Hey, guys — I’ve tightened up this post for you, shortening it by almost half. Hope you get a chance to read it and respond…
Two books on how to snatch life out of the jaws of capitalism
I’ve just finished reading Naomi Klein’s latest book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, and want to share my thoughts on it with you, along with my reaction to a related book by Derrick Jensen and two friends, Deep Green Resistance. Both books express deep concern about what the corporate capitalist system is doing to the environment, but come to different conclusions about what can realistically be done about it. Klein is hopeful that a mass movement can help us avoid planet-killing global warming; the DGRers don’t think we have the decades that would take and advise the formation of an underground resistance capable of sabotaging “industrial civilization” as quickly as possible in order to save as many living beings and as much of the planet’s life-support system as possible. Somewhat to my surprise, I ended up agreeing with Jensen & Co., but was fascinated by the economic, political, and scientific information Klein provides.
Both books are way too long, especially considering the emotional difficulty of the subject. Considering its importance, however, they’re well worth interrogating – and acting on. I had to condense and edit my notes on them way down in order to keep this post to a reasonable length (it’s still too long, but I couldn’t give you a real flavor of what was said any other way).
Klein’s not entirely original premise is that our current leaders and institutions, rooted in a system of deregulated capitalism, are unlikely to seriously address climate change. Focused only on maximizing short-term profits, capitalists do little or nothing to avoid or mitigate any of problems they cause. They also try to mystify the public about those problems to avoid being hampered in their operations.
Global climate change negotiations are essentially a public relations gimmick. In the 24 years since they began in earnest, greenhouse gas emissions have risen by 60%, and the average global temperature has risen 0.5 degrees. The 2013 climate summit held in Warsaw, Poland was actually sponsored by a panel of fossil fuel companies, including a major miner of lignite coal. As Klein says in her introduction to Everything Changes, “Any credible source of hope in this crisis will have to come from below.”
We don’t have much time though. Klein says, if nothing changes, we’ll have “a 4°C warmer world by the end of the century, marked by extreme heat waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.” It may not be possible for our species and others to adapt to such a world. We’re feeling the effects of global warming now, with worse effects already locked in, but if we can keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees, we could avoid triggering tipping points leading to runaway warming. Klein says we have two years to make the changes necessary to do this. “Developed countries need to have begun their energy turnaround by 2020 and be almost completely weaned from fossil fuels by 2050.”
Klein acknowledges that this will necessitate a revolution “in a time of tax-cutting and reduced public services,” since what we need is “massive government investment in zero-carbon public services and infrastructure, paid for by regulating, taxing, and penalizing fossil fuel companies.” The good news is that making the changes needed to address climate change will improve the lives of the majority. As Klein says, “We can transform our economy so that it’s less resource-intensive in ways that are equitable, with the most vulnerable protected and the most responsible bearing the bulk of the burden. We have the technology; the challenge we face is political: taking power from corporations and giving it to communities – something that can only be done by a mass movement of the people getting a rotten deal under the current system (most of us).”
Lifestyle changes aren’t gonna cut it, and fracked natural gas, “clean” coal, and genetically modified crops are just distractions being pushed by proponents of the current system. Even worse examples of trying to solve the problem using the kind of thinking that caused it are nuclear power and geoengineering (blocking the sun). Economic shell games like carbon offsets and carbon trading have also been used to make the public think something was being done about global warming. Klein describes how carbon offset projects have encroached on land belonging to peasant communities and indigenous peoples, and the best carbon trading can do is keep us at neutral. The cap-and-trade climate bills that failed to pass the US House and Senate during President Obama’s first term “would have repeated these errors and added new ones of their own.” Crafted by the fossil fuel industry and “handing out enough free allowances to cover 90% of emissions from energy utilities,” they were dumped when the industry realized that Obama was more concerned with defending his health care reform against Tea Party assaults.
Klein cautions is that renewables can’t power all the things we’re used to using, at least not on the scale of fossil fuels. Scaling up would “involve building vast new electric grids and transportation systems,” which could take decades and use a lot of fossil fuels to get up and running.
We need to localize our economies, not just to address climate change, but to prepare for peak oil. As Klein says, “these kinds of economic changes will benefit unemployed workers, farmers unable to compete with cheap imports, domestic manufacturers, and local businesses.” Re-greening our economy will create many more jobs than are available in the fossil fuel sector. “A 2011 study prepared by research and policy organization Smart Growth America found that investment in public transit creates 31% more jobs per dollar than investment in new road and bridge construction. Renewable energy is equally promising, with jobs in construction, installation, maintenance, and operation. Research in Canada has found that an investment of $1.3 billion (the amount the Canadian government spends on subsidies to oil and gas companies) could create 17-20,000 jobs in renewable energy, public transit, or energy efficiency – six to eight times as many jobs as it generates in the oil and gas sector.”
The best part of Klein’s recommended scenario (after saving our lives and those of our kids and grandkids) is that it will necessitate and create grassroots democracy, such that each community will be in control of its resources and the decisions – economic as well as political – affecting it. “‘The climate justice fight here in the US and around the world isn’t just a fight against the biggest ecological crisis of all time,’ Miya Yoshitani, executive director of the Oakland-based Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), explains. ‘It’s the fight for a new economy, a new energy system, democracy, a new relationship to the planet and to each other, for land, water, and food sovereignty, for indigenous rights, for human rights and dignity for all people. When climate justice wins, we win the world we want. We can’t sit this one out, not because we have too much to lose, but because we have too much to gain.’”
- De-industrializing wealthy states say their emissions have stabilized or gone down, but, as they’ve moved dirty production overseas, the emissions embedded in their consumption have soared. (By 2007, China was responsible for two-thirds of the annual increase in global emissions, with 48% of these emissions related to producing goods for export.)
- Oil and gas corporations are some of the most profitable in history, with the top five oil companies pulling in $900 billion in profits from 2001 to 2010. ExxonMobil holds the record for the highest corporate profits ever reported in the United States, earning $41 billion in 2011 and $45 billion in 2012. These profits are poured into shareholder pockets, outrageous executive pay (Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson makes more than $100,000 a day), and new technologies designed to extract even dirtier and more dangerous fossil fuels. By 2011, the majors were spending less than 1% of their overall expenditures on alternative energy. Despite all of the above, fossil fuel companies receive $775 billion to $1 trillion in annual global government subsidies.
- Our energy-intensive, high-emissions model of industrial agriculture accounts for 19-29% of world greenhouse gas emissions.
- The US military is the largest single consumer of petroleum in the world. In 2011, the Department of Defense released a minimum of 56.6 million metric tons of CO₂ equivalent into the atmosphere, more than the US-based operations of ExxonMobil and Shell combined. Klein thinks “the arms companies should pay their share of these costs, along with auto-makers, airlines, and the shipping industry.”
Other places where we could get the money for the needed transition:
- A financial transaction tax on trades of stocks, derivatives, and other financial instruments could bring in billions and slow down financial speculation.
- Closing tax havens would yield another billion-dollar windfall.
- Slashing the military budgets of each of the top ten military spenders by 25% would free up billions more and reduce the temptation to use military force.
- A $50 tax per metric ton of CO₂ emitted in developed countries would raise an estimated $450 billion annually.
Tar Sands and Fracked Natural Gas
“Canadian tar sands extraction takes a habitable ecosystem, filled with life, and engineers it into a moonscape in which nothing can live. If this goes on, it could impact an area the size of England – all to access a semisolid form of ‘unconventional’ oil known as bitumen that’s so difficult and energy-intensive to extract that the process results in three to four times as much in greenhouse gas emissions as drilling for conventional oil.
Natural gas’s reputation as a clean alternative to coal and oil is based on emissions measurements from gas extracted by conventional drilling practices. In April 2011 a new study by scientists at Cornell University showed that when gas is extracted by fracking (hydraulic fracturing to access shale gas, combined with horizontal drilling), emissions are at least 30% higher. This is because methane leaks at every stage of production, processing, storage, and distribution. Methane is an extraordinarily dangerous greenhouse gas, 34 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Fracked gas has a greater greenhouse gas effect than oil and may well have as much of a warming impact as coal.
These increasingly extreme extraction methods for oil and gas, as well as the expanding use of extra-dirty lignite coal look like the final suicidal throes of fossil fuel addiction. We’re blasting the bedrock of our continents, pumping our water with toxins, lopping off mountaintops, scraping off boreal forests, endangering the deep ocean, and scrambling to exploit the melting Arctic – all to get the last bits of the stuff.
Climate action, financial sector reform after the 2008 meltdown, gun reform after the horrific 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and the failure of Obama’s healthcare reform to take on the insurance and pharmaceutical companies – all attempts to fix glaring and fundamental flaws in the system – have failed because large corporations wield decisive political power through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door between business and government. The solutions are clear: politicians must be prohibited from receiving donations from the industries they regulate, or from accepting jobs in lieu of bribes; political donations need to be both fully disclosed and tightly capped; campaigns must be given access to the public airwaves; and elections should be publicly funded.”
Klein calls our addiction to fossil fuels “extractivism,” and say’s it’s “connected to imperialism, colonialism, and racism,” since “the ability to harness the power of coal to run factories and ships enabled the first extractivists to conquer the world.” The extractivist mindset, based on Western scientific and Biblical thinking, was expressed by “British philosopher William Derham in his 1713 book Physico-Theology, ‘We can ransack the whole globe, penetrate into the bowels of the earth, descend to the bottom of the deep, travel to the farthest regions of the world to acquire wealth.’ Through most of the 1700s, the twin projects of colonialism and industrialization were constrained by nature on several fronts. Ships carrying both slaves and the raw materials they harvested could sail only when the winds were favorable, and the factories that turned these raw materials into finished products had to be located next to waterfalls or river rapids. As the Industrial Revolution matured and mill workers started to strike and riot for better wages and working conditions, the resultant decentralization made factory owners vulnerable, since finding replacement workers in rural areas was difficult.”
The coal-fired steam engine perfected by James Watt in 1776 “offered solutions to these vulnerabilities. Steam gained supremacy in spite of wind and water power being abundant, at least as powerful, and decidedly cheaper, because steam engines worked at the same rate all the time, anywhere. Factory owners could shift production from remote areas to cities like London, Manchester, and Lancaster, where there were plenty of willing workers and it was easy to fire troublemakers and put down strikes. Steam-powered ships similarly accelerated the colonial project. Coal represented total domination of both nature and other people.
In the 80 years between 1760 and 1840, England’s imports of raw cotton, picked by slave labor abroad, went from 2.5 million to 366 million pounds. As Herman Daly and Joshua Farley point out in Ecological Economics, ‘The market economy and the fossil fuel economy emerged at the same time.’
The promise of liberation from nature continues to be the great power of fossil fuels, allowing today’s multinational corporations to scour the globe for the cheapest, most exploitable workforce and extract all the earth’s remaining resources. What we’ve recently learned from atmospheric science, however, is that the give-and-take that’s the essence of all relationships in nature wasn’t eliminated with fossil fuels after all – the price has merely been delayed, and the illusion of total power and control has given way to the reality of near total powerlessness. ‘It has become clear over the last century,’ writes Ecuadorian ecologist Esperanza Martinez, ‘that fossil fuels, the energy source of capitalism, destroy life – from the territories where they’re extracted to the ocean and the atmosphere that absorb the waste.’ These substances, the decayed remnants of long-dead life forms belong in the ground, where they perform valuable ecological functions. Coal, when left alone, sequesters not just the carbon long ago pulled out of the air by plants, but all kinds of other toxins, absorbing substances like cadmium or mercury that may be dissolved in groundwater. When coal is dug up and burned, however, these toxins are released to the ecosystem, eventually making their way into the oceans, where they’re absorbed by krill, plankton, and fish. The released carbon, meanwhile, enters the atmosphere, causing global warming (not to mention coal’s contribution to the smog and particulate pollution that’s plagued urban society since the Industrial Revolution).”
Big Green: the mainstream environmental movement
“The Nature Conservancy, described by The New Yorker magazine as ‘the biggest and richest environmental organization in the world,’ earned millions of dollars drilling for and pumping oil and gas on 2,303 acres in southeast Texas on the shore of Galveston Bay, helping to wiping out the Attwater’s prairie chicken, an endangered species. The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, and the Conservation Fund have also all received money from Shell and BP. These relationships go further than mere donations and partnerships.” BP America, Chevron, and Shell are on The Nature Conservancy’s Business Council, and Jim Rogers, chairman of the board of Duke Energy, one of the country’s largest coal-burning utilities, sits on its board of directors. Some “green” groups, including the Nature Conservancy, also invest heavily in fossil fuel corporations.
“Groups that have fought oil companies’ abuses in drilling areas include Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the Rainforest Action Network. Food & Water Watch has helped secure big victories against fracking, and 350.org helped launch the fossil fuel divestment movement and has been at the forefront of the national mobilization against the Keystone XL pipeline. It’s hard for anyone’s hands to be completely clean, since many of the top foundations that underwrite good groups and projects come from fortunes, like the Rockefeller family’s, linked with fossil fuels. The key question in all of this is whether funding shapes the kind of research undertaken and the kinds of policies advanced.
Geoengineering: a truly frightening idea
Geoengineering calls for “injecting particles into the atmosphere in order to reflect more sunlight back into space (Solar Radiation Management, or SRM). When large volcanic eruptions occur in the tropics, such aerosols stay suspended in the stratosphere for one to two years, causing global cooling effects.” Such a massive real-time experiment could have unforeseen effects, however, “causing the earth to go wild in ways we can’t imagine, and becoming the last tragic act in a centuries-long fairytale of control. Alan Robock has run different SRM scenarios through supercomputers, and concluded in a 2008 paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research that sulfur dioxide injections ‘would disrupt the Asian and African summer monsoons, reducing precipitation to the food supply of billions of people.’ In the year after Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, there was a 20% reduction in precipitation in southern Africa and a 10-15% reduction of precipitation in south Asia. The UN Environment Program described the resulting drought as ‘the most severe in the last century,’ affecting 120 million people. The Los Angeles Times reported crop losses of 50-90%. This grim track record makes the cheerful talk of a Pintatubo Option distinctly bizarre, if not outright sinister, especially since what’s being contemplated is simulating the cooling effects of such an eruption indefinitely. Once turned on, we might not be able to turn SRM off without triggering an inferno from all the trapped emissions,” and war, terrorism, mechanical failure, or extreme weather could turn it off, or affect it. Plus, “another real Pinatubo could bring on a worldwide Ice Age.”
Blockadia, the arena of “the new climate warriors, isn’t a specific location on a map; it’s a transnational conflict zone wherever mining and fossil fuel companies ignore their impact on local ecosystems, particularly water systems.”
Resistance against the exploitation of Canadian tar sands and TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline is particularly high. If it’s “constructed in full (the southern leg, from Oklahoma to export terminals on the Texas coast, is already up and running), the $7 billion project will add a total of 2,677 kilometers (1,663 miles) of new pipeline running through seven states and provinces, delivering up to 830,000 barrels per day of mostly tar sands oil to Gulf Coast refineries and export terminals.”
The 1,177 kilometer (731 mile) Northern Gateway pipeline being pushed by the energy company Enbridge in Canada “would begin near Edmonton, Alberta, and carry 525,000 barrels of mostly diluted tar sands oil per day across roughly a thousand waterways, passing through some of the most pristine temperate rainforests in the world, as well as highly avalanche-prone mountains. At the new export terminal in the northern British Columbia town of Kitimat, the oil would be loaded onto supertankers and navigated through narrow Pacific channels often battered by ferocious waves. The sheer audacity of the proposal – putting so much of Canada’s most beloved wilderness, fishing grounds, beaches, and marine life at risk – helped give birth to an unprecedented coalition of Canadians opposing the project, including a historic alliance of indigenous groups in British Columbia who’ve vowed to act as ‘an unbroken wall of opposition from the US border to the Arctic Ocean’ to stop pipeline construction through their territory.
Spend enough time in Blockadia and you start to notice patterns. The slogans on the signs – ‘Water is life,’ ‘You can’t eat money,’ and ‘Draw the line’ – reflect a shared determination to stay in the fight for the long haul, and to do whatever it takes to win. Another recurring element is the role played by women, who often dominate the front lines, providing not only powerful moral leadership, but also some of the movement’s most enduring iconography. In New Brunswick, for instance, the image of a lone Mi’kmaq mother kneeling in the middle of the highway before a line of riot police, holding up a single eagle feather, went viral. In Greece, the gesture that captured hearts and minds was a 74-year-old woman singing a song sung by the Greek resistance during the German occupation to a line of riot police.
This type of resistance began in the 1990s in the Niger Delta, the most oil-ravaged place on the planet. Brutal repression of initially nonviolent protest against oil company excesses caused young people here to turn to violence, and by 2006 the area was in the throes of a full-blown armed insurgency, complete with bombings of infrastructure and government targets, pipeline vandalism, and kidnapping of oil workers. The Ogoni and Ijaw peoples are fighting not only against violent resource extraction, but for greater community control, democracy, and sovereignty. In 1995, immediately after the Nigerian government executed Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) leaders, activists from Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria formed an alliance with a similar organization in Ecuador called Acción Ecológica. At that time Acción Ecológica was dealing with an environmental and human health disaster left in the northeast of the country by Texaco, an incident known as the “Rainforest Chernobyl.” (Chevron, after acquiring Texaco, was later ordered to pay $9.5 billion in damages by the Ecuadorian supreme court; the legal battles are still ongoing.) These frontline activists in two of the worst oil-impacted regions of the planet formed an organization called Oilwatch International, which has been at the forefront of the global movement to ‘leave the oil in the soil.’” Check out their website at oilwatch.org.
“What’s changed in recent years is largely a matter of scale. The number of American rail cars carrying oil has increased from 9,500 in 2008 to 400,000 in 2013. Little wonder that significantly more oil spilled in US rail incidents in 2013 than in the previous 40 years, or that trains engulfed in smoking fireballs have become increasingly frequent sights on the nightly news. Hundreds if not thousands of towns and cities find themselves in the paths of poorly maintained, under-regulated ‘oil bomb’ trains – like Quebec’s Lac-Mégantic, where in July 2013 a train carrying 72 tank cars of fracked Bakken oil (more flammable than the regular kind) exploded, killing 47 people and flattening half the downtown.
Building the pipelines to carry tar sands oil would impact an even greater number of communities, both along the pipeline route and on vast stretches of coastline crowded with oil tankers.
But no extractive activity has set its sights on more new land than hydraulic fracking for natural gas. Fracking now covers so much territory that, according to a 2013 Wall Street Journal investigation, ‘more than 15 million Americans live within a mile of a well that’s been drilled and fracked since 2000.’ The industry’s ambitions in Canada are just as aggressive.
Tar sands extractors, manufactured in South Korea, are three to five stories high and as long and heavy as a Boeing 747. Communities in Montana and Idaho have led a fierce, multi-year campaign to prevent these rigs from traveling along scenic but narrow Highway 12. They object to the human costs of having their critical roadway blocked for hours and the environmental risks of a load toppling on one of its many hairpin turns. The rigs were barred from a section of the highway after the Nez Perce tribe and the conservation group Idaho Rivers United filed a joint lawsuit.
An alternative route for the huge trucks was found in eastern Oregon, but when the first load came through in December 2013 it was stopped several times by activist lockdowns and blockades. Members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, objecting to the loads crossing their ancestral lands, led a prayer ceremony in Pendleton, Oregon. Though local concerns about the safety of the big rigs were real, many participants were primarily motivated by fears over what the machines would be helping to do to the climate. ‘Our children are going to die from this,’ one Umatilla blockader said before she was arrested.
The fossil fuel industry has had to confront a powerful combination of resurgent indigenous nations, farmers, fishers, and folks looking for natural beauty in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia). Because of grassroots resistance to new coal-fired plants and pressure to shut down old ones, as well as the rapid rise of natural gas, the market for coal in the United States has collapsed. In just four years (2008-2012), coal’s share of US electricity generation plummeted from 50 to 37%. This means that if the industry is to have a future, it needs to ship American coal to Asia. Northwesterners are opposed to the building of huge new shipping terminals on the coast for this purpose, and to trains carrying coal from massive mines in Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin to the coast.
Dilbit, as the diluted bitumen from tar sands is called, is more corrosive to pipelines than conventional crude; spilled tar sands oil sinks rather than floats in saltwater; and tailing ponds where the tar sands are extracted are leaking through the ground into the Athabasca River, which flows 765 miles from Jasper National Park to the Peace-Athabasca Delta near Fort Chipewyan. In 2003, Dr. John O’Connor in Fort Chipewyan began to report alarming numbers of cancers, including extremely rare and aggressive bile duct malignancies. He quickly found himself under fire from Canadian officials, who charged him with ‘raising undue alarm’ and threatened his career, making other doctors and scientists reluctant to file similar reports. This is just one facet of what’s become known as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s ‘war on science,’ with environmental monitoring budgets slashed and 2,000 scientists having lost their jobs since 2008.
A similar willful blindness pervades the rapid spread of hydraulic fracking. For years the US gas industry responded to reports of contaminated water wells by insisting that there was no scientific proof of any connection between fracking and the fact that residents living near drill sites could set their tap water on fire. The reason there was no evidence was because the industry had won an unprecedented exemption from federal monitoring and regulation – the so-called Halliburton Loophole ushered in during the George W. Bush administration. The loophole exempted most fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, insuring that companies didn’t have to report the chemicals they were injecting underground to the EPA.
A growing body of independent, peer-reviewed studies is building the case that fracking puts drinking water, including aquifers, at risk, contaminating it with methane and other pollutants. The links between fracking and small earthquakes is also solidifying. A July 2013 study in the Journal of Geophysical Research linked fracking to 109 small earthquakes that took place in a single year around Youngstown, Ohio, where an earthquake had not been previously recorded since monitoring began in the 18th century.
In 2012 there were more than 6,000 spills and other mishaps at onshore oil and gas sites in the US, a 17% increase since 2010. Companies are also doing a poorer job of cleaning up their messes – the New York Times found that in 2005 and 2006 pipeline operators reported ‘recovering more than 60% of liquids spilled;’ between 2007 and 2010 ‘operators recovered less than a third.’
More and more, communities dealing with fossil fuel companies are saying, ‘No.’ No to pipelines, no to Arctic drilling, no to coal and oil trains, no to heavy hauls, no to export terminals, and no to fracking. And not just ‘Not in My Backyard,’ but, as the French anti-fracking activists say, ‘Ni ici, ni ailleurs – neither here, nor elsewhere.’
In addition to contamination threats, extractive projects stand out for how much water they require. For instance, it takes 2.3 barrels of water to produce a single barrel of oil from tar sands mining – much more than the 0.1 to 0.3 barrels needed for each barrel of conventional crude. Fracking for both shale gas and ‘tight oil’ similarly requires far more water than conventional drilling. According to a 2012 study, modern fracking ‘events’ use an average of 5 million gallons of water. Once used, much of this water is radioactive and toxic. In 2012, the industry created 280 billion gallons of such wastewater in the US alone.
In other words, extreme energy demands that we destroy a whole lot of a substance we need to survive to keep extracting more of the substances threatening our survival. This is coming, moreover, at a time when freshwater sources are imperiled around the world (the water used for extraction operations often comes from aquifers that are already depleted).
Alongside France, countries with fracking moratoria include Bulgaria, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic. Moratoria or bans are also in place in the states and provinces of Vermont, Quebec, Newfoundland, and Labrador.
There’s also a wave of global victories against coal. Under mounting pressure, the World Bank and other large international funders have announced that they’ll no longer offer financing to coal projects except in exceptional circumstances. The Sierra Club’s ‘Beyond Coal’ campaign has also retired 170 coal plants in the United States and prevented 180 proposed plants since 2002.
The campaign to block coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest has moved from strength to strength. Three of the planned terminals have been nixed, as a result of community activism.
Actions against the various tar sands pipelines haven’t won any clear victories yet, just a series of long delays that have placed a question mark over the capacity of Alberta’s oil patch to make good on its growth projections.
Meanwhile, demands for clean energy are spreading so rapidly in Asia that it isn’t clear how long the market for new coal-fired plants and dirty gasoline there will hold up. China is in the midst of an emotional public debate about its crisis levels of urban air pollution, in large part the result of the country’s massive reliance on coal. There have been large and militant protests against the construction of new coal-fired plants.
The World Health Organization sets the guideline for the safe presence of fine particles of dangerous air pollutants at 25 micrograms or less per cubic meter; 250 is considered hazardous by the US government. In January 2014 in Beijing, levels of these carcinogens hit 671. Paper masks haven’t been enough to prevent outbreaks of respiratory illness or prevent children as young as eight from being diagnosed with lung cancer. Chen Jiping, a former senior Communist Party official, admitted in March 2013 that pollution is the single greatest cause of social unrest in the country.
The regime has cut its targeted growth rate, launched huge alternative energy programs, and cancelled or delayed many dirty-energy projects.
Indigenous land and treaty rights have proved a major barrier for the extractive industries in many key Blockadia struggles. Through these victories, many non-Natives are beginning to understand that the ways of life that indigenous groups are protecting have much to teach about how to relate to the land.
In the late 1990s the Supreme Court of Canada handed down a series of landmark decisions in cases designed to test the limits of aboriginal title and treaty rights. First came Delgamuukw v. British Columbia (1997), which ruled that aboriginal title over the 80% of the province not covered by treaty had never been extinguished. Two years later, the Marshall decision affirmed that when the Mi’kmaq, Maliseer, and Passamaquoddy First Nations, largely based in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, signed ‘peace and friendship’ treaties with the British Crown in 1760 and 1761, they did not – as many Canadians then assumed – agree to give up rights to their ancestral lands. Rather they were agreeing to share them with settlers on the condition that they could continue to use them for traditional activities like fishing, trading, and ceremony. The court ruled that it was within the rights of the Mi’kmaq and Maliseer to fish year-round to ‘earn a moderate livelihood’ in areas where their ancestors had fished, exempt from many of the rules set by the federal government for non-Natives.
Other North American treaties contain similar provisions. Treaty 6, for instance, covering large parts of the Alberta tar sands region, contains language stating that ‘Indians shall have the right to hunt and fish throughout the tract surrendered.’ First Nations elders of the region contend that their negotiators gave permission for the land to be used by settlers only ‘to the depth of a plow’ – considerably less than the cavernous holes being dug there today.
Federal and provincial governments did little or nothing to protect the rights the Supreme Court had affirmed, so indigenous people just went out and asserted them: fishing, hunting, and logging without specific state permission. There was a swift backlash, especially from non-Native hunters and fishermen. In 2000, the Mi’kmaq community of Burnt Church, New Brunswick saw thousands of lobster traps destroyed, three fish-processing plants ransacked, and several tribespeople hospitalized after their truck was attacked. It wasn’t just vigilante violence either. As the months-long crisis continued, government boats staffed with officials in riot gear rammed into Native fishing boats, sinking two vessels.
Thirteen years later, a little more than an hour’s drive down the coast, the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society joined with the Elsipogtog First Nation to fend off the Texas company at the center of the province’s fracking. The protests drew participants from all of the province’s ethnic groups.
The Idle No More movement burst onto the political scene in Canada at the end of 2012, spreading quickly south of the border. North American shopping centers from the enormous West Edmonton Mall to Minnesota’s Mall of America were suddenly alive with the sounds of hand drums and jingle dresses as indigenous people held flash mob round dances across the continent at the peak of the Christmas shopping season. In Canada, Native leaders went on hunger strikes, and youths embarked on months-long spiritual walks and blockaded roads and railways. The movement was sparked by a series of attacks by the Canadian government on indigenous sovereignty, as well as its assault on existing environmental protections to pave the way for tar sands expansion and pipelines. Earlier in the year, the Harper administration had rammed through two budget bills gutting large parts of the country’s environmental regulatory framework.”
North American Blockadia’s concerns and possibilities and its uniting of rich and poor, Native and non-Native communities are reflected in the global climate justice movement. As Bolivia’s climate negotiator, Angelica Navarro Llanos, told Klein in Geneva in 2009, “climate change could be the catalyst to attack inequality around the world, the basis for a ‘Marshall Plan for the Earth.’ Developed countries, which represent less than 20% of the world’s population, have emitted almost 70% of the greenhouse gases destabilizing the climate. And while developing countries like China and India spew large (and rapidly growing) amounts of carbon dioxide, they’ve still only contributed a fraction of the 200 years of cumulative pollution.
Developing countries must develop differently, but for that they need money and technology that can only come from those countries and corporations that grew wealthy, in large part, as a result of illegitimate appropriations” of land, labor, and an unsullied environment. “It isn’t just a question of morality either – our collective survival depends on it.”
The think tank EcoEquity and the Stockholm Environment Institute have developed a detailed and innovative model of what a fair approach to emissions reductions might look like on a global scale. According to the ‘Greenhouse Development Rights’ framework, each country’s fair share of the global carbon-cutting burden is determined by two key factors: responsibility for historical emissions and capacity to contribute, based on level of development. The United States’ share of global emissions cuts by the end of the decade might be something like 30% – the largest of any single country. But not all of the reduction would need to be done at home; financing and otherwise supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy in the South could count, too. Much of the cost can and should be borne not by taxpayers, but by the corporations most responsible for the crisis, in the form of a financial transaction tax, eliminating subsidies for fossil fuel companies, etc.”
Klein concludes by saying that “meeting science-based targets will mean forcing some of the most profitable companies on earth to forfeit trillions of dollars of future earnings by leaving the vast majority of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground. It will also require coming up with trillions more to pay for zero-carbon, disaster-ready societal transformations. The good news is that the massive global investments required to respond to the climate threat can deliver the equitable redistribution of agricultural lands that was supposed to follow independence from colonial rule and dictatorship,” and bring the jobs and services to poor communities.
“Any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it’s understood as rebuilding and reinventing the idea of the collective, the communal, the commons, the civil, and the civic after many decades of attack and neglect. It requires a new worldview: new stories to replace the ones that have failed us.” Part of that new story could help us stop beating up on ourselves. Maybe “many if us have failed to act not because we’re too selfish to care, but because we’re overwhelmed by how much we care.” Maybe “we stay silent not out of acquiescence but in part because we lack the collective spaces in which to confront the raw terror of ecocide.
An alternative worldview embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy is required – not only to create a political context to dramatically lower emissions, but to help us cope – together – with the disasters we can no longer avoid.”
Klein says that “upwellings when societies become consumed with the demand for major change often come as a surprise even to movement organizers. During extraordinary historical moments, the usual categories dividing ‘activists’ and ordinary people become meaningless, because the project of changing society is so deeply woven into the project of life. This is such a moment; activists now need to be everyone.”
Deep Green Resistance: a more radical take on the problem
Derrick Jensen, Aric McBay, and Lierre Keith, the authors of Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet (2011) are at least as deeply concerned as Naomi Klein about capitalism’s destruction of Earth’s living systems. Not believing however, that a mass movement will arise in time to stop it, they recommend the creation of underground cells, supported by an aboveground “culture of resistance,” that can bring industrial civilization down before it destroys any more life or possibility for life.
“The goal of DGR,” they say, “is to deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet. It also means defending and rebuilding just and sustainable human communities inside repaired and restored land bases. This book is about creating a culture of resistance and an actual resistance that can win. Direct action against strategic infrastructure is a tactic that works, but such actions alone are never a sufficient strategy for achieving a just outcome. Any strategy aiming for a just future must include a call to build direct democracies based on human rights and sustainable material cultures.” To do all this, the authors say, “we need courage, and the lifeblood of courage is love.
If we had a thousand, or even a hundred years, building a movement to transform the dominant institutions around the globe would be the task before us. But we’re out of time.
Industrial civilization is dependent on a relatively fragile infrastructure. It requires vast quantities of fossil fuels, which come from relatively few places, enter through a small number of ports and processing facilities, and have to be transported along vulnerable supply lines. It’s also dependent on electricity, a grid a million fragile miles long, and the internet to transfer information and capital. Serious nonviolent actionists could blockade the ports, the processing facilities, the stock exchanges, and the main highways outside major cities. A flow of bodies – people willing to face the consequences – would be necessary to keep the system at a standstill day after day.”
Neither “withdrawalist lifestyle purity” nor actions committed willy-nilly out of emotional need will be helpful, Keith points out. “Dislodging injustice requires organized political resistance. For those of us who can’t be active on the front lines – and this will be most of us – our job is to create a culture that will encourage and promote political resistance.
Small-scale and aboveground groups should be democratic whenever possible, but leaders must emerge, and underground groups engaged in coordinated or paramilitary activities require hierarchy.
Activities like biological remediation, the creation of local food networks, and teaching people self-sufficiency skills are part of the larger struggle to save the planet. These kinds of activities shouldn’t be at odds with political resistance; they should be nestled inside each other in mutually nourishing and encouraging ways.
Burning fossil fuels and all activities that destroy living communities have to stop. Human consumption must be drastically scaled back, especially by rich countries and individuals. And human population must be reduced.
Tilters [at windmills] include technofixers like Al Gore and Lester Brown who would replace fossil fuels with renewables but leave industrialization and corporate capitalism in place to continue devouring the earth and trampling on human rights. Capitalism is based on endless growth, and our planet is finite. It also provides for human needs like food, housing, or health care only where investors can make a profit. As Ted Trainer writes, ‘A sustainable and just society can’t be a consumer society driven by market forces. It must have relatively little international trade, no economic growth, and be made up mostly of small local economies. Its driving values can’t be competition and acquisitiveness.’
The tilter vision isn’t technologically practical either. In order to produce the amount of energy that industrial societies are used to, fossil fuel generating capacity has to be almost equal to wind or solar capacity for backup. Windmills, PV panels, and the grid itself are also manufactured and maintained using fossil fuel energy. Plus, the elements used in some key technologies don’t exist in the quantities necessary for these technologies to supply a meaningful amount of the world’s electricity consumption.
Brown proposes increasing food supplies by increasing land productivity through fertilizers, irrigation, and higher-yield crops, despite the fact that these solutions depend on fossil fuel use, degrade soils, and deplete scarce water supplies. On a long-term basis, the planet can only sustainably support 300-600 million people” through small-scale horticulture, hunting, and gathering.
“Though they have a more realistic assessment of energy and a corresponding vision of the low-energy society of the future, descenders like Ted Trainer and John Michael Greer and lifers like Richard Heinberg and Dmitri Orlov don’t believe in taking political action other than on the level of community preparation for economic contraction and energy descent.”
On the issue of violence vs. nonviolence, McBay, who promotes property destruction (sabotage) over violence against people, says it depends on the situation. He begins a chapter on strategy and tactics with the following quote by Nelson Mandela: “For me, nonviolence wasn’t a moral principle, but a strategy. There is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.”
McBay notes that “intimidation is a tactic used by the ‘Gulabi Gang’ of Uttar Pradesh, India, which its leader Sampat Pal Devi calls ‘a gang for justice.’ The Gulabi Gang formed as a response to deeply entrenched and violent patriarchy – especially domestic and sexual violence – and caste-based discrimination. Its 500 members use a variety of tactics to fight for women’s rights, and their ‘vigilante violence’ has gained global attention. They’ve stopped child marriages, beaten up wife-beaters, and forced the police to register crimes against untouchables by slapping officers until they complied. They’ve also hijacked trucks of food that were going to be sold by corrupt officials.
The Black Panthers were similarly popular for publically defying the violent oppression meted out by police. By openly bearing arms, they were able to intimidate the police and others (like drug dealers) into reducing their abuses.
In talking about any attack on humans in the context of resistance, two questions must be asked. First, would the act further the strategy of the group? Second, is the act morally just (it’s assumed that the broader strategy aims to increase justice)?
Targets should be selected according to their destructivity, criticality, vulnerability, accessibility, and recuperability. One of the reasons the Earth Liberation Front has had limited decisive success is that its targets have had low criticality and high recuperability.”
Derrick Jensen answers the question “If we dismantle civilization, won’t that kill millions of people?” by saying that, first, “the global economy is already murdering humans and nonhumans in mass numbers the planet over.” Second, “both energy descent and biotic collapse will be more severe the longer the dominant culture continues to destroy the basis for life on Earth. It’s true that the urban poor would be worse off at first, because this culture has inserted itself between us and our self-sufficiency. But the more than a billion living in third world slums would be able to return to the countryside and reclaim land no longer controlled by governments.”
Jensen says that, being dependent on high-tech medicines, he himself would be one of the first victims of industrial collapse. But “the survival of the planet is more important than the life of any single human being. The sooner civilization comes down, the more life will remain afterward to support both humans and non-humans. We can provide for the well-being of those humans who will be alive during and immediately after energy and ecological descent by preparing people for a localized future. We can rip up asphalt in vacant parking lots to convert them to neighborhood gardens, teach people how to identify edible local plants, and start setting up neighborhood councils to make decisions, settle conflicts, and provide mutual aid.”
McBay says that “at this point in history, there are no good short-term outcomes for global human society. As a species we’re dependent on finite supplies of oil, soil, and water. Industrial agriculture (and annual grain agriculture before that) has put us into a vicious pattern of population growth and overshoot. Physically, it’s not too late for a crash program to limit births, cut fossil fuel consumption to nil, replace agricultural monocrops with perennial polycultures, end overfishing, and cease industrial encroachment on and destruction of remaining wild areas. There’s also no physical reason we couldn’t stop global warming, reverse aquifer drawdown, and bring back all the species and biomes currently on the brink. But socially and politically,” because of current power systems, “this is a pipe dream. We aren’t going to save the planet – or our own future as a species – without a fight.”
McBay illustrates our limited alternatives by in three possible scenarios: “one in which there is no substantive or decisive resistance, one in which there is limited resistance and a relatively prolonged collapse, and one in which all-out resistance leads to the immediate collapse of civilization and global industrial infrastructure.
If there is no substantive resistance,” he says, “there will be a few more years of business as usual, with increasing economic disruption and upset. According to the best available data, the impacts of peak oil will start to hit somewhere between 2011 and 2015, resulting in a rapid decline in global energy availability. This may happen slightly later if all-out attempts are made to extract remaining fossil fuels, but that will only prolong the inevitable, worsen global warming, and make the eventual decline steeper and more severe.
The energy slide will cause economic turmoil and contraction. Businesses will be unable to pay their workers, workers will be unable to buy things, and companies will go out of business. Homeowners and states will go bankrupt, and international trade will nosedive. Eventually, large-scale energy-intensive manufacturing and industrial agriculture will become not only uneconomical, but impossible.
There will be three main responses to the growing global food shortage. In some areas people will return to growing their own food and build sustainable local food initiatives. This will be made more difficult by the massive urbanization that’s occurred in the last century, by the destruction of the land, by climate change,” and lack of land ownership. “The lack of energy for industrial agriculture will cause a return to the institutions of slavery and serfdom, and widespread hunger and starvation will become endemic in many parts of the world.
Some governments will fall, turning into failed states; others will turn to authoritarian forms of government, using social control via autonomous drones for surveillance and assassination, microwave crowd-control devices, and MRI-assisted brain scans with infallible lie detection. There will also be corporate feudalism. Millions of refugees will be on the move, but no one will want them. Those in power will consider autonomous and self-sustaining communities a threat to their labor supply, and suppress or destroy them. The window of opportunity for resistance will close.
Global warming will become catastrophic and self-perpetuating, and ecological remediation through perennial polycultures and forest replanting will become impossible. Heat and drought will turn forests into net carbon emitters, as northern forests die from heat, pests, and disease, then burn in continent-wide fires.
If resource wars between nuclear states break out, a several-year-long nuclear winter will result, with massive and immediate starvation occurring around the world. Nuclear winter or not, the time for ecological recovery of the planet will be measured in tens of millions of years, if ever (it could become essentially uninhabitable for large plants and animals, with a climate like the one on Venus).
If there was a serious aboveground resistance movement, combined with a small group of underground networks working in tandem,” industrial collapse could be deliberately accelerated. “The years 2011-2015 would still see the impact of peak oil and the beginning of an economic tailspin, but surgical attacks on energy infrastructure would limit new fossil fuel extraction, cutting consumption by 30% in the first few years, and more after that. Similar attacks on energy infrastructure like power transmission lines would lead to a massive investment in local renewable energy and a process of political decentralization, as well as political repression and violence against the resisters.
There would be a growth in class-consciousness and organization, with labor and poverty activists increasingly turning to community self-sufficiency. The unemployed and underemployed – rapidly growing in number – would start to organize a subsistence and trade economy outside of capitalism, and mutual aid and skill sharing would be promoted. In the previous scenario, the development of these skills was hampered by a lack of access to land, but in this one aboveground organizers would learn from groups like the Brazilian Landless Workers Movements, occupying unused land for massive community gardens and cooperative subsistence farms.” Because of the earlier collapse, “there would be more intact land in the world per person, and more people who still knew how to do subsistence farming.
If those in power used resistance as an excuse to institute martial law or fascism, they’d be hampered by the resistance and by decentralization and the emergence of autonomous communities. In some countries, mass mobilizations would stop potential dictators. There would still be refugees flooding out of many areas, but networks of autonomous subsistence communities would be able to accept and integrate some of them.
The long-term impacts of the greenhouse effect would be uncertain” in this scenario, because it would take serious military resistance – insurgency and guerilla warfare – to “stop industrialists from turning tropical forests into plantations or extracting coal at any cost. But if a runaway greenhouse effect could be avoided, many areas would be able to recover rapidly, and a return to perennial polycultures, implemented by autonomous communities and others, could help reverse the greenhouse affect.”
McBay says that since overall resource consumption would be lower in this scenario, resource wars would be less likely to occur, lessening the chance of nuclear war. He qualifies his predictions by admitting the possibility that “the mobilization of large numbers of people to subsistence farming in a short time is unrealistic – this scenario could be less positive without serious and timely action.
In the last scenario, well-organized underground militants make coordinated attacks on energy infrastructure around the world. Unlike in the previous scenario, no attempt would be made to keep pace with aboveground activists – the attacks would be as persistent as the militants could manage. Fossil fuel energy availability would decline by 90%, and greenhouses gas emissions would plummet. Manufacturing and transportation would halt because of frequent blackouts and high prices for fossil fuels. Governments would institute martial law and rationing, but those taking an authoritarian route would be especially targeted by militant resisters. Governments and civil institutions could attempt a rapid shift to subsistence activities for their populations, but since militaries and the wealthy would try to monopolize all the remaining supplies of energy, widespread hunger could result. Though the human population would decline, things would look good for other species, and runaway global warming would be averted.”
McBay then goes into detail on the specifics of “Decisive Ecological Warfare,” concluding, “It’s clear from history that a small group of intelligent, dedicated, and daring people can be extremely effective, even if they only number one in 1,000, one in 10,000, or even one in 100,000.”
In a final chapter entitled “Our Best Hope,” Keith says that Deep Green Resistance includes ecological repair, such as turning the Great Plains back into grasslands for ruminants, as well as the “repair of human cultures, based on, in the words of Andrea Dworkin, ‘one absolute standard of human dignity.’”
In her eloquent conclusion, Keith asks, “Are you willing to set aside your last, fierce dream of that brave uprising, millions strong? The existence of those brave millions is the empty hope of the desperate, and they’re not coming to our rescue…Enough doesn’t mean just numbers. It means trained bodies, disciplined habits, dependable behavior, an unshakable moral core, courage, and an acceptance of the sacrifices that may lie ahead. Enough also means understanding the strategy we’re proposing…DGR isn’t secular millennialism. The revolution is not nigh, general chaos isn’t going to bring it on, and essentially symbolic attacks on people or property are of no strategic use. Put away your bricks and spray paint – they aren’t weapons for the serious. From this point forward, we aim to be effective.
And because our detractors will be determined to misunderstand: DGR is also not a call for an armed insurgency. It doesn’t include pitched battles, ever. Our goal is not to bring down the US or any government. The realm of broad and transformative political change is best left to aboveground groups working on scales from local to international. Such campaigns demand mass movements and, in all probability, nonviolent tactics, and there are examples from around the world to study.
DGR is a fight against a singular enemy: industrial civilization. This makes us different from every other struggle in history. It has some similarities with the original Luddites (news flash: they were right). It also has overlap with indigenous peoples trying to forestall extinction due to dams and mining. But those indigenous, mostly having to fight while rooted in place, can’t win in pitched battles against the might of armies in the service of capitalist profits. MEND offers a more successful model for DGR, using the flexibility and surprise that are the strengths of a guerilla strategy.
Our actionists aren’t trying to change consciousness or get press or a seat at the political table. They’re trying to stop the burning of fossil fuels and the industrial-scale destruction of the planet’s life-support systems. That’s the goal of DGR, and DEW is the strategy. This is the language of war, not petitions.
A tiny handful of factories make the monstrous equipment for mountaintop removal. Those sites could be shut down using civil disobedience, but unless you have a nonviolent army of thousands, all that you and your twenty friends will accomplish is a morning of symbolic action. Thinking like a resistance, however, you and your friends could” be effective.
Will they build back what we destroy? “A lot of it. And the resistance will bring it down again, because that’s what resistance movements do. Will someone get caught? Probably, but there are others ready to take their place. Will there be consequences and fallout that no one foresaw? Yes. DEW requires cadres, not just combatants – people who will research, study, and think. But in the end, all the planning in the world won’t save DGR actionists from the moral grief and adult sorrow that our responsibilities hold.
The faster we can make the industrially cushioned feel the urgency of what’s happening anyway, the more time they’ll have to prepare. It takes time to learn to grow food, to accumulate skills, and to build the required infrastructure. It takes even more skills and infrastructure to create a functioning democracy.
The first DGR strikes will be decisive, but the victory will be more like the slow search of roots through soil. From above, today looks no different than yesterday, but the roots don’t give up, and finally the fragile filaments find water. You’ll find water when the answer is yes, and more water when six yeses meet to draw a map of the possible, a list of the tasks, an arrow aimed at the heart of hell. That first arrow will be fletched with the feathers of passenger pigeons and great auks, and every flying thing will wish it home…People you will never meet darken the sky above Berlin, light up the night in Fort McMurray, kill computers in the Bombay Stock Exchange. The war is on…In a year 200 people have disappeared, taken by police or corporate goons…Then one morning the news is everywhere: in the night, three draglines in West Virginia were melted to scrap. ‘Leave our mountains, or you will die in them,’ says the communiqué. The Oil Brigade has left for Louisiana, committed to taking down the rigs. The dams on the Mississippi are attacked, one by one. Then a whole cell is caught in the Midwest, eight of them rounded up. Your network holds, because you built it to do that.
Aboveground, Big Eco has nothing good to say about you and your comrades, but under the surface people are talking, and the young want to join.
By the end of the second year, the grid is no longer dependable. The economy is stuttering, and the American public is ready to drink your blood. But somewhere a black tern is feeding her young, and in Burma and the Amazon a few elders still speak their native languages, dense with words for plants and rain and spirit. Just outside Boulder and Lincoln and Des Moines, there are bison again and a few brave acres of perennial grasses. The I-70 underpass into Lawrence is emblazoned ‘You are in Free Lawrence! Deep Green or die!’ A thin stream of repairers has made its way here, from Baltimore and Seattle and Oakland. The first ones teach the next how to plant, how to keyline for precious water while the grass takes root, how to keep a respectful eye on a bison heifer expecting her first calf. And they teach evolution, birth control, and democracy in their alternative school.
In year three, oil hits $200 a barrel. A little higher and the system will start to crash in on itself. Carbon is at 400 ppm and climbing…The people’s militias in rural Wisconsin and Maine set up firewood deliveries to the elderly in winter. Vermont votes for independence, and Cascadia starts talking. An amendment to the Constitution to strike corporate personhood is making its way through the states…Las Vegas goes dark…There’s no air conditioning in New York or Washington or Atlanta, and the summers are hotter than anything the planet has known. There are widening gaps on the supermarket shelves.
But urban chickens have eased the way for the return of goats and pigs. Lawns give way to browse, and people learn to calculate the carbon sequestration number – affectionately called ‘seek’ – of their small patches of perennials. The Transitioners write a new platform based on direct democracy, human rights, feminism, and a steady-state economy. Some run for local office; a few win. In Eugene and Madison and Pittsburgh, there are monumental efforts on behalf of civic literacy and participatory democracy. In Berkeley, corporations are declared illegal. There are Gulabi Gangs in Boston and Ithaca, then London, Amsterdam, and Mexico City. They send books and emergency contraception to girls’ schools in Pakistan and Sudan…
Your numbers keep rising, but so does the carbon. It’s a grim race to the end.
From here the story is uncertain – only you can finish it. Whatever work you are called to do, the world can wait no longer. Gather your heart and all its courage; fletch love into an arrow, and take aim.
Will you join me? The clock starts now, the moment you put down your book, and think as hard as you ever thought: who can I ask to join me? Pass that question not from mouth to ear, but from heart to heart. It will have to be whispered, but it can still blaze. Let it circle the globe till it comes back: will you join me?”
In the end, no one can predict for sure what’s going to happen on the human side of the equation, and the problems are so huge that any action or actions you’re inspired to take can’t help but be for the good.
My problem is that I want more certainty than is possible that the actions I take will have a positive result. I also tend to look on the dark side, so, while I’m inspired by the Indian woman holding a feather aloft in the middle of the road and Lierre Keith’s poetic conclusion to DGR, I’m pretty much in despair about all this. I know the antidote to that is action, which is why I write this blog. I’ve found it’s also important to express the anger under the sadness and depression. It may be politically (and/or spiritually) incorrect to direct that anger at actual people, but yelling in the shower or inside your car can clear you out to face the next day.
I’m not on the lookout for an underground cell I can join or enlisting in training as a saboteur, because I’m a cowardly old coot and would rather slit my throat than go to prison. I agree with the premises and conclusions of DGR, however, and will be thrilled to hear that its proposals are being even partially implemented.
I hope you’ll read these books – especially DGR – and let me (and others) know what you think about them.
I don’t know about you, but things are beginning to feel a bit apocalyptic for me, what with the US embarking on another major war – an obvious conflict of religious or semi-religious beliefs – in the Middle East, the Ebola epidemic in Africa threatening to affect a million people (recent New York Times article), conflict in Ukraine that could bring the US into a serious confrontation with Russia for the first time in a generation, and global warming (the “fire next time”?) poised to wipe out our species – and many others – if not dealt with in a revolutionary way within two years (This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein)…Arguments about how to feed the world’s billions in coming years (GMOs?) are also heating up, with many ignoring the greatest threat of famine: the upcoming lack of petroleum for fertilizers, pesticides, and fuel for tractors and shipping.
Our “way of life” in the so-called First World, encouraged by “business as usual” corporate capitalism, which rules the world politically, is killing us via environmentally-caused cancer and other diseases, resource wars, and the refusal to give up climate-changing fossil fuels until the last penny of profit is wrung from them by our financial and corporate rulers. What will we do? What can we do? Thousands all over the world marched on September 21st to demand that climate change finally be seriously addressed, but how many of the marchers realize that the current economic and political system of corporate control must be dismantled before that can happen? And how effective are demonstrations, voting, and letters to political representatives in forcing such a behemoth of a ship to turn course?
It’s all very daunting, taking me back to the heart of this blog, the reason I started it in the first place – as a way to deal with my fear, despair, and concern about the “world situation,” and as the best way for me personally to work for positive change. It’s when you feel most discouraged and overwhelmed that you have to call on your deepest spiritual resources and reach out to others. You need to rest, de-stress, and escape for hours at a time, and you need to keep working for what you know is right the best way you can. As someone said at the climate change rally in my hometown, we need to do what we know is right without any assurance that it will “work.”
Many of the national leaders involved in Sunday’s events believe that only a mass movement can create the impetus for the huge changes needed economically, politically, and culturally. I think they’re right, as is Naomi Klein, whose new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate, says flat out that capitalism is incompatible with Life with a capital “L,” as well as a lot of other things, like democracy.
The final horseman of the apocalypse is, after all, Death, and that’s the cliff our current system is headed toward (and the cliff it’s already gone over for many species, cultures, people, and other beautiful and irreplaceable natural creations). Our so-called way of life, our capitalist system, is a Death Machine, an infinitely greater terror than any Islamist fundamentalist group could ever be, as awful and frightening as they are. This means that, despite disagreements with Derrick Jensen, Arick McBay, and Lierre Keith’s Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet (2011), I have to accept the book’s major premise: that we need to do whatever is necessary, including sabotage and self-defensive violence, to save the Earth and ourselves, to preserve Life.
“The Earth is our Mother; we must take care of her,” folks sang at our small-town demonstration this past Sunday, and it’s true. She has always done Her best to take care of us…and without Her, we will die.
I hope you’ll join me and others in this effort, whatever form it takes…Listening to Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” is indispensable to me, as will be finishing Naomi Klein’s book (I hope you can buy or borrow a copy).
Ideas, comments, and just plain solidarity from you are welcome, as always. Thanks for “hearing” me and for caring. Please let me hear from you.