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We Are the 99 Percent – and So Is The Planet

Liberty Plaza, New York City, September 26, 2011. (Photo: Sasha Y. Kimel)

We Are the 99 Percent – and So Is The Planet

Liberty Plaza, New York City, September 26, 2011. (Photo: Sasha Y. Kimel)

Of all the disastrous effects of the 1 percent's insatiable drive to accumulate wealth – call it collateral damage or calculated results, the causation is clear – there is a sense among many at Occupy Wall Street that the most critically important is the imminent transition to an Earth inhospitable to human life. Crushing unemployment, skyrocketing poverty numbers, calamitous wars abroad, a seemingly intractable prison-industrial complex – all these merit our urgent attention, but redress of those grievances is moot if humans go extinct.

“Climate change is the biggest corporate crime imaginable,” says Duncan Meisel, an organizer for the Tar Sands Action, who is active with Occupy Wall Street. “If we just try to fix the jobs crisis without also fixing the environmental crisis, we don't have a future.”

The demolition of the natural world is a fundamental component of the warfare the wealthiest 1 percent wages on the rest of humanity. As Chip Ward puts it, “Degrading the planet's operating systems to bolster the bottom line is foolish and reckless. It hurts us all. No less important, it's unfair. The 1% profit, while the rest of us cough and cope.”

For those protesters whose chief objection is to the unseemly marriage between the functions of state and the interests of corporate wealth, environmental concerns are also paramount. Take an example that has recently received publicity: that of one of the nation's largest nuclear waste dumps, run by the Waste Control Specialists Corporation (WCS), located in West Texas.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's team of scientists deemed the dump hazardous, owing to its proximity to the vital Ogalalla aquifer, but was overruled by Gov. Rick Perry's appointees on that commission, at the bidding of WCS's billionaire CEO Harold Simmons, a major Perry donor. Simmons also owns NL Industries, which, having been caught leaking radioactive waste into an Ohio aquifer, is being paid by the Energy Department to move the waste to Simmons' dump in Texas.

Writes Matt Taibbi, “The company leases the land for the dump, meaning that WCS keeps the lion's share of the profits, while the liability mostly stays with the state.” This is attributable to an overactive revolving door, another big concern among Wall Street occupiers. Taibbi continues, “The executive director of the state's environmental commission, for instance, received a job as a lobbyist for WCS not long after helping the firm get its license. What's more, the company even got the government to pay for the landfill, lobbying the town of Andrews to float a $75 million bond issue to finance the construction of two new dump sites on the property.”

But this is just the latest in a long line of governmental sell-outs to the financial beneficiaries of environmental devastation. Famously, President Bush's energy bill, which included, among other things, $6 billion in oil and gas subsidies (and regulatory rollbacks for the same industries), $9 billion in coal subsidies, $12 billion in nuclear power subsidies, and was written behind closed doors by the energy industry lobbyists on Vice President Cheney's Energy Task Force.

The primary issue the environmentalist community is focusing on of late is the Keystone XL oil pipeline, whose forestallment is a cause célèbre in Liberty Plaza Park. Bill McKibben, the founder of, spoke about the proposed pipeline at Occupy Wall Street, saying:

Today in the New York Times there was a story that made it completely clear why we have to be here. They uncovered the fact that the company building that tar sands pipeline was allowed to choose another company to conduct the environmental impact statement, and the company that they chose was a company that did lots and lots of work for them. So, in other words, the whole thing was rigged top to bottom and that's why the environmental impact statement said that this pipeline would cause no trouble, unlike the scientists who said if we build this pipeline it's “game over” for the climate. We can't let this pipeline get built.

According to Meisel, “Exxon Mobil made more money last year than any other company in the history of money. All of that came at our expense, whether it's in the form of diseases caused by pollution that they refuse to pay for, or straight up price gouging from the oil addiction they sustain.”

News that the Obama campaign had hired Keystone pipeline lobbyist Broderick Johnson was not well received with the Wall Street occupiers, many of whom viewed it as an indication firstly that President Obama meant to continue the Bush-era policies of friendship with corporations hostile to environmental sustainability, and secondly, that his kind words for Occupy Wall Street were insincere and constituted an attempt to co-opt the energy behind the movement as support for his pre-existent legislative agenda and re-election hopes.

All of this contributed to the frustration of the Occupy movement as America's Building Trades Union (in collaboration with the American Petroleum Institute), which are hostile to environmentalists' efforts to block the pipeline, recently established a web site to that effect using the wording of the Occupy movement. Other unions supporting the pipeline include the Teamsters and Laborers, both of which have come out in support of Occupy Wall Street. Indeed, occupiers have been crucial in recent protest actions at Sotheby's, in support of the Teamsters locked out by the auction house.

It is self-evident to the ownership class' advantage if any two large constituencies professing solidarity with the 99 percent movement are acting at cross-purposes. The obvious tack for both groups to take is support for a massive green jobs stimulus – things like creating sustainable energy in the US, winterizing homes, and other measures that necessarily provide jobs to American workers. The Transit Workers and Amalgamated Transit Union have done just that, and a proposal popular in the progressive community calls for a “New Apollo Project” that way geared.

As Occupy Wall Street installs energy bikes to replace its recently confiscated fuel-based generators, it will face the tough prospect of either uniting its assorted sympathetic factions around proposals like the New Apollo Project or perhaps even deciding where its allegiances lie and rejecting one or more endorsements. Occupiers (myself included) have frequently condemned attempts to co-opt the message and iconography of the movement; but when the co-opter in question is a labor union with a good relationship with the occupiers on the ground, the problem recalls Lord Palmerston's formulation: “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”

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