What will it take

03/21/2013

When most people ask, “How can we stop global warming?” they are really asking, “How can we stop global warming without significantly changing our lifestyle?” The answer is that we can’t. The urgency of the ecological crises and capitalist forces destroying our planet make finding an effective and timely path forward difficult. Competing strategies vie for our attention, brought to us by diverse interests. The strategies of the environmental movement for the most part go unquestioned, but given the results of its 50-some years, it’s high time we reflect on the principles of our so-called environmentalism.

Many of us are trying to be better consumers. Some believe we must have our own lobbyists. Others believe in mass protests and better education for all. Yet the totality of our actions has fallen short. While these tactics may achieve specific goals, and have their place within a serious movement for justice and sustainability, they are woefully insufficient when it comes to saving our ecosphere and our species.

The time has come for a serious conversation that asks the hard questions about the true nature of our crises. What do we want to achieve, and how can we best achieve it? Is slowing climate change enough? Do we want to perpetuate a way of life that affords some of us incredible material prosperity while others suffer? Future generations will not likely be moved by how deeply we ached at the world dying around us. They won’t be impressed by the size of big our marches and rallies, or the cleverness of our slogans and chants. Our home gardens and home energy-efficiency upgrades will be irrelevant to them if the forests, rivers and fish are gone. The spiritual fulfillment and inner peace we find here in West Marin will be resented if other mountains are being ripped apart and the air and water poisoned. Either we permanently put an end to this cancerous way of life and dismantle our industrial civilization, or it’s game over.

And is non-violent protest and civil disobedience enough, or are we prepared to try a new path? Are we willing, as an environmental movement, to revisit our long-sworn oaths against direct action, sabotage and property destruction? Are we left any other choice? I believe we must consider different strategies and tactics, because what we’ve been doing hasn’t reversed the tide of global
devastation.

We’ve been playing directly into the hands of the established systems of power. Current solutions fail to challenge industrialism, capitalism or imperialism, instead centering on greening our energy and consumption while continuing to pursue economic growth. The tactics by organizations like 350.org are packaged with marketing jargon but are insufficient for carrying us to our goals. We miss the bigger picture if we refuse to confront the material systems that are waging the relentless war against life itself.

It is these systems and their physical infrastructure that perpetuate the deforesting, strip mining, fracking, polluting, damming and trawling. It’s not just a few bad apples. If we don’t dismantle the structures of power, political leaders with compassionate hearts and minds will be rendered useless and quickly replaced by those better fitting the demands of the dominant paradigm.

One measure of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect to see different results. We must admit that things aren’t improving; in fact, the rate at which they’re getting worse is accelerating. Where does that leave us? If the Keystone XL pipeline protests, greener technologies, lobbying and our consumer lifestyle choices aren’t sufficient, then what? With everything at stake, will we step over the line of comfort and safety? If not us personally, will we support those who do? For if the ends don’t justify the means, what does?

In history we can find countless examples of movements facing similar questions, and all too often they came to the decision that the use of physical force was necessary for fundamental change. The women’s suffrage movement used arson against politicians who opposed their right to vote. Coal miners in Appalachia battled company thugs. Black liberationists and some American Indians armed themselves in self-defense for their sovereignty and lands. The African National Congress in South Africa sabotaged electric transmission lines. During WWII, resistance forces across Europe attacked rail and transport infrastructures, and liberation movements around the world have used violent means to fight against colonialism. Strategic sabotage and other forms of militant action have undermined the foundations of abusive power.

How long will it take us to decide, while every day more than 200 species become extinct? Aren’t we overdue for such a conversation? When nothing else is succeeding in stopping the physical destruction of our planet, can we accept militant action in defense of Earth as a viable option? With what’s at stake, can we afford not to?