Guest blogger Paul Kingsnorth argues that “climate change campaigners themselves are in denial: Denial of how much good they can do. Denial of how much difference their actions will make. Denial of how much doodoo we are really in”.Kingsnorth's discourse doesn't take us very far despite his very astute diagnosis, but he does, nonetheless, pick up on some of the underlying panic that exists among environment activists.
Philip Sutton expressed some of this urgency on the Australian GreenLeap list recently:
But the new 'reality' around the climate change issue is that the climate threat is so big and we are so rapidly reaching critical thresholds that the only solutions that will actually solve the problems will involve massive change, at lightening speed.He has a point, does he not?
We face a civil emergency that requires the type of massive rapid industrial restructuring that typically only happens during major wars.
And the only climate goal that makes sense is zero emissions (we have too much greenhouse gas in the air already) and we need to make most of the big physical changes in our economy within a decade.
These goals seem impossible when judged by the political standards of the last 20 years. But this is where the public opinion sea change cuts in. The message about the danger posed by climate change is getting through to more and more people - and now 80-90% know that something much more proactive needs to be done.
So the public is getting ahead of the leadership of not only our political parties, and corporations, but it is also getting ahead of the strategies of the leadership of most of the big environment groups.
When this last happened was during the big surge of environmental awareness in the late sixties/early seventies. During this period new groups formed to provide new and more relevant leadership. And in some of the older groups the policy turmoil resulted in new leadership taking over the reigns of power (think of the 'radical' takeover of the ACF in 1973). Some groups avoided obsolescence and internal turmoil because their leadership teams were sufficiently adaptable to upgrade their strategies to meet the needs of the new times.
It's clearly time to rethink what needs to be done and what is politically possible - because the politics are now changing - possibly quite rapidly.
What I'm seeing nonetheless is a burgeoning problem in the environment movement in this present juncture of crisis & panic -- generated by the traditional separation from the professional campaigning approach of the left. The last so many decades have been kind to environmentalists as the peak bodies consolidated and the business to hand was so often horse trading with the major parties while occupying a sort of politically correct comfort zone.
But now we face this urgent crisis and the old ways and means aren't up to the agenda before us. We need new alliances and we need to return to old tactics that the suits disowned precisely because we have this deadline which bears down upon the planet, upon all of us.
In effect, more so than ever before, we need green lefts and left greens.
And there's very little room for trade offs . We either cut emission by.... ?[and thats' the first question] in the next .....? years [and that's the following question] or we are in the poo big time. There isn't much room to play around is there? Not much space to water down the demands we embrace because the natural biological and physical phenomenon is so well advanced we don't have any leeway.
Kingsnorth describes the dilemma this way:
Scientific consensus tells us that we need to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases by somewhere between 60 and 80% below current levels in order to stabilise climate impacts. This, of course, will not act to prevent climate change, which appears to be affecting us already, but it might prevent it from getting worse. Furthermore, we need to do this quickly – within three or maybe four decades at most. ...But I think Kingsnorth is also in denial because while he addresses the primary issue at stake -" the vast majority of the world’s nations have joined hands in a happy capitalist alliance, which puts industrial expansion and economic growth at the heart of their policymaking." -- he then blinks.
Meanwhile, we have a global industrial economy growing at the fastest rate in human history. It is globalised – linked together intimately – to an extent also entirely unprecedented. We have a human population, and a rate of human population growth, that is unprecedented too. Furthermore, the vast majority of the world’s nations have joined hands in a happy capitalist alliance, which puts industrial expansion and economic growth at the heart of their policymaking. That economic growth is based upon fossil fuels. Perhaps ‘based’ is to weedy a word, actually – it is entirely dependent upon them. They make it possible. Nothing else will provide anything like the rate of growth needed to keep that global economy from imploding.
So instead of just one denial in play here we have two:
- that the crisis is real and urgent and
- that the economic system is our major obstacle to doing something about it.
Two wopping big gorillas in the room and so very few people can see them.