Fighting for sustainability and the redistribution of power
“Stop Further Climate Change and End Emissions Now!” Can we take climate change activism beyond utopian demands like these, into the realm of meaningful strategy? With direct action we can insert a radical angle into the global debate on how to deal with climate change. We can point out the false nature of different technological “fixes” for climate change. And we can run our own public media campaign to counteract the corporate media vacuum.
When mainstream scientists and policymakers try to synthesize the research into policy, they continue to favor the corporate status quo, asking: How little can industrialized society be changed while still avoiding “dangerous” climate change? What are “unacceptable mitigation costs?” What reduction in emissions can “realistically” be achieved? Considerations of ‘realistic’ change avoiding ‘dangerous’ consequences inherently involve value judgments about what life it’s okay to endanger.
As radicals, we can start our debate from the opposite point: What would have to happen to curtail emissions completely? Is it realistic to think of ending greenhouse gas emissions overnight? Not really, because people almost everywhere depend on the fossil fuel-fed global transportation system for food—from US suburbanites to Pacific Islanders relying on imported rice. But it is very feasible to make sustainability a key factor in all decisions, and inherent in sustainability is redistribution of power.
July 7 is the International day of action around Climate Change, as UK prime minister Tony Blair takes over the presidency of the G8— the group of eight wealthy countries that effectively controls the world’s economy— and says he’ll focus his presidency on Climate Change and Poverty. Ha!
Add to this the recent ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on February 16, 2005, which essentially corrupted sustainable development practices and the baby steps towards emissions reductions, thus furthering colonialism and fossil fuel extraction.
And you have so many hooks for fabulous climate change actions!
British direct action group Rising Tide is currently gearing up to tear massive holes in the corporate media scam otherwise known as the G8 summit; there’s lots of solidarity work we can do in the US. Tony Blair and the G8 will undoubtedly use the upcoming summit to take the moral high ground in a big beautiful media stunt—while continuing to grossly exacerbate climate change around the world.
Why put energy into actions targeting a fancy schmooze-fest where little ‘real’ work gets done, especially when it’s across the ocean? Most of the G8’s negotiations take place not at the high-profile summits, but at ministerial meetings scattered throughout the year. Similarly, the work we do to combat climate change in our everyday lives is invaluable—like educating people about their own contributions to immanent climate change (transportation accounts for 60% of California greenhouse gas emissions), working to shut down local corporate polluters like the East Bay’s ChevronTexaco, and having funny actions against public transit fare hikes. But it is crucial to meet the media stunts in Scotland July 7 with our own high-profile actions— because the climate change battle is largely being fought— and currently lost!— in the media.
The scientific understanding of climate change is improving daily, and only points to a more devastating future. But the corporate-government elite continues to excuse themselves from action by saying there’s no hard evidence— while actively funding ‘skeptical’ scientists and thinktanks that publish editorials denying climate change science. Here in the Bay Area, we have access to Oakland’s Independent Institute, a conservative thinktank which publishes the work of Dr. Fred Singer, a retired University of Virginia professor who has admitted receiving funding from Exxon, Shell, Unocal and Arco. He works closely with the American Petroleum Institute, which includes all major oil companies. Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project has also received funding from ExxonMobil.
Hard evidence? There was never any hard evidence of the need for the US to invade Iraq— but war and occupation is always more convenient than lowering consumption and switching to renewable energy sources. Killing civilians for oil and creating new ‘democratic’ market economies abroad is much more conducive to creating wealth than is curbing economic growth in the name of real sustainability. “The global war on terror had no cost-benefit analysis, no uncertainty analysis, no inquiry into the efficacy of the methods to pursue the ends. Uncertainty is a non-argument,” pointed out a scientist speaking to British activists preparing for the G8. “The science is clear in big picture terms. What to do in political terms is the great unknown, whether it’s from government-business, NGO, or grassroots activist perspectives.”
Policymakers are concerned with achieving certain limits on CO2 emissions within a certain time period, but it’s hard, from a radical perspective, to come up with a precise demand for emission cuts. Rising Tide advocates 90% cuts in industrial world greenhouse gas emissions—and in a nifty decentralized action suggested people reduce their public transit fares by 90% to highlight the connections between affordable public transit and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But this demand is based on 1990 recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
What should our demand be now that its 2005? Rising Tide came up with the 90% figure based on the ability of the earth to absorb X tons of carbon a year— an ability that is rapidly lessening as climate change and deforestation take their toll. As climate change continues, scientists predict that the world’s oceans— one of the main carbon sinks— will acidify, making them chemically unable to absorb CO2. Now that emissions are higher and the earth is able to absorb less carbon, what would the figure be— 98%? 99.9%? Scientists are standing by with models correlating the probablility of a certain rise in global temperature with specific ecosystem effects— but they say that their job is to respond to limits set by officials, not to suggest the limits themselves. Science, of course, is politically neutral!
What’s realistic, not from a status quo perspective, but from a historical perspective valuing all life? Do we demand that countries responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions— like the US— reduce our emissions more than currently developing countries? Rapidly developing countries like China and India are approaching the US in terms of emissions; this industrial growth leaves plenty of people at the bottom, like in the US. Equity and sustainability are key. In many parts of the industrialized world, we must learn to live with less, whereas poor people in many developing countries would clearly benefit from living with more than a bit more— which capitalism is not going to provide.
Scientists and policymakers like to think of addressing climate change with a “portfolio” of technological fixes, many of which are not at all sustainable. For example, nuclear power is frequently mentioned as an attractive power alternative for both the industrialized and the developing world! Nuclear reactors themselves don’t emit CO2—but many parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, like uranium mining, processing, enrichment, dealing with the waste, and transportation, are highly carbon-intensive. Not to mention that other pesky potential ecological disaster: radioactive waste!
Many of these technological fixes are institutionalized in the Kyoto Protocol, ratified by 141 countries around the world, not including the US. For example, the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allows industrial countries and corporations to generate carbon credits by investing in carbon sink projects in developing countries. CDM projects, like large-scale monoculture tree plantations, large dams, and nuclear power plants, are in effect another form of colonialism under the mask of sustainable development as they take up land being used locally and transfer the benefits to rich industrial countries.
As scientists play with models predicting the consequences of different emissions targets, as policymakers pretend that there is no evidence demanding immediate action, and as the general public bumbles along watching mainstream news covering terrorist threats and interrupted by SUV commercials—we must intervene! With our climate change activism we must do the work here in the US that the media is not doing: inform the public that climate change is a real threat requiring immediate action, highlighting the voices of people already affected by extreme weather and climate chaos—and largely, by centuries of colonialism. We must make it extremely inconvenient for US policymakers and corporations to deny and ignore the growing scientific understanding of climate change.
Direct action against climate change must happen in the streets at rush hour; in public transit offices as they raise fares and cut services to poor areas; at conservative thinktanks when they editorialize that climate change is anti-american; at the homes of oil and coal company CEO’s as they authorize more fossil fuel extraction. We must challenge the notion of the “summer driving season,” and disrupt the feel-good art exhibits and symphonies sponsored by oil companies.
“The end of our current social system… is on the cards,” note activists preparing for July 7. “It can either be a voluntary transformation, or we can burn all the oil and have such a transformation imposed by nature. It’s a stark, yet simple choice.”