On the Duty to Obstruct

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Yves here. I hate again to sound like a naysayer, but there are two issues with Andreas Malm’s “destroy CO2 emitting property” as a solution to climate change.

First, unlike the suffragettes, climate changes activists are not seeking rights that can be conferred legislatively. They are proposing to destroy infrastructure that is used to support the provisioning of society. I can see a persuasive case for wrecking or interfering physically with the installation of new facilities that will add to the greenhouse gas load, but existing plant and equipment involves moral issues of its own. And I don’t mean damage to the owners. How do these CO2 obstructionists propose to deal with the livelihoods of those whose homes or businesses used this energy? It’s a no-brainer that the ones most exposed to downside will be the poor.

And if we are talking purity, do the activists not use cars, busses, and public transportation? Even though some forms of mobile transport are less bad than others, most involve carbon. Across the US, 60% of the electricity used in EVs still comes from natural gas and coal and a smidge of petroleum. Have the eschewed the use of plastic, which is mainly composed of oil and gas derivatives and takes energy to “crack”?

Climate change activists need to work towards creating consensus for radically different living and production arrangements so that society can operate, even if at a more modest level of activity. I have yet to see ideas or plans that are remotely adequate to meet the real challenge. As I wrote in an intro to Neuburger’s earlier post about Andreas Malm:

The reason I’m not at all a fan is our only hope of avoiding worst outcomes is building communities and networks. By contrast, attacks on property, even if they are unquestionably bad carbon-emitters, violates one of Sun Tsu’s rules of combat: “Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat.”

If you don’t think the government won’t support aggressive and heavily subsidized programs to rebuild energy infrastructure destroyed by “domestic terrorists”, you are smoking something strong. And that means even more carbon generation in transportation and construction. And property destruction (which may wind up involving deaths or maiming) is also a gimmie to carbon emitters, since it will help them in depicting climate change realists (as in those who correctly say radical action is necessary) as allies of thugs.

Second, most people put obligations to their spouses and their children, and sometimes to their parents, as taking precedence over duties to society. That is one reason that the 1960s rebellions were led by the young. Not only did they have energy and idealistic zeal, but comparatively few were burdened by family obligations.

As we also said on the earlier Andreas Malm post:

So why are we so stuck on a bad trajectory? Simple explanations are always simplistic, but I hazard that humans have seldom been good at working out how to manage competing levels of responsibility, and the tensions and contradictions get greater as societies become more complex. Let me turn the mike over to that great philosopher, Jamie Lannister:

So many vows…they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or the other.

And I hate to say it, but the cases where non-violent resistance has succeeded is when the cause generated true and sustained mass demonstrations. That hasn’t happened with climate change. There was a large-scale turnout around the world for the September 2019 climate action, with an estimate of participation as high at 7.6 million globally, and 2 million in a second action a week later. Wikipedia says 250,000 turned out in New York City. By contrast, BBC estimated that anti-Iraq war protests brought out between six and ten million demonstrators. That seems light give that Wikipedia reports 3 million protested in Rome and 1.5 million in Madrid. I know the New York City numbers were badly underreported; BBC claims only 100,000 turned out that cold day. Seasoned protestors who were there told me the numbers were higher. The police formed a cordon at Second Avenue, including a full complement of mounted police to prevent the riff raff from getting near UN Plaza. They were shunted uptown to Harlem.

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies

“The easiest way to win most games is to put yourself in position to block all progress by any other player until you get what you need first. The game of Monopoly is a perfect example. You can win most of the time by first buying properties that block all monopolies, then trading to your advantage.”
—Yours truly

“Let the capitalists who keep on investing in the fire know that their properties will be trashed. We are the investment risk.
—Andreas Malm, from How to Blow Up a Pipeline


When is the decision to obstruct a moral one?

Consider these two problems, one from the House vote on Biden’s infrastructure bill, the other from the problems faced by the climate movement. Seemingly disconnected, they share a common problem — and a common solution.

Dealing With Corporate Democrats and Their Leaders

First this, from a recent Naked Capitalism piece by Michael Hudson, who asks in his headline, “Did the Squad Give Away Their Bargaining Power?

[A]fter teasing the Progressive Caucus for a few months by letting them think that the BBB [President Biden’s Build Back Better bill] really was “Bernie’s bill,” [the Biden administration] made an about-face and treated it as merely a starting point to be scaled back. That has given new meaning to the word “transformative” for Biden’s Administration. It seeks to transform the economy to favor the Donor Class One Percent.

The six House Democrats who voted against the [corporate-friendly infrastructure] bill are Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and perhaps the most outspoken member, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. The New York Times post mortem … after the Friday midnight capitulation described how Black Caucus leaders negotiated a “trust them” compromise. “The progressives slowly caved. The no votes dwindled from 20 to 10 and finally 6.” [Jonathan Weisman and Carl Hulse, “The Congressional Black Caucus Was Key to the Infrastructure Vote,” The New York Times, November 6, 2021]

Recall that the progressives’ gift to the corrupt corporatist Democrats was to promise to support their neoliberal infrastructure bill in the House in exchange for corporate Democrats’ support for the social programs in the BBB bill in the Senate. In other words, the two bills would be taken up as a set, in tandem, with the passage of one guaranteeing the passage of the other.

What actually happened? Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi broke her promise and decoupled the two bills. She put the corporate infrastructure bill up for a stand-alone vote in the House before the Senate approved the BBB bill, challenging progressives to vote it down. House progressives, including progressive caucus leader Pramila Jayapal, folded. All but six House Democrats supported the corporate bill, even as they watched their own policies in the BBB bill cut to the bone, and even as the passage of BBB in the Senate was put in jeopardy.

(And note: Not all of the six No votes were meaningful or truly oppositional. Ayanna Pressley, for example, voted No only after the corporate bill was assured of passage.)

The House vote on the stand-alone corporate bill is here. As it turned out, 13 Republicans voted Yes against just six No votes from the so-called Progressive Caucus. Smart money, or at least mine, says that if more Republican Yes votes were needed, Pelosi would have found them. Once more, the corporatists won because progressives (and “progressives”) couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say No.

Hudson continues: “By capitulating, the Progressive Caucus has lost its single effective bargaining point: its ability to do what Manchin and Sinema have been doing–using the leverage of President Biden’s desperation to get some law passed, to do something in the wake of Tuesday’s losses in Virginia and elsewhere throughout the country.”

He decries the decision that led most progressives to retreat from theonly strong negotiating point available to them: the ability to block the Blue Dog/New Democratic Coalition dilution” of the original BBB bill.

The takeaway from this is simple: Saying no to corporate Democratic leaders means actually saying no. Anything else is a yes. As Krystal Ball pointed out in the video above, Manchin said he could live with zero — no bills at all. Progressives on the other hand, even Bernie Sanders, could not.

I’ll have much more to say about using obstruction to win against the Democratic Party. For now, consider the above sad tale as yet another example of progressives failing to use power when power is given them, and abetting rule by the rich as a result.

The Immorality of the ‘Moral’ Choice

The second piece I want to consider involves the climate movement — in particular, Adam Tooze’s review of Andreas Malm’s book How to Blow Up a Pipeline.

(For my own first thoughts on Malm’s ideas see, “Andreas Malm: ‘Because Nothing Else Has Worked’” from last July. As you will read below, events — especially the fate of the “clean energy” provisions that Biden has removed from his BBB bill — are proving Malm absolutely right.)

Tooze ranges widely in his piece. Near the end he writes about how the climate movement has painted itself into a corner (my phrase) by choosing the “moral” (his word) path of non-violence, and especially by fetishizing (his word again) non-violence against property:

The question that drives How to Blow up a Pipeline is why the new movements of protest in 2019, despite their scale and dynamism, refused to adopt the techniques of physical obstruction and disruption successfully modelled by Ende Gelände.

(Ende Gelände is a German climate group that espouses and embraces direct action. For more, see here.)

Part of the answer is moral. The US movement, in particular, has imbibed a commitment to non-violent methods. Some argued that attacks on property would only produce a painful and repressive backlash, and indeed, this summer, Jessica Reznicek, who with Ruby Montoya mounted a sabotage campaign against the Dakota Access pipeline, was sentenced to eight years in federal prison. But, as Malm argues, these familiar tactical concerns have been reinforced in the current phase of the climate movement by a peculiar reading of history, in which the power of self-control and non-violence is fetishised. [emphasis added]

This is both a strategic mistake and a tragic misreading of the history of successful movements against oppression, including the movement to outlaw slavery in America:

[A]s Malm points out, the climate movement’s appropriation of history has been one-sided. How can one treat the suffragette movement seriously without emphasising its use of direct action and sabotage? Even more grotesque is the representation of the abolition of slavery as if it were achieved through the high moralism of Quaker ‘NGOs’, rather than slave rebellion or the radical example of militant abolitionists.

Consider the Toussaint slave rebellion that freed Haiti, or better, the American Civil War. Non-violent they were not, yet they were undoubtedly effective. In both cases, the abolitionists lost the aftermath, not the war.

The non-violent revolt against slavery in the United States

Because nothing else has worked, Malm sees the climate activists’ best leverage as the use of their bodies to block the carbon-producing machine to the greatest extent they can:

Here is what this movement of millions should do, for a start: announce and enforce the prohibition. Damage and destroy new CO2-emitting devices. Put them out of commission, pick them apart, demolish them, burn them, blow them up. Let the capitalists who keep on investing in the fire know that their properties will be trashed. ‘We are the investment risk,’ runs a slogan from Ende Gelände, but the risk clearly needs to be higher than one or two days of interrupted production per year. ‘If we can’t get a serious carbon tax from a corrupted Congress, we can impose a de facto one with our bodies,’ Bill McKibben has argued, but a carbon tax is so 2004. If we can’t get a prohibition, we can impose a de facto one with our bodies and any other means necessary.

According to Malm, the activist should say, “I am your investment risk. I am why your fossil fuel investment will fail.”

What are the odds that this tactic will succeed? Not great at all. The world is still the world, and the rich still run it.

But that’s the wrong question. The right question is: What are the odds that passive resistance will fail? And the answer: Infinitely greater.

In both arenas we’re watching non-violent non-obstructive resistance as we speak. No corporate infrastructure bill was harmed in the progressive surrender for the scraps they hope to get from the still-unpassed BBB bill. And the fossil fuel industry still calls the shots in the Biden administration.

It’s Going to Take Force

If it hasn’t been obvious before, it’s obvious now — it’s going to take force to win back an equitable and habitable planet from the psychopathic hubris of the very very rich.

Tooze says, ‘“Given the reality of the underlying conflict, division and strife are not to be regretted, but embraced.” I would agree on both the issues we’ve discussed. If conflict is inevitable — if conflict is the only route to a truly moral outcome — then let’s embrace the tools we’re given and win with them. If those tools include a degree of obstruction that threatens the structure itself, so be it.

I would consider preserving a habitable planet unarguably moral. I would consider fighting for better living conditions for the preyed-upon many in America — an actual “build back better” bill, an actual Medicare For All system, an actual reduction in prescription drug prices — also unarguably moral.

Which leads me to ask: Should it be considered immoral not do those things?

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76 comments

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That is an elegant way to try to win people over. Too many people believe that climate-friendly lifestyle means going back to Little Home on the Prairie. Having said that, if we don’t get serious soon, that will look very attractive compared to more likely outcomes.

      Reply
        1. KLG

          The Amish do not appear to be successful. They are. And their approach to agriculture as biological and cultural is very scalable: Same scale as the typical Amish farm multiplied by whatever factor is required to return people to the land, where they will care for it rather than strip mine it, as is done in what has become conventional agribusiness. The renascence of thousands of small towns and hamlets mostly east of the 100th meridian is a result much to be desired as the world must shrink if we are to survive. Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Gene Logsdon, and the Amish farmer David Kline have shown the way, and written about it. Thousands of other small farmers have shown the way and not written about it. Almost to a family, they live a very good life, if not a life the typical neoliberal understands.

          Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture, 2002, by Andrew Kimball is a good place to start. Still in print I think, but the Alibris link is here for inexpensive used copies.

          Oh, and I have read Andreas Malm’s three(?) books. Fossil Capital is amazing. His last book was a cry of the heart. Understandable. But a way forward?

          Reply
          1. vlade

            Yes, we can live like Amish do.

            But there will be way fewer of us *). How do you propose to get to that stage w/o sorting out who’s going to live and who’s going to make space for the others?

            *) How do you rehouse the millions who live in the cities, how do you deal with producing medicines and other things that Amish have no problem in using, but require methods and technologies that are way, way beyond what any “simple” community can achieve?

            Reply
            1. KLG

              All good questions, vlade. A 5,000-acre industrial farm on the right piece of land in Iowa, Ohio, Georgia, or Indiana, has space for 50 manageable small farms upon which the farm will be seen and worked instead of mined. I’m most familiar with the Georgia of my childhood, when this was normal. All of my great uncles and aunts farmed, 75-200 acres. Cattle, who ate grass and were not sent to Kansas to be “finished” and Nebraska to be “packed” and then sent through several middlemen to reappear at the small local grocery or Piggly-Wiggly in the next town over, pigs who were not “housed” in concrete death chambers, ditto for chickens, corn for food and feed, oats, wheat, barley, row crop vegetables for sale in the local economy. I don’t exactly remember how long it took me as an 8-year-old to fill a bushel basket with peas, but it seemed interminable ;-) The fried chicken and peach cobbler for lunch made it very worthwhile.

              Speaking of which, my relatives were exceptional cooks. I asked my Great Aunt Marie (b. 1895) to teach me in the mid-1970s how she fried chicken. She did. Very simple: salt, pepper, all-purpose flour, and hot vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet. I could never match it. Then, much later it occurred to me that it was the chicken. Even if hers had not come out of the yard that morning, as it surely did when she was younger and Uncle Tom (Doughboy in the Great War) was still alive, it did not come from some House of Chicken Horrors in Arkansas where it was filled with antibiotics to keep it alive in the presence of 40,000 other birds, and then shot up with saline just before packaging to increase the sale weight. When I can get chicken from a local producer who raises his birds on the earth where they eat crickets, grass, and some cracked corn? Tastes just like Aunt Marie’s!

              Industrial production of medicines and other needs and commodities? The industrial economy should be supported by the surrounding countryside, where the people are fellow citizens (note that “consumer” is Neoliberal for “citizen), neighbors, relatives, and friends. Farmers and merchants are not expected to produce medicines and tractors in small shops down the street. All we have to do is what we did before the Neoliberal Dispensation (because markets, go die), when the supply chain extended from Indianapolis to Atlanta and Houston and environs, Rahway to upstate New York and Baltimore, instead of from Guandong to Long Beach, New Orleans, and Savannah. Eugene Odum, whom I knew as an undergraduate, made this case in one of the last ecology textbooks he published. I lost the book long ago, but I remember a figure showing the footprint required for the provisioning of NYC, which extended into the Upstate, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. But not as far as Richmond or Chicago, and certainly not to China. Rinse and repeat for Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, Detroit, Dallas, Atlanta. There is no “natural law” to prevent this now. Only an ideology more focused on what we cannot do, because markets, than what we must do, because people.

              This won’t be easy, but it is essential.

              Funny thing is, we had rich people back those days, too. But they were (usually) a part of their community, instead of a group apart, in Jackson Hole and the Hamptons and the Vineyard. I take heart in Mark Blyth’s statement that “the Hamptons are not a defensible position…” From the people or the ocean.

              Reply
              1. vlade

                Ok, so what you’re saying is to return to say 60s/70s, not go full Amish. That I can sort of go with, although again, we have to be careful about what it means.

                Because when I was looking at some data for 70s (based on “let’s go back to 70s, it was all swell then” article), the GHG production on per capita basis was worse than it’s now (for one, it was before the oil crisis, so oil was used as if there was no tomorrow..). We do need shorter supply chains, and more of local stuff. But that redundancy also means more energy consumption and more GHG, there’s no way around that – we can’t be efficient AND redundant at the same time.

                In fact, we can’t be efficient, redundant and AND increase consumption at the same time with the current technology. We need to cut consumption, dramatically. But since for the last 50+ years our economy (and I don’t mean just the US, but that’s an extreme example) was built on consumption, it’s not just simple cutting down consumption, we need to restructure all of our economy – to be greener, more sustainable, but still provide jobs and all for the people. Which is not a simple thing to do even if you had FDR level politicians at all important places in the world.

                Which we don’t.

                Reply
                1. KLG

                  “We need to cut consumption, dramatically.”

                  Yes, that is the point and the truth. A citizen necessarily consumes but a consumer is not necessarily a citizen. “Green growth” is a contradiction in terms. And by returning to a more human culture, that can/will follow. John Stuart Mill wrote about a steady-state economy in the middle of the 19th Century. Then came Alfred Marshall. Herman Daly, who has been unjustly ignored, has been writing about this for 50 years. I think his Beyond Growth is still in print, and it includes a great vignette that calls out the Harvard President Emeritus for the entitled, sordid little sh*t he is. Though Herman Daly would never talk like that.

                  We can be efficient and redundant. I read from a commenter here (hat tip to that person, sorry I don’t remember who) that “efficiency and effectiveness are not the same thing.” That is what we are talking about. A system without slack is brittle beyond endurance. Look at the Port of Long Beach.

                  I don’t know where we will get the politicians we need. Maybe we won’t. But hope and optimism are not the same. The former is a mature view. The latter not so much. I’ll keep knocking, banging, or hammering on the Door of Hope. One thing at a time.

                  BTW, I love this place!

                  Reply
                  1. Late Introvert

                    Individual consumption won’t cut it though, for every virtuous group of 50 a couple rich glass bowls will spew twice as much. We have to take a wide view and fry the big fish, as I heard someone say on here recently.

                    I’m not an advocate of revolution. Pete Townshend did a fine job musically explaining how that always ends up. But I do know that in history push sometimes comes to shove. I’ll do my part in shoving if I get the chance.

                    Reply
                    1. drumlin woodchuckles

                      I don’t know how you get the Richie Riches to accept conservation from their level downward without torture and terror. And they are counting on immunising themselves from the torture and terror of climate chaos decay which they believe they can reserve for strictly the rest of us only.

                      If we see them visibly discover that they are wrong about that . . . that F6 tornados and Cat 6 hurricanes start destroying all the secret bunkers of all the Peter Thiels, then we of the Lower Class will have some leverage against the Upper Class.

                      And what leverage would that be? We would reject and refuse any conservation whatsoever in our lives until the rich reduce their level of living all the way down to where they would like to reduce our level of living.
                      In other words, we would play a life-or-death game of Skycarbon Chicken with the Upper Class and the Overclass.

              1. Mantid

                Also, regrading medicines, one can do a decent job of preempting the need for medicines with good, healthy, seasonal food – and exercise. Case in point is with high vitamin D levels, Covid is often much less severe.

                Reply
      1. JE

        It does mean going back to little house on the prairie. Meaning a small house, albeit with highly insulated construction and heat pump rather than sod and woodstove. Meaning less mobility, where jetting off to vegas for the weekend is replaced by a local community event or virtual reality. Meaning eating seasonal or greenhouse foods grown locally and with meat as a special treat. And so forth. It sounds not so bad to me.

        Reply
    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      There are some permaculture people who say they are doing a demonstration-version of this in the real world. They say they have created some ecovillages. I haven’t read more deeply into the website to see what is claimed, but on the face of it, it seems like a promising concept. Here is the link.

      https://ecovillage.org/projects/

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        And here is an article about a selected 15 eco-villages. I hope they are really doing all they claim.
        https://mygeodome.com/15-ecovillages-sustainable-future-community-nature-healing/

        If they are, it would be a real world application of the visible demonstrations of ” its possible” that you would like to see.

        Now . . . . how many of these concepts could be imported into the suburbs, semiburbs, exurbs, etc. where tens of millions of Americans live?

        Here is a historical legacy group of people who were doing a very thorough complete version of this approach in a single house.
        https://revolution.berkeley.edu/projects/integral-urban-house/#:~:text=The%20building%20that%20would%20become%20the%20Integral%20Urban,had%20been%20targeted%20by%20the%20city%20for%20redevelopment.

        Reply
  1. clarky90

    A group of righteous, (wise, educated, wealthy) men and women have already joined together, to save the environment, humanity and all the diverse living creatures (plants, animals,fungi,…..) from environmental destruction. They have a courageous, and, necessarily, uncompromising roadmap for our near future. It is being actioned as I type this.

    These just, women and men, have combined two global challenges; (1) climate change and (2) covid19, and manifested a daring solution for both; Like egg yoke and oil combined! mayonnaise!

    Their goal is; low co2 emissions, a rewilding of the land and cities; a stop to the exploitation of the seas, lakes and rivers, …..people living together in small, safe communities, with lots of livng space, clean air and recreation areas ………..surrounded by vast swathes of primordal wilderness.

    Look, and see it, all unfolding before us….. It is not hidden.

    (however….fear not!)

    Reply
    1. clarky90

      For instance: Inflation (plus) supply line dislocations (plus) fuel shortages (plus) fertilizer shortages (plus) vaccine passports (plus) ongoing public health/wellness emergencies (could result in) long term, calorie-restricted, raw-vegan diets…….. . “What else could we have done? TINA”

      ie Ireland 1847, Ukraine 1932, China 1959……..

      Vaccine passports, renewed (or not) every six months, would simplify keeping targeted populations “concentrated” in particular locals……….
      ………. oh my…

      Reply
    2. ambrit

      Tell this to the billions of people who are expected to die to achieve this goal.
      The basis of “The Jackpot” is a die back of the Terran human population. How this is managed is the political question. So far, all I am seeing proposed is a brute force method. Why this basic requirement of future survival of civilization is not being publically debated is more to be laid at the feet of an incompetent managerial class than anyone else. This same Managerial Class will have to “manage” the die back anyway. The alternative is general chaos, which usually gurantees that the worst possible outcomes will happen.
      Consider this scenario: A middle eastern nation with nuclear weapons must acquire resources from a hostile neighbour, also nuclear armed, or face internal collapse. Sooner or later, someone in the beleagured nation will use those atomics. The hostile neighbor replies in kind. The further off allies of either nation now have a very difficult decision to make; whether or not to ‘aid’ their particular ally, and how? This could escalate out of control quickly. Thus, a relatively simple problem in disaster management becomes a civilization ending event.
      As Curtis LeMay is quoted as saying; “Bomb ’em back to the stone age.” (We are all someone else’s ’em.)
      We’ve got our potassium iodide crystals ready.

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        I suspect clarky90’s comment was satirical to begin with, suggesting that the Overclass policy is Green Jackpot, in line with the Georgia Guidestones.

        Reply
  2. LawnDart

    What does a person require to be free from need?

    There is nothing noble to be found in involuntary poverty, not a damn thing. And doing what you must to survive the day usually leaves environmental considerations out of the picture, and so much else…

    Looking forward, and being able to plan for more than one day in advance, is something that fewer and fewer people are able to afford. It can be a blessing to simply have the time to cook a 3-for-$10 single-serving microwave dinner between jobs. The environment? Seriously?

    Environmental justice begins with social justice. How else can one afford to give a s#!t?

    Reply
    1. vlade

      Unfortunately no.

      Even socially just population of 200bln will destroy the planet (at the current level of technology).

      Even socially unjust population of 500mln will not (unless it tries very hard) do much to the planet.

      The planet doesn’t care whether the next trillion of tons CO2 (or whatever) is emitted by 100 tons per person equally, or 1% emitting the 99% of it.

      There are hard, absolute limits that we’re running into now. Yes, we can decide that we’d share the burden of adjusting to that in a just way, but saying that including social justice will solve our environmental problem is just wishful thinking.

      Same as saying that only by social justice the environment can be saved. Unfortunately, it can be saved in many other ways, for example a mass die-off of the poor (and some rich) aka Jackpot, to imaging an extremely unjust way.

      Reply
      1. Old Jake

        If a mass die-off of the working class were to occur (which seems to me inevitable) how will the remaining rich, who have skills only in manipulating symbols like fiat money, manage to remain? I think it most likely that there will be cascading die-offs.

        Reply
        1. Basil Pesto

          Through learning and adapting?

          To say that the rich are only good and capable of picking out cufflinks and working out ways to not pay tax, and that’s all they can ever be capable of, seems to me about as reductive and silly as saying the ~working class~/poor are incapable of abstract thought.

          Reply
          1. Old Jake

            But then they become the new working class, no? Not that that does the prior incumbents any good, but this looks a lot like rinse and repeat.

            Reply
  3. skippy

    Apologies …

    “First, unlike the suffragettes” … firstly the suffragettes had more to do with cheap sugar than anything else from a pure social construct view, whatever way you cut it. Capital was offsetting wages with grog and in a massive Bernays manner making it a masculine issue for profit. It was actually destroying the family construct of the day for a profit so the financial markets would reword them.

    Sorta sublime that the blue bloods of our day had cogitations of benefit from subverting that family drama for profit and now cry about its lack of virtue.

    Reply
      1. skippy

        Strangely or not Shitory[TM] says someone shorted the English market about the outcome of the battle of Hastings … fake news and outcomes we all enjoy today ….

        Reply
  4. Maritmer

    Having listened to many existential threat experts, I would put climate change very low on the totem pole. Preceding it would be threats from AI, GI, SI, biotechnology, nanotechnology and Science in general. These are now working against Humanity each and every day.

    We have misunderstood and mismanaged Science. As one example only, we are now trying to live through threats created by biotechnology and nanotechnology via Covid injections. The goal there is to recreate Humanity in some unknown form because there is profit, fun and it’s Science! Pass me the test tube.

    As for Climate Change itself, that is a problem created by Science. So, maybe some Scientist can solve the Science problem first and then we can move on to solving all the problems it has created.

    Reply
    1. urdsama

      Who are these experts? For they are very, very wrong. The rapid pace of the climate disaster will greatly delay the other horrors you mention, essentially rendering them moot if things don’t change. The exception might be natural viruses and related pandemics which will likely increase in number based on current rates of environmental destruction.

      And to be clear, science has done no such thing. Humans have done the damage. Science is just a tool and has no agency of its own.

      Reply
    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Your comment is way too close to anti vax as well as just plain factually unfounded cray cray. One more like that and your commenting privileges will be restricted.

      The vaccines are not as good as they ought to be and they are problematic for some. But even so, for the overwhelming majority of adults, they are way way better than contracting Covid.

      Reply
      1. Dave in Austin

        The way the rapid stream of comments works, some responses like Yves 11/12/2021 at 7:08 am refer back to a comment not directly preceeding it. It would be best if responses directly referenced the time and date of the specific comment being addressed.

        What a huge undertaking it is to monitor and respond to comments…

        Reply
        1. Brooklin Bridge

          I’ve almost never had a problem with tracing parent comments though I’m on a lap top which may be easier than say a wrist watch or even a so called smart phone (at least smart enough to rip off your data I suppose).

          Pointer arrow placed just to the edge of the left hand margin of text and then scroll wheel upwards to find the parent comment that will be the first one with a margin to the left of the pointer.

          It works with ease except for those thankfully rare cases of many “pages” of comments where the parent comment is way up at the top.

          Reply
        2. Basil Pesto

          The way comments nest make it easy to figure out who is being replied to? (gets a bit trickier when the comment threads are long)

          Also, in this case, yknow, the content of the parent comment 😰

          Reply
  5. vlade

    Destroying GHG generating infrastructure in any meaningful way, will ineed help with the crisis. Except I’m not sure whether it will be in the way the proponents envisage, because what it _will_ do is speed up the poor die-off.

    TBH, I do sort of get them, because it’s the reaction of people seeing that nothing much they do so far is making any difference, so they want an escalation.

    We will undoubtedly get an escalation, what that escalation is going to look like, I have no clue. I’m thinking more and more that it will be a violent one (and, as a father, I say that deeply troubled), as not just politicians, but a vast majority of the people are unwilling or unable to make the coordinated changes needed for this.

    The poor are really unable to make those changes, and rich unwilling. The drive _has_ to come from the middle/upper middle classes (say top 15% ex the top 1%), but many of those are not really willing to let go of the niceties of the life they have. How many are willing to say to reduce to something as simple as having only one family car? Yes, it comes with an inconvenience, and in many places it would

    But if one is not willing to pay that inconvenience, how will we move on with far more reaching ones?

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      If the “next 14%” can be realistically convinced that the inconvenience they need to undergo can be weaponised against the top 1% and can be used to attrit and degrade revenue streams going to the top 1%, maybe they will agree to it.

      In order to avoid hot violence, perhaps a model of “civil cold war”, “cold violence”, “economic revenge” should be developed and pursued. I think people could be recruited to get revenge on the top 1% if they had a realistic way of actually getting revenge.

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Picture a hundred million pairs of Strong Blue Hands wrapped around the neck of Big Koch, crushing its revenue windpipe flat.

        Reply
  6. Watt4Bob

    “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.

    John F. Kennedy

    One way, or another, I’m gonna find ya
    I’m gonna get ya, get ya, get ya, get ya

    Blondie

    Reply
  7. Sawdust

    The fact that not even the most gung-ho activists are living the way that everyone would have to live in order to avoid catastrophe makes it pretty clear that we’re done for. What a time to be alive.

    Reply
    1. BeliTsari

      36 yr Gas/ oil pipeline & Foster-Wheeler Power station lead inspector, here. I’m doing what I’d done half a century ago: work car’s 200mi away since 2018. Bicycle or walk to shop at co-op, farm market or CSA, or bulk order from carefully chosen e-vendors. Reuse or recycle packaging storage & repair stuff as possible (eg: open architecture phone & ‘pooters). Community gardens & PV don’t make much sense unless they’re integrated into urban lifestyle (but my last place was VERY rural, and transportation was the issue, there). We’d cut WAY over 66% of energy use, in both? Equating sneering wastefulness with comfort & success is a psych issue we’ve ALL been brainwashed into?

      Reply
      1. Bakes

        A half century ago NEITHER one of us would be posting on the Internet with its endless, air-conditioned server farms. Or using E-vendors (See the server farms above) with product air freighted and trucked in from all over the world. I’m not sure how one gets to their work car 200 miles away by biking and walking. And a half century ago I can assure you that neither myself, my family, nor my neighbors were recycling anything.

        What I was doing was burning raked leaves in the Autumn(banned). I also burned paper, cardboard, and other organic material in a fire pit in my backyard (also banned). I was also working and benefitting directly from a local economy that desperately needed the existence of the MIC (Connecticut). If needed, I would have worked on fossil fuel infrastructure if that is what it took to feed my family.

        The above should not be read as a critique of anyone. No, that is not my point. I merely wish to point out that our first responsibility is to our own. We all will do whatever it takes to provide for our own first. This is human nature. It is the survival instinct common to all animal life. And it is the reason I am pessimistic.

        Nature will bat last. Nature will have the last word. Sorry to be the “Debbie Downer” here.

        Reply
    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Even the most gung-ho activist can’t ride the bus if there is no bus to ride. Even the most gung-ho activist can’t take the train where no trains go.

      Reply
  8. The Rev Kev

    At this point of time, our leaders are determined to keep us steered towards the iceberg and are in fact ordering an increase of speed. It may be that they think that they have reserved seats in the life boats but we will see how well that works out for them. We are familiar with The Great Resignation of workers so it may be what we need is A Great Withdrawal. And by that I mean people stop ordering useless junk off mobs like Amazon, not donating any money to any main political party, getting reasonable sized cars instead of huge tanks, stop buying plastic if there is an alternative and any other such measures. Most people are good at heart and if offered an alternative, will choose it if it helps others as well. But you look at the present alternatives on offer by environmentalists and what they mostly say is that we are taking plastic bags, straws & spoons off you and here, have a plate of bugs to eat.

    I don’t think that this is going to do it. Nor is having people glue themselves to streets to stop people going to work and such stunts. I think that what we need are organizations that offer education in what can be done. Show people how they can cut power consumption while remaining comfortable – while helping them to save money. Give people an incentive to change. Such information would have to be in modules. So one is designed to have their home off the power, water, etc. grids as much as possible, another who wants to grow their own food in their yards. Teach them how to have resiliency in their lives so that when things go south, they will be able to help themselves. After all, this sort of knowledge will spread through cultural diffusion. As this is workable knowledge, it will have something that our official organizations and governments have lost – trust. And if you think that this is Pollyanish thinking, I would remind people that you only need a small part of a population to change a society. And sometimes you only need one-

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA8z7f7a2Pk (3:05 mins)

    Reply
    1. philnc

      Rev has it right, although I’ll go further and say that a Great Withdrawal _at scale_ could “do it”. As Rev points out, people would need to be prepared with knowlege and, I think, mass organization of mutual aid networks to help sustain them when the Withdrawal has to be ratcheted up to the total denial of labor and consumption to the machine. That’s the end game. Financialization will only carry the system so far. It will eventually falter and crash, if for no other cause but the panic that will ensue when the gears grind to a halt and stay that way for a few months.

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        If a group of people want to grind the gears to a halt by canceling their financialized participation in keeping the gears grinding, they will have to be prepared for total de-financialized survival first so as to stay withdrawn long enough to actually halt the gears.

        That will take planning, learning, doing, practicing. It will also require the cold patient hatred which keeps groups of people motivated to prepare for years to destroy their enemy when they are finally able.

        Reply
        1. juno mas

          Yes, that’s the conundrum of resolving Climate Change. Individual action is golden, community action is essential, but government/national leadership is necessary to find a workable solution.

          That leadership is unlikely to come from the US, where consumerism, and the rush to get rich is paramount. Culture can impede progress.

          Reply
        2. Mantid

          “Necessity is the mother of invention”. A good example was the short documentary in yesterday’s links regarding the homeless of Oakland. The residents of the encampment have very little material wealth, seemingly. Yet, they are surviving and forming communities to address very fundamental issues such as sanitation, security, etc. They have very little choice in the daily matter of their lives. It’s quite amazing how little one needs to survive and live.

          Reply
    2. Watt4Bob

      Give people an incentive to change. Such information would have to be in modules. So one is designed to have their home off the power, water, etc. grids as much as possible, another who wants to grow their own food in their yards. Teach them how to have resiliency in their lives so that when things go south, they will be able to help themselves.

      The sad thing we’re witnessing is the folks most primed for ‘action‘ have been successfully influenced by propaganda to think that the object of their anger, and so, their target, should be the groups protesting environmental degradation and climate change, racism, gender discrimination etc…

      Our enemy has thus prepared for any eventual conflict by the perennial tactic of divide and conquer, and the muscle necessary to stop us is standing ready to ‘get-er-done‘.

      Direct action from the progressive left is already being met with armed violence, witness the Kyle Rittenhouse calamity currently coming into focus.

      Our side has still not figured out how to defeat the Clintons, let alone Wall $treet, the MIC, the Kochs, Bezos, Zuckerberg, and Trump.

      The right is way ahead of us, right now they are working feverishly to take over local school boards, and my bet is they will be successful, mainly because running for school board is less exciting than protesting.

      Reply
    1. George Phillies

      Massachusetts ballot access means that the state legislature elections here — Congress is a bit better — are not much different from elections to the Supreme Soviet…most legislators including some Republicans run unopposed.

      Reply
    2. the last D

      Since Sanders lives in Vermont, I’m afraid your vote wasn’t much of a protest. I supported Sanders in 2016 and in 2020, think a lot lot of him, but Pressley, in my view, isn’t bad either, and must live in the district. A vote for her counts. She was one of, I think, six democrats who voted not to sanction Nicaragua for its most recent presidential election. Good for her.

      Reply
      1. skippy

        Yes the term was bastardized by the rational agent posse to mean the opposite of its classical definition e.g. free of rents, monopolies, and intrusion into public affairs.

        Reply
  9. Bazarov

    I agree that destroying energy infrastructure creates collateral damage that cuts against the strategic goals of climate radicals.

    However, there are alternate tactics that while no less violent may be more strategically viable: assassinating investors, corporate executives, and political leaders responsible for pollution. If a radical group were to, say, off the CEO of Exxon Mobil, I don’t think it would upset the poor very much.

    Perhaps the climate movement could take a page out of the IRA’s book, as the Irish nationalist radicals deployed violence very cannily. They did not bomb indiscriminately. They went after limited targets (Lord Mountbatten, for example, though the assassins inadvertently also killed his son). They paired violence with effective, non-violent actions like protests and hunger strikes.

    Perhaps an IRA-like climate campaign of assassination and political agitation would be more viable than one that focused on property destruction with significant collateral damage among the poor.

    Reply
    1. Bazarov

      Er sorry, it was Mountbatten’s young grandson that was killed (along with a family friend and Mountbatten’s daughter).

      Reply
  10. Brooklin Bridge

    I see violence as near inevitable in the not so distant future as things become more and more unglued, as is the case with current behavior as COVID19 takes back seat to profits, but as Yves pointed out, that doesn’t mean successful on the part of reformers, or at least not initially. What concerns me is the distinct possibility of things escalating totally out of hand. The powerful few will not get environmental religion that easily. The fear of loosing power and worse, facing one’s guilt, is no small matter. And no matter how necessary disobedience becomes as the stakes become ever more threatening to life itself, violence breeds violence and the elite have far more control over the technical and physical resources of violence than they do over their own fear and anger.

    Reply
  11. Dick Swenson

    I have no doubt that when all else fails, humanity will do the right thing. (I know, this is a paraphrase of another well known omment.)

    Of course, by then the damage will be irrversible. In fact, the damage currently done is irreversible in a lifespan.

    I think that it would be an interesting poll to ask all NC readers and commentators a simple question: Is it or is it not too late to do anything meaningful regarding climate change? Yes or No?

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Is it or is it not too late to do anything meaningful regarding climate change? I believe it is not too late to meaningfully respond to climate change [such a bloodless anodyne label for what the future holds]. It is not too late to learn as much as possible about the characteristics and impacts of Climate Chaos as it develops over time. It is not too late to develop ways to adapt to the coming changes. It is definitely not too late to begin collecting skills, tools, and Knowledge to carry forward into the times after the collapse.

      But I did not answer your question as I believe you intend it to be understood. In the abstract, I believe it is not too late to meaningfully respond to climate change. I believe reducing the amount of greenhouse gases spewed into the atmosphere can still slow the transitions of Climate Chaos, and possibly lower the risk of triggering some especially unhappy events. However, I am growing certain that nothing will be done to meaningfully respond to Climate Chaos. In any case, I believe the problem is no longer in u.s. hands. The u.s. is a notoriously bad actor, but no longer controls the greatest share of greenhouse gas production. The u.s. government is controlled by the International Corporatocracy consolidating power over a world where we will “own nothing and be happy”. I believe we are all along for the ride until Society ends in a Collapse which will indiscriminately take care of excess populations through multiple agencies of social chaos, disease, hunger and thirst, weather events, small scale warfare, and other causes I cannot anticipate. The Corona flu has clearly demonstrated the great fragility of our Society and its manifold interconnected infrastructures. The world is built on top of a colossal Jenga game approaching an exciting conclusion.

      In the u.s., I believe neither non-violent, nor violent demonstrations can achieve anything meaningful. The Populace does not matter to the International Corporatocracy. I believe it is a mistake to ignore the coupled drives toward Wealth but also toward Power and Control. Actions against Wealth will only tend to strengthen the drives toward Power and Control.

      Reply
    2. Old Jake

      Prevention or correction? I think the human condition (the reality of the human animal’s capabilities) precludes prevention. Natural selection may result in survivors who are able to think strategically and act on the resulting plans. But that will be a roll of the cosmic dice.

      Reply
  12. vegeholic

    Obstruction and destruction as a means to address climate change are almost certainly a bad approach. It really helps to look at a bigger picture to put things in proper context. Climate change will solve itself without any explicit actions, because declining prosperity will dictate less mobility, less discretionary spending, less steel and concrete, less heating and cooling, less manufacturing and transport. Prosperity = Surplus Energy. While there is lots of energy available, the SURPLUS energy, and the SURPLUS energy per capita is on a relentless decline, taking prosperity with it. Therefore Amish lifestyles, and little houses on the prairie are in our future, not because we choose them, but because they are the inevitable result of less mechanization, less transport, and less prosperity. The only prospect for overcoming this trend would be fusion energy, and developments there just to seem to continually founder on the hideous complexity and reliance on yet-to-be invented technology. So, to repeat, climate change will take care of itself. Our job is to try and navigate the dislocations, discomforts, and unhappiness that will accompany the decline in prosperity with as little warfare as possible.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Figure out how to look as poor and unhappy as possible so one doesn’t attract the envious attention of all the poor unhappy neighbors.

      Reply
  13. Alex Cox

    Ed Abbey’s book The Monkey Wrench Gang deals with this very issue — the use of sabotage to prevent ecocide. It was very popular in its day, and several directors tried unsuccessfully to make it into a film. But as time passed, the state and MSM came to view destruction of machinery first as violence, then as terrorism, and Abbey’s novel seems to have fallen out of favour.

    Reply
  14. NotThePilot

    I could go much deeper on this, but I just want to point out something.

    The discussion here is arguably about two independent questions that are mostly being treated as one:
    1. Will climate activism become “kinetic” or should it stay non-violent?
    2. Should it stay positive / constructive within the current moral order?

    And I mean “moral” in the technical sense of mores, not some theoretical, absolute right/wrong. I don’t think I’ve seen many comments digging into that 4th quadrant though, where one stays non-violent against objective persons and property, but mercilessly attacks the values system that has brought us to this point.

    I’m a bit busy so I can’t add too much onto that right now, but for a fictional example (though a purely nihilistic one), anyone remember the party scene from Dostyoevsky’s Demons?

    Reply
    1. Mantid

      Nice, Pilot. I think #3 could be non-violent yet constructive. Strikes. Massive strikes though guided inaction. The powers that be need and feed on money. 1 – 2 power plants shutting down due to a walk off of engineers could really shake things up.

      Reply
  15. David H.

    So please help me: What will I use to heat my farmhouse in rural Minnesota? It gets very cold here and with a house built in 1930, it was designed to be heated with fossil fuel – coal and it still has the original coal chute door one side. The walls and attic floor have had new insulation added and I have 6200 watts of solar for electricity. However, today, temps in low 30’s going down to the 20’s. It’s cold here and I appreciate the local coop propane truck that supplys my 500 gal tank. I did have a fireplace insert installed and kept a fire going one winter, but the was a lot of work tending to it every 4 to 5 hours, adding wood and removing ashes. And as a bonus, my house smelled like campfire come spring. Plus I don’t have enough trees in the grove to keep that up for more than a few years. Thoughts?

    Reply
    1. NotThePilot

      On this, there are definitely way more knowledgeable people here than me. In theory though, if we had a society that genuinely prioritized these things, my guess would be there are a few options:

      1. If it’s feasible in your area, you would receive any help necessary to install a geothermal heat pump (there are places where they just don’t work & the intricacies of why are way above my pay grade).
      2. Barring that (and this is where it requires political will not to allow people to game the system), your use of fossil fuels would be given a higher priority and cuts would be made elsewhere
      3. I don’t like it & I definitely don’t expect you to like it, but in the worst case scenario, it’s always possible society starts treating certain climates during certain parts of the year like floodplains. If the energy needs of everyone living too far out to tap into the approved grid / climate-control is above the permitted emissions envelope, then you’re told to evacuate or take your chances.

      Reply
        1. Mantid

          Or, downsize. Seems like you’re trying to heat a large space. 6200 watts of solar is huge. Though it may be a real cool old farmhouse, it could become some sort of museum, or a rural apartment complex. You could downsize to a 1500 Sq. Ft. living space. One has to work both sides of the equation, both the inputs and the outlays.

          Reply
        2. NotThePilot

          Yes, that’s true too. I have heard of the Passivhaus standard, and I guess with enough effort, you can even retrofit buildings to it.

          If the heating need is minimal enough, maybe you could run heat from the solar panels, with firewood (or a pellet stove) in the insert as an emergency backup.

          Building & construction is something I really don’t know a lot about though, but I always like to learn more.

          Reply
  16. Jeremy Grimm

    This post continues discussion of the actions of ‘Progressive’ Democrats. Progressive Democrats are a necessary player in the government’s Kabuki drama provided for our diversion. I grow convinced such Progressives as there are in our polity are faux ‘Progressives’. Any progressives able or willing to impact the directives of our rulers have been gerrymandered or spent out of existence. Even the leaders of the environmental movement look very different to me after viewing “Planet of the Humans”.

    Reply
  17. George Phillies

    As an interesting topline, estimate how much coal, oil, and natural gas is actually there and available (usual US coal numbers are said to be greatly too large), how much CO2 we find in the air as a result, and therefore what the upper limit on temperature increase is. Saying you will keep the increase under 2C is less interesting if you can’t get it above 2.8 than if you can get it up to 8.

    With respect to violent protests, I seem to recall the Weather Underground and allies tried this. Many Americans do not find this tactic acceptable.

    Also, revolutionary violence is a two way street. No matter your opinion, your side may lose. Badly.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      If we could get it up to 2.8, that might be enough for nature to get it the rest of the way up to 8. How? By melting all the permafrost and releasing all its methane, oxidizing all its peat, and then heating the shallow inshore parts of the Arctic Ocean enough to melt all the methane clathrates and release all the methane.

      And then heating the ocean enough that it can’t retain all its dissolved carbon dioxide so that gases back up out of the ocean too.

      And melting all the ice off of Greenland, Baffin Island, Elsmere Island, and Antarctica. Thereby opening up 3 million yet more square miles of land to exploration for coal, gas and oil.

      So the difference between ” under 2″ and “2.8” might just be the difference that makes the difference. Even though the numbers look similar on paper. Or on a computer screen.

      Reply
  18. drumlin woodchuckles

    Here, as elsewhere, different theory-loads of people should respect eachother enough to pursue their separate theories separately without trying to win recruits or poach people from eachothers’ separate groups.

    Let the Direct Actionsists leave the Sustainability Demonstrationists alone while pursuing their own separate direct actions. And let the Sustainability Demonstrationists leave the Direct Actionists alone while pursuing their own separate sustainability demonstrations.

    Let Darwin decide which group gets more beneficial results more effectively.

    One thing the Direct Actionists should be careful of is to make sure that any suggester of a direct action is really a Direct Actionist rather than an FBI agent in Direct Actionist disguise.

    Reply

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