Last week, with the thermometer surpassing “miserable” here in Massachusetts, people hauled out hulking air conditioners and implanted them in windows. The hum of the machines spread out across town sounded like a buzzing swarm of locust to me.
Outside, the smog index rose, and the hills in the distance looked like a fuzzy Polaroid.
“Ah,” a friend said sardonically, “at least we know that global warming is working.” What isn’t working, it appears, is our commitment to cut our carbon footprint.
Wasn’t it less than three months ago that thousands of people across the United States gathered in town commons, on beaches, in fields and on sidewalks to give the Earth one large promise ring? We were “stepping it up” for a goal of 80 percent emissions reductions by 2050, and so, as the theory went, would our pressured politicians.
But as July begins, it’s clear that many of us have gotten cold feet. And while we wait for another organized day of action where we can proudly wave our homemade banners and recommit to saving the planet, many of us are doing nothing on a daily basis to help right this ship; and that ship, it seems, is sailing directly toward one of the rapidly diminishing icebergs.
In this month’s issue of Harper’s magazine, environmentalist and author Bill McKibben has an ominous message: “The Kyoto Protocol we didn’t sign will expire in 2012, and negotiations are beginning for whatever will succeed it. Unless there’s a U.S.-led effort to produce something truly dramatic, the world might as well not bother.”
Journalist George Monbiot, currently traveling the United States to promote his book Heat–possibly for the last time, as he’s sworn-off flying – told In These Times last month that governments are quietly pushing back the “2 degrees” emissions target.
That is, if they’re even talking about the target. Laboring in Congress right now is an energy bill so devoid of real action on global warming that Democratic leaders are already assuring they will push for separate climate change legislation later this year. Uh … so what’s in this bill?
It’s obvious a people-led shove is in order to get the U.S. government to act. But three months after we “stepped it up,” momentum on the part of our bumbling, bought-out bureaucrats seems to be slow.
Jennifer Krill, a program director with the Rainforest Action Network, tells me that the climate change movement has “ebbs and flows,” particularly because students are on summer break. She assures me the climate change momentum has not died down.
With so many environmentalists and scientists waving their hands and screaming, “This is an emergency,” can we really afford to rock out to John Mayer? And “momentum” seems to imply that we’re building on to something that was already powerful, but really, we’ve only “stepped up” our recycling, “stepped up” our Prius driving, and “stepped up” our sweater wearing – one of Al Gore’s famous instructions for combating climate change.
Left out of the plan is any understanding that our entire energy system (and economic way of life) has to be completely restructured in order to truly thwart global warming. But instead of talking about how we can bring corporate polluters to their knees, oust our lying leaders and undermine a system that favors profit over people – which leads inexorably to the destruction of the planet, no matter how warm your sweater – we’re told to clap along at feel-good concerts, sponsored by the likes of Chevy and Phillips.
Krill says the climate change movement is gearing up for the fall, when a new coalition called “No War, No Warming” is planning a “National Intervention” in Washington, D.C. in October. Great, I’ll see you there. But if we’re serious about combating global warming, we need to face the fact that actions like this give people the illusion that protests alone are enough to prompt social change.
Such events do not rock the boat, do not challenge the global economic system, do not hold our elected officials accountable and certainly do not move people to act in any radical way after the event is over. Rather, they allow us to return to our homes, put our posters away and turn on the A/C with just a twinge of guilt. Oh what the heck, we can repent in October.
Or, we can seek out actions that approach the problem for what it is: the most dangerous we face. To quote activist and author Peter Gelderloos, “If a movement is not a threat, it cannot change a system.”
Author and environmentalist Derrick Jensen told me, “This culture is killing the planet, and the response is things like this: ‘Folks all over will be gathering for parties, solidarity concerts, and to view the global concerts together on TV.’ That is the sort of response? That is pathetic.”
Instead, Jensen says, “We need to act with a passion and decisiveness to match the situation, and to match the danger this culture has created. The world will not be saved from this culture by parties and concerts, and it is harmful and absurd to pretend it will be. What we must do to stop this culture from killing the planet: we must deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor, and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet.”
Krill says actions like the Step It Up campaign increase awareness of global warming, and have prompted more people to take actions like switching to compact-fluorescent light bulbs in their homes.
Good. But this ship is going under, and “doing something truly dramatic” needs to include a lot more than tossing out light bulbs.