Monday, September 23, 2019

Has It Come to This? Must We Revolt?

It's Climate Week. Today the world leaders are supposed to gather at the UN to turn in their homework - concrete plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions. Not targets, not aspirational mumbo-jumbo. Plans.

Of course the North American bad boys won't be turning up. Trudeau is busy campaigning. Trump has chosen to host a religious freedom conference, anything to avoid having to utter the dreaded words "climate change." Climate Week may be a week of mourning.

It's Monday morning. What's Chris Hedges on about this week? Oh, it's a call for the overthrow of the ruling class.
The ruling elites and the corporations they serve are the principal obstacles to change. They cannot be reformed. And this means revolution, which is what Extinction Rebellion seeks in calling for an “international rebellion” on Oct. 7, when it will attempt to shut down city centers around the globe in acts of sustained, mass civil disobedience. Power has to be transferred into our hands. And since the elites won’t give up power willingly, we will have to take it through nonviolent action. 
Protests can be the beginning of political consciousness. But they can also be empty political theater. They can be used to celebrate our moral probity—advertisements, especially in the age of social media, for ourselves. They can be a boutique activism in which protesters allow themselves to be funneled through police barricades and arrests are politely choreographed, resulting in a few hours in jail and the credentialing of the demonstrators as radicals. They can be used to distance ourselves from a repugnant political figure such as Donald Trump, while leaving us silent and complicit when the same policies are carried out by a supposed progressive such as Barack Obama. This is a game the state has learned to play to its advantage. As long as we do not disrupt the machine, as long as we protest according to their rules, the elites will let us march through the streets of Washington in pussy hats or walk out of school for a day.
Are Liberals and Conservatives like Democrats and Republicans?
Democrats, like Republicans, serve corporate power. They will not end government subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and the extraction industries. They will not impose carbon taxes to keep fossil fuels in the ground. They will not limit overconsumption. The technologies they invest in—fracking, hybrid cars, genetically modified food—are designed to maintain or expand consumption levels, not reduce them. They will not redirect the trillions of dollars and scientific and technical expertise from the military and corporations toward saving us from environmental catastrophe. The rhetoric and gimmicks they use to placate the public, from carbon credits to wind turbines and solar panels, are, as the scientist James Lovelock says, the equivalent of 18th-century doctors attempting to cure serious diseases with leeches and mercury.
The Damage We've Done
...Those living in the global south are already suffering and dying from the effects of global warming, for which the wealthy industrialized nations of the global north bear most of the responsibility. The richest 0.54%, or 42 million people across the world, are responsible for more emissions than the poorest half of the global population, or 3.8 billion people. These elites are sacrificing the poorest on the planet first as they work up the social and economic hierarchy to extinguish us all. 
We have to let go of our relentless positivism, our absurd mania for hope, our naive belief that with grit and determination we can solve all problems. We have to face the bleakness before us. We live in a world already heavily damaged by global warming, which will inevitably get worse. Refusal to participate in the further destruction of the planet means a rupture with traditional politics. It means noncooperation with authority. It means defying in every nonviolent way possible consumer capitalism, militarism and imperialism. It means adjusting our lifestyle, including becoming vegans, to thwart the forces bent upon our annihilation. And it means waves of sustained civil disobedience until the machine is broken.
...The mathematical models for the future of the planet have three devastating trajectories: a massive die-off of perhaps 70 percent of the human population and then an uneasy stabilization; extinction of humans and most other species; an immediate and radical reconfiguration of human society to protect the biosphere and make it more diverse and productive. ...We know what we have to do if our children are to have a future. The only question left is how do we empower leaders who will save us.
As I read Hedges' piece I kept thinking 'if only.' My differences with Hedges are a matter of degrees. The wishful thinkers obstruct action with their 'oh, they'll think of something' notions. As for the neoliberals - including the likes of our prime minister and his finance minister - you can't count on anyone who still pursues perpetual exponential growth. Those aren't your kids' friends. They're not your grandkids' friends. Protecting the biosphere is not their priority. For them, growing the petro-economy is a greater priority.


Lorne said...

In my darker moments (and I have many of them), Mound, I have wondered about public demonstrations as well. Are they simply a valve to release built-up steam, and are they looked upon by our political masters as simply something to allow until the energy and enthusiasm dissipates, thereby enabling the status quo to continue?

The Mound of Sound said...

I doubt that, as a society, we're prepared to go beyond demonstrations, Lorne.

If we were ready for more would 70 to 80 per cent of us vote Liberal or Conservative? I don't see it yet neither of them will even acknowledge what we're up against and, by the force of their delay, leave us ever further exposed, vulnerable.

John B. said...

Can any lessons be drawn from the examples of states that have had declining birth rates? Wait a minute. I apologize for posing such a stupid question.

The Mound of Sound said...

Well there was the Black Death, John. Apparently those who survived did really, really well.

Anonymous said...

I think we will need to revolt in order to get serious action on climate change. This is why the growth of groups like Extinction Rebellion is so important.

To Lorne's point about demonstrations, we haven't yet seen the numbers needed to get political action. The small numbers allowed CBC News to completely ignore the Canadian students who turned out for last Friday's global youth climate strike.

Historical research shows that toppling brutal dictatorships takes 3.5% of a population engaged in sustained nonviolent resistance. I would suggest that the powers behind the oil industry are just as tenacious and brutal as someone like Pinochet. They've shown that around the globe. So we're looking for numbers like 100,000 people in Toronto engaged in sustained resistance. We're making progress, but we're not there yet.


The Mound of Sound said...

I hope your optimism is sound, Cap. I'm a bit short of optimism these days but I would be delighted to be proved wrong.