On Wednesday, Al Gore, speaking at the Clinton Global initiative, in New York reiterated his call for civil disobedience in order to stop the construction of new coal-fired power plants. For the importance of coal in global warming see Dr. Hansen’s letter to Nevada Governor Gibbons. (PDF)
“If you’re a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration,” Gore told the Clinton Global Initiative gathering to loud applause.
I’ve written often on the need for civil disobedience and direct action, most recently, two days ago: What Will it Take to Get Us Into the Streets? See also my favorable report on the UK court decision in the Kingsnorth case which legalized, within a limited context, the causing of damage to coal-fired power plants under the concept of “lawful excuse”.
So, I’m glad to hear Gore again calling for the use of civil disobedience to stop our greatest enemy, coal, but I have to echo a couple of the criticisms that have surfaced each time he has issued such a call. First, he needs to stop calling only on “young people” to engage in civil disobedience, and start calling on “people in general” to engage in civil disobedience. While it does seem logical that young people ought to be especially motivated to engage in civil disobedience, as they will be the first generation to feel the full consequences of Climaticide in their lives, any calls to action must include everyone if they are to be taken seriously.
It is surprising that young people have not engaged more in civil disobedience if only ought out of a sense of self-preservation, but the rest of us (the non-young) have even more reason to act because we have a moral responsibility arising from the fact that during out lives, we have reaped the benefits of emitting greenhouse gases and polluting the commons of the atmosphere. In other words, we owe it to the young people (and to the poor and to future generations) to chain ourselves to the gates of any new coal fired power plants (there are currently about 28 under construction in the US) because, up until now, we have failed to take action to stop Climaticide. In other words, young people have a practical reason to engage in civil disobedience, but non-young people face a moral imperative to take action because we are the perpetrators and beneficiaries of the existing system.
The second. point leads directly from the first. It is not enough for Al Gore to call for young people to engage in civil disobedience, he must do so himself. He is morally obliged to do this not only because he, like most of us in the developed world, is one of the beneficiaries of the existing system, but because he needs to lead by example if his call to action is not to ring hollow. The battle against Climaticide must not be allowed to become a rich man’s war in which the young and poor make sacrifices for those who enjoy privilege and power.
I know that some people think that civil disobedience is of little value or even counterproductive. Such people argue that blogging or political activism are more valuable uses of our time, but such arguments are specious. First of all, these are not either or choices. Blogging, particularly blogging that gets the attention of the Traditional Media, is obviously of value (in the case of Climaticide, however, sometimes getting the attention of the blogosphere is just as challenging as getting the attention of the TM-witness all the ink, both virtual and real wasted on Sarah Palin-don’t flame me, some of it was useful but most of it was not) as is political activism, particularly when we have a candidate like Barack Obama, who shows signs of actually understanding the significance of Climaticide, but doing those things, and I do both, does not rule out being involved in direct action and civil disobedience.
The problem with blogging is that, on one when hand, when we are heard, we often end up simply preaching to the choir while on the other, many times we are not heard at all because many progressives although paying lip service to global warming do not feel motivated enough to make it what it deserves to be, the focus of their attention. Political activism, as I stated above, is very important because in the upcoming election we have real choices, but, and if you want proof of this you need look no further than the attempt to negotiate a deal on the Wall Street bailout, politicians are timid creatures at best and without firm and constant prodding from their constituents, they are unlikely to give us anything more than a ghost of the policies that we really need. Thus while I have hopes that an Obama administration will act on Climaticide, I am not confident that it will act forcefully enough without public support for radical change.
Part of the problem in generating public support comes from the fact that most people still do not understand the urgency of the dangers posed by climate change. They don’t understand because they don’t see any reason to be interested. Quite simply, the broad public is ignorant of the urgent danger Climaticide poses, and our discussion of those dangers in the Blogosphere is unlikely to motivate that public to action if it doesn’t even motivate us to action.
As Gore and others continue to point out, there is an powerful, organized effort to confuse people about global warming and to keep it from being discussed in the TM. As Gore said in the same speech last Wednesday:
“I believe for a carbon company to spend money convincing the stock-buying public that the risk from the global climate crisis is not that great represents a form of stock fraud because they are misrepresenting a material fact,” he said. “I hope these state attorney generals around the country will take some action on that.”
I want to wretch every time I see the ads from the energy industry touting their clean, non-polluting technologies for coal, oil and gas extraction, including tar sands and oil shale, but these ads do highlight a fact: most people don’t understand the difference between conventional pollution and Greenhouse Gas pollution. But, if you don’t understand that distinction there is no way you can understand the immediate threat that Climaticide poses.
Civil disobedience is a vehicle for educating the public about the basic facts of global warming, but to be successful it must be frequent (it helps if its massive too, but frequent is more important) so that people are forced to think about it. It doesn’t matter if their initial reaction is rejection; if act of civil disobedience follows act of civil disobedience, people will be forced to pay attention. One can dismiss the arrest of a few people once, but the arrest of relatively large numbers of people repeatedly will focus attention on the issue that underlies the direct action. As that happens more people will become aware of the grave and urgent dangers we face and will themselves lend their support and pressure their politicians.
The barrage must be constant. Vice-President Gore needs to lead protesters in chaining themselves to the gates and equipment of Dominion Virginia Power’s proposed new coal-fired power plant in Wise County, VA. After he posts bail, he and other activists need to chain themselves to the gates of another proposed plant, or take over the offices of the American Coal Council, (by the way, notice that Gore’s statement and similar ones from James Hansen, get first page attention on the ACC site-despite their misleading and deceptive advrertising, the boys at the ACC understand what is at stake)or those of the advertising agencies that produce their propaganda, or those of the national media that run their lying ads.
People won’t protest if they don’t feel a pressing need to do so. Right now, those of us who understand how pressing that need is, need to use civil disobedience and direct non-violent action to make certain that our fellow citizens understand as well. Will you lead us Mr. Vice-President? There are thousands of us waiting for you to pick up the gauntlet of leadership. And in Wise County, there are some folks who decided that they didn’t have time to wait.
h/t to Rainforest Action Network for the video
Crossposted at Daily Kos