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This is a continuation of Thursday’s post, “Global. Warming.” We left off discussing Bill McKibben’s phenomenally popular article for Rolling Stone, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” A week ago it had already been viewed 450,000 times, and shared 100,000 times.  As of this writing, the article has over 4000 comments.

It’s a very good article, and I highly recommend it. McKibben discusses the sobering facts from the latest research and data.  He quotes the chief economist for the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol:

“The new data provide further evidence that the door to a two-degree trajectory is about to close,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist. In fact, he continued, “When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees.”

McKibben comments: “That’s almost 11 degrees Fahrenheit, which would create a planet straight out of science fiction.”

After lamenting that “we’re in the same position we’ve been in for a quarter-century: scientific warning followed by political inaction,” McKibben then outlines the need for a new strategy.  Trying to change individual lifestyles with twisty lightbulbs doesn’t work, and will not make a decisive difference in time.  Neither does lobbying political leaders to get them to initiate needed changes.

McKibben states,

A rapid, transformative change would require building a movement, and movements require enemies. As John F. Kennedy put it, “The civil rights movement should thank God for Bull Connor. He’s helped it as much as Abraham Lincoln.” And enemies are what climate change has lacked…Given this hard math, we need to view the fossil-fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization.

Is McKibben right? Is he outlining a new, more effective way to combat climate change? Is this where we should be directing all of our collective energy, toward the fossil-fuel industry?

One response to McKibben that I greatly appreciate is by Nicholas Arguimbau, and posted at Energy Bulletin: Bill McKibben is Wrong, We Must Not Forget that “We Have Met the En...

Energy Bulletin is no ‘Rolling Stone,’ and this article has only had 3226 reads so far, but for me this piece really hits the mark. Arguimbau write of McKibben, “He is a great man with a great mind, but I’m not sure, and I don’t think he or any of us should be sure, that he has chosen the only or most important ‘enemy.’”

The concerns are that McKibben “dismisses John Q. Public,” and tells us “that he won’t ask us to change our lifestyles for the sake of global warming,” because individual actions will not make a decisive difference, and we don’t have time for that kind of slow culture change.

Arguimbau argues that mainstream environmental leaders “have never, ever  asked their followers in a serious way to conserve.”  He says that we really have no other choice:

if we could reduce our emissions by adopting alternative fuels, the presently nonexistent ultracheap batteries, solar-electric cars, solar-electric home-heating furnaces, whatever, we wouldn’t have to change our lifestyles too much. But is that going to happen in four years? Of course not. It is absolutely impossible. We’re not talking mere political or practical or economic infeasibility here. The technology isn’t there. The infrastructures aren’t there. The capital to make it happen isn’t there. It absolutely cannot happen. So we have no choice. As [McKibben] says himself, “Time is precisely what we lack.”

Arguimbau points out, “Mr. McKibben makes a radical change to the Earth Day 1970 poster and call to arms that was “the rallying cry for a generation of environmentalists”, Walt Kelly’s immortal quotation from Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Instead, says Mr, McKibben, ‘We have met the enemy, and he is Shell.”

Interestingly, like McKibben, Arguimbau turns to the IEA for support, quoting the industry respected World Energy Outlook report of 2011, which states the obvious:

“The most important contribution to reaching energy security and climate goals comes from the energy that we do not consume.”

Finally, this passage from Arguimbau really got me:

A … campaign now against the private oil industry would create some embarrassment in limited locations, but would it cut emissions? No, because the emissions reductions must come from us the consumers, won’t come until we change our lifestyles, and won’t come out of a campaign that promises to leave lifestyles alone.

And to return to the moral question, we are by far the ones with the ties that matter the most. We give the industry, both public and private, trillions of dollars per year. We ARE their profits. We are their raison d’etre.

Can we say that WE, who are the means by which the industry profits, the means by which it creates the poison, the means by which the poison is distributed to do its damage, do NOT “have ties with those who profit from climate change”? That is a lie. And it is a moral issue. This writer discussed at considerable length why it is a moral issue in “A Greeting For 2012: Looking Back At Durban And Other Progressive ..., and will not repeat.

Another response to McKibben comes from one of my favorite bloggers, Sharon Astyk: Do You Have to Believe in Climate Change?

Astyk supports Arguimbau’s post, so does not repeat that material. She points out how easy it is to become politically and ideologically polarized. She points out that “pure scientific reasoning has never ever been the grounds for the general public’s take on anything, almost certainly never will be…”

Even among those who believe in human caused climate change, “the vast majority believe not that they should personally transform their lives, but that SOMEONE ELSE, probably the government, should do something about climate change.”

What they are happy to do is be politically angry at those who disagree with them – to categorize others as enemies of the future and themselves. The difficulty with this is that this incredible polarization has done no one any good – we are further now from making progress on climate change than we were five years ago – and with significantly less time to do it in. Feeling angry at the other side, organizing activities that only the left participates in and political opposition take more time than changing individual action, and are less productive in our deeply polarized US. At this point, climate change opposition has taken hold ideologically on the right, moderate right and most of the US center. Historically speaking, when the right, moderate right and US center agree on something, the left spends a lot of time tilting at windmills and it loses. As long as climate change is a politically polarized left-right issue, it is doomed to inaction.
- Sharon Astyk

So, what can be done? First, and here is where she refers to Arguimbau’s post for further discussion, is that rather than trying to get people to change a little at a time here and there (changing light bulbs), one of the most critical projects we can engage in is to convey “a way of life that people can aspire to and adopt collectively.”  In fact, Sharon has written one of the best books ever exploring this approach, called Depletion and Abundance. As reviewer Frank Kaminski put it, “she shows how rewarding life on her New Home Front could be, immeasurably improving our health, nutrition, sense of community and overall well-being.”

Second, she addresses the question that is the title of her post: “Do you, in fact, have to believe in global warming to do what is needed?”

She argues that if you keep the end in mind of where you want to get to, and shift the discussion away from one’s position on climate change, and towards those outcomes you want to see, there can be effective traction.

What I have found over the years is that on this ground, there are plenty of allies that cannot exist over one politicized single issue. Does that mean you can accomplish everything one would like to? No, almost certainly not – but in comparison to what we are accomplishing right now in terms of climate change (ie, nothing), it is possible to imagine making changes worth making in lifestyle, community, and at a host of political levels (smaller is often easier) if the ground shifts to other territory.
- Sharon Astyk

This reminds me of something said by David Holmgren, co-founder of Permaculture.

It’s about society reading signs around it that it needs to change, and that change is coming. We have all sorts of interpretations about why that might be. I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone to believe in climate change or peak oil to start to behave sensibly, to look after their own interests and the interests of their children and grandchildren.  An understanding of peak oil and climate change certainly helps to understand the complexities that are unraveling in the world, but I’ve argued quite strongly that it doesn’t really matter whether these crises are caused by geological climatic realities, or whether they’re caused by evil actors, or whether they’re caused by a God who is punishing us for our sins. It all means we’ve actually got to change what we’re doing.
So I’m sort of ambivalent about that issue of the first thing is to hammer into people that they’ve got to accept a particular explanation of what’s going on in the world. I don’t think that is necessary.
- David Holmgren, Gro-Action Interview, 2011

Although I probably won’t stop trying to get people to “understand the complexities that are unraveling in the world,” I think Astyk and Holmgren offer a much needed perspective.

Although the Transition Towns movement still places some importance on awareness raising around the issues of peak oil, climate change, and economic instability, it seems the real juice has been found in the aspects of the work that are about hands on practicalities and making meaningful connections with other people – building community. Rob Hopkins wrote recently, “I am thinking about calling the next book I do “The Thrill of Just Doing Stuff” because I think that is ultimately what it’s about.”

I’ve come across a number of articles over the past couple of years by environmentalists who say something to the effect of “what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working, therefore we should change our tactics.”  And then they proceed to offer the same old tactics of protest and opposition.  As I said in the previous post, I support removing fossil fuel subsidies, and protest and opposition has it’s place.  But what if we were to actually put some major effort into creating the world we do want, rather than just opposing what we don’t want?

In a recent interview, Richard Heinberg summed up the essential steps that are needed:

Build Resilience

He pointed out that Transition Initiatives are re-envisioning how communities work, and how life can be better without fossil fuels. He noted that friends and neighbors are our most important assets, and that working with friends and neighbors to create community resilience can be more fun and more effective than working alone.

Sounds like a good plan to me.

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Comment by Celt M. Schira on August 6, 2012 at 2:00pm

It's a very important 5%. With a 30x30 garden, you can save beaucoup bucks. That much garden can provide most of your flavor and nutrition in the warm season, a pile of potatoes, excess to can and preserve, and cool season veggies to take you through the winter. Yer basic peasant got most of his calories from field crops but the flavor and nutrition came from his garden. An urban dweller can get the same effect with a garden and some sacks of grains and beans. 

Comment by David MacLeod on August 6, 2012 at 10:39am

Celt, thanks for sharing your thoughts here.  I like your approach of "just keep pushing the envelope."  Indeed there is a learning curve, so the best time to start is now.

In the David Holmgren interview I mentioned in my post, there was another comment he made that I found quite intriquing.

"I think that, while the big political movement stuff is always going to be in some ways more exciting – and there’s certainly some exciting aspects of that emerging in the world now around the notion of demanding that someone do something, I don’t think those things really help change the structure much, unless people are also making the changes themselves.  Because the changes people make themselves are double insurance – they are insurance against dysfunctional or anti-social behavior by elites (and there’s certainly plenty of evidence for that), but they’re also the way we model the world that we’re actually wanting to be, because in a lot of ways it’s a matter of being able to crawl before you walk. The sort of world we’re trying to construct, I think it’s actually impossible to construct that top-down. It has to actually be rebuilt bottom up, in parallel with the crumbling system. And then as those models become more real, it’s possible to get some degree of top-down reform/support for those things. But if they don’t actually exist, if we don’t have the working, living solutions, then it’s very hard for policymakers to say “Yes, we’ll have more of that, and less of that.” They can’t actually create the things we need. The things we need are all very small, localized, particular, and large scale systems just can’t do that."


Comment by Celt M. Schira on August 6, 2012 at 10:21am

Garden. Start on any level. Many have pointed out that one raised bed on the former lawn will not feed the family or save the world. Time to stick hands in the dirt anyway. Fresh food is addicting and gardening has a significant learning curve. Just keep pushing the envelope of what can be grown in urban and peri-urban spaces. The more we garden publicly, the more we overcome social barriers to returning the lawns to gardens. Cottage gardens surrounded residences until quite recently in this country and still do in many other places. 

Comment by David MacLeod on August 5, 2012 at 11:00pm

J.C.,  thank your for the comment and link.  It looks like you were cut off in mid-sentence - was there more you wanted to say here?

I liked McKibben's response to Muller's study.  "Scientifically, it’s not very interesting because, you know, most scientists figured it out 20 years ago. All he has done is confirm their work. Politically, it is interesting because we’re reaching the point where even the kind of industry-funded deniers can’t with a straight face, say that it’s not warming."

Which is similar to what I said.

Comment by J. C. Walker,Jr. on August 5, 2012 at 6:15am

At this point, climate change opposition has taken hold ideologically on the right, moderate right and most of the US center. Historically speaking, when the right, moderate right and US center agree on something, the left spends a lot of time tilting at windmills and it loses. As long as climate change is a politically polarized left-right issue, it is doomed to inaction.

- Sharon Astyk

The unsubstantiated climate change opposition/ideological list forgets to mention the Pentagon is siding with the left. Not to mention the other nations of the world.

The left-right debate is a straw man. Look no further than our on traditionally left Labor Council against the folks opposed to coal trains in Whatcom County. ( if anyone can help me to get my Local to stop following the leads of Goldman Sacks and the Chamber of Commerce it would be greatly appreciated.)

Magical Thinking is the windmill I keep seeing, and it's morphing itself into a cliff. I'm not going to

Comment by J. C. Walker,Jr. on August 5, 2012 at 5:29am

Bill Mckibben's responce to Richard Muller's "new" way of thinking.

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