There is no choice but to escalate today’s campaigns against global fossil fuel infrastructure.
Lilliputian defenders of the earth’s climate have been winning some unlikely battles lately.
The Standing Rock Sioux, supported by nearly two hundred Native American tribes and a lot of other people around the globe, have put a halt, at least for now, to completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project that threatens their sacred burial sites and the water supply for 17 million people—not to mention the world’s climate.
Before that a seven-year struggle terminated the Keystone XL pipeline. Other fossil fuel extraction, transport, and burning facilities have been halted by actions around the world.
But as Bill McKibben has said, “Fighting one pipeline at a time, the industry will eventually prevail.”
Is there a plausible strategy for escalating today’s campaigns against fossil fuel infrastructure to create an effective challenge to the escalating climate threat?
How can we get the power we need to counter climate catastrophe?
My book Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival (download) grapples with that question and proposes a possible strategy: a global nonviolent constitutional insurgency. Now that strategy is being tried – and may even be overcoming some of the obstacles that have foiled climate protection heretofore.
Why climate protection has failed
Climate change poses an existential threat to every one of us, to our species, and to all that any of us hold dear.
Yet, for a quarter-century governmental efforts to cut greenhouse gases (GHGs) to a climate-safe level have failed. Notwithstanding international conferences, legislation, and government action, there are more GHGs in the atmosphere, more current emissions, and more plans to extract, transport, and burn even more fossil fuel.
Late in 2015, 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement acknowledging their individual and collective duty to protect the earth’s climate – and willfully refused to perform that duty.
They unanimously agreed to the goal of keeping global warming “well below 2 degrees Celsius” and to pursue efforts “to limit the increase in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
” But they did not agree to a single legally binding requirement about how, or how much, they would cut emissions.
They signed, on our behalf, a suicide pact.
In response to the failures of the official climate protection charade, an independent climate protection movement has emerged.
This movement is not controlled by any national or special interest.
It has broken out of the constraints of lobbying and demonstrating within a legal framework set by governments by instead adopting civil disobedience as an important and legitimate part of its strategy.
It has challenged the governments that permit climate destruction, the fossil fuel–producing and –consuming industries that conduct it, and the corporations and other institutions around the world that collude with it.
The Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline victories are tributes to its efforts.
Yet in spite of its growth and commitment, this movement’s ability to sharply reduce GHG emissions and establish climate-safe levels of carbon in the atmosphere has so far proven minuscule.
To develop an effective strategy to overcome these failures we need to start from a realistic assessment of the forces that perpetuate climate destruction.
The political systems of the most powerful countries are dominated by fossil fuel interests that want to go on emitting GHGs.
They are supported by institutions, corporations, and constituencies that fear the consequences of a transition to a fossil free world. Many national governments suffer a “democracy deficit” that often makes conventional electoral politics and lobbying appear fruitless for any but the rich and powerful. National governments fear global climate protection may interfere with their pursuit of wealth and power.
The dynamics of capitalism make climate protection policies appear a threat to prosperity.
The world’s dominant economic ideology, all-power-to-the-market neoliberalism, condemns anything that might interfere with the pursuit of private profit. And the institutions that supposedly represent the world’s people, most notably the United Nations, are in fact dominated by national governments and those who control them.
In short, those who would challenge the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold on public policy are systematically disempowered at every level from local to global.
A nonviolent insurgency
To develop the power to protect the climate, Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival proposes a global non-violent constitutional insurgency. An insurgency is a movement that rejects current rulers’ claim to legitimate authority. Armed insurgencies are a familiar staple of global politics.
A non-violent insurgency, like an armed insurgency, refuses to accept the limits on its action imposed by the powers that be.
Unlike an armed insurgency, it eschews violence and instead expresses power by mobilizing people for mass nonviolent direct action.
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