Sitting At A Broken Table in Portland, Los Angeles, and Sharm El-Sheikh
In the past few days, so many things have happened on planet Earth. To mention just a few: the only renter on the Portland City Council lost her seat, after the last one lost her seat in the previous election. The Recording Academy announced some of the nominations for the Best Song for Social Change category in their upcoming Grammy Awards ceremony. And the 27th annual Conference of the Parties climate talks began, in a US-allied military dictatorship called Egypt, where people who hold a protest tend to be considered dangerous terrorists and thrown in squalid, overcrowded prisons, never to be seen again.
While these things don't all necessarily need to be mentioned in the same paragraph, they are definitely all intimately related, in many ways. For one thing, there are a whole lot of farces going on.
Biden is in Sharm El-Sheikh making all kinds of promises he has no intention of keeping, promises which were already broken a long time ago. In my rapidly-gentrifying home state of the past 15 years, Oregon, the pundits are bragging that we have such progressive governance here that we have rent control, and one of the chief advocates for this alleged rent control was just elected governor. What they don't mention so much is that this rent control is a joke, currently allowing landlords to increase the rent by 15% per year -- far more than most people's income tends to increase each year, if it does. And not mentioned is the disturbing trend in Portland City Council elections over the past two election cycles, namely the loss of the two renters the body has ever had on it, one of whom was also the only Black woman ever elected to the council.
Absolutely key to the whole question of carbon emissions in this country will be the development of radically different policies in areas like urban development, suburban sprawl, and mass transportation infrastructure. The unregulated capitalist insanity of the prices of houses and rents doubling every few years is so overwhelmingly obviously going in exactly the wrong direction, as it necessitates ever-expanding suburbs, growing dependence on cars, and longer commutes, not to mention ever-growing tent cities everywhere. The idea that there are national leaders going somewhere else in the world to talk about dealing with the climate crisis, while at home this is what is happening literally everywhere in the country, is completely, transparently nuts.
It is reported in the press that due to the repressive environment in the Egyptian military dictatorship -- which is never referred to as a military dictatorship, I just added that part for accuracy -- there isn't much in the way of climate-related protests going on, or protests of any kind. The lack of protesters only serves to emphasize the presence of many more representatives of the oil companies at the conference than there were at the last one, in Scotland, which had plenty of them.
The protesters, of course, don't have a seat at the table, but we're told their presence, when there, helps inspire the delegates at the meetings to be more committed to doing something. This is assuming that commitments any of them make mean anything, after they completely failed to meet commitments made at previous meetings.
With these sorts of meetings, there's always some kind of a mix of people coming with different aims. There are those representing poor countries being devastated by climate change who of course want to attend these meetings, in the hope that their situation can't be made any worse in this process, at least. There are NGO types hoping to have some kind of a useful impact on the inside, along with the oil company lobbyists hoping to neutralize any such useful impact, and the western leaders with their empty platitudes, getting most of the media attention.
And then there are, usually, those on the outside. At the climate meetings, mostly those on the outside have been people holding alternative conferences and protests they hope might get some attention and have some impact. At various points in various places there have also been people on the outside gathered with the intent of shutting down the meetings, thus making the point that they're useless meetings full of rich people lying about their intentions, and trying to blame other people for the planetary disaster capitalism has created, while making sure to do it all in a way that's profitable for the corporations making the electric car batteries and windmills.
The NGO types on the inside and lots of other folks in there are good people, trying to do good things, no doubt. Most of them are aware of how broken the table is, but it's the only table in the room, so they sit at it and act hopeful. Some of them mention that the table is broken, others hint at it, most try to ignore the obvious, which is often the least awkward thing to do in these situations.
But fundamentally, and very unfortunately, these representatives of mostly capitalist-oriented countries whose governments have long ago been captured or rendered inert by the corporate elite are incapable of solving the problems they have created. Capitalism creates these problems, and the capitalists make sure anyone or any alternative system trying to solve these problems becomes corrupted or is overthrown, as long as they are in charge. This is what the CIA and the US military do, primarily, and this has been the case since US foreign policy began. It's all very well-documented by the victims of US foreign policy who have lived to write about it, you just won't have heard about it on American TV, or in your history textbooks, in all likelihood.
Trying to solve the climate crisis by having meetings with the leaders of the corporations and the countries that are actively making the crisis much worse by the day reminds me of trying to reform the Recording Academy by introducing a Grammy award for the Best Song for Social Change once a year. Which I learned about from the recent news announcements that the song likely to win is from the dissident Iranian pop star who recorded what has become the theme song of the movement on the streets there since the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini.
Granted, the Grammys are a small thing compared to the end of the world, but they're as related as one Russian nesting doll is to the next one.
The major record labels that are the foundation of the Recording Academy have been actively making sure that their industry, the music industry, would pump out formulaic songs set to work within the strict confines of industry-approved music genres with lyrics that consistently dwelled within acceptable, apolitical parameters for a century or so now. Granted, they have allowed occasional exceptions, especially during periods of mass social upheaval. Other industries do that sort of thing, too, as do governments. But the tendency of this industry has been to create a select few, meticulously-managed pop stars, performing and recording material written for them by industry songwriters behind the scenes, sitting in cubicles in Los Angeles. This has been true for a long time, and it still is, today. Any effort under such circumstances to try to promote songs for social change will inevitably miss anything that isn't already part of the corporate music industry landscape.
Whether most observers might find commonality between the Oregon elections, the Grammy awards, and COP27, these developments of the past week all illustrate the same phenomenon. They're all Band-Aids over festering wounds.
The "rent control governor" gets elected in Salem while the renters lose their seats in Portland and everyone's rent doubles over the course of a few years. The president visits a dictatorship to talk about climate change while his own party is telling the oil companies they need to do more offshore drilling. The Recording Academy continues to do its best to hype up and pump out the next crop of ultra-fashionable song-and-dance stars, while finding a good excuse to mention the existence of songs for social change once a year. And the Earth spins round again.