Michael Hoexter: The Climate (and Climate Justice!) Movement Cannot Remain a Genteel Environmentalist Movement

Yves here. Hoexter examines the disconnect between the preferred methods of climate activists versus the magnitude and urgency of the issues they are trying to address. His analysis echoes an important 2012 post by Richard Kline, Progressively Losing.

By Michael Hoexter, a policy analyst and marketing consultant on green issues, climate change, clean and renewable energy, and energy efficiency. Originally published at New Economic Perspectives.

In my last piece, I noted how little the climate movement and its leadership generally understood about the demand for energy and fossil fuels, or at least strategically continue to gloss over their importance.  I may have been too dramatic in calling this lack “fatal” but it is “fateful” and a critical blockage to the growth it needs to experience rapidly.

But there is I believe a political-strategic “reflex” within the current climate movement that is as or more damaging to the growth of the movement and a laser-like focus on stabilizing the climate system and creating the basis of human civilization in the post-carbon era. There is in my observation a naïve belief that by adding up all of the LOCAL environmental damages caused by fossil fuel extraction that one necessarily arrives at a GLOBAL, holistic understanding and movement to fundamentally alter humanity’s energy and transportation systems.  Philosophers might call this a “fallacy of composition”: the erroneous belief that the parts, if listed serially or together, will represent the whole. Climate movement activists think to themselves perhaps that these local damages are an “added perk” in their war against fossil fuels but I believe, unfortunately, that the movement has had over the last several years a tendency to devolve into the “same-old, same-old” environmentalism that has always been the concern of a fairly small minority of the world’s population.

I see this in many places both in local activism here in Northern California as well as in national discussions and events featuring well-known figures in the movement.   The fight against various “extreme fossil fuels”, battles that were chosen several years ago by Bill McKibben and reinforced by James Hansen as concrete symbols of global warming or at least rampant use of fossil fuels, have, it seems to me, become, not by the intention of either McKibben or Hansen, self-justifying local struggles that look very much like old-style environmentalism. With anti-fracking movements, for instance, the local damages of fracking, including contamination of the water-table, tend to become the focus of activism rather than the idea that fracking signals the end of “easy” fossil fuels as well as our society’s OVERALL deadly dependence on fossil fuels. One PART of another PART of the fossil fuel use/climate change problem starts to be taken for the WHOLE of the struggle.

The climate movements tendency towards hoping the parts would add up to a whole was on full display at a state-wide march and rally earlier this year in Oakland, CA called the “March for Real Climate Leadership”, sponsored largely by the anti-fracking and food-action group Food and Water Watch. The objective of the demonstration, though not entirely apparent from the title, was to pressure Gov. Jerry Brown to oppose fracking, a practice that he has allowed in the state to date.   From the podium and elsewhere in the demonstration, anti-fracking was considered to be the litmus test for “real climate leadership”. At this rally, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose climate and energy policies are not particularly “green” was held up as the example whom Brown should follow, simply because Cuomo helped institute, under much political pressure, a fracking ban in New York State.   That Brown, for instance, was pressing for a 50% renewable energy standard by 2030 (itself not that radical a stance as an intention but better than Cuomo’s energy policy) didn’t seem to make it into the speeches on the podium that I was hearing. Also unknown to most marchers was Cuomo’s miserable record of support for public transit, where New York State has historically had something of a leadership position on a national scale in the US, a nation that has systematically under-invested in public transport. So given the choice between Brown and Cuomo, the former probably wins the “climate leader” sweepstakes, though neither approximates what is required for actually effective climate action.

To be against fracking, which of course I am against, has then become a litmus test for caring about climate, yet while omitting a discussion of fracking as a PART of the larger fossil fuel endgame of ever-more-costly “extreme” fossil fuel extraction and the monumental challenge of transitioning to a non-fossil fueled civilization. Yes, many core anti-fracking activists believe exactly that climate change is the most serious issue but their POLITICS for public consumption remains that of activists who are stirring up LOCAL concerns about water contamination, water overuse in arid areas, and truck traffic around fracking sites. Yes, these concerns of environmentalists and some local inhabitants of effected areas may appear to be “gifts” to the climate movement but the climate message, the message of a complete energy transition that implies many new ways of doing the mundane tasks of life and new machines and structures to make that doing possible, is being submerged in the old-style NIMBY environmentalist message.

Even in the supposedly radical, “climate justice” movement, a veiled version of conventional environmentalist concerns is reproduced, in a manner that is strangely comfortable for old-style environmentalists. The climate justice movement “mirrors” the concerns of narrow environmentalism but puts them into a new context represented by political agents who look different often because of their race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. These new political actors focus usually on the local damages associated with the extraction, transport and refining of fossil fuels. The climate justice name is a spin-off of the well-justified environmental justice movement that seeks to point out the injustices and local pollution created by industrial and extractive sites positioned usually in or near poor and ethnic/racial minority neighborhoods.  One instrument used by the environmental justice movement is the civil rights lawsuit, claiming that a particular industrial practice is discriminatory against groups because of their race.

However when extended to climate change, the environmental justice idea, now “climate justice”, has, in my view, troubling and politically self-defeating aspects. I will agree with one premise of the climate justice movement, that is is likely that many times some of the poorer inhabitants of the world are feeling and will feel the worst effects of climate change FIRST. However, this important observation is put into a traditional Left conceptual framework that points out a mal-distribution of goods and bads in the current generation. Lazily, it seems to me, the global climate problem is poured into the “template” of environmental justice: the claim is made that climate change victimizes mostly the same groups effected most by local pollution and that the imbalances in a global climate system, affecting everybody and more particularly the young and future generations, can be overlooked in favor of the injustices occurring between members of the current generation.

But there are severe ethical and political problems with this switch of focus from the welfare of the young and future generations and the disparities in the welfare of adults in the current generation. There is also, strangely, the reproduction of exactly the NIMBY concerns of environmentalists of all classes, concerns that have been pioneered and funded by the comfortable and the very wealthy. Climate justice would seem to be lobbying for a fairer distribution of the right to be as concerned about local pollution or the local effects of climate change as the wealthy elite. Climate justice activists look at the differential effects of fossil fuel industry activities, it appears, with an eye towards civil or criminal damages based on discrimination. Or alternatively, the policy outcome of the climate justice approach would seem to be to more fairly distribute the burdens and costs of adaptation to climate change rather than slow it or reverse it. Frighteningly, among all the laudable impulses harnessed to the climate justice idea, the big picture system-wide energy “switch” that must happen is often lost in the accounting of local and differential damages either directly from fossil fuel industry activities or indirectly from the undirected effects of climate change.

Why is it “Genteel”?

It may seem strange that I am linking together two seemingly disparate groups with somewhat different sets of concerns and very different demographics and calling their politics “genteel”. With one group, the traditional, generally white environmentalists, who are now calling themselves climate activists, many readers may already understand the direction I am taking. On the other hand, with the second group, mostly people of color and some of whom are poor or certainly working class, it might seem odd to apply the word “genteel”. I will try to explain.

“Genteel” generally refers to aristocratic/upper class or wannabe aristocratic/upper class attitudes or cultural milieu. Someone who acts in a “genteel” manner, either has considerable financial and cultural resources or pretends that they do. To act in a “genteel” manner means that one pretends that one is “above it all” and not striving to achieve social status or wealth but already possessing that status or wealth in some form. One aspect of gentility is then to act as either one is “beyond desires” or can pick and choose at will which of one’s desires one fulfills at which point in time. If one places oneself in the role of helper, putting aside one’s own needs, one is not necessarily flirting with gentility but the two social roles can be viewed as analogous. A “genteel” approach to helping overlooks the gritty details of life and creates a smooth and “attractive” finish to the acts of philanthropy or assistance, a “feel-good” moment for the helper and, maybe, the helped too. Through helping, a person can feel “bigger” than they were before, though this observation is not at all a condemnation of helping others, one of the primary binding ties of human families and societies.

The traditional environmental movement is not exclusively populated by people with genteel aspirations or who grew up in a milieu that some might call “genteel”. However it is not a far stretch to say that environmentalism is one of the pet political projects of parts of the “genteel” “old-money” upper classes or newer money that wishes to emulate “old-money” culture. These groups are usually distinguished by storing their wealth in land that may or may not be inherited. Environmentalist causes are more likely to be supported by landowners of varying sizes including differentially, due to greater monetary wealth, large landowners of considerable means, gentleman/gentlelady farmers and foresters. If you hold title to lots of land and do not see it as a means to generate income but more to preserve wealth, you will be more likely to be anti-development and pro-restrictions on land use, two of the mainstays of NIMBY environmentalism and preservationism.

So rather than a capitalistic or exploitative relationship to a given tract of land and/or the fauna on the land, the gentleman/gentlelady environmentalist takes a more aristocratic or indifferent view of the potential income from that property.  Or alternatively they view that land as an asset, which they endow with their own set of personal values and meanings while they own it, yet ultimately also keeping in mind perhaps the eventual market value of that land asset upon sale. Thus the notion articulated here that environmentalism tends towards the “genteel”: that land or animals and plants on the land are not a source of income or sustenance but a good in themselves. Presupposed is that income and sustenance are derived elsewhere or one’s self-worth is detached from one’s income and consumption. I would submit that critical to the concept of gentility is the notion of the genteel person being distanced from the need to (visibly) gain income from activities.

Another source of support for environmental appeals is the idea of saving innocent victims, in particular charismatic animals, with whom people tend to also identify. As with charity to the less fortunate, helping save relatively helpless animals gives many people a sense of satisfaction but also, as the psychologist Alfred Adler would observe, superiority, or a need to have a sense of a “bigger-than” self, something that may be associated, more troublingly, with narcissistic personality trends. This is not to say that love of animals or helping them is “bad” only that there may be less felicitous psychological side effects associated with that focus at its extremes.

The common thread here between both groups, the genteel/wannabe-genteel and the rescuers of “innocent” non-human creatures or ecosystems, is that the activist/individual/patron is foreswearing or making a show of foreswearing human and social appetites and interests for that of non-human creatures and the natural environment. This can appear magnanimous, just as the genteel/wannabe-genteel may sometimes appear in their (occasional) philanthropic endeavors. Much traditional environmentalism relies on these appeals to the “generous helper of animals” role for support and for funding. There is sometimes concomitant with this “helper” role a distaste for the striving, appetite-driven world of commerce and the mundane world more generally. Perhaps one might infer that this is pleasurable because it creates a temporary imaginary world in their minds that emotionally insulates them from aspects of human drives and society which they, particularly, find disturbing and distasteful.

Left-Wing Gentility Past and Present

In my view, the climate movement cannot learn much about overcoming the limitations of a genteel view of society and humanity from the contemporary Left. As much as in the environmental movement, there is a curious gentility in some of the politics of the current Left, a distance from popular life, attitudes and appetites, even as the contemporary Left tends to grasp much more accurately than the contemporary right-wing the numerical statistics reflecting economic and sociological conditions in which many live. While strategically ignoring the macro-social trends that engulf society, the right-wing has made political hay off the left-wing’s gentility or genteel appearance.

In the 19th and early to mid-20th Centuries, the Left was seen as and was in fact an advocate and celebrant of the needs and wants of a large portion of the urban population and some rural populations, especially landless peasants and farmworkers. The Left supported ordinary people’s desires for food, shelter and recognition because these were so obviously lacking for a vast majority. The anti-clerical and anti-religious Left also was a place for a small though influential minority to explore sexual and creative impulses that were shunned in conventional bourgeois society; the Left’s political and economic opposition to the status quo was one pole or support for a bohemian cultural “space” that sometimes adjoined but was not reducible to left-wing politics.

On the other hand, the Left, since the mid-19th century, has defined itself as a political tendency that seeks to stymie or rid society of the effects of greed and rampant acquisitiveness, either shaking its head in disapproval (the liberal version) or threatening to sanction greed and overturn the capitalist system (the socialist/Marxist/left-anarchist version) based as it is on the wish to accumulate unbounded amounts of money. So while on the one side, the Left stood as an advocate for human needs it also was a place where excesses in appetites were stigmatized or made a function of a diseased and historically-specific social-economic system, i.e. capitalism.

The latter attitude has made the Left a place comfortable for people with a disdain for “money-grubbing”, which in the framework I am developing here is associated with real or wannabe gentility. On the Left, those so inclined could express a genteel attitude towards money while trying to avoid the appearance of utter snobbery and naivete. The Left has always attracted, as one of its constituencies, a segment of people from upper-class or middle-class backgrounds who have looked down upon the careerism and acquisitiveness of capitalists and the broadly defined bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie. So the appetite for more things and for growing wealth/savings was always viewed as suspect, especially as one proceeded further to the Left. Alternately, in the liberal version, the acquisition of things and money would need to be tithed via contributions of money or time to various causes; the liberal attitude is not that greed is universally “good” only that it must be segmented off from non-business social spheres or perhaps accompanied by good intention in the business world. The “sharing” economy though not necessarily politically Left or liberal at all is in a way the ultimate in wrapping acquisitiveness in feel-good rhetoric.

As portions of the working classes of advanced industrial societies became more affluent, some of the rationale for a pro-appetitive stance by the Left became weakened. Many on the Left shifted their attention to the developing world, which in the mid-20th Century was gaining independence from the European colonial powers but was still mired in post-colonial poverty and victimized by imperialist and neo-imperialist warmaking and subversion by wealthy nations. One needed to look further afield to identify needs and wants that one could politically sanction from a left perspective.

Also in the mid-20th Century, the economies of developed capitalist countries became increasingly dependent upon stimulating and channeling household consumption towards potentially profit-making offerings of goods and services; the development of advertising and marketing techniques that appealed to people’s wants and needs started to provoke a response in some on the Left opposing “consumerism”.   The spreading of mass media, first radio and then television, funded by advertising, opened a communication channel for commercial messages to reach almost every household in industrialized societies. As the consumer culture flowered in the 1950’s and thereafter aided by televisions in almost every household, the Left started to create a counterculture. In the popularity of Euro-American folk music, non-Western tribal cultural artifacts, and surrounding cultural practices on the Left and later the broader counterculture, we have expressions of a search for authenticity that opposes consumption or at least the consumption of mass-produced or otherwise commodified goods.

In the 1960’s and 70’s, heightened awareness of power differences between men and women and people of different races and ethnicities made more complicated the notion that there was simply a single struggle against a single capitalist or multinational corporate enemy or group of enemies. In the area of sexuality and power differences, the questioning of, in particular masculine sexual wants, as well as consideration of interpersonal power dynamics dispersed across classes, shifted the Left away from an earlier “pro-appetitive” position with regard to sexual liberation in a simplistic, unidirectional form. The AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s then effectively emphasized potential dangers associated with sexuality in general and the indulgence of those appetites across all cultural groups, reinforcing an existing trend towards traditional anti-appetitive morality and, in some religious fundamentalism.

In terms of economic and acquisitive impulses, the uniting of different groups of workers with different social statuses due to a history and continuing reality of racism in the US made more complicated the project of a “people” or “working-class” coming together to demand a bigger share of the economic pie. With in the 1970’s seemingly fewer “dragons to slay” in the area of dramatic material need in the developed countries, increasingly the Left became more focused on race and gender power dynamics or, alternatively, world economic trends that might have seemed distant to ordinary people in the metropolitan centers, who had become fully engaged in consumer society via a combination of adequate incomes for many, easy consumer credit and an ever-cleverer and more pervasive consumer culture.

In the 1980’s to the present, being Left or very liberal in the United States in particular, has come to mean having a complex and sometimes contradictory relationship towards human appetites that is hard for those not caught up in the Left’s political sub-cultures to understand or desire to emulate. The now very much educated middle-class Left has become considerably divorced from or has had, for a long time, no clear political “program” that addressed the consumer culture that dominates much contemporary social interaction in workplaces, in homes, and in public places. If one conceives of human beings as driven by various appetites, the Left had a conflicted and somewhat contradictory approach to their own personal appetites as well as to those of most working class people. While the Left has been more sympathetic to those in want and need in the abstract, it has not had a unified political-economic program to offer, that is comprehensible and well-communicated to a majority of society.

By contrast, the Right in this period, particularly in the US, practiced and honed, via the institutions of talk radio and later on Fox News, its now well-established discourse of mocking liberals and the Left for being elitists who do not understand the basic acquisitive drives, core concerns, and comforts of ordinary people, consumers. The Right came to be seen as more in tune with people’s individual and familial dreams for material well-being and personal self-definition via shopping and buying, which in our consumer society, are close to how people have come to identify themselves.

So a climate action movement or a climate justice movement that is some amalgam of the environmental movement and the Left has inherited both groups “genteel” attitudes towards consumption and the appetites which capitalism stimulates and/or attempts to satisfy. The supposedly more left-wing climate justice movement has adopted what might be called a “left-green” utopian view of a small-scale tribal society that is explicitly at some remove from present day realities in urban/suburban life. That ideal of a tribal society also, like the genteel environmentalist or leftist, disowns or repudiates the acquisitive impulses which remain a central part of contemporary life. In the cultural frameworks promoted by climate justice activists, these acquisitive impulses and strivings are assumed not to exist or are attributed to the oppressive dominant culture, which is being resisted or overthrown in the scenario in which, in its occasional more radical-sounding rhetoric (i.e. “Flood the System”), the climate justice movement sees itself triumphing.

So there is a common “squeamishness” and “looking away from” the less morally attractive desires, i.e. contemporary human beings relationships to things and to the conveniences of contemporary society, that is shared by these political groups. Rather than face and address these desires that drive much social and economic activity, most of these would-be leaders make as if these aspects of humanity don’t exist or are easily suppressed by moral pressure or innuendo: only their opponents or those that are less morally refined and dwell in the seamier side of life would be concerned about them.

Engagement with the Appetites and Transformation of Demand, Our Only Hope

To negate or deny most people’s contemporary wishes and (material) hopes does not seem to be a promising place to start any popular politics, let alone a politics that must of necessity “change everything” regarding energy and transportation within a span of a few short decades. As I noted in my last piece, much of the climate movement practically denies the demand for energy as a foundation of our civilizations, just as some of their/our opponents deny the impacts of fossil energy extraction and combustion on the global climate. Alternatively there are a very few in that movement that embrace or openly flirt with neo-primitivism, itself based on layers of idealization of tribal life. Overcoming its own mental blockages, the climate movement must turn to engage with the demand for fossil fuels, a component of which are human appetites in their diversity and how energy enables those appetites to be partially satisfied.

Locomotion, heat, cool, human conviviality and connection, the search for individual/group cultural identity and useful/even beautiful products, services and experiences are the desired outcomes that people seek from the use of fossil fuels or from the output of businesses & government agencies that depend in part or in full on fossil fuels for the energy to produce those goods and services. A movement that is currently and rightfully calling to “keep carbon in the ground” would have to answer to people who are looking for the services enabled by the combustion of those fossil carbon compounds:

  • “Where are we to get those energy services in the near and more distant future?”
  • “Are we to heroically abstain from the satisfactions that we currently gain from the energy or derivatives of that energy? Wouldn’t our heroism in this case be equivalent to those who attempt to blockade the sources of these fuels?”
  • “Why aren’t you, the climate movement, addressing us directly? Are you hoping that we wouldn’t notice the impacts of what you are implying by your demand to ‘keep carbon in the ground’?”

For the climate movement to assume that these services will spring up, as if by “the invisible hand” once, somehow, the movement has, it is hoped, strangled the sources of extreme or other fossil fuels by blockades or divestment, is to strain the credulity of most people/consumers/citizens or simply ignore them as important players in the drama.

The “supply side” focus of the climate movement, at least its left-ward wings, is in fact a fairly elitist affair, hoping for a small minority of shareholders, investors, and blockaders to “force” society to give up fossil fuels. This would also resonate with its “genteel” avoidance of the “baser” desirous side of economic demand for energy and services/goods that it enables. If the climate movement imagines it can change the minds of the many by converting a very few of the elite, then it would pursue that strategy appealing in part to the tastes of (a portion of) that elite. Such a strategy, however, contains many political and ethical pitfalls.

The elitist and/or supply-side approach is a low-probability, as well as relatively undemocratic, way to change “everything” about our energy consumption habits.  It also leaves wide open to opponents of climate action the role of political and cultural representatives of material and social wishes, hopes and dreams of ordinary people. Instead of looking away, a broad-brush yet realistic plan or plans should be laid before the public regarding how most of their needs and some of their wishes will be met without emitting carbon within a very short time period. It is not obvious to much of the public that forgoing fossil fuels will be easy or that they are aware of ready-made solutions available to them. It is incumbent on the climate movement or parts of it to lay out that plan or at least a plausible outline of how presently energy and transport will be decarbonized.

I am convinced, given current atmospheric carbon concentrations and the rate at which we are adding to those concentrations, that an easy transition where all existing energy uses are nearly seamlessly met by zero-carbon energy sources is not possible. A spirit of conservation and stewardship of the earth must enter into decisions regarding how to use energy and how governments should invest in zero-carbon emitting infrastructure and components of a future zero carbon energy and transport system. Some of these investments might immediately add convenience and new enjoyments to end users while others will entail a cultural transition that may impose for a time some burdens, i.e. represent a sacrifice of some combination of time, money, and attention.

One example: in high and medium concentration population areas of the world, governments should design and invest in frequent electric bus routes perhaps partially powered by a solar “skin” that could produce perhaps 5-8% of the buses energy use and function as emergency power. Such buses might be outfitted with conveniences like Wifi to enable telecommunications and use of commute time for recreation or work. The advent of the battery electric bus makes bus operations, in terms of total cost over a 8-10 year period, cheaper than a diesel bus even without a sufficiently high carbon price.  With the partial exception of the option of a solar “skin”, these buses in different designs are available right now on the market. They could be powered largely or completely by renewable energy depending on how charge stations were set up and power purchase agreements were negotiated with renewable power plant developers. They could use dedicated bus lanes on existing limited access highways and arterial roads in those nations that have invested in that type of infrastructure.

While battery electric buses have not yet made it into the consciousness of many transit advocates, it is now considered in certain areas of low-energy transport advocacy and urban design a consensus position, that transit routes would be supplemented by a variety of human powered or low-energy transportation modes like bikes on dedicated, protected bikeways separated from car traffic and pedestrians. Urban design and real estate development trends would and should be shaped by the new transportation infrastructure and behavior patterns.

The public bus has to date had a lowly status in high-emitting, high-energy using societies of the world and, for some, especially those who do not have the means to buy an automobile but yearn for one, the bicycle is considered to be a second-best form of transportation. There are hopes of the electric car more rapidly becoming cheaper and more capable at prices accessible to most consumers, though Elon Musk does not appear as sanguine as one might expect about the prospects of a mushrooming of electric vehicle sales on their own. Also the distraction of robot cars is brought up as if it solved the question of how transport is powered (it doesn’t) and the critical timeframe in which we have to work. Many transit advocates are enamored of rail and other marquee transit projects that would seduce jaded car owners into transit. I personally enjoy riding well- maintained rail and see a key role for it in replacing carbon-dependent transportation technologies. But to move rapidly, some tradeoffs in luxury and convenience must be contemplated on a mass-scale.

Mass-scale Conservation and Self-Control of the Appetites Requires their Recognition

With the example of a frequent electric bus network plus biking, I am suggesting that a new social contract with regard to mobility and energy use more generally is required to meet the climate crisis in developed and rapidly developing countries.   For many people to voluntarily postpone, modify, or let go of their habitual use or dreams of enclosed personal vehicles powered by whatever energy is available (fossil or electric from renewable or nuclear sources), the public discussion must recognize and in some way validate their desires and needs for mobility, privacy, and connection with other people, goods, and services.

The genteel conventional environmental movement, the genteel Left, and the genteel climate movement cannot take leadership roles in an appropriately rapid climate transition without recognizing the hopes and aspirations of most energy users for comfort and convenience as well as the hopes of most people for income, meaningful work, and monetary savings. The very gentility that assumes that “all is taken care of” and that dramatic gestures of self-denial or assisting needy others are the substance of climate action, ignore the vital role of energy use and forms of employment related to it in everyday life in many societies. That this energy still is drawn 85% from fossil sources, means a massive transition needs to happen very rapidly and that includes conservation-mindedness and conserving actions, as well as a redirection and support of the economy’s job creation mechanisms.

Such actions to conserve cannot be genteelly “implied” by slogans like “keeping carbon in the ground” or a primary focus on divestment from fossil fuel companies. A public discussion of mobility and stationary energy-use choices is required and cannot be assumed by simply imagining a miraculous stoppering or abstention from fossil energy by activists hopeful of a repeat of the triumphs of the Indian independence movement or the American civil rights movement.

Conservation Efforts Must Paradoxically Banish Fiscal Austerity and Support Low Impact Indulgences

There is an entire mien or personality-type that celebrates abstemiousness and the frustration of desires as a lofty personal virtue.  Some of these people are complete hypocrites in that they indulge themselves while they preach that others must forgo pleasures. There are others who try to live a life devoid of overt indulgence and succeed to varying degrees. Among the latter group are some environmentalists and climate activists.  Advocates of the suicidal and climatocidal trend towards fiscal austerity that emerged after the 2008 financial crash, attempt to mobilize the enthusiasm for self-denial to strangle the public sector/government budgets or misappropriate government’s powers for the wealthiest and most fortunate.

To rapidly build the foundations of a net zero carbon emitting civilization, it will require the mobilization of a great deal of material resources, enabled by the spending of governments, both by the use of fiat money on the national level and via collected tax revenue on high-emitting activities on the regional and local levels. To engage in mass group conservation of the type required means in a number of areas of life violating the enthusiasm for across-the-board self-denial and engaging in what some might view as paradoxical “indulgences”. My message here should not fit existing templates, as some might want to see it.

Money for the purposes of building the new infrastructure for a sustainable society will be plentiful yet focused on effective outcomes. Vast wealth and income inequalities between social classes and economic sectors must be radically diminished by effective climate and social policies, otherwise people will not see the justice in their sacrificing what they have known from the fossil fuel era for the unknowns of the post-fossil fuel era. This is not the vision of the abstemious austerian or the “genteel” Leftist or environmentalist. It is a full-scale mobilization of a broad range of human motives and appetites to do the necessary work to save civilization as well as continue many of the enjoyments that make human civilization worth saving.

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  1. Titus Pullo

    There has always been a radical green movement. Currently, something like Deep Green Resistance is where the various currents of deep ecology, anarchism, radical feminism etc. meet together in a confluence. Derrick Jensen is probably the most prominent voice out there. I recommend searching youtube for videos of his talks.

    Personally, I think we’ve crossed/about to cross a tipping point with methane. The Clathrate Gun hypothesis


    Some arctic sea regions as large as one kilometer in diameter are indeed “frothing” from massive gas releases from previously frozen CH4 deposits. Beginning in 2010, Igor Semiletov of the Russian Academy of Sciences said his research team discovered more than 100 plumes, and estimates there are “thousands” over a wider area, extending from Russian mainland to East Siberian Arctic Shelf. “Earlier we found torch-like structures, but only tens of meters in diameter. This is the first time we found continuous, powerful, impressive seeps more than 1,000 meters in diameter. It’s amazing. We carried out checks at 115 stationary points and discovered methane of a fantastic scale—on a scale not seen before,” Semiletov said.

    This is an ongoing and increasing phenomena. This blog catalogues methane seeps reported in the media. It’s a growing list.

    I personally believe we are approaching abrupt and catastrophic climate change, mostly due to us unleashing the self-reinforcing feedback loop of massive methane release. While I think talking about and working for a zero-emission transit system is really a good thing, we also need to acknowledge and work at building resilient and adaptable communities, for our survival.

    1. jrs

      Live every day like it’s your last :)

      (the next day methane might kill the habitability of the planet I suppose)

      1. Mel

        IBGYBG. Long ago somebody else posted (and seemed quite proud of) the mystical-austerian motto “Live as one already dead.” Heavy stuff.
        My 3-step implementation:
        1. Lie around.
        2. Ignore people.
        3. Smell bad.

    2. susan the other

      Methane will be our undoing. And it’s not as tho’ we don’t produce considerable quantities of it ourselves. And stockyards, and swamps, and on and on. Methane R Us. But the methane geysers in the Arctic are extreme. We need to tent as many as we can. Is it possible to reverse the process and maintain methane hydrates? I wonder who is working on this one.

    3. craazyboy

      Melting the North Pole and releasing all the methane sounds like The Big Oopsie to me.

  2. jrs

    It’s hard to say what in present consumption patterns represents human nature and human desire as the society itself is so completely ill suited to human beings.

    There is probably a base energy use that represents a real addition to human welfare, and it might still be a base energy use more than the planet can take. For instance heating and cooling represent a real increase in human welfare. But EVEN this takes place in a world with shoddy insulation everywhere. So even though it’s a definite improvement, much of even it is wasted. Then there’s transportation to socialize. Most would consider that more than “worth the fossil fuel use”. But people might take public transit more if there was more, I still think they might prefer to drive, but at least a few of those drivers could be lured to take public transit sometimes if it was better funded. People might like to work at home more and commute to work less (I think a lot of people would prefer to work at home) but EVEN IF the nature of their work allows it, the bosses don’t. Then there’s people like to buy things, people do. But most other human desires are rigidly limited so it’s also one of the few things they are allowed. It’s pleasurable but lots of other pleasurable things are blocked. Do they really have much time for socializing, hobbies, family, spirituality or whatever of numerous other things they could enjoy? No. But you can still buy something from Amazon while on the clock at work depending on the job. Do you have control over your day to day? No. But you can buy nice stuff. Maybe people do wasteful things like eat convenience food, but people have no time.

    “The genteel conventional environmental movement, the genteel Left, and the genteel climate movement cannot take leadership roles in an appropriately rapid climate transition without recognizing the hopes and aspirations of most energy users for comfort and convenience as well as the hopes of most people for income, meaningful work, and monetary savings.”

    But hasn’t the existing economic system, especially since 2008, already deprived many if not most people of much of the last three? (the majority may still be employed but even those with an income have often seen it drop).

    So while an environmentally sustainable society might not meet human needs and happiness in the short term as well as present society (in the short term because present society is not sustainable), it’s really stretching to even draw much of a conclusion at all what people want from the present society which is so hostile to the actual human beings in it.

  3. Rosario

    The obvious answer is a planned economy. The hard part is: a) abolishing the accumulation of wealth/resources b) convincing people it isn’t terrible. Despite the dogma taught in the USA, the Soviet Union was very effective at utilizing a planned economy. This all despite their obsession with production and their lack of modern computing and data collection (something we often apply to nonsense, such as number of Youtube views, etc.). The market “works” because there is still enough planet wide resource glut for there to be slop in the economic engineering. The less the resources the tighter the tolerances. If we take the excess energy of fossil fuels out of the system we are going to have more problems than we can currently handle.

    1. Moneta

      There are enough resources because the global economic machine has been set up to feed the developed world’s consumerism. But what would happen if the other 6B got to live the material lives we do?

      The first question to ask ourselves is whether or not it is logical to think we will keep on getting access to the same share of global energy and resources over the coming decades.

      The next question is what happens to our current infrastructure and way of life if emerging markets get to keep a growing share of world energy and resources for their own consumption.

      I believe we have built ourselves unsustainable neighborhoods and that we are still clueless about the amount of entropy in our system that is just begging for a general breakdown.

      Austerity is not a good solution but spending on more infra based on today’s societal material values would not fix our problems either. We are in a pickle.

  4. Randy

    It’s obvious that environmental public policy needs to take people’s appetites into consideration. But that issue seems somewhat moot if the combination of adverse environmental effects combined with diminished economic prospects due to resource constraints — physical or speculative — ruin people’s lives anyway. I think we as a society need to start a serious public discussion of Eco-catastrophe management however oxymoronic that sounds. To some extent, we’ve screwed the pooch and need to seek a humane and civil approach to dealing with the consequences of environmental collapse and resource depletion. Whether or not it’s too little too late, satisfying all of our creature comforts in an environmentally sustainable way will be an increasingly important goal driven by ecological and economic dilemmas. I don’t think we have a great deal of control over the future environment in which we pursue it though. You can’t regulate tidal waves or droughts I’m afraid.

  5. Jim Haygood

    ‘I see this in many places both in local activism here in Northern California …’

    Well, there’s your problem right there. In the crappy gray light of Kali’s state-mandated Title 24 CFL lighting (with special GU-24 pins so environmental hooligans can’t swap them out for banned incandescents), you can’t see for shit.


    By the clear light of black-market halogens, one can discern the stream of Kali refugees fleeing the flakery.

    Don’t Kalifornicate me, bro!

  6. Dan Lynch

    Mostly agree with the gist of Hoexter’s point, that a plan is needed to deal with the consequences of keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

    But ….Hoexter said “Money for the purposes of building the new infrastructure for a sustainable society will be plentiful.” Yeah, but you can’t make solar panels or concrete & steel infrastructure out of fiat money. Making solar panels requires energy. Concrete requires energy — dirty energy. Steel requires energy. And so forth. The budget that we should focus on is not the fiat budget but the carbon budget.

    My view is that a planned economy would be required along with severe rationing and much personal sacrifice and hardship. I also believe that a one-child policy would be prudent; in fact, one child per couple may be too generous.

    However, there is no political will to do these things. It’s one thing to get people to agree that fracking is bad because it pollutes groundwater and another thing to get people to agree to give up their SUV, their ski boat, their ATV, their climate controlled McMansion, their flight to Disneyland for summer vacation, their flight to visit Grandma at Thanksgiving, and their right to have 19 children. Never mind getting governments to give up their fighter planes and Humvees. So it isn’t going to happen and we are doomed.

    Sorry to be so negative but that’s just reality as I see it.

    1. SDB


      If only you could be our totalitarian dictator. Then we could all live shitty lives. You’re a smart guy I’ve read plenty of your blog comments over the past few years, but I’m glad you don’t have real power.

      The road to hell can be paved with good intentions.

    2. different clue

      Let the severe rationing begin with the rich people first and the upper middle class people second. Make it real and make it so we can all see it. Then we’ll consider it for the rest of us.

  7. SoCal Rhino

    This article resonated with me. In particular I was struck by the example of transit and the recognition that most people in the U.S. that use buses aspire to own their own car. I often sense a kind of satisfaction in climate activists (or climate conversationalists) in talk of how the unenlightened are going to have to learn a primitive lifestyle soon. Something the Fox News types pick up on and demagogue very effectively. Maybe it’s the gentility described here, also reminds me of as ascetic strains in the mainstream Protestant faith of my childhood.

  8. Chauncey Gardiner

    Despite his comments about specific elements of society who I feel he doesn’t need to alienate, and who might be policy allies given more constructive context, I appreciate the effort that Hoexter put into his article and his sense of urgency, including his observations about what we (humanity) need to do politically to get to a more favorable climate outcome. Further discussion of specific actions and policies he and others would propose to generate the political focus and will to address this critical issue by individuals, organizations, governments at various levels, and supranational organizations would also be appreciated.

    Other than heightening public awareness of the breadth, depth and immediacy of the environmental problems, the Kyoto Protocol has largely failed in getting governments to address the underlying issues. It is noteworthy that during negotiations that were held in Lima in 2014 to agree on a post-Kyoto legal framework that would obligate all major polluters to pay for CO2 emissions, China, India, and the United States all signaled there that they will not ratify any treaty that would commit them legally to reduce CO2 emissions.


    The contents of various proposed so-called “trade” agreements, such as the TPP and TTIP, are also being kept secret.

    I take exception to what I perceive to be the author’s criticisms of individuals or organizations who are attempting to implement environmental and conservation policies at the individual, local and regional levels, regardless of their individual psychological or economic motivations, which I consider to be largely irrelevant. I also have no problem with individuals or organizations such as Nature Conservancy or a regional conservancy organization buying or accepting donations of large land parcels and placing them into conservation trusts. Organizations like First Nations in Canada to Athabasca oil sands extraction, or those Hoexter mentioned who oppose fracking, are also contributing. “Think globally, act locally” should have a place in the policy set IMO, as consensus building and active participation are key. It will take more than a village.

  9. susan the other

    I enjoyed this practical analysis. But I think it too is genteel. My feeling is that world governments are in overdrive trying to solve our global warming problems. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the new trade blocks and our push for TPP etc. is closely related to the mess we are in. It is reasonable to think that well organized, high-tech corporations can manufacture most of our necessary consumer goods with the least pollution. But that doesn’t excuse their demand that they make a profit on this emergency. That is my definition of obscene. If the situation is as serious as I think it is, we need to nationalize everything for as long as it takes to get things under control. And that is going to be at least a few decades.

  10. SoCal Rhino

    I think it was Greer who made the observation that in Detroit, and specifically in mass shut-offs of water, the future has arrived. Sort of the same impulse you see with moving work offshore while preserving a shrinking core. By which I mean, I don’t necessarily think the solutions being pursued will result in a lifeboat with seats for everyone.

    1. Lambert Strether

      There’s a lot of this “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed” stuff going around; and I wouldn’t put most of it into the “Utopian” category; quite the reverse.

  11. Gaylord

    I wish I had the time and inclination to delve into the many aspects of this monumental crisis of civilization, however I do not see much point in a critique of environmental movements, nor do I see much value in joining them. None of us has a crystal ball, of course, but there is ample evidence that industrial civilization’s impact on the earth’s ecological and geophysical stability has been extreme, and the headlong thrust and momentum due to short-term and linear thinking leads inevitably to extinction.

    Methane eruption in the Artic is just one of many self-reinforcing feedbacks that have been forced, and there are other impacts that are potentially catastrophic to all life on earth, including the ongoing Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant conflagration (we observe the continuing death of the Pacific Ocean and beyond) and the likely failure of many more of these dirty bomb machines when power from the grid is interrupted for long stretches. This seemingly ultimate human achievement — “unlocking” the power of the atom — will kill most organisms and will corrupt the gene pool of all life on earth.

    The notion that technology and innovation can save us from ourselves is counter intuitive. The root cause of our self destruction is the inherent defect in human consciousness: the dominant ego and its drive for self aggrandizement, acquisition, and power over others and over nature. Wise people have explained this through the ages, and yet very few would listen and heed. Most humans, individually and collectively, do not learn from their mistakes nor do they empathize with the suffering of others (including other species). This indicates a lack of intelligence which contradicts the consensual belief in the supremacy of human intelligence.

    I think the human experiment on this planet will end soon. The implication of this for individuals that are aware is how to cope with the resulting grief, knowing that all culture will die. As others have pointed out, doing anything else is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    1. different clue

      The Indian Nations apparently had this inherent defect in human nature under control, and showed it by their succesful terraforming of large zones of North and South America. Other pre-or-non WesterModern peoples and nations achieved the same thing.

      So perhaps WesterModern Man can learn something from the NonWestern and CounterModern cultures still in un-exterminated existence . . . and apply those lessons to rewiring our WesterModern Civilizations.

  12. Oguk

    I’ve always liked the articles by Hoexter published here. Agree or disagree, I’ve mostly found his viewpoints well thought out, well argued, and stimulating.

    I really enjoyed reading this after reading the article by Gaius Publius the other day – which forcefully argued for the “supply-side” approach to combat anthropogenic climate change that is critiqued here. While I was willing to agree with Gaius about the ultimate necessity of shutting off carbon fuels at the source, I did feel strongly there was something lacking in the argument – “you can’t just argue to cut off energy sources cold turkey. No one will buy that!” was the best I could come up with. Gaius of course denied that he means that, but then his essay seems like an elaborate argument to “shock” us into activism. I’m don’t need to be shocked, I want to get to work, and make it count! Anyway, I couldn’t articulate my reservations as well as Hoexter has here. The analysis of the environmental movement and the Left given here also rings true.

    There’s a lot to consider. Thanks for posting this article.

    1. jrs

      Got ideas on getting to work and making it count re environmental issues?

      As for social change in general, maybe we all just need to dedicate a set amount of time, a day a week or something to work on social change. I’m obviously not addressing full time activists etc.. I’m addressing busy ordinary working people. And yes those losers may be slaving for the capitalists for their daily bread and feeding the hand that bites them, but oh well, I’m still thinking what they can do. And with that time do the best we can think to do (and no I don’t think it’s the solution to arctic methane – haha that is absurd, but maybe the best we can do on some issues like the TPP is a letter to the editor that day – ok small and whatever but something).

      I don’t think isolated individuals wracking their brains to think of what to do and doing it is optimal, I don’t even think isolated individuals studying such is optimal though it’s better. Clearly isolated individuals alone will not save anything. It’s just …. groups to work on political issues … are sometimes almost worse than useless. Obviously well functioning groups are good, they often seem rare. But yes it’s obviously better to join up with others if it looks like they are actually trying to accomplish something.

      1. Oguk

        What to do with limited time, yeah that’s the question…I’m not a full time organizer, so at best, for the moment, I’m going to chip in – someone else is going to have the time to develop strategy. Hopefully some full-time organizers read the article (and agree).

        I guess some thoughts after reading Michael Hoexter’s article is:
        – keeping in mind the “full ask”, not the limited campaign, is critical. When you get people to a rally, remind them of the real goal (i.e. fracking is a sign of peak oil). Shutting down the source is part of the full ask (to give Gaius his due). In that context, by the way, the university campaigns I’ve read about for divestment from fossil fuels seems on track.
        – Also, we need writers to write realistically, with knowledge of the current state of technology, of what post-carbon industries could look like. What will post-carbon agriculture look like? What’s the tradeoff really between large scale and small scale? Can small scale really *replace* large scale?
        – Looking at energy generation, I found a blog recently that took data on the largest wind farm in the US, and projected what area would be needed to generate the amount of electricity used by California. It was about 1% of the land of California. That’s a lot, but visually it looks “doable”. In that vision there looks like enough room for people, energy generation, farms.
        – What about metals, plastics, everyday consumer goods? What realistic alternatives are there? Yes I know there’s more than enough of those for Americans already; but what will a reasonable post-carbon future of consumer goods look like?
        – We all have opinions – how do we create forums to share those ideas? Climate change visioning groups…clubs…

    2. Norb

      To my mind this sentiment strikes to the heart of the matter. The 99% versus the 1% theme resonated so powerfully because for the fist time in decades a critique of Capitalism punched thru the propaganda shield of the elite. What we need is a “Powell Memo for Labor”. Working people intuitively know the “System” is broken but have no clear understanding of who is responsible. A Slave intuitively knows that slavery is not a social system designed in his or her best interests. TINA persists because there is no coordinated effort to refute it.

  13. Russell Scott Day

    For all the laments that too many went to the the study of the soft sciences, now not even allowed as science, like Sociology, or Political Science, way too many seem to have missed the line of the Sociologists: Excess energy is the foundation of civilization.

    Of course I remember our high school bullshit about the horrors of “Civilization”, so could be they are just dying to go live in cabins, off grid, spearing fish.

    I can’t tell why people want to be so stupid about it. I sometimes ask people what was the latest book they read, and all I usually here is “I’m just so busy.”

    Marquet says, “Leaders ask, don’t tell.” That’s great when the follower knows something, as if I was to ask an engineer how to get all the power for civilization as we know it without fossil fuels.

    1. Lambert Strether

      Please do not start your comments with a STRONG tag. Nobody else makes their comments all bold, and if the fad spreads, the comment section will be unreadable.

      Please separate your paragraphs with two carriage returns for readability.

      Thank you!

    2. Moneta

      There is a huge difference between living in a tipi, fishing for subsistence and living in a highly mortgaged 2000 square foot house, with 2 cars and driving 5km to go get a litre of milk.

      If we sat down and made list of all the things we could change to reduce our consumption of resources and energy while maintaining our quality of life, the number of items would be astounding.

      The problem is that all these wasteful things we do contribute to GDP and corporate profits. If we changed our values and habits a little too quickly, many livelihoods would be crushed.

      1. Norb

        Yes. So we are back to TINA? The elite use the “We can’t change too quickly” meme postponing change indefinitely. Just like pension systems are used to rip-off workers. Fair wages today are postponed in the form of a promise to pay in the future. Well, if the system works for the elite, that day never comes.

        The problem is many livelihoods are being crushed in the name of corporate profits. The Planet is being crushed in the name of corporate profits.

        I like the idea of sitting down and making a list of all the things we could do to conserve resources and energy. Then we could marvel at the possibility of positive change and implement what we can in our private lives. Maybe, I should walk away form my overpriced and highly mortgaged home and start a new more responsible life?

        The best thing I’ve done in the past few years is starting my own garden along with a chicken coop and compost bin. Will this change the direction our country is headed? No. But I show my neighbors there is another way of living and looking at the world. Now, people I work with are starting to garden and share plants at work! Now to my mind that is a true sharing economy. I didn’t actively intend to start a home gardening program from work but by talking about these issues and living by them opens up a space for things to happen.

        What I see every day are people desperate for a better way of living. It’s time we start creating this better way and actually living it now.

      2. different clue

        Is it possible to understand this comment as saying that there is a large zone of gradient between the tipi and the 2-car big house job-slavery lifestyle? Can we understand this as saying that there is a large space to work in for doing something in stages?

        Because if global warming gets hot enough, and acid oceans get acid enough separately but concurrently, every livelihood will be crushed in due course.

        As William F. Burroughs once said . . . ” Take your time, kid. ( How fast can you take your time, kid?) “

        1. Moneta

          Yes. But I am not sure whether the stages will come by choice or by necessity.

          I’m not sure many people have really thought about how much energy has to be expended to get the stuff they quickly throw out or the limited instants of consumption gratification.

          The scary thing is that we are doing more and more stupid stuff, like heating our backyards at night, without a care in the world. The waste keeps on getting worse and this despite all the environmental warnings. It is mind boggling… My grandmother, 93, did not burn wood for fun in her youth because it was precious. It came from pure labour which required more calories. They kept it for the winter.

          So, for most, it won’t be a choice… how could it if they are not prepared?

          1. different clue

            When stuff which lasted for a long time existed to be bought, isn’t that what people bought? Haven’t people only started mass-buying mass-quantities of disposable whatevers only after that sort of Walmart Junk is what more and more of the world’s factories are made to produce? Middle America did not ask for MFN for China to shut down makers of long-lasting shinola goods here and replace it with short-lasting shit goods from China or Mexico or Bangladesh or wherever. That was an Overclass Overlord decision, carried out by secret upper-class agent scum like Bill Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.

            So . . . how to force the widespread making of long-lasting wears-forever shinola goods back into widespread existence? That would lead to some consumptional energy use reductions right there.

            1. Moneta

              I think the scarcity will come by itself over the next few decades, with the ROW consuming a bigger share of world resources and forcing the developed world into energetic austerity.

              1. Norb

                This point is key- do we live in a world of scarcity or a world of abundance? Well, it all depends on the choices you make both individually and as a society. Its all a matter of perspective. How you view the problem of supplying the necessities of life and your relationship to the world in which you live.

                If you set up your society as an engine of exploitation, what results do you expect to achieve? We are seeing the results. The elite will shield themselves from the consequences of their actions until they can’t.

                Jared Diamond addresses these issues in his book “Collapse”

                When more people realize the elite in all their forms have failed us the better.

                If you choose to live in a world of abundance, the steps necessary to achieve it become obvious. Isn’t the world in its Natural state without human interference a world of abundance?

                If we continue down the current elite meme of scarcity, well, the outlook is not good. Elite/Rich have everything. Little People/Poor-well-are poor.

                We are really back to Milton Freedman. Free to Choose-What?

                I say choosing abundance for all and working to make that a reality.

                1. Moneta

                  It is possible to be surrounded by abundance, yet still suffer from scarcity. This can depend on the advancement of technology to transform the plentiful resources around us, on how the markets absorb these new technologies and the distribution of resources.

                  We might have the science to fix our environment but will we have markets that can introduce these in time or societies that change their distribution capabilities?

                  That being said, I do believe that up to now we have lived in a world of abundance but I do not believe it will last. I believe there are limits. In the animal world, when there are too many of one species vs. its prey, the population usually drops off and a new equilibrium is attained.

                  I believe the same will happen with humans. How many more decades of seeming abundance do we have left? I have no clue.

                  Can we do something about it? I hope so but historically, no nation has cut its consumption of energy by choice. Energy offers power and dominance and letting other nations use the share we could have used or stored is risky.

                  1. Moneta

                    Thanks for the links!

                    But abundance of food is quite a stretch from the abundance of stuff we have now.

                    1. different clue

                      If an equal distribution of scarcity of certain other things could guarantee the survival of ecosystems which permit an abundance of food, perhaps such acceptance of equal scarcity of other things could be suggested and accepted on that basis.

                2. different clue

                  Follow-on comment in same thought . . .

                  Here is a little page about Masanobu Fukuoka thumbnailing his approach to future abundance.

                  And here is what seems to be a link for downloading the whole book its own self. I haven’t tried it so don’t know if it would work and don’t know how risky it might be.

          2. Norb

            Great point. I fear change will only happen by necessity though. It baffles me that more people don’t choose to make the world a better place. Even the small things that take little time and energy to accomplish are resisted. Why is that? One explanation is the climate of fear we are forced to live under. Fear is such a powerful emotion and probably the human emotion most likely to trigger an immediate response. A call to action response or a response of stunned immobility. It would be interesting to see some studies on which response is most prevalent in humans. I would guess stunned immobility.

            Is this the elite plan- keep the little people in a constant state of fear, prevent them from joining forces to create a climate of power and security, and rig the economic system to keep them impoverish and without resources?

            I think positive change will occur when my neighbors and I can come together and realize we don’t need 10 lawnmowers – or lawns for that matter- if we worked together
            and pooled our resources. What jobs will we have? The ones that make the world a better place to live in.

            Very scary to realize you need to rebuild your economy from the ground up in order to survive.

            Rebuild or prepare for a slow death-or a quicker one from methane.

  14. Art Myatt

    The complaint here, as I understand it, is that Bill McKibben and James Hansen and the Sierra Club and Food & Water Watch and the anti-fracking movement and the rest of the “climate movement” (Hoexter’s term) is not following the proper and realistic strategy, as defined by Hoexter. The movement won’t, and it can’t because it is a movement, not a unified organization.

    Those who don’t remember it very well – or at all – might imagine the civil rights movement of the 1960s was controlled by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. MLK and SCLC ware certainly important, but the fact is, they had a lot of competition.

    There was Malcom X, Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali and the Black Muslims, who took a quite different approach and appealed to an entirely different religion. There was Huey Newton, Eldrige Cleaver, H. Rap Brown, Bobby Seale and other Black Panthers, who were not in fact particularly violent, but who explicitly did not promise non-violence. There was Stokely Carmichael and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which did pledge non-violence, but whose goals were more directly political than those of SCLC.

    James L. Farmer, Jr. and the Congress of Racial Equality, which created the original Freedom Riders, was another important organization in the mix. They did more organizing in the urban North than SCLC and SNCC. Thurgood Marshall and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Worked more with legal and lobbying than with direct action.

    This is just a bare beginning of a description of the disparate and sometimes conflicting personalities and organizations that all together made up “the movement” in the 1960s. It wasn’t all about civil rights. There was the Student Peace Union, Students for a Democratic Society, various Committees Against the War in Vietnam and, toward the end of the 1960s, an emerging militant feminism. In addition, some mainstream politicians also tried to ride the wave.

    The point is, it was a movement. That means similar and shared goals expressed through multiple organizations with a variety of tactics and strategies. It was not, and is not, just a question of “whatever works.” All of the tactics and strategies of the civil rights and beyond movement “worked” to one extent or another. Each organization appealed to somewhat different groups of people. All together, the movement shook up the society and forced “the establishment” to yield on a number of points that previously seemed firmly established.

    Similar goals and multiple strategies – that’s how the climate movement is going to be, because it is a movement, not not an army controlled from the top down. It also seems that the climate movement is developing into a climate justice movement. Perhaps those organizations that emphasize justice and equality will be more successful in pushing today’s establishment off its business-as-usual course than those more narrowly focused on lobbying for the environment.

    That’s a good thing. We’ve got a real movement started here. There’s no reason to stop because there are a few hints at possible success. That’s reason to push harder until we see real, unequivocal success, not a symbolic gesture here and there. We should grow only those parts of the economy that that are compatible with a healthy environment, and shrink those parts that degrade or destroy the evnvironment.

    If we can take a lesson from the 1960s, it should be that a number of strategies work toward the same general goal. We should not waste our time criticizing organizations that are not among the corporations and parties who control our society. Pick an organization that makes sense to you, and focus on making that as effective as possible at lowering emissions, developing clean energy and sharing depleting resources as equitably as possible.

    Push today’s establishment for results. Don’t worry about whether you are following a movement, or leading it. Worry, if you must, about whether you are being effective, or wasting your time.

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