The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released an ominous report this week driving home an urgent and serious reality:without immediate action to transform society, climate catastrophe will not only be our children’s future, but our own.
The key takeaway from the IPCC report is this: if we do not radically transform every aspect of society starting NOW, we are facing ecological collapse and mass death in the short term. The report does not deeply analyse the geopolitical implications of such widespread environmental upheaval. Since human societies are inseparable from the environment, we know that the precarity resulting from collapsed ecological systems could lead to catastrophic and violent political outcomes as well.
The report has generated a shock through the consciousness of many people- mostly for what is unsaid. The foundation upon which we have built our lives is quickly crumbling. The American Dream, the white picket fence, and retirement will never be ours. It will never be our children’s. It will never be our children’s children’s. We are entering a time of uncertainty and pain that the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life hasn’t left much room to consider. This is a critical turning point, a challenge we must meet head on if we are to survive.
We cannot pretend that climate change does not mean that EVERYTHING we are accustomed to must change in response. Change is inevitable. Pain is inevitable. Uncertainty is inevitable. The outcome is unknown. The only variable that can be manipulated to change outright planetary collapse is our own agency in the situation.
Whether the shock of the report leads us to retreat inward or rise to the challenge will be determined by our capacity to locate meaning in the future and perceive a way toward it. Determining a direction forward is the difference between shock exhausting us or serving as fuel for the long journey ahead.
I hope these tactics can offer a light to draw us from the darkness.
Climate Education: Spreading the Harsh Truth
There are two ways to go about making the necessary changes to avoid ecological and societal collapse: authoritarianism or getting everyone on the same page. Since an eco-fascist regime is an apocalyptic hellscape premised on oppression and passive or active genocide, we need to start spreading information and we need to do it fast.
On the individual level, this means talking about it to everybody, all the time. This means initiating potentially awkward conversations with our friends, family members, coworkers,neighbors, the person in the checkout line, strangers. It means we have to be uncompromising in our honesty about the reality of climate change and what it means for our lives and future plans. At times, this will be uncomfortable; good people don’t like inflicting existential pain on others. It’s okay to be uncomfortable. The future is uncomfortable. Discomfort is unavoidable and necessary for action; discomfort is a signal to our body that we must do something differently to avoid pain.
Conversation around climate change and what we are doing to transform society need to become commonplace. One-on-one conversations can’t do this in the limited time we have. We need reminders all the time. This means the media needs to prioritize climate coverage and education.
If the media doesn’t make this change independently, we will need to build campaigns to pressure them to do so. Even if the media does start covering climate change, we need to implement advertising and education campaigns that work outside of mainstream corporate channels. Banner drops, wheat-pasting, leafleting, disrupting media events, projecting information on buildings, teach-ins, street theater, and public art are just some of the creative ways activists have forced their messaging into the public eye. We need to use our collective imaginations to disrupt everyday drudgery in the way climate disasters are and will continue to do so in increasingly catastrophic ways if we don’t get everyone to wake up.
Reminders and quick blips of information are not enough; we need to roll out comprehensive workshops throughout our cities and towns to make clear what 1.5 or 2 degrees warming means for our communities and what we need to do immediately to halt further temperature rise. Workshops can be organized at churches, organizations, schools, and public spaces. We can lobby our city governments to fund a roll-out of comprehensive workshops explaining climate science and teaching people why and how to retrofit buildings, grow food, and capture rainwater, as well as provide the material support to do so. We can organize support groups for people to deal with the grief and shock of it all, and find strength in each other to keep moving forward.
Our best chance in making the monumental transformations we need to for survival is to send a shock wave through the collective consciousness. The first step toward a possible future is a step outside of ourselves and into radical vulnerability and bold action in the stumbling and unselfish hope of finally facing each other.
The climate crisis is a crisis of democracy; it is a political crisis where decision-making power has been monopolized by the rich few to the detriment of everyone else. If we are committed to nonviolence, then we must first commit to transforming the system within the system-and stretching what we believe possible through it.
We should only elect those running on a plan to start phasing out fossil fuels now and stop using fossil fuels entirely in the next 10 years. It needs to become laughable that anyone would even attempt to run for office without a comprehensive strategy for halting carbon emissions, and doing so in a way that empowers and supports everyday people.
Everyone needs to run for office. We need people running at the neighborhood, city, state, and national level on platforms that include shutting down the fossil fuel industry immediately, transferring power from corporations to everyday people, and switching to clean energy in a way that is inclusive and accounts for everyone’s voices and needs.
Do you not want to be a politician? Great- you’re perfect! We need to move away from rallying behind people hungry for political power and toward a system where we celebrate people stepping outside their wants and needs for the common good.
The key ingredient is building a massive grassroots base to hold our politicians accountable. We can elect lesser evils or seemingly good candidates, but it means nothing if they can turn around and do something bad without being challenged. It’s up to us to demand our politicians make the changes necessary for our survival, and we must be willing to protest, strike, and kick them out of office if they don’t.
However, the influence everyday people have over politics has been severely lessened. Corporations have bought our politicians, and avenues for meaningful participation in decision-making processes are few and far between. Where our voices have been shut out, we must create new avenues for them to listen.
Right now, corporations control water, energy, and land that we depend on for survival. Even when these resources aren’t privately owned, it can be difficult if not impossible for the majority of people to have a say in their use. The depletion and degradation of natural resources is a testament to the way the bosses and elites in charge will continue exercising their power over the environment. They derive their power through exploitation of the environment and people by discounting their value and selling increasing amounts of things they produce at low costs to remain competitive, keeping the lion’s share of profit for themselves. Politicians and businesses have made it clear that climate crisis, and the threat it poses to resources we depend on, won’t stop them from exploiting those resources for personal gain even further.
The powerful few can’t be in charge of making decisions about the necessities we all depend on for survival. Their mismanagement and self-serving aims have driven us to a collective crisis and we need to take back the wheel before they steer us off a cliff.
We need public and democratic control of the resources we all depend on. We need communities to control water, energy, and land use decisions that directly affect them with mechanisms for holding them accountable to larger ecosystems and the global neighborhood. The more people that have direct influence over decisions, the more likely it is that those decisions will be made for the greater good. These decisions should be largely place-based, since people directly experiencing the conditions of the environment will have greater knowledge of how to respond. We need to create as many opportunities as possible for direct democracy to govern resources while also creating neighborhood assemblies and oversight boards for cities, regions, and resources. These mechanisms for democratic participation will also create infrastructure for community participation in the transition off fossil fuels. The first step toward this is lobbying, raising awareness, protesting, and writing policies to implement these mechanisms that we can share with each other.
The stratification of power between the few and the many isn’t just due to a monopoly on resource decision-making; they also have a monopoly on decisions regarding how human labor will be used. People have to work to make money and feed themselves, so — even if they don’t want to participate in an extractive or harmful industry — they have to subject themselves to the whim of their bosses’ orders so they can survive. Far-away CEOs driven by self-centered accumulation of wealth and power can’t and won’t make decisions that are responsive to needs of people and the environment. These decisions are best made by the people applying their labor to the environment, which cannot happen if their survival is dependent on wages and they aren’t allowed to govern their own work.
The term “just transition” — coined by the labor movement to denote a transition from the fossil fuel industry to clean energy sectors — often calls for union jobs, which is good! We absolutely need to be strengthening the power of unions. However, unions are a response to the exploitative conditions in workplaces created by the economic system. The climate crisis, driven by environmental exploitation at the hands of the few who control fossil-fueled machinery and labor, requires urgently transitioning power from those driving the exploitation to the masses currently being exploited who can best lead the process of restoring and regenerating themselves and the planet.
Democratizing the workplace is a key step in creating the conditions possible to limit global warming to <1.5 degrees. This means strengthening unions, creating cooperative workplaces, and new mechanisms for democratic and collaborative decision-making over our collectivized labor. All of this must be done with the goal of eventually having no bosses at all.
If legal avenues are unsuccessful in amplifying people’s voices and influence over our collective fate, we must carve out new spaces in which our voices will be heard- however possible. A common piece of folk wisdom among unions is that there are no illegal strikes, just unsuccessful ones.
We make civil disobedience legal by winning our demands.
Valve-turners, strikers, and protesters chanting, “This is what democracy looks like,” know something we all must come to embody: if we are shut out from traditional spheres of political influence, we must demand our voices are heard by creating a new sphere of influence in places and flows of capital they can’t ignore.
People can and have protested everywhere. They have interrupted daily hustle-and-bustle in the streets, freeways, railways, ports, government buildings, offices, and media events. Strikers have interrupted spaces and more directly halted flows of capital. People can organize targeted strikes, general strikes, rent strikes, and any and every kind of strike that will strike the heart of the machine driving us toward incomprehensible suffering and death.
Saving ourselves is dependent on exercising our own agency to make change and creating democratic processes that allow us to all make decisions together. Our job is to democratize everything.
The collapse of the economy is inevitable. Some of us have predicted a collapse in the near-term while others have been celebrating its recent ‘boom.’ Regardless of perceptions or timelines, the bust is coming and it will be catastrophic. The (largest) collapse of the economy will either coincide with the collapse of ecosystems or a resounding and necessary victory over the fossil fuel industry.
An important factor that many environmentalists do not consider in their calls to #KeepItInTheGround is the reality of what a fossil-free energy system means. While many of us recognize that no fossil fuels means no more gas-powered cars, significantly less air travel, and different indoor heating, we aren’t critically examining the role of fossil fuels in propagating the material conditions of our lives.
Our globalized economy was made possible through fossil fuels. The towering international trade system owes its exponential growth during the industrial era to the ships, trucks, factory machines, and improved methods of resource extraction that oil and gas fuel made possible. Solar and wind cannot replace all of that. The technology barely exists, and if it did, the amount of energy and nonrenewable resources it would take to quickly build that infrastructure would be ecologically devastating as well.
Even if it were possible to replace all of that infrastructure with clean energy tech, that would mean continuing a production process currently consuming the amount of resources equivalent to 1.7 Earths. We don’t have that many planets- at least ones we can access with the same resources. We have one planet, with quickly depleting nonrenewable resources and oceans piling up with trinkets and production waste we never really needed.
One of the reasons that the people in power are slowing the halt of fossil fuel emissions and endorsing an all-of-the-above ‘energy dominance’ strategy is because the globalized economy is the source of their wealth and power; without it, they no longer get to be in charge. Without fossil fuels, the United States of America and other imperialist nations cannot power the military forces defending resource extraction and capitalist interests overseas. Like all societies, our global system is organized around how we expend energy in cooperative systems (sourced through labor or natural resources); our current system’s energy is generated toward concentrating power in the hands of the few through limitless growth dependent on exploitation of energy (including labor) and non-energy sources.
It is the contradiction between limitless growth and limited resources that makes collapse inevitable. Scaling down on fossil fuels means scaling down on production; this means the loss of countless jobs people depend on for survival, which will then withdraw money being circulated through purchase and destroy even more jobs. If we don’t scale down, we will cook the planet and ourselves. Even if we did have the technology to seamlessly transition off fossil fuels and continue our current level of production and trade, that would require the continued and expansive exploitation and depletion of resources that are already running out. Again, the result would be collapse.
The choice is clear: it’s us or the economy. Without us, the economy will collapse anyway (which luckily gives us a strategic point of intervention).
A Green New Deal with a jobs program could help ease the devastation related to the inevitable downscale of the global production machine, but it alone will not break the stratification of power between business owners and the masses working for them. Again, this is why workplace democracy is essential and must be a central component of any Green New Deal or just transition strategy. However, while we may need to scale up production of clean energy infrastructure, building retrofits, and landscape adaptation in the short term, we ultimately need to end the system of productivist labor and machinery driving the consumption of more resources than we currently have. We can transition people from mining jobs to caring jobs like teaching, counseling, and healthcare, but I won’t hold my breath for a seamless transition in a political economy hellbent on killing us and with no time to spare.
Job transition programs don’t usually account for people displaced by the crumbling of markets adjacent to fossil fuel industries, economic hardship, or climate disasters. FEMA and government emergency services can be difficult to navigate for people who are undocumented, don’t speak English, or who are not able-bodied. Even without those barriers, relief is generally granted only in the short-term, regardless of how long the devastation of disaster is felt. Further, government funding is largely dependent on economic growth, which will likely be destabilized. The road ahead is one that treats even more people as disposable, which will further destabilize society. This will add to the destabilization of the economy, through which the ruling class derives their power. No one is safe from this shock.
The path toward survival also helps take power from the elites driving us toward apocalypse: mutual aid. Mutual aid is defined as “a voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit.” Mutual aid is one economy, among many currently existing economies, that was universally practiced in ancient human societies. Mutual aid is premised on recognition of people existing as an interdependent ecosystem, unlike the current dominant economy that is premised on hierarchy, exploitation, and treating people and the entire planet as something to extract from for individual gain. Mutual aid is not charity; it is solidarity among equals, working outside the system to create a future everyone can belong to.
Mutual aid is a way for us to take care of each other in the turbulent times ahead. If we don’t want to be disposable, no one can be disposable; it’s up to us to create circumstances that make that possible. If we grow robust networks of care, people can voluntarily leave jobs in extractive industries they rely on to survive or we can provide for workers during a strike. Mutual aid will make it possible for more people to dedicate themselves to the process of societal transformation.
Mutual aid is easy; you probably already practice it without realizing. If someone needs water and you have water, give them water. If you are a doctor and someone is hurt, take care of them. Putting money in between all human interactions is alienating; mutual aid can start building deeper connections between people that will be beneficial when they are planning and making the changes necessary to adapt to the changing climate.
Before creating a mutual aid service, talk to your community so you can collectively decide what is most useful. You can gain inspiration from programs like Food not Bombs that creates free meals from scraps thrown away and Really Really Free Markets that give away goods people aren’t using.
At some point, we are going to need to make our communities self-reliant. World trade is energy- and resource-intensive, and changing weather patterns will likely upset shipping routes. Climate change is going to disrupt food and water supplies; we should avoid making the limited distribution of supplies a context for war. Our communities will need to start using land to grow their own food rather than build strip malls or parking lots (check out the democracy section for ideas on how to make that possible).
It is of the utmost importance that the local resiliency programs we create exist outside of the capitalist economy. In the tumult ahead, allowing basic necessities to be conditioned on the ability to pay is setting us up to create more disposable people and likely violence. Plus, we would just be adding members to the elite class only interested in expanding their wealth through the exploitation and disposal of others. In other words, we would be enabling the system that drove us to these chaotic conditions in the first place. Food and water must be a right for all who live, and values of mutualism and cooperation will make that possible.
Politicians are always telling us that granting our human rights isn’t politically or economically feasible. They dismiss the life-giving needs of the people they are supposed to be beholden to as an immutable condition of reality we need to accept.
We know that’s not true. We know reality is malleable and always changing; we move forward and conditions move with us. A recent example in the United States is same-sex marriage, which was talked about as unthinkable as a national legal right not too long ago. Yet, activists forced this issue into the national spotlight and our everyday conversations. They captured the nation’s attention, swayed public opinion, and galvanized people through a sense of moral urgency to take the streets and demand the right to marry for people of the same gender. The right to love mobilized politicians, artists, activists, and everyday people, which swayed then-President Obama to sign a law legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015, which he had opposed only several years before.
We are going to be making big demands in the years to come. These demands are going to require an orientation toward justice and inclusion of all people. Politicians are going to tell us it’s impossible or that we need to compromise. Under no circumstances can we do that.
The capitalist economy requires the exploitation of people to function. Sexism, racism, nationalism, and ableism are forms of oppression that have created easy targets for exploitative practices that work to benefit the elite who are responsible for anthropogenic climate change. By leaving people vulnerable to exploitation, we are further empowering the system driving our collective demise. We need to be clear in our demands; we are moving forward, and we are moving forward together.
In the words of Angela Davis, radical means “grasping things at the root.” Solidarity is the unity that binds people together as one. To move forward, we will need to practice unity that surpasses divisions of race, gender, orientation, ability, language, species, or geography. We will need to build a holistic alliance of people who recognize themselves and their fates in the context of present and historical inequities and the correction of those injustices. We must transcend those divisions and look toward the root of all injustice, for it will take all of its victims to strike at its heart.
The War on Terror began in the aftermath of 9/11. Many well-intentioned Americans (but not all) supported invasion overseas — later found to have been enacted on false pretenses — out of fear for their own safety. The fact that many Americans were willing to go along with the war — or at least not endanger themselves to stop it — allowed the expansion of surveillance and brutal enforcement powers domestically and abroad. The passivity of Americans in bombing innocent people overseas developed into the loss of privacy and safety for themselves. The Department of Homeland Security, born out of the War on Terror, has been enabled by immigrant fear-mongering to round up undocumented children in internment camps at the border. The funds that go toward this could be directed toward disaster relief for Americans recuperating from the onslaughts of hurricanes, but instead funds are being redirected from FEMA to ICE. The same department is also targeting environmental activists protesting the extractive processes fueling the continuity of extreme militaristic powers and climate chaos threatening mass death and extinctions in the near-term. Americans’ general acceptance of The War on Terror led to a War of Terror perpetrated against us all.
When we allow violence to happen to others, we are permitting violence to happen to ourselves. Radical solidarity means defending all life in accordance to their own needs as if our lives depended on it, because-in many ways-it does.
Ecological crises, climate chaos, economic hardship, and geopolitical tensions are going to create an influx of migration that seems unimaginable right now. Our nation has made clear that they would rather let migrants drown, starve, or die than let them in. If we allow this to continue, we are permitting the expansion of a militarized machine powered by fossil fuels (both directly powered by fossil fuels and through the economic prosperity possible through them) that targets citizens as well. What do you think will happen when we try to shut down fossil fuel production, as we need to in order to survive? You get the picture.
Radical solidarity means upholding justice for all while recognizing our historical and present role in perpetuating that injustice. The abundance of wealth and material goods in the U.S. and other powerful nations came from somewhere; that somewhere is someone else’s home. The imbalance of prosperity in different countries was made possible through a long history of colonization and imperialism and the profiting off of stolen resources, which accumulated wealth to fund the military and industrial machinery necessary to further expand imperialism and trade. In turn, that snowballed into the globalized production system and man-made global warming jeopardizing our lives today. Your two-story house for four people and each of your family member’s seventeen shirts came from the deprivation of someone else. In many ways, the greenhouse gases suffocating us are a result of the luxuries citizens of wealthy nations enjoy.
Yes- I understand that people in wealthy nations have no where near the same level of responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions as the fat cats at the top. I understand these people were brainwashed and coerced into this behavior; assimilation is an adaptation strategy in a society that requires selling your labor to survive. We followed orders. Moving forward, radical solidarity means being against obedience to power that oppresses or exploits anyone.
This means welcoming immigrants and refugees with open arms. This means making space in our cities and homes for displaced people. It means living with less stuff so more people can live. It means we fight for people to have safe passage into this country, while also fighting the forces driving them from their homes. Immediately halting the use of fossil fuels driving the climate disasters that drive people from their countries is part of radical solidarity. Radical solidarity means giving up our own wealth to help people transition off of fossil fuels in their own nations, in accordance to their needs. It also means helping them build resiliency to economic collapse. Part of this entails helping them fight the transnational corporations that bought up land in poorer countries, so that the people actually living there can use it to grow food, build shelter, or whatever else they need.
Making sure everyone has food, water, and shelter is part of radical solidarity as well. If someone can’t afford to eat, we make sure they’re fed. If someone is getting kicked out of their home, we defend them from whoever comes to make them leave. If a flood or fire destroys a town, the surrounding towns must come together to care, cook, rebuild, or relocate the victims. Radical solidarity means opposing the will of the market or violent forces to choose who lives or dies.
All of our freedoms were won by people in the past who fought and made them possible. The same can be said for the bad circumstances we face now. The present was made possible by the choices and actions of people throughout history.
Our actions and choices create the conditions for future life on this planet. We must weigh our choices and decisions around action or inaction with knowledge of that responsibility.
Radical solidarity requires the extension of care and preservation for one’s own life to all who live.
This is our social contract with the future.
Radical solidarity means de-centering ourselves to become more fully available to the deep interdependence we have with life across all geographies, difference, and time.
We have to give up our material comforts and the illusion of safety. No one is safe. Everything is possible.
A vision of the future
Every landscape will be rewritten by climate change. Human civilization will change along with it.
Take a moment to imagine positive transformations that could occur in your city or town.
Where do the people live? Where are the animals? What do the buildings look like? Where are the green spaces, gardens, transit? Do you know your neighbors? How do you spend your free time? Can you hear laughter?
Earlier I suggested that the difference between burning out and moving forward is our capacity to locate meaning in the future- a future we believe worth fighting for.
Your children’s children will never get a six figure salary or a supersized McMansion with a walk-in shoe closet, but they could work less and do work that is more meaningful. They could be raised in a world where they are taught to value others and other people value them for who they are and not what they own. They could exist, and their lives could be beautiful.
We could live simpler lives. We could create a world without zombie-like commutes to unfulfilling jobs, living paycheck to paycheck, or that gnawing loneliness or lack of meaning we feel time to time.
We could own less, but have deeper and more intimate relationships with others.
We could have time to read, write, wander, fall in love, know our communities, dance, play.
We could make things because they are good and not because we are paid. We could grow gardens and throw parties the whole neighborhood could come to. We could line our shared spaces not with concrete, but things that softly grow.
We could co-create this vision together. A vision with clean air, more trees, less artificial light, more stars.
We could have deeply meaningful lives, and create circumstances for everyone else to have meaningful lives too.
We could all live The Good Life, or buen vivir.
The fight for the future should not just be a fight against death, but a fight to truly live.
To change everything, it will take everyone.