Just say no to fake action

by Elisabeth Robson

Beginning tomorrow, Friday September 20, and going through September 27, there are a whole host of climate-related actions happening nationally (USA) and globally, including climate strikes and marches. These climate strikes are being heavily promoted by big green organizations on down to local communities, and the media plays along by making sure to note in coverage about the upcoming strikes that they are “youth-led”. Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. The youth themselves, of course, believe they are doing the right thing, and certainly their message that we need to do something about the climate catastrophe is true. But these youth are being supported and, one might even say, manipulated by a tangle of pro-businesspro-capitalismpro-growthanti-nature organizations, corporations, and governments.

Bill McKibben writes about the climate strikes in The Guardian (“Why you should join the global climate strike” Wednesday, September 18, 2019). As in other recent articles he’s written, McKibben gives himself away as a front-man for big green organizations, including the one he started himself, 350.org, which have been co-opted by the solar, wind, and carbon capture industry.

He asks us to strike because…

“… sun and wind are now the cheapest way to generate power around the world”—if you ignore the impacts of land-grabbing, mining, manufacturing, transportation, maintenance, and disposal…

“… this could be the great opportunity…Green New Deals have been proposed around the world; they are a way forward”—the “great opportunity” he is speaking of is a way to keep our capital-demanding growth economy going so that the rich can continue to get richer at the expense of the natural world and the poor… Green New Deals are all growth plans, they all involve extracting more, building more, destroying more of the natural world…

“… batteries are ever cheaper – we can now store sunshine at night, and wind for a calm day”—again he is acting as front man for the solar and wind industries which are, as I write this, destroying forests, rivers, deserts, wildlife, habitat, and poor communities around the world, while the materials required for batteries and battery storage (lithium, iridium, copper, zinc, etc) are incredibly destructive to mine and manufacture…

“… indigenous people around the world are trying to protect their rightful land from the coal and oil companies”—and they are also trying to protect their rightful land from mines and dams and solar and wind factories and installations, because all those are harmful to land and communities just like oil is…

“… young people have asked us to. In a well-ordered society, when kids make a reasonable request their elders should say yes”—in fact it is the “elders” who are running the show, the elders who are running organizations like We Mean Business and GCCA who are working feverishly behind the scenes of the so-called youth-led movements to make sure that governments and corporations will make plenty of money on the fourth industrial revolution “demanded” by the people.

McKibben mixes his pro-business, pro-growth reasons for striking with just enough nice nature-sounding reasons to mask, for most people, that what he’s really doing is helping the corporations behind the fourth industrial revolution, by tricking “the people” into “demanding” action, believing they are part of a grass roots movement, when in fact those demands are being manufactured by the very organizations who will “respond” to those demands with more growth, more capitalism, and more extraction.

Don’t fall for it. True grass roots movements don’t have billionaires backing them. True grass roots movements don’t make vague demands of the very governments and organizations that have failed for 40 years to do anything at all. True grassroots activists take concrete actions that actually help: they sue the government and corporations when they break the law; they stand in front of bulldozers building pipelines and cutting down trees; they help inner city people learn how to build gardens in once empty parking lots to supply fresh vegetables; they change the zoning and planning laws in their own communities. Difficult and sometimes dangerous work that actually makes a difference.

Don’t waste your time on fake movements with vague asks that don’t actually take on the systems of power. The people behind these fake movements don’t give a damn about the planet, and they don’t give a damn about any of us. They care about money and power. That is it.

Do something real instead.

Image by Lunae Parracho for Reuters: Ka’apor Indian warriors tie up illegal loggers in the Amazon rainforest. Tired of the lack of government assistance in keeping loggers off their lands, they and four other tribes monitor their territory themselves.

“Before releasing them, one of the warriors told the loggers on the ground: “We’re doing this because you are stubborn. We told you not to come back, but you didn’t listen.”

They then set fire to five trucks and three tractors equipped to pull down trees and transport them from the jungle. They confiscated chainsaws and shotguns that they carried back to the village saying: “Jande pairata” or “We are strong.””

Now that is taking action.


Image credit: Max Wilbert

4 thoughts on “Just say no to fake action”

  1. While actions such as disabling a logging operation are infinitely better than strikes and demonstrations, it is hopelessly cynical to believe that all the organizers of these events are as cynical as Robson’s essay. The sad truth is that most people think they are doing the right thing, but delude themselves into believing they can have their cake and eat it, too.

    The legacy of industrial achievements (railroads, antibiotics, jet vacations, moon landings, etc.) is simply too great for most people to see the catastrophic destruction inherent to the industrial lifestyle, where today’s laborers enjoy luxuries unimaginable to 17th century kings.

    The benefit of climate strikes and demonstrations is that by mobilizing that number of people around a specific issue, many of them will start thinking on their own, connect the dots, and realize that sustainability and industrial civilization are inherently incompatible.

    Greta Thunberg, in her emotional statement at the UN this week, made at least one powerful statement: “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction,” she said, “and all you can talk about is money, and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.” Regardless of who may think they are manipulating her, those last six words — “fairy tales of eternal economic growth” — most certainly are not capitalist talking points.

    As the data get worse and the corporate and governmental response continue to be evasive, I see it as inevitable that more and more of these mainstream strikers and marchers will also connect the dots, and begin hog-tying some loggers of their own. It’s our job to hasten their way down that path.

  2. I fully agree that technology is not the answer to any environmental or ecological problem. The ultimate goal should be to return to living as hunter-gatherers with a greatly reduced human population, and to focus on expanding our consciousness while leaving the natural/physical world alone as much as possible — look and enjoy but don’t touch, so to speak.

    However, this goal is thousands of years away, and all you have to do to see that is to compare how we live and what the Earth is like now to how humans lived and what the Earth was like 10-12,000 years ago before humans used agriculture. Just because we’d like this fixed overnight doesn’t mean that it can be.

    Therefore, it only makes sense to use the least environmentally and ecologically harmful technologies while reducing the use of technology in general at the same time, the goal being to eliminate technology altogether eventually. While I also oppose big solar (solar panels belong on rooftops, not ruining deserts or other ecosystems) and oppose all but local wind generators that are not in urban areas that use the power from them and that are not in bird flyways (and of course I oppose ALL dam(n)s), these sources of electricity are much less environmentally harmful than coal, natural gas, or uranium, for obvious reasons.

    Another disagreement I have with this column is that we need BOTH large societal actions and local/individual ones. Nothing less will suffice, and if we’re going to get large societal actions we need to start with things like the climate strike. Of course AstroTurf campaigns are BS, but this column goes too far in condemning this action and people like Bill McKibben, the latter who is a well-meaning person who’s just not radical like we are (his group should be called 280.org to begin with). It’s counterproductive to condemn large campaigns and say that only local efforts are useful, and it’s simply not true. This column didn’t mention Greta Thunberg, does Elisabeth Robson think that she is also a tool of the solar and wind industries?

    Eliminating human harms to the natural world will take a long time and will happen, if at all, incrementally. The idea of DGR that using things like sabotage will create a needed revolution has no basis in reality. Talk to regular people and you’ll quickly find that they don’t want to be told to limit the size of their families or to take even beginning steps to stopping the harms like giving up their cars and using public transit. The revolutionary actions advocated by DGR will, if not very limited and done very strategically, cause a backlash against us that will cause more harm than good. While we can all fantasize about, for example, taking down industrial society immediately, this is not realistic. Same with opposing things like the climate strike because it’s not radical enough. The climate strike is a first step in building a movement that will hopefully lead to a lot less human consumption and a major change in lifestyles, in addition to using less harmful technologies while we learn to live without all this unnatural and harmful stuff eventually. But in the meantime we need actions like this, even if greedheads have their hands on them.

  3. Re Jeff’s comment, the unfortunate truth is that we don’t have thousands of years in which to gently steer mankind back to sustainability. We have a few decades, at most.

    It won’t be pretty. War never is. The cold reality is that either way — capitalism’s mad race to use up the planet, or our desperate attempt to save it — will probably probably result in the untimely deaths of a couple of billion people. (An intergovernmental panel on biodiversity estimated last year that there will be up to 700 million food refugees worldwide by 2050. And given that number, most of them will probably either starve to death, or die fighting for food.)

    Efforts to disrupt and stop the worst of the world’s destroyers have a public relations aspect too, of course. And as has always been true in wartime, the armies who use good PR generally come out better than those that don’t. But again, it won’t be pretty.

  4. @Mark Behrend
    I fully understand how dire the situation is. In my view, humans destroyed the Earth long before any of us were born, and we’re left fighting for the scraps. But our desperation doesn’t mean that we can solve this stuff just because we want and need to do so. Sometimes broken things can’t be fixed, and humans may very well have broken the ecosystem services needed for us an much other life on Earth. My point is that we need to be strategic, and take actions that have a likelihood of success, not actions that would be counterproductive.

    We simply cannot win by making war; the vast majority of people would oppose us, and the powers that be have virtually all the weapons. While guerrilla warfare can be effective in the latter situation, you need the people on your side in order for that to work. People are almost all anthropocentric, and they do not prioritize the environment even where they supposedly support environmental issues, because modern humans are totally disconnected from the natural environment. This is not about the fact that war would not be “pretty.” It’s about the fact that we can’t win at war, guerrilla or otherwise. The “war” here has to be for hearts and minds. Once we win that one, we win.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *