Mckibbin:Takin’ it To the Streets

May 22, 2014

Bill Mckibben in Rolling Stone:

This is an invitation, an invitation to come to New York City. An invitation to anyone who’d like to prove to themselves, and to their children, that they give a damn about the biggest crisis our civilization has ever faced.

My guess is people will come by the tens of thousands, and it will be the largest demonstration yet of human resolve in the face of climate change. Sure, some of it will be exciting – who doesn’t like the chance to march and sing and carry a clever sign through the canyons of Manhattan? But this is dead-serious business, a signal moment in the gathering fight of human beings to do something about global warming before it’s too late to do anything but watch. You’ll tell your grandchildren, assuming we win. So circle September 20th and 21st on your calendar, and then I’ll explain.

mckib

Since Ban Ki-moon runs the United Nations, he’s altogether aware that we’re making no progress as a planet on slowing climate change. He presided over the collapse of global-climate talks at Copenhagen in 2009, and he knows the prospects are not much better for the “next Copenhagen” in Paris in December 2015. In order to spur those talks along, he’s invited the world’s leaders to New York in late September for a climate summit.

In a rational world, no one would need to march. In a rational world, policymakers would have heeded scientists when they first sounded the alarm 25 years ago. But in this world, reason, having won the argument, has so far lost the fight. The fossil-fuel industry, by virtue of being perhaps the richest enterprise in human history, has been able to delay effective action, almost to the point where it’s too late.

So in this case taking to the streets is very much necessary. It’s not all that’s necessary – a sprawling fossil-fuel resistance works on a hundred fronts around the world, from putting up solar panels to forcing colleges to divest their oil stocks to electioneering for truly green candidates. And it’s true that marching doesn’t always work: At the onset of the war in Iraq, millions marched, to no immediate avail. But there are moments when it’s been essential. This is how the Vietnam War was ended, and segregation too – or consider the nuclear-freeze campaign of the early 1980s, when half a million people gathered in New York’s Central Park. The rally, and all the campaigning that led to it, set the mood for a planet – even, amazingly, in the Reagan era. By mid-decade, the conservative icon was proposing to Mikhail Gorbachev that they abolish nuclear weapons altogether.

The point is, sometimes you can grab the zeitgeist by the scruff of the neck and shake it a little. At the moment, the overwhelming sense around the world is nothing will happen in time. That’s on the verge of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy – indeed, as I’ve written in these pages, it’s very clear that the fossil-fuel industry has five times as much carbon in its reserves as it would take to break the planet. On current trajectories, the industry will burn it, and governments will make only small whimpering noises about changing the speed at which it happens. A loud movement – one that gives our “leaders” permission to actually lead, and then scares them into doing so – is the only hope of upending that prophecy.

You can watch the endgame of the fossil-fuel era with a certain amount of hope. The pieces are in place for real, swift, sudden change, not just slow and grinding linear shifts: If Germany on a sunny day can generate half its power from solar panels, and Texas makes a third of its electricity from wind, then you know technology isn’t an impossible obstacle anymore. The pieces are in place, but the pieces won’t move themselves. That’s where movements come in. They’re not subtle; they can’t manage all the details of this transition. But they can build up pressure on the system, enough, with luck, to blow out those bags of money that are blocking progress with the force of Typhoon Haiyan on a Filipino hut. Because if our resistance fails, there will be ever-stronger typhoons. The moment to salvage something of the Holocene is passing fast. But it hasn’t passed yet, which is why September is so important.

Day to day this resistance is rightly scattered, local and focused on the more mundane: installing a new zoning code, putting in a solar farm, persuading the church board to sell its BP stock. But sometimes it needs to come together and show the world how big it’s gotten. That next great moment is late September in New York. See you there.

 

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6 Responses to “Mckibbin:Takin’ it To the Streets”

  1. omnologos Says:

    How will they…erm…compensate for the additional footprint by the thousands a-moving towards the gathering place?


    • Some will buy offsets. Virgin even provides the ability to add the purchase to your cart along with your beer.

      DFW to JFK
      Type: return
      Cabin: Economy
      Distance: 4,447 km
      Passengers: 1

      CO2 Emissions: 0.476 t
      Total cost to offset your flight USD 9.33

      • dumboldguy Says:

        If I go up from VA, I will likely drive and visit family along the way as well. I will generate about 500 pounds of CO2 for the trip, and will “offset” that by increasing my next contribution to NRDC, EDF, LCV, UCS, Greenpeace, or the Sierra Club by $5.

  2. David Minor Says:

    Which is what, Omno – have you got a calculation? Will it involve digging up gigatonnes of carbon? I didn’t know the emissions from a demonstration could make Permian Extinction II inevitable – those people must eat a lot of vegan chilli!


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