Now this is what I’m talking about — the youngest among us speaking truth to power. I loved this article, and this action. Blessings on all of these wise young people, fighting for their future.
Now this is what I’m talking about — the youngest among us speaking truth to power. I loved this article, and this action. Blessings on all of these wise young people, fighting for their future.
Everything that is already hard is going to get harder. Ecological zones will be reshuffled. With many species already in danger of extinction and conservation efforts focused on preserving habitat, lots of that hard-won habitat is going to be irrelevant—too warm, too dry, too something—as suitable habitat shifts faster than species can travel. Fisheries, already stressed by pollution and over-harvesting, will now confront warming and acidification. Droughts and food shocks may intensify political and military conflict: more resource wars, more grain-price revolutions.
Being poor, in particular, gets worse as climate changes. Nature has always been hardest on the poor, because infrastructure, transport, medicine, and the rest of our capital-intensive technologies are the key ways we tame her violence. To be poor—for an individual, and even more for a country—is to be vulnerable to the whims of the natural world. Recall the very worst of Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the poorest parts of New Orleans in 2005 and then project those onto Bangladesh, a country of 155 million—almost half as large as the population of the US.
There’s lots of uncertainty about details—as the Report itself painstakingly documents; but most people not in denial have known the broad outlines of this picture for well over a decade. It was 1989—when the Berlin Wall came down—writer Bill McKibben was already announcing “the end of nature” in the era of climate change. But with every IPCC report, the optimistic scenario, where “the world” slashes greenhouse gases and stabilizes climate change, feels more like a weak deus ex machina. Meanwhile, the drastic scenario—where everything accelerates, the Greenland ice cap melts sometime in the next century, sea levels rise 20 feet or more in our grandchildren’s lifetimes, and the Gulf Stream and the Amazonian forests both consider giving up the ghost—that scenario feels more and more like a weather forecast: unseasonably warm this weekend with a growing chance of apocalypse by Sunday evening.
But “apocalypse” is probably exactly wrong, even though floods, droughts, and storms are just the kind of thing that one might expect would presage an apocalypse. Instead, living in a climate-changed world is becoming a post-normal normal, a chronic crisis.
The IPCC Report reflects this, spending four chapters on “adaptation” to climate change. Already, commentators are celebrating the move to adaptation as a win for gritty practicality over empty idealism, local and private efforts over “grand international declarations.” Of course it’s true that we need adaptation, especially for the poor regions that are the most vulnerable and can’t wait while the waters rise. But pretending that giving up on big climate action means a victory is nothing but rationalizing defeat.
This passivity is tempting because political action has done so little and doesn’t seem likely to do much about climate, and doesn’t exactly look poised to do more that is more than symbolic. Because climate change is distributed around the world and has a very long lag time, whatever we do about it here and now mostly helps faraway and future people. So it’s very tempting to come up with excuses for doing nothing, or just enough to feel righteous about what you’ve done.
Sure enough, in international negotiations, the U.S. has long refused to do anything meaningful until China and India “did their share,” while those countries answered that the U.S. had added more than its share to the problem and needed to lead in paying for the solution. At all scales, down to the nation and even the individual, the same puffed-up hemming and hawing works out nicely for the living—who enjoy our energy-intensive lives now—and badly for the future.
Ordinary politics, with its self-interested deal-making just barely hidden under high talk, is a lousy tool for global problems that play out over centuries and would require the living generation to do something costly and inconvenient. And there is not much that is more costly and inconvenient than retooling your infrastructure, from energy to transport to manufacturing, when that infrastructure is where we all live.
That leaves us with, basically, two ways out. One is extraordinary technology: either a silver bullet to produce cheap, renewable energy, or a reliable geo-engineering technique to adjust the global atmosphere-temperature-weather system directly. Either might happen—the first likely will, maybe too late to prevent permanent crisis; but waiting on clean energy is a very big risk, and geo-engineering brings huge risks of its own, from getting only half the problem to ending up making the system even more unstable. The “simplest” geo-engineering proposal is to bounce a bunch of earth-warming sunlight back into space by launching mirrors or particles into the upper atmosphere; but (1) it’s a half-measure, since the oceans would continue acidifying, stressing and maybe destroying many marine life forms and disrupting other global processes; and (2) if anything ever happened to the mirrors, sunlight would pour in and our carbon-enriched atmosphere would start to warm up like an oven.
The other way out is extraordinary politics: politics that goes beyond the usual interest-swapping and sets new commitments for the country and the world. This, admittedly, is a desperate measure. It is the last thing you want to rely on—other than, possibly, launching mirrors into space to adjust the planet’s atmosphere. These, however, are desperate times, at least where the global climate is concerned.
One reason for hopefulness, even for measured optimism, is something our hyper-knowing, reflexively cynical political culture trains us to forget: extraordinary politics is a real thing, not just an idle wish.
Consider the end of slavery—not in the U.S., but in the British Empire, which abolished the practice thirty years before the Emancipation Proclamation, by an act of Parliament, with compensation to slaveholders. The economic cost was huge. For decades, historians assumed it must have been a subterfuge for someone’s economic benefit—otherwise, how would such a thing be possible? But the historians’ view these days is that British emancipation was, in fact, a wildly expensive and disruptive moral commitment, executed through extraordinary politics. The powerful thing about this example is its scale: the global economy of the British Empire was nearly as entwined with slavery as ours is with the fossil-fuel economy. The change wasn’t just costly: it pulled some institutions up by their roots. If that never happened, we’d really be out of reasons for hope on climate change. But sometimes it does.
We should learn to look at climate change simultaneously through two very different lenses. Keep one eye on the scientists’ reports, with their steady accumulation of reasons to worry, and the Silicon Valley technologists’ innovations, with their promise of landing on an extraordinary technology. But cast the other on the activist kids who don’t know enough to realize they can’t win—the ones getting arrested outside the White House to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and pressing universities and pension funds to divest from fossil fuels, as if Exxon were R.J. Reynolds, or Apartheid South Africa. And don’t forget the people who are experimenting with low-carbon living in their “transition town” projects, trying to recast energy sources and other infrastructure in a less carbon-intensive form.
It’s easy—ridiculously easy—to show that the activists shouldn’t expect to win, and that whatever they did succeed in doing wouldn’t be enough to stop this massive global problem. But that is true at the beginning of every episode of extraordinary politics. That why histories of abolition, the civil rights movement, even environmentalism, don’t begin with people who are powerful, realistic, or even normal. They begin with people who don’t know better, and who find the world they are born into intolerable.
That is key, because if we end up tolerating a climate-changed world as the new normal, then it probably will last forever—or as long as anyone is around to care about it.
Our current normal is built out of principles that used to be considered impossible—gender equality, racial equality, democracy—and became common sense long after some people were too unrealistic to give up on them. Once they win, these principles get absorbed into common sense—and, of course, get betrayed left and right, like any civic piety. But a world where they are elements of common sense is still vastly different from one where most people accept that they are impossible.
We sort of know this about human freedom and equality, even if we tend to forget it in practice. But environmental issues tend to get cast as technical problems for scientists and bureaucrats, or as hopelessly politically divided between liberal greens and conservative climate-skeptics. But that is only half the picture. Historically, environmental attitudes have changed almost as dramatically as attitudes around gender and sexuality: Americans used to hate wilderness, love to see a forest burn, and wage war on wolves and other large predators. Even more basically, they had no conception of the global web of life that we call ecology, or just “the environment,.” A series of political movements and cultural revolutions changed this, beginning as far back as the nineteenth century. Today’s climate activists are aiming at the same kind of change: to help see, and feel, a disrupted and dangerous world as their problem, their responsibility, something they love enough not to give up on it.
So the age of climate change doesn’t just need climate scientists, or even technologists, and adaptation engineers. They are essential, but if we just rely on them, we’re likely to drift further into passivity and pessimism. We also need, in incremental and experimental ways, to keep building up a real politics of climate change. That politics will be both environmentalist and human-oriented, because there’s no separating the two in the age of climate change. It will have to ask how the peoples of the world are going to live together and share its benefits and dangers, and also how we are going to use, preserve, and transform the world itself. Braiding together human rights and distributive justice with environmental ethics and the human relation to the natural world isn’t just a nice-sounding, if daunting idea. It’s quite simply the only way forward.
Any answers that we succeed in giving these questions will transform us as earlier extraordinary politics changed people: those who ask the question are no longer the same once they givereach an answer. That transformation, to a culture and economy that could change the trajectory of climate change, is exactly what seems impossible now. And that is why everyone should be paying respectful attention to the activists who refuse to believe in impossibility, and even more to the parts of ourselves that refuse to believe it, too. This isn’t idealism. It’s a higher realism, and should be scheming a little impossibility of our own.
I don’t go to a lot of demonstrations these days. I’ve got plenty of good excuses – too busy, too much work, too many family demands. And the most nagging – they don’t work. But I am up at night worrying about fracking, cause 3:00 a.m. seems to be my time to worry about water. Fracking seems to be to be so psychotic, so off the charts flat out DUMB and suicidal and I just want it to stop. So when a bunch of organizations pulled together a Don’t Frack California demonstration in Sacramento, I decided to take my whole family there. Because it’s a good thing to do. Because my daughter should know about resistance culture. Because you never know. Because sometimes it’s important to stand up and be counted. Even if it doesn’t “work.”
In the end, my daughter conveniently caught a cold and her dad stayed home with her, and I went with two friends who share my concerns and commitments about the environment. We were glad we managed to extricate ourselves from our family lives and show up. The whole thing gave me a good opportunity to explain to my daughter how you can go to a demonstration and not get arrested, and what you can do if you want to get arrested. I said, “Well, you just sit down when they tell you to move.” And she said, “That’s all it takes, to get arrested?” And I said, “Sometimes that’s all it takes.”
I sat down a lot at the demo, under the beautiful trees in front of the Sacramento Capitol building, but no one arrested me or anyone else, so far as I could tell. I listened to the speeches, and read the signs and posters. I got a t-shirt for my partner that said “Those who have the privilege to know have the responsibility to act,” because we’d been talking about privilege a lot and what it demanded of us. He hasn’t worn it yet because he thought the tag line of “to know” was a bit arrogant, but I think that’s just him avoiding the truth – he does know, he must act.
I don’t know what the demo “did” for the anti-fracking movement except bring people together and energize us to imagine our collective resistance can make a difference. There is a pending piece of legislation in Sacramento now that would put an anti-fracking moratorium in place. Perhaps showing up in this peaceful way helps our politicians do the right thing. It’s the sorry best we can hope for. Democrats control both houses in California, which makes the passage of this amendment more possible, but let’s face it; Democrats are no guarantee of environmental protection. Look at Jerry Brown. And Barack Obama. And etc.
Still, heading to Sacramento to stand and be counted felt meaningful, and is something I would do again. I’d even drag my daughter there next time, cold and all.
Here are some photos from the event: http://www.flickr.com/photos/120397232@N02/13180229555/in/photostream/
Fracking’s a fantastic risk to the water supply in communities everywhere. Hook into your own local anti-fracking movement and work to protect the waters.
Sometimes when I find myself thinking about climate change all the time, and the many things we can all do to mitigate disaster, and I see how small my actions are and how the major power players–corporations, governments, and the mass of most people–are just going on with business as usual, I feel insane. I am always searching for ways to motivate, rather than terrify, and this was a big issue when I wrote the book. It was clear to me that hitting people over the head with facts and dire predictions would do to them what it did to me–freak them out and make it impossible to take action.
And yet, the time for action is way past NOW. We have to figure out how to inspire and lead individuals, families, communities, regions, etc… toward a more ecologically possible future.
This article written by Susan Strong of the Metaphor Project, www.metaphorproject.org, was really inspiring and motivating in this regard and I reprint it here in full.
Framing Climate Change Action Now
by Susan C. Strong
There is evidence that a number of American citizens know we have a climate change problem. But many of them experience it as something we can’t fix technically, socially or politically. So they ignore it to keep going day by day. Among the already convinced, that’s where the issue is stuck. But we also have fellow citizens who haven’t heard or thought much about the issue, and of course, we’ve got the fossil fuel gang still funding denial. Recent research shows that the public is primarily focused on jobs, the economy, and D.C. gridlock instead.
So, to make any headway on this issue, we will have to get a lot smarter about framing climate change problems and their solutions. For too long climate change activists and professionals have been talking to each other and to the sympathetic. It’s time to get serious about framing the issue in a way that reaches mainstream America.
Let’s start with educating the convinced about possible fixes. Years of research have shown that trying to motivate people on this issue by scaring them fails. Up-to-date framing research proves that people respond better to a “prevent damage” message than to an “avoid risk” one.(2) So, the real focus of our framing on this issue should be action to prevent more damage to our economy: who can do what, who is doing what, what is working now.(3) Americans are pragmatic, action-oriented optimists. We need to pose the climate change problem as a challenge we can all meet.
Along these lines, some language picks I’d make from the Metaphor Project’s “American Story” lists include these: being prosperous, saving money, being clean, safe, and healthy, being free, and doing it ourselves. Big political change in this country always starts with the grassroots. That bottom-up path calls on our most prized national traits –doing things in our own communities, being part of a grassroots groundswell, being innovative, pragmatic, showing can-do, rolling-up-our sleeves, helping to reinvent a new, healthier economy from the ground up. “
So much for educating the convinced about solutions. What about convincing more of our fellow citizens that the problem is real? First, we need to bear in mind the fact that most Americans are primarily extroverted sensing types—they require proof about the reality of a problem from their five senses. Climate change is a bit like cancer—it’s silent, and it’s been happening somewhere else. The warning signs are easy to miss for the average American. So be understanding of anyone who honestly seems to be unaware or incredulous. Start by talking about how much we all want a prosperous new economy. Then describe climate change as the “growing climate crisis that threatens our economy and our way of life,” because for some it may not seem like a full-fledged “crisis” yet. When we get to the moment for going into detail, we need to use stories about what’s already been happening to other Americans lately: increasing drought, mega-storms, floods, fire storms beyond anything we’ve seen before, rising sea levels, bad changes in local weather patterns and their costs. Once you get people’s ear this way, you can quickly move on to talking about suggestions for positive action. (If you encounter a Fox News denial fan, just laugh, and say, “Oh, you’ve been watching Fox News!” and then walk away laughing. Don’t stay to argue. Especially don’t argue about what the majority of scientists say. Don’t waste your energy on hardcore deniers.)
If you need to give a cause for the climate change problem, describe it as the result of too much carbon getting into our air. (To learn more about natural ways to get carbon back where it belongs in plants and in the soil, see Note 4.) Pollution is something everyone knows is dirty and bad for your health And please avoid talking about “greenhouse gases.” To the general public, greenhouses are good things that help you grow more food! (It would be nice if even the experts stopped saying “greenhouse gases” to each other too. That unfortunate metaphor inevitably slips out in public and harms the cause of reform. I like “hothouse gases” better, because it sounds more like the real thing and nasty too. Also please avoid using any evidence that relies on pictures of or references to the fate of the “environment,” or of other species of all kinds such as polar bears, penguins, etc. Avoid talking about polar and glacier melts, using charts or graphs, and talking about CO2!” Everyone who can be convinced by the means I’m criticizing here is already on board.
Now it’s time to consider our third task, which is actually quite separate from the two previous ones above. As Bill McKibben and others have pointed out, we do have to hold the carbon crooks and climate crisis deniers up for public shaming. But even when your project is shaming the fossil fuel gang, it’s vital to start and conclude with a positive vision of the clean energy world and prosperous economy we could have instead. In between these two positive notes there are a number of classic American negatives you can sound: the deniers are “telling lies and betraying the public trust.” They are on the take, they are stealing subsidy money from the taxpayers, they are sabotaging our clean energy future, they are blocking progress, they are holding our country and our economy back or hostage, and they are profiting from damaging our health, our economy, and our country. Their CEOs are blocking the dawn of a new energy age, they are criminal cons, they have gone too far, they are corrupt, and as for their ‘wait and see” strategy—do you wait until your house burns down to buy insurance? They are costing us too much. You can also warn people that everyone will soon be selling their fossil fuel stocks and moving their money into alternative energy investments, because “the carbon bubble is going to burst.” (For more about this “divestment” strategy, see www.350.org.)
So much for going negative. Always, whatever our messages or audiences might be, we must always start and end by returning to the positive: “We can do it, it will be good for us, it will prevent new damage, it will save and make money and jobs, save our health, our economy, our communities. We can improve our economy by meeting the climate change challenge!“
Let’s put powerful new American Story energy into all of our campaigns now and get the massive liftoff we so desperately need!
Susan C. Strong, Ph.D., is the Founder and Executive Director of The Metaphor Project, http://www.metaphorproject.org, and author of our new book, Move Our Message: How to Get America’s Ear. The Metaphor Project has been helping progressives mainstream their messages since 1997.
1.This fact has recently been noted in “U.S. Energy Policy: A Bridge to Nowhere,” by Bob Burnett, on Huffington Post: http://huff.to/1dxyhwA.
2. The following links provide details about the new research on framing climate change action: http://climateshiftproject.org/winning-the-conversation-framing-and-moral-messaging-in-environmental-campaigns/; http://talkingclimate.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Language-Words-and-Phrases.pdf; http://valuesandframes.org/blue-valuing-green/;
4. Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth, by Judith D. Schwartz, (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013.)
This would make Derrick Jensen breathe a sigh of relief, if that’s something Derrick Jensen ever does.
An awesome piece by Naomi Klein – “How Science is telling us all to Revolt” in the current issue of the New Statesman. This issue was edited by revolutionary comedian Russell Brand.
Basic premise: the only way to stop the insane spiral of capitalism which is destroying the planet is to get down to some serious resistance and lay our bodies on the line. Nothing else slows the pace of destruction down fast enough to make a difference for human beings and planet earth.
In the face of climate change and disruptions to the environment due to corporate predation, what’s a girl to do?
I recently read a great article about governance during the “long emergency”. It addresses questions of true participatory democracy, and how we might conduct ourselves in a civic way in the presence of ongoing resource shortages, economic hardship, corporate predation, et al. While not filled with simple solutions, it does clearly point in the direction of urban homesteading, and other DIY community-based solutions as one route forward.
to wit.. “Toward the end of his life, historian Lewis Mumford concluded that the only way out of [our current] conundrum is “a steady withdrawal” from the “megamachine” of technocratic and corporate control. [i.e. Urban Homesteading, and other DIY and Do It Together strategies.] He did not mean community-scale isolation and autarky, but rather more equitable, decentralized, and self-reliant communities that met a significant portion of their needs for food, energy, shelter, waste cycling, and economic support. He did not propose secession from the national and global community but rather withdrawal from dependence on the forces of oligarchy, technological domination, and zombie-like consumption. Half a century later, that remains the most likely strategy for building the foundations of democracies robust enough to see us through the tribulations ahead.
“In other words, the alternative to a futile and probably bloody attempt to forcibly redistribute wealth is to spread the ownership of economic assets throughout society. …We know that revitalization of local economies through worker-owned businesses, local investment, and greater local self-reliance is smart economics, wise social policy, smart environmental management, and a solid foundation for both democracy and national resilience.
“Simultaneously, and without much public notice, there have been dramatic advances in ecological design, biomimicry, distributed renewable energy, efficiency, ecological engineering, transportation infrastructure, permaculture, and natural systems agriculture. [THAT'S US, you guys.] Applied systematically at community, city, and regional scales, ecological design opens genuine possibilities for greater local control over energy, food, shelter, money, water, transportation, and waste cycling. (See Box 26–2.) It is the most likely basis for revitalizing local economies powered by home-grown efficiency and locally accessible renewable energy while eliminating pollution, improving resilience, and spreading wealth. The upshot at a national level is to reduce the need for government regulation, which pleases conservatives, while improving quality of life, which appeals to liberals. Fifty years ago, Mumford’s suggestion seemed unlikely. But in the years since, local self-reliance, Transition Towns, and regional policy initiatives are leading progressive changes throughout Europe and the United States while central governments have been rendered ineffective.
“One example of this approach comes from Oberlin, a small city of about 10,000 people with a poverty level of 25 percent in the center of the U.S. “Rust Belt.” It is situated in a once-prosperous industrial region sacrificed to political expediency and bad economic policy, not too far from Cleveland and Detroit. But things here are beginning to change. In 2009, Oberlin College and the city launched the Oberlin Project. It has five goals: build a sustainable economy, become climate-positive, restore a robust local farm economy supplying up to 70 percent of the city’s food, educate at all levels for sustainability, and help catalyze similar efforts across the United States at larger scales. The community is organized into seven teams, focused on economic development, education, law and policy, energy, community engagement, food and agriculture, and data analysis. The project aims for “full-spectrum sustainability,” in which each of the parts supports the resilience and prosperity of the whole community in a way that is catalytic—shifting the default setting of the city, the community, and the college to a collaborative postcheap-fossil-fuel model of resilient sustainability.
The Oberlin Project is one of a growing number of examples of integrated or full-spectrum sustainability worldwide, including the Mondragón Cooperative in Spain, the Transition Towns movement, and the Evergreen Project in Cleveland. In different ways, each is aiming to transform complex systems called cities and city-regions into sustainable, locally generated centers of prosperity, powered by efficiency and renewable energy. Each is aiming to create opportunities for good work and higher levels of worker ownership of renewably powered enterprises organized around necessities. The upshot is a global movement toward communities with the capacity to withstand outside disturbances while preserving core values and functions. In practical terms, resilience means redundancy of major functions, appropriate scale, firebreaks between critical systems, fairness, and societies that are “robust to error,” technological accidents, malice, and climate destabilization. In short, it is human systems designed in much the way that nature designs ecologies: from the bottom up.
Check out the full article. Interesting.
A dear friend of mine just wrote a spontaneous meditation on time entitled “A Curious Loss of Time”, which is all about how life is speeding up, how we are run by a linear, clockwork kind of time which colonizes our minds and our bodies and makes us inward slaves to an outward illusory master. It’s been a provocative read which, quite honestly, I haven’t had the time to finish…
So when the alarm clock rang this morning at 6:30 (which was really 5:30 because of the dastardly invention called “Daylight Savings Time”) I cursed, and rolled over for a good long time before I managed to pull myself out of bed to make my daughter’s lunch and breakfast.
The morning was cool and grey with fog overhead – a beautiful relief from the early heat we are experiencing here in the butt end of a nearly non-existant northern California winter. And I was thinking about time today as I planted 12 lettuce plants, 6 tatsoi, 10 dino kale, 27 beets, 15 broccoli, 12 cabbage, 8 cauliflower, some spinach seeds, and watered the pea and beet seeds I had scattered the other day. I was thinking about time as I did some weeding and fed the greens to the chickens, and also gathered up some errant snails that were hiding under leave and fed those to the chickens too.
People ask me all the time how much time it takes to be an urban homesteader. They say, “Who’s got the time?” They say: “I don’t have the time.” They feel judged because they don’t make the time to grow more food, or save more water or energy, or do any of these more “time-intensive” “less convenient” tasks which are part of the homesteading lifestyle.
I admit I have been challenged by the question because I’m not in this to guilt trip people, but I have found it so essential to my own sanity and way of living to take on these tasks, to find the time, and so I have thought a lot about the question. I don’t work a 40-50 hour job away from home – I am lucky in lots of ways, and that is one of them – so I do have, quantatively and objectively, “more time” than many people I know.
But all in all, I spent about 2 hours in two different gardens, planting this early spring bounty. I spent about 35 minutes a few weeks ago moving some compost from the compost pile onto these beds to prepare them for these plants. And I’ve spent little tiny dribs and drabs of time all winter dumping kitchen scraps into the compost bin to let them turn into dirt. It doesn’t feel like it takes much time for me to get these beds ready for spring planting. The time I took today, turning over the soil, separating the starts, planting them in small holes alongside their own little drip irrigation spout will eventually yield my family many meals of salad, beets, broccoli, caultiflower, eventually some sauerkraut. The total cost for all the plants I put in today was about $30.00, and some of those plants were gifted to the woman who loans me her backyard for one of my gardens. The cost of the food that I will eventually harvest will far exceed $30, probably at least by a factor of two. If we count my time at the exorbitant rate of say $100/hour, a fee I dream of but rarely ever get, the total “cost” of my time today is about $200. If we charge about $35/hour, which is more like it, we’re well under $100 of time and money to make this happen.
I’ve just made that connection between time and money that is one of the pernicious problems with time, and money, in our culture. But I am just trying to parse the value of my time, and come up with an answer to the question: Who has the time? It seems I do, and I venture to bet that you do too – 2-ish hours sometime during the first weeks of spring to plant the first garden of the year? That just doesn’t seem so much, on any kind of time scale, to me.
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