Socialists discuss capitalism and climate change

Global warming’s link to capitalism was the focus at a recent public forum by Canada-based political group Socialist Alternative at Portland State.

“I assume most of the people here are familiar that global warming is real, it is happening, it is caused by human activity, and the main driver is the burning of fossil fuels,” said Bill Hopwood, a representative of Socialist Alternative, within the first two minutes of his presentation.

A small group of about 25 people listened to Hopwood’s speech focusing on climate, social class and transportation issues linked to capitalism.

Local transportation and the elimination of cars were subjects at the center of the open discussion after the lecture.

Hopwood was the main speaker at the public forum in the Smith Memorial Student Union building, room 296. The forum started at 7 p.m. and ended approximately an hour and a half later, Oct. 6.

“Adversity, environmental crisis and ill-health are all connected,” Hopwood said during his address.

Hopwood said, in an interview, that he has a background in environment management and urban environment studies as well as socialist activism.

The combination of melting ice caps, increased flooding, and the allegedly high-risk of famine and drought constitute climate change, according to Hopwood.

He said that the Pentagon was also concerned with the topic.

In an interview with The New York Times last spring, John Conger, acting deputy under secretary of defense for installations and environment at the Pentagon, stated “that climate change is having an impact on national security.”

Exhausting natural resources like fossil fuels and coal, and initiating ways to replace them with renewable energy such as solar, wind, water and geo-thermal sources was another central focus of the speech.

Tamara Kneese, a doctoral student in media studies at New York University, attended the forum. She’s an activist and participated in the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York.

“I’ve been involved with radical leftist politics for a long time,” Kneese said.

She’s been going to Socialist Alternative meetings in Portland because of what she said were the successes of social activism in Seattle, namely the recent work of Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, whereby the city’s minimum wage will be gradually raised to $15 an hour by 2017, according to

“I’m interested in anti-capitalist organizing in general,” Kneese said.

Enforcing laws that eliminate the use of all cars in the Portland metro area was mentioned when transportation’s role in environmental damage came up during the discussion portion of the forum.

Kneese said that she doesn’t think that legislation is necessarily the answer.

“I actually agree with what [Hopwood] said at the end; providing people with alternatives and dealing with issues on a local level first is the way to go,” Kneese said.

Links between transportation, the working and lower classes, and climate change were measured during the open discussion. This quickly transitioned into a debate about enhancing public transportation in Portland.

Although it was not mentioned in the forum, TriMet is proposing “to increase bus service 6.7 percent” for the 2015 fiscal year, but the cost will be covered by an increase in fares, according to the official TriMet Adopted Budget report.

Robin Koppang is a junior at PSU. He’s a mathematics major with a special interest in international studies. He said he’s noticed the sudden presence of the canvassers representing Socialist Alternative on campus.

“I’m critical of them and they don’t try to stop me [on campus],” Koppang said.

Koppang did not attend the Socialist Alternative forum, but he was not unfamiliar with its premise.

“People use way too many [natural] resources to make money. That’s a thing,” Koppang said. “It’s something we’ve known for a while now.”

Listen to the entire meeting: