"The world's top climate scientists are now ringing the alarm bell at a deafening volume because the time to act has virtually passed, yet it is as if the frequency of the chime is beyond the threshold of human hearing". - Clive Hamilton (Professor of Public Ethics, Australian National University)
"Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the State becomes lawless or, which is the same thing, corrupt.... Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of humankind." - Mohandes Gandhi
As courageous activists from Appalachia prepare to confront a government seemingly held hostage by the inordinate wealth and influence of fossil fuel based corporations, there is a unique opportunity for alliances to be formed that can build a stronger and more empowered movement. Those same forces engaged in a military style bombing assault on the beautiful and biodiverse mountains of Appalachia now threaten the very foundation of life on earth through an assault on the atmosphere and climate systems that sustain us all. The same corporations rendered blind by their greed to the "collateral damage" known as mountaintop removal are equally oblivious to the climate Hell they are bringing to our planet.
Mountaintop Movement Shows the Way
Those who have travelled to Washington DC to take part in "Appalachia Rising" - the largest protest in history calling for the abolition of this abomination - represent a tremendous breath of fresh air. After years of trying to appeal to policy makers through lawful means, they understand the extent to which government has yielded to the power of the coal industry and have gained the clarity of vision to know that the struggle must now be taken to a higher level. Along with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, they recognize a time has come to put bodies on the line and engage in nonviolent resistance.
Co-opted and Pushed Off the Radar
Those who are working to prevent a climate catastrophe have much to learn from the gut level passion on display at this action. Mountaintop activists are to be praised for not becoming entangled with the mainstream "environmental" groups inside the Beltway that have been seduced into a cynical and disastrous culture of endless compromise and appeasement. With treasuries expanded by a willingness to refrain from confronting corporate power and adopt only the most mild and politically "safe" stances, groups like Environmental Defense Fund have stolen the limelight from genuine grassroots activists and presented themselves to the public as the "voice of environmental protection". With their much larger budgets, such groups have pushed the grassroots activists off of the media radar screen.
The Unique Challenge of Climate Activism
Although both grassroots movements fight a common foe, climate activists are also dealing with another significant challenge not faced by their mountaintop counterparts. The monumental planet-wide devastation that awaits humanity if these corporations are allowed to press the climate system beyond its tipping point is much more difficult to convey to the public. Although the signs of climate breakdown are already appearing, they are not as immediately tangible as images of explosions or moonscapes in West Virginia. What makes the climate threat so uniquely dangerous is that by the time the impacts are in full swing, the tipping point will already have been crossed and the breakdown of life support systems will escalate out of human control.
Already Approaching the Tipping Point -
that tipping points are already rapidly approaching. Loss of reflective ice is causing more heat to be absorbed by open water. Ocean acidification is threatening critical organisms in the food chain. Evidence is mounting that an ominous "methane time bomb" is being triggered.
Methane is a greenhouse gas 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. In seabeds off the Siberian coast, recent findings confirm that a substantial amount of formerly frozen methane is thawing and entering the atmosphere. According to a press release
by the National Science Foundation: "Methane is leaking from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf into the atmosphere at an alarming rate ...... Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming."
Compounding this danger are two other factors. As it has already been established that the Arctic area is warming more quickly than the rest of the planet, this thawing is on track to only increase. Secondly, the release of frozen methane sets off a self-perpetuating cycle. The more the Arctic warms, the more methane that is released - which in turn accelerates the warming. A nightmare scenario feared by many tracking the climate emergency appears to be manifesting. (Two recent postings on Common Dreams provide further detail: here and here)
A "Doomsday Machine" That Cannot Be Stopped
What is clear for those brave enough to not stick their heads in the sand is that we are truly in an emergency. We are heading toward a level of suffering comparable to the worst plagues, mass starvation, and acts of genocide in human history. Though the level of devastation would be comparable to nuclear war, the prognosis for climate breakdown is actually worse. In the case of the former, there is always a hope that sane human leaders will refuse to launch the missiles. When climate tipping points are crossed, there is no such hope. The laws of physics take over and the process of ecosystem breakdown cannot be stopped. In essence, a climate "doomsday machine" is being launched that will operate on its own autonomous and inexorable timeline.
Humanity at a Crossroad
As the hourglass of humanity runs out, the people of the world have failed to mobilize on the level necessary to prevent catastrophe. While scientists remind us of the mass extinction of life already caused by previous climate disruptions, the great bulk of humanity appears to be deaf and proceeding with "business as usual". We stand at a crossroad. We must either recognize and confront the forces in our society driving the destruction and holding us in bondage, or the great experiment known as human civilization may well pass away from the earth.
Reclaiming the Moral High Ground
Three environmental networks that have not been captured by the appeasement culture of DC are Greenpeace, 350.org
, and RAN. Recently, their leaders issued a joint statement
calling for a strong increase in direct action in response to the collapse of climate legislation. They ask for ideas on how to facilitate this.
History is replete with inspiring examples of movements based on nonviolent resistance. Gandhi used the term "satyagraha" to describe the spiritual power that is emanated when people cling tenaciously to the truth and refuse to let go. Any study of the movements led by Gandhi and Martin Luther King will yield innumerable ways to apply this power.
Rousing examples are already being provided by grassroots activists in places like the UK and Australia. On the very day preceding the Appalachia Rising action, 45 activists associated with Rising Tide in Australia
closed down the largest coal-loading port in the world. In England, large numbers have massed together in "climate camps" to become empowered by group camaraderie and a culture that supports activism, learn how to live sustainably, and nonviolently disrupt climate exchanges, banks, and "business as usual". A 10 minute video documents
a climate camp "convergence" nonviolently blockading a street outside the European Climate Exchange in downtown London.
This successful strategy begs to be imported into the U.S. A climate camp should be set up outside Washington DC in order to support a whole series of creative nonviolent actions next spring in the nation's capitol.
The public figure most associated with the climate issue - Al Gore - has already called for young people to commit civil disobedience in opposition to coal power plants. It would be only fair to challenge him to personally take part in that which he encourages others to do. If there was ever a time for Gore to break away from the failed attempt to "reason" and "reach a compromise" with the fossil fuel industry, it is now. It is way past time for him to truly provide leadership in responding to what he calls the "moral imperative" to act.
The Crucible Through Which Humanity Must Pass
The truth is that those of us living within industrial society have become seduced by the power which accrues from the burning of fossil fuels, and entrapped by the destructive consequences. We have created an entire social structure which bows at the altar of fossil fuel and have in essence entered into a massive "Faustian bargain" with the gods of oil and coal.
It is a time of testing, when our moral character must evolve and mature to a higher level, when we must pass through a spiritual crucible and emerge intact on the other side. It is a passing that will find us more whole and more healed as a result, and constitute a great advance for the human species. But if we fail to confront those forces that hold us in bondage, the doomsday clock already set into motion will run out and the destruction we have unleashed will overwhelm us.
Without a Vision, the People Will Perish
At a point when human survival itself is at stake, time rapidly running out, and powerful entrenched forces actively assisting the disintegration, there is an overwhelming need for clarity of vision in the formation of any movement capable of turning back such a juggernaut. Those entities that have positioned themselves to make enormous profit from our addiction will not yield their economic dominance voluntarily. There is a profound and urgent need for spiritual battle, and the most powerful tool we have is nonviolent resistance.
The leadership for this battle will not come from the mainstream supposedly "green" organizations. It will come from those in the grassroots who see the catastrophe approaching and who maintain a clear vision about what will be required to stop it. We must reach out and establish common ground with all whose eyes are open to this need. We must build a united movement that will earn the blessing of future generations rather than their curse.