Climate Change: Either we organize, or the dystopias will become reality
13 February 2018: Climate Change News publishes the draft IPCC report which warns that it will be very difficult to keep the temperature increase below the 1.5ºC foreseen in the "historic" Paris agreement. 14 February: Spain broke its record for oil imports in 2017 for the third consecutive year. 18 February 2018: The oil company Cepsa announces a new investment of 1,200 million € for a hydrocarbon exploitation project in the United Arab Emirates.... Although the news about the dangers of climate change is constant, it does not seem that they are provoking the necessary mobilization and organization to address it.
There are many dystopias related to climate change, and I have no doubt that most of them are quite close to reality. At least in Spain there is little doubt that climate change is a reality that nobody dares to deny. But it is equally true that there is no powerful social movement that tries to act, pressure and raise awareness to change direction. We continue to burn fossil fuels and demand economic growth while ignoring the limits of our planet (in a grand coalition from the United States over Unidos Podemos to the Partido Popular). At most, to calm our conscience we change the light bulbs in our house so that they "spend" less energy (and money) or we change to SOM Energy so that this energy is renewable and support, in the process, the social and solidarity economy.
Nor does the environmental movement have proposals that match its diagnosis. If we are already walking over the abyss of the limits (as the title of a recent report by Ecologistas en Acción and La Transicionera points out), if (as the IPCC says now) we have little time left to limit or stop climate change (from 1.5C we no longer dream; 2C would be a success), do we seriously think that a climate change law or a little promotion of bicycle use in cities will fundamentally change course? Unlikely.
What's going on? Where does our helplessness or lack of action come from? In an article recently published in ROAR Magazine, Nick Buxton says: "What is striking about all these forecasts of the future is the overwhelming sense of powerlessness that they provoke. This is partly a result of the fear-based narratives that, as behavioral science research has shown, tend to engender hopelessness. But it’s also a result of completely ignoring the political structures in which climate change impacts occur, as well as the potential for people to remake those systems." He summarizes that "the climate futures they describe obscure the fact that the impact of climate change will ultimately not be determined by levels of CO2, but by structures of power. In other words, the exact impact of a climate disaster will depend on political decisions, economic wealth and social systems".
Faced with the dystopia of collapse and climate change: a vision of a fairer world
In the face of the impotence and hopelessness that dystopias (unfortunately very realistic) are generating, a multidimensional visionary response is needed: a fairer world based on the needs of people and well aware of the ecological, material and social limits; visionary strategies at the level of diagnosis and hope.
A positive vision
In times of despair, it is important that we project a positive vision, always aware of the limits of our planet. Although it is necessary to reduce production and consumption (in the West, a lot), there is enough consensus that today's level of consumption does not make us happy. A happy world does not need more consumption or more energy but more community, the basic needs (material and immaterial, such as emotional) satisfied and more democracy (real, not parliamentary), which requires a much smaller scale of decision making. We need social, economic, ecological and climate justice. In short, another economic system that puts people and our planet at the centre. We need a positive vision, for which it is not necessary to have a perfectly defined plan, but we have to experiment with alternative solutions and not try to fit reality into our ideological plan.
Nick Buxton also says, “We must reclaim our agency over the future, knowing that the climate crisis has exposed more starkly than ever before the larger crisis of capitalism and imperial power. And that therefore this is a critical opportunity to change direction, both to prevent a worsening climate crisis and to better respond to its impacts. It will require an articulation of a politics that consistently confronts capital and military might, and that looks to return power of all kinds to people”.
Although changing light bulbs or switching to SOM Energy are small steps, they are far from sufficient to meet the challenge of climate change. As I defended in an article on the basic problem of climate change, "to stop us falling into the abyss (to "collapse better" in the words of Jorge Riechmann) profound changes are needed that are only possible with a powerful new social movement". And what I am proposing, therefore, is to build a movement that is prepared to use civil resistance strategically and massively.
The main objective of a first phase for the construction of such a movement would be to awaken a relevant part of the population and build a much more powerful movement. I do not believe that this phase alone will bring about significant political change. One inspiration could be the ActUP movement in the USA in the second half of the 1980s. It would be interesting to draw inspiration from ActUP's creativity and fury in the context of the collapse, and look for forms of action that can translate our anger and despair. It is a desperation not only produced by the collapse, but also by the passivity in the face of the collapse, by the injustice, by those responsible institutions that have led us to the abyss of the collapse, and that now want to sell us a fourth industrial revolution and a green capitalism, which will solve nothing. It is important to get out of an image of collapse as destiny and talk about those responsible and responsibilities, and the victims (although reality is not so dichotomous, there are also shades of grey).
After this first phase of more or less symbolic nonviolent direct actions, there should follow a phase of civil disobedience of thousands and thousands of people. As Martin Luther King defended, the "community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to face the problem", referring to the community (and its institutions) especially in the southern states of the USA that had refused to assume the institutional (and individual) racism and the existing segregation. Transposed to the context of climate change and civilizational collapse this would mean creating, through massive civil disobedience, a social and political crisis that does not allow denying the collapse and crisis of climate change, neither the people nor the institutions of the state and the main capitalist companies, and thus forcing profound changes.
It is important to seek as a target of massive civil resistance campaigns institutions with a high symbolic meaning and relevance for the daily functioning of the current productivist and extractivist system, in order to disrupt the normal functioning of the system and build a crisis and a powerful tension.
Rebuilding (or awakening) hope is key. And to do so, it is necessary to build community and social fabric. It is necessary to build new forms of relationship, to manage the common. It is essential to fight for the fulfilment of today's urgent needs, without losing sight of the challenge of climate change. It is also important to talk about our fears - the fears generated by dystopias and the means of repression (repressive laws and worse).
But hope will also be a consequence of a positive vision and of putting our visionary strategies into practice. Acting collectively will help us to overcome powerlessness and build hope.
And now, what?
The task is huge, as is the crisis we face. However, we must start now. There is no movement without vision, and there is no movement (or revolution) without very modest first steps. We can think of many obstacles, and it is true that we will encounter many of them, but what alternative do we have? Falling into the abyss of limits.