite reaction is more likely. 27 September is only the first strike, and sympathisers all over the globe are bound to take notice. To those who do not feel like they have the power alone, organise. Unions and workers must work together in solidarity. The growing number of participants in this general strike, numbering in the tens of thousands, are already talking about what will come next. For whatever comes, we will fight, and strike, together.
McEver Dugan is the writing coordinator for Earth Strike. Evan Cholerton is the international organiser for Youth for Earth Strike. This article was co-authored with Cosmo Patell, Jonathan Altman, Paxton Batchelder, Isaac Horvath, Alex Rawson, John Ryan and Olivia Sauve, all members of Earth Strike International
EXTINCTION REBELLION, GRIEF AND CLIMATE CATASTROPHE
New York – I was attracted to the Extinction Rebellion by its call for net zero carbon emissions by 2025 – more in line what is needed to save life on the planet than what many other groups have been calling for. And the fact that it employs acts of civil disobedience as a main organizing tool and directly challenges the present actions by elected official everywhere as untruthful and grossly inadequate to the task. I attended the action at Rockefeller Center in January. Yesterday more than 60 were arrested in NYC near City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge while the London CD protests enter their fourth day.
But as I have read more about XR and attended a recent organizing meeting in Troy (a significant percentage of those arrested yesterday were from the Troy meeting), I have heard more about the concept of grief as a guiding principle. And that XR will not be spending time trying to lobby legislators owned by the 1% to take action but rather to reach out to the average citizen to understand what we are losing and to demand that our society act to try to avoid extinction. To rebel against our present response to climate change.
To be honest, I didn’t really begin to internalize the role of grief and climate until I attended a talk this week at the Sanctuary for Independent Media by climate journalist Dahr Jamail (The End of Ice, see his talk on Democracy Now.) (Dahr will speak at the Brooklyn Historical Society on Earth Day April 22)
I admit to being on an increasing roller coast of emotions. As Dahr laid out, science shows that we are locked into catastrophic climate change. That our present carbon level in the atmosphere of 412 ppm translates into a 7 degree C temperature rise. The IPCC is so conservative that one of the authors of its recent report said to get an accurate assessment, take our worst case scenarios and double it. The fact that we are already in the midst of the sixth great extinction of species, that insects are rapidly disappearing, that scientists are beginning to provide estimates of the chances that human species extinction will occur, that carbon emissions continue to rise even as renewables expand, that the efforts so far by elected officials in the US to move off of fossil fuels and to renewable energy are pathetic.
Then comes hope after the sudden explosion of support for the Green New Deal and its 2030 goal for 100% clean energy after I first started working on this eight years ago. The student strikes. Followed by despair when people still insist that the CCPA and its goal of 100% clean energy by 2050 is the strongest climate legislation ever and refuse to change it even as Cuomo accelerates his timelines. Despair even from the victory celebration of the energy retrofit mandate in NYC for large buildings which only seeks to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050 (and I say this as someone who participated in numerous street corner protests for this campaign, participated in several steering committee meetings and testified at city council hearings.) It is inadequate IMO to the task we are confronted with.
Dahr ended his talked by focusing on grief. (see a Truthout excerpt here.) Grief is a complicated thing and I am still trying to work my way through it. He made the point that even if life as we know it is doomed, the important thing is how do we respond. Do we give up in despair or do we honor what we are losing by standing up and acting in a way that reflects on our own values, that we seek to create a world which reflects those values, and is fair and giving to all, including our fellow species? Listen to our interview with Dahr Jamail, “Finding Hope in the Midst of Climate Disruption,” on Clearing the FOG.
It reminds me of my high school religion class at Chaminade on existentialism and Jean Paul Sartre. Life is ultimately absurd but we can give meaning to our lives by helping others.
The five stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with what we have lost.
Dahr told a story from one of his Native American friends about our obligation as humans to work to keep balance on our planet. To find that place where we as individuals connect to the sacredness of the planet (for me to Gaia). That we need to make time at this moment to visit that place to strengthen our connection, to balance ourselves so we can help balance the world (for Dahr, the mountains, Denali in Alaska, the glaciers that are disappearing, hence The Loss of Ice).
A couple of quotes:
“given that Earth may well be dying, we may be ready to stand up to protect what we love. An extraordinary alchemy can take place when people follow their inner directives to stand up and face squarely the dire odds of biosphere survival. These actions involve extraordinary outer and inner courage, which can nurture a profound activism. “
“No one knows if the biosphere will completely collapse. Our future is uncertain. Given the fact that a rapid increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere coincided with previous mass extinctions and that we could well be facing our own extinction, we should be asking ourselves, “How shall I use this precious time?” Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us of the value just in being present with what is happening to the planet: “When your beloved is suffering, you need to recognize her suffering, anxiety, and worries, and just by doing that, you already offer some relief.”
Mark Dunlea is chair of the Green Education and Legal Fund.
NURSES ARE LEADING STRIKE EFFORTS — WHERE ARE THE PHYSICIANS?
Nurses In New York City Are Pushing Back Against Hospital Systems That Put Profits Over Patients And Threaten Their Efforts To Strike For Safer Staffing Ratios.
While nurses are fighting, physicians, so far, have remained on the sidelines of this struggle.
The U.S. healthcare “system” is completely and utterly broken. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. system ranks 37th in the world, all while spending dramatically more on healthcare than other wealthy countries. Tens of millions remain without any health insurance coverage. For many, medical bills can mean economic ruin—some surveys show that up to 66.5% of all bankruptcies in the U.S. are a result of medical expenses. On the front lines of this system are nurses and physicians—individuals who, by and large, decided to go into the profession to help patients and communities—are becoming more frustrated by their inability to do just that, sometimes even causing providers to leave the profession. While many inside the U.S. medical industrial complex have had enough, nurses throughout New York City (NYC) are putting their collective foot down and showing us the way to fight for better outcomes for patients and better working conditions for providers.
In March, members of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) at New York’s “big four” hospitals (Montefiore, Mount Sinai, New York Presbyterian-Columbia and Mount Sinai West/St. Luke’s) voted by an overwhelming 97% margin to authorize a strike. The nurses’ fight centers around conditions for patient care, including safer staffing ratios inside hospitals so that nurses can adequately care for each patient. Throughout NYC, nurses are forced to work long shifts and are chronically understaffed. The nurses who recently threatened to strike recognize that these working conditions are part of hospital executives’ push to squeeze greater and greater profits out of workers at the expense of patient health—and they have had enough. New York nurses are fighting just as teachers across the country did earlier this year—including the tens of thousands of Los Angeles teachers who struck last January for better conditions for in schools. They are discussing the strike option just as more than 8,000 Stop & Shop workers in New England recently authorized a strike against cuts to healthcare benefits and pensions and the CAMBA Legal Services workers voted to walk off the job if their demands are not met. The nurses are also taking up the example of healthcare workers around the world, including the 40,000 Irish nurses who recently struck. Nurses are recognizing they have the power to fight and win better patient care. But while nurses across New York are standing up for themselves and their patients, a big question remains: Where are the doctors and why are they not threatening to strike together with nurses?
Why Are The Physicians On The Sidelines?
Physicians see first hand every day how our dysfunctional healthcare system is simply not built to adequately address patient and community health. For many doctors, these frustrations manifest in burnout and dissatisfaction within a field they once loved. Today there is an epidemic of burnout among physicians, with some studies suggesting burnout affects up to half of all physicians. After training for years with the desire to help others, doctors come to experience medical system that values profit over all else and rarely gives them the tools to make a difference in the communities where they work. This can leave doctors feeling hopeless, and combined with other factors, can lead to depression or even suicide. Today physicians are committing suicide at two times the rate of the population as a whole. Yet, even at this moment of frustration and anger, they continue to keep their heads down, providing validity to this broken system. We see nowhere, among doctors, a resistance like that now being organized by nurses.
In order to analyze why doctors are not throwing down their stethoscopes and finally saying enough is enough, a review of the U.S. medical education process is in order. As longtime public educator John Taylor Gatto highlights in his book, The Underground History of American Education, the education system is built to create “tools for industry.” Gatto points out that this system conditions those who pass through it to take direction well and to not question authority. At the same time, education aim to instill the importance of profit and continually reinforces the legitimacy of the capitalist system. Health care education is not excluded from this. The fact that the medical industrial complex “serves” suffering human beings gives the system the guise of morally superiority, but both patient and community health remains secondary to profit maximization nonetheless.
Data has shown that physicians typically come from the upper classes in the US. It is not hard to see why. Medical school exams and applications alone can cost thousands of dollars and this doesn’t even account for the cost of exam preparation courses or materials. Overall, the admissions system selects for a particular type of upper middle-class to bourgeois candidate—some reports show the median family income for a matriculating medical student is around $100,000 per year. At a time when close to half the American people do not earn enough afford an unexpected $400 expense, the cost of becoming a physician is prohibitive for the vast majority. Students with families that can bear such costs tend to come from environments that have conditioned them from a young age to respect systems of authority and not question their legitimacy. After all, if the parents have benefited economically from doing so, why would their children act any differently? This rule is then reinforced throughout the experiences of undergraduate school, medical school — as I have written about in the past — and residency education. The young medical student or resident learns that getting close to and appealing to authority figures leads to better outcomes—whether that means higher test scores, letters of recommendation, or better employment opportunities. This makes the physician less and less likely to challenge, much less disrupt, the medical system he will soon be working within.
Within the hospital, doctors typically adopt an individualist mentality in which they consider only how they can personally make an impact on their patients’ health, while ignoring the need for systemic change. The direct work with individual patients can be personally rewarding, but this method of practice does little to impact the larger factors that lead a patient to become sick in the the first place. A physician sees a patient in a clinical setting, and treats him without ever actually discussing or addressing the social conditions which have caused his illness. They then send the patient directly back into the environment that is harming him. This method of practice ultimately helps to uphold the exact structures making patients ill, but no physician could accept this fact, so instead they tell themselves they are doing important work and making a positive impact. Over time, operating within the system of factory line health delivery—the norm in the U.S.— teaches the physician that change occurs on an individual basis.
If a physician ever thinks of organizing collectively to withhold her labor in order to demand better conditions for her patients, employers declare that doctors are “abandoning” those in need of care. The hippocratic oath taken by physicians to “do no harm” is cited. This argument obviously disregards the fact that it is the employer and ownership class which is directly harming patients every day in pursuit of profit—denying care, pushing individuals into bankruptcy, pursuing unnecessary treatments, neglecting systemic causes of illness, etc. It also ignores the fact that by continuing to focus the treatment on narrow individualistic explanations for disease and illness, the physician helps to redirect the patient’s attention away from the larger issues that are truly causing his or her suffering.
It is clear why few physicians would think about striking after being psychologically conditioned in this way. Many simply believe the work they are doing is adequate and having a meaningful impact on patient and community health. Although many may work under a boss, doctors also often have more autonomy over their work than those in other professions. Their distinct petty bourgeois positions, which allows them the possibility of “being their own employers,” reinforces their individualist, conservative mentality—though it is important to note, physician control is ever decreasing as healthcare becomes more corporatized.
The individualist mindset created through medical and residency education is completely antithetical to the consciousness necessary to take action against an employer—whether protesting, organizing work “slow downs,” or using the most powerful weapon, the strike. Those who organize collectively to strike, such as the New York nurses, believe that change comes from masses of individuals standing together against the status quo. This runs counter to the ideology continually drilled into the physician. Subtle psychological methods of coercion keep physicians in line and unknowingly supporting their own oppression and the continual harm of their patients. This is combined with strong material conditions of coercion which we will discussed in the next section.
The Material Conditions Of Doctors
Physicians experience the truly sickening state of the U.S. medical system day after day. They see first hand how the profits of health insurance companies, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers and other health care corporations are placed above patient health. For those who truly wish to help the patients they work with, this can be extremely frustrating and could even push the physician to want to resist these oppressive systems, even after undergoing the multiple levels of psychological conditioning. This is where material conditions of the physician comes into play: to ensure doctors stay in line.
In general, American physicians are more economically well off than the majority of the population. The exorbitantly high pay that physicians find themselves earning after residency serves to support the status quo for the healthcare industry. Physicians become comfortable with their lifestyle and their positions of power in hospitals. They begin to develop a stake in maintaining the system. Though the physician may see various ways the medical industrial complex damages patients, he will be reluctant to put his comfortable position at risk by questioning the current state of affairs. It is much easier for a physician to accept the lifestyle this system provides her than to accept she is being used as a cog inside of the medical industrial machine where the health of patients is only a secondary concern.
Even before graduating from residency training, the material conditioning of the physician begins. Becoming a physician is expensive. Physicians typically undergo a 4-year university education in addition to their four years of medical school. This can easily leave a new physician entering residency— a 3 to 8-year period of training after medical school — with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. This debt, which is part of the over $1.5 trillion of overall student loan debt in the US, puts the physician in a precarious position in the workplace at the beginning of her career. Indebtedness makes the resident physician less likely to do anything to jeopardize her standing during residency — where she is often used as cheap labor for hospitals and clinics — since it could affect job opportunities later in her career.
The enormous debt facing a resident — a term coined from the days when they would literally live or “reside” in the hospital — then forces him to work exorbitant hours for little pay. His workweek can extend to upwards of 80 hours. When a residents’ pay is broken down to an hourly wage he often finds himself making just over $10/hour. It is now a fad for hospitals to pretend to care about physician wellness. One group tasked to structure residency programs, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), has attempted to improve resident wellness by putting work limits in place for residents. These have been set at 80 hours per week, averaged over four consecutive weeks, meaning that a resident could potentially work as many as 100 hours in a given week. In this scenario, overwork and exhaustion make physician organizing and resistance even less likely.
We Must Organize
Physicians are key actors in the medical industrial complex today. They serve as conduits for profit extraction from sick and injured people. Until physicians begin to put individual endeavors aside and begin to organize collectively, they will continue to see their patients harmed by the “healthcare” system. How can physicians advance their collective organization? They can start by pushing for unionization in all healthcare settings—even if that means going against anti-union contracts that hospitals and clinics often require doctors to sign. Change in this system will not come from hospital administrations, device manufacturers, health insurance companies, or medical academies like as the American Medical Association (AMA). All of these groups benefit from the existing system focused on endless profit maximization. Change will only come through collective action and resistance by healthcare workers.
Physicians around the world have organized and withheld their labor for better conditions around patient care in the past. In a system that continues to directly harm patients, strikes or various other forms of work stoppages or slowdowns, are an ethical imperative. Whether it is teachers in Virginia or nurses in New York, withholding one’s labor and threatening profit production is, by far, the greatest tool any worker has against an employer. These efforts by teachers have improved educational environments for children in schools. In hospitals, strikes have the potential to provide better staffing ratios, and ultimately better care, for patients. The nurses who give their time and efforts to organize — even while risking their own jobs — are showing what it means to truly care for patient and community health. Physicians have much to learn from the nurses’ example.
Mike Pappas is a resident physician practicing Family Medicine in New York City. He can be contacted at email@example.com