[P2P-F] Fwd: The Climate Movement: What’s Next? (GTN Discussion)
michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Wed May 8 19:32:13 CEST 2019
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From: Great Transition Network <gtnetwork at greattransition.org>
Date: Wed, May 8, 2019 at 5:48 PM
Subject: The Climate Movement: What’s Next? (GTN Discussion)
To: <michelsub2004 at gmail.com>
>From Kavita Byrd <kavitaji25 at yahoo.com>
I would like to speak to the questions of "SYSTEM CHANGE, NOT CLIMATE
CHANGE" and the need for a meta-movement.
In that strange way life has of delivering curses and blessings in one
package, climate change is both cataclysmic and catalytic – with an
unprecedented power in both capacities. It is forcing us to change, and to
choose how we want to change – to reinvent ourselves and our lives, or to
face our own extinction.
The climate crisis, as many have noted, is a symptom of something much
deeper, but because of the cataclysmic nature of the consequences it
entails, it is also the perfect catalyst for the deeper change needed, a
radical whole-systems shift on an unprecedented scale. A crisis of this
magnitude clearly cannot be addressed by any technological, financial or
legal quick fix, but is an unequivocal wake-up call, a red-alarm signal,
for a profound transformation of both our consciousness and our systems.
And despite the admitted complexity of how to get from here to there, the
core message is crystal clear: we need to move from a global capitalist
system based on separation, limitless growth, competition and self-profit
to a cooperative, just and regenerative new system based on our
interconnectedness and unity-in-diversity with each other and the whole web
of life, human and non-human. The climate crisis is an ultimatum: we need
to see ourselves as part of a whole, much larger than any
of us alone -- and to start acting that way, individually and collectively.
Perhaps no lesser crisis – the very threat to our own survival as a race –
could have ignited the sense of urgency that is awakening today: since the
IPCC report was delivered in October, warning us we have only twelve years
to completely transform our systems, we’ve seen a surge of action, from the
school-strikers, Extinction Rebellion, the New Green Deal – a momentum that
is unlikely to turn back, because it is understood now that there is no
time to lose, that it is now or never. The young people feel this most
acutely, but their elders are also waking up now to the cruelty of the
legacy we are leaving them. And around this the generations are also
starting to come together, as are diverse cultures, walks of life, races
and genders – more and more we are realizing that it’s all hands on deck
now, or we will all go down together.
Catastrophic as it is, climate change has the potential to serve as the
perfect catalyst for a profound, long-overdue radical whole-systems
transformation, such as we have never seen before in the history of the
human race. Affecting all levels, personal, local and global, it needs to
be addressed at all levels, personal, local and global. And that is
beginning to happen today, as we are seeing in these rising movements. We
need to build on the potential to alchemize this rising sense of crisis
into a critical mass, to catalyze whole-scale renewal out of impending
collapse, by building on the accelerating momentum and coordinating vision
and action at all these levels. These actions reach both in and out,
calling us to transform our consciousness and world-view from within, and
at the same time reach out to unify with others.
And yes, we’re up against tremendous odds, certain irreversible tipping
points have been crossed, and, no matter what we do, we are headed into
very challenging times… yet that’s no reason to sit back complacent or
cynical, like some in the “it’s too late” camp, but rather, all the more,
do everything we can to transform ourselves and our world in the short
window of time we have left, as I believe we are being called to, by the
forces of nature and our own evolution. That intention, and the actions we
take from it, are in our hands, no matter what the outcome…and they may be
far more powerful than we know…
Personally, I’d love to see GTI get involved in another Action Node, riding
the wave of rising urgency around the climate crisis now, and harnessing it
for a global citizens movement for the great transition we’ve been working
for...I don’t believe we’re out of time; I think that more than ever the
time is ripe now…
Thursday, May 2, 2019
>From Bill McKibben <bill.mckibben at gmail.com>
THE CLIMATE MOVEMENT'S STATE OF PLAY
I came to climate activism gradually. In 1989, when my book The End of
Nature was published, it was the first book on global warming for a general
audience. For the next fifteen, I worked mainly as a writer and speaker.
That’s because I was analyzing the problem incorrectly. In my estimation,
we were arguing about the science of climate change: is it real, how bad is
it, how bad will it become? Being a writer, and an academic, I thought the
right response seemed clear: shed light on the issue through more books,
more articles, and more symposia.
At a certain point, though, I began to realize that we weren’t engaged in
an argument at all. The scientific debate had already been settled by about
1995, with the first major Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
report. The scientific community had reached a clear consensus, yet
governments did not take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We were
in a fight, not a discourse. Like most fights, it was about power and
money. Another book or symposium was unlikely to move the needle.
On the other side of the fight stood the fossil fuel industry, with the
richest—and hence most politically powerful—enterprises in human history.
We weren’t going to match them dollar for dollar, or even penny for dollar.
History indicates that in such unequal situations, the only option is to
build a movement large enough to provide a countervailing force. It has
happened before, such as with the movements for women’s suffrage, civil
rights, and, most recently, marriage equality. Those were all hard fought,
but a climate movement is harder because no one has made trillions of
dollars being a bigot, but people do make trillions selling coal, oil and
My expanded understanding prompted me to found 350.org, which initially
consisted of myself and seven undergraduates. The biggest problem with
climate change was that it seemed so large—and we seemed so small next to
it. It was hard to feel hope and easy to walk away. Nevertheless, each
student took one of the seven continents, and we set out to organize. All
over the world, we found people who wanted to act. Our first task was to
show that there was a large constituency for action. So, in our first big
action in 2008, we managed to coordinate 5,100 simultaneous demonstrations
in 181 countries, which CNN called the most widespread day of political
action in the planet’s history.
We’ve gone on to organize about 20,000 such rallies, in every country but
North Korea. 350.org is still, I believe, the largest group that works
solely on climate change, with a not-so-large staff of 120 spread around
the world. On the ground, we have found a huge if diffuse movement, made up
mostly of indigenous and other frontline communities bearing the brunt of
fossil fuel industry. Much of our work is thus focused on coordinating the
multitude of worthy efforts already underway.
Given the urgency of the climate crisis, we also quickly saw the need to
move beyond education to confrontation—hence, in the US, the birth of the
continent-wide Keystone pipeline fight. There was already a movement in
place in the tar sands of Alberta and on the prairies of Nebraska through
which the proposed pipeline would pass. But we nationalized the movement,
with demonstrations in DC and pressure on President Barack Obama. So far,
the pipeline remains unbuilt. Every project like this around the world
(e.g., fracking wells, coal ports, LNG terminals) is a target for
opposition. We may not always win, but we always make life harder for the
On another front, we realized that, to be successful, we needed to
systematically confront the instruments used to sustain the dominance of
fossil fuels. Thus, we launched the divestment movement in 2012 with the
goal of reducing the financing for and, more importantly, social acceptance
of the extraction of fossil fuels. It has grown much faster than we
expected, and it is now the largest anti-corporate campaign of its kind in
history, with commitments from endowments and other portfolios worth about
$8 trillion. Goldman Sachs said recently that the campaign is the main
contributor to driving the prices of coal shares down sixty percent, and
Shell said it had become a “material risk” to its business.
In retrospect, I think the most important development in this movement has
been the strong emergence of a “climate justice” focus, uniting the climate
fight with the broader fight for human rights and dignity. There are so
many great leaders now leading the struggle that I don’t want to list any
for fear of leaving many out. But for the last five years, my job has been
to move into the background as much as possible, seeking to highlight the
work of others.
Looking ahead, the biggest challenge facing the movement remains the
strength of the opposition. With unlimited cash, it has managed to dominate
politics, especially in the US. The Koch Brothers are two of the biggest
political donors, as well as the biggest oil and gas barons and biggest
leaseholders in the tar sands. Give them, and the larger industry, credit:
they have managed to make US the only country on earth not taking part in
the Paris Agreement, abandoning the international coordination of emission
reductions. They even got the US to backtrack on something as obvious and
simple as automobile fuel efficiency standards.
I do think that, in the long run, they will lose. The science gets stronger
with each passing week, and every hurricane and fire makes the issue more
salient—and more urgent—for more people. The newest polling shows that
climate is much higher on the list of items that Americans worry about and
vote on than it used to be, and that trend will continue given the
inexorable impacts of our changing climate.
Seventy-five years from now, we will run the world on sun and wind because
they’re free. These new technologies, whose prices have plummeted in the
last decade, excite everyone. Polling shows that the political left, right,
and center all love photovoltaics.
Still, the “long run” remains the problem. I worry that we can’t make
change happen fast enough. If we continue on the current trajectory, the
planet that in seventy-five years runs on sun and wind will be a broken
one. The strategy of the industry is to extend its business model another
decade or two, even at the cost of breaking the planet. They want to make
the transition untraumatic for themselves, even if it is traumatic for all
life on earth.
Going forward, the movement needs to grow bigger and stronger. The strength
of movements is a direct reflection of how many people are involved. And a
movement must be bigger than the sum of its constituent organizations. We
need a combination of breadth organizing and depth organizing. The first
are the broad, low-barrier-to-entry, consciousness-raising efforts—think
about the student Climate Strikes now underway thanks to the inspiration of
Sweden’s Greta Thunberg. The second are the grittier, detailed efforts to
get particular policies adopted—say, the state-by-state and city-by-city
fight for renewable portfolio standards that specify minimum levels of
energy production from wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal. And the third
is an overarching framework to inspire action: for example, the incredibly
exciting fight for a Green New Deal now being debated in US political
circles and other countries. Together, these three components are the
foundation for a bigger, stronger
“SYSTEM CHANGE, NOT CLIMATE CHANGE"?
I am not great with eschatology; I don’t know the final destination. While
I don't know how to change the “system,” the urgent nature of the climate
crisis doesn't let us simply put off action. The biophysics doesn’t allow
That said, progress on the climate fight in its own right can help drive
systemic change. Think about who dominates the prevailing
political-economic system. So many of the major players have gained their
power by controlling the scarce, geographically concentrated supplies of
fossil fuel—players like Vladimir Putin, the Koch brothers, the Saudi royal
family, and Exxon. If we replace fossil fuels with sun and wind, the effect
will inevitably lead to at least some erosion of the current power
structure. In general, to achieve the shift from fossil fuels to renewable
energy, decentralized and local is where we need to be headed.
Going forward, we must fight for the changes we know we need to make for a
livable planet and, at the same time, make the world a fairer place. Some
of this is inherent. Because sun and wind are intrinsically local, for
instance, they reduce some of the power imbalances inherent in an economy
based on who controls the small patches of ground above oil and gas. There
will be solar billionaires, I imagine, but there won’t be solar Koch
Brothers or solar Saudi royal families, because the diffuse nature of
non-fossil fuels tends to disperse rather than concentrate economic power.
But enabling such a shift requires an intentional strategy to structure
renewable energy so that its ownership and control is as local as possible.
That was the particular genius of Germany’s Energiewende law, which
proposes a plan to democratize energy supply in the transition to a
low-carbon, reliable, and affordable energy system.
The climate crisis could be the lever for other kinds of transformative
change. Again, look at the discourse around the Green New Deal, which
reflects a deep policy shift in the direction of fairness and equity. Like
the New Deal of the 1930s, this proposal would be an economy-wide
mobilization in the direction of greater justice, with the “green” part a
reference to the fact that our main goal is not ending an economic
depression but the full-scale decarbonization of the economy in light of
the climate crisis. Such synergy between social and environmental issues
holds great potential.
DO WE NEED A META-MOVEMENT?
The climate threat is so pressing and so intermingled with current economic
arrangements, that it provides the best possible lever for making profound
change in other aspects of the economy such as rampant inequality, as Naomi
Klein articulates so well in her book This Changes Everything.
Social movements across diverse issues are inherently linked because they
share a common critique of the status quo, whether you call it
neoliberalism, predatory capitalism, or simply capitalism. All kinds of
collaboration, both philosophic and strategic, are possible. Look, for
instance, at the crucial role of indigenous groups and the indigenous
rights movement. Shunted off to what we once thought were valueless
wastelands, these communities often live atop fossil fuel resources or
astride the transportation routes needed for pipelines and other
infrastructure. As such, they are natural allies in the fight against
climate change. Indeed they are important leaders in the fight, and they
bring a worldview that challenges the status quo with enormous clout.
Fighting for their human and legal rights often means complicating the
lives of the fossil fuel industry. Specifically, it is crucial that the
worldviews associated with indigenous peoples, human rights advocates, and
other movements are recognized for their close alignment with the
scientific data pertaining to the climate crisis. The oldest and newest
wisdom traditions on the planet are powerfully synching up while casting
considerable doubt on the conventional wisdoms—extraction, accumulation,
commodification—that have dominated our economic and political world.
For another example, look at the potential alliance between climate and
anti-war movements, driven by the realization that most conflict in this
century is going to be driven by climate disruption. Indeed, it already is:
a severe drought in Syria, for instance, helped touch off years of deadly
civil war. More broadly, climate disruption is widely recognized as the
biggest obstacle to realizing the UN Sustainable Development Goals,
including the reduction of poverty and inequality. In the last couple of
years, hunger and child labor are both on the increase again, thanks to
warming-caused disasters. All these conditions point to opportunities for
alliance building across movements to accelerate transformational change.
I have never been a Pollyanna. The cheerful title of my first book, after
all, was The End of Nature. And its thirty-year sequel, out this spring, is
Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? But I do sense that,
at a moment when the climate emergency has become obvious and pressing, we
might begin to pivot. If we do, we could progress very far very fast,
especially if the climate movement forges alliances with other movements.
The extremely rapid fall in the price of renewable energy and electric
storage is one indication that the necessary conditions for rapid change
are now in place.
We are not going to stop climate change—that is no longer on the menu.
Standing on the Greenland ice shelf last summer and seeing it melting was
sobering. We’re now playing for whether warming is going to reach 2, 3 or 4
°C, with the latter appearing increasingly likely. That range of
temperature rise means we still can decide to sustain a livable
civilization. But the window for survival is closing fast.
We must use this moment as crucial leverage to push the planet in a new
direction. Let us try. If we succeed, then we have risen to the greatest
crisis humans have ever faced and shown that the big brain was a useful
evolutionary adaptation. If we fail—well, we better to go down trying.
Wednesday, May 1, 2019
>From Paul Raskin <praskin at tellus.org>
We launched our current series on key social movements in November 2017
with a rich discussion of a “global citizens movement” as the missing
historical agent for a Great Transition (the GTN exchange is archived at
A recurrent theme has been how the portentous issue of climate change
infuses all social and environmental mobilizations.
Our May discussion will focus directly on the climate movement, per se.
With so many of us active in this diverse arena, centering the GTN
discussion on a specific essay seems overly restrictive. Instead, I invite
you all to respond, succinctly or at length, to one or more of the
WHAT IS THE CLIMATE MOVEMENT’S STATE OF PLAY?
What has worked, and where has the movement fallen short? What lessons can
be drawn for the next phase?
“SYSTEM CHANGE, NOT CLIMATE CHANGE?”
Does defusing the climate crisis require the deep structural and value
changes of a Great Transition? Or can “green capitalism” get us there?
Where do you stand on the reform versus transformation debate?
DO WE NEED A META-MOVEMENT?
To the degree that climate change is a symptom, along with other crises, of
deeply embedded structural problems, does the climate movement need to
build overarching alliances and movements? Does the climate movement, by
addressing a signal existential threat, have a special role in binding
disparate movements into a coherent force for a just and sustainable future?
To kick off the discussion, we asked 350.org founder Bill McKibben to
respond to each of these questions:
What Bill says (and doesn’t say) may provoke some thoughts of your own.
Comments are welcome through Friday, MAY 31.
Over to you,
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