Time for ‘Radical Environmentalism’
Source Dave Anderson
Date 12/08/07/23:55
Time for ‘Radical Environmentalism’

IF YOU’RE LOOKING TO lose a little sleep this week, check out Bill
McKibben’s piece in Rolling Stone, where he outlines the “terrifying
new math” of global warning. Essentially, the amount of carbon that
fossil fuel companies are already set to burn is five times larger
than the quantity that scientists say can be burned without causing
irreparable damage. In other words, we have what Carbon Tracker
Initiative calls a “carbon bubble:” a quantity of carbon in fossil
fuel corporations’ existing oil and gas reserves that greatly exceeds
the amount of carbon that can ever be burned without wrecking the
planet. As McKibben puts it:

"Think of two degrees Celsius as the legal drinking limit–equivalent
to the 0.08 blood-alcohol level below which you might get away with
driving home. The 565 gigatons is how many drinks you could have and
still stay below that limit–the six beers, say, you might consume in
an evening. And the 2,795 gigatons? That's the three 12-packs the
fossil-fuel industry has on the table, already opened and ready to

Meteorological metaphors may be in bad taste in a piece about global
warming, but it should be noted that there’s a silver lining here:
Just because something's ready to burn doesn't mean we have to burn
it. McKibben concludes by calling for direct actions to stop the oil
and gas extractions that will push us over our “carbon budget."

And his article, as he well knows, is coming at a time when the kind
of civil disobedience he’s urging is on the rise in the environmental
movement. This past weekend, an estimated 4,000 activists gathered in
Washington, D.C. for a “stop the frack attack” rally and scores of
protesters briefly halted operations at the Hobet strip mine in
Lincoln County, West Virginia. About 20 were arrested in what amounted
to the largest-ever direct action against mountaintop removal. These
actions followed a string of blockades of coal barges and wastewater
injection sites, as well as the first successful shutdown of a
fracking site by EarthFirst! earlier this summer.

The thrust of McKibben’s article—that lifestyle changes and “going
green” are too limited and too focused on individual rather than
collective actions—is not a new idea. The use of tactics like tree
sits and blockades to interrupt logging, road construction and
suburban development grew out of a critique of large, professionalized
environmental organizations working primarily through institutional
channels. But the heavy criminalization of these actions—in 2005,
deputy FBI director John Lewis said that what he termed
“eco-terrorism” represented the greatest domestic terrorism threat in
the U.S.—has meant that they have decreased in frequency during the
past decade, and those undertaking them have become increasingly
marginalized from the broader movement.

Two important changes, however, are paving the way for what's been
nicknamed a “national uprising against extraction.” First, the public
is no longer fooled by the substitution of one form of dirty, unsafe
energy for another. In a recent statement on its website, the Sierra
Club apologized for its decision, revealed earlier this year, to
accept more than $26 million for its Beyond Coal campaign from gas
drilling company Chesapeake Energy. After receiving harsh criticism
for its lack of action against fracking, the group now acknowledges,
“The Club's position on gas could've been tougher and should've been

Fossil fuel lobbies have long been able to play an enormously
effective game of divide and conquer, pitting the economy against the
environment, or one form of environmentalism against another. They've
drummed up support for “bridge fuels” such as gas to "create jobs" and
slow climate change while causing massive air and water pollution in
communities affected by fracking. However, thanks to the increasing
consensus that, as McKibben puts it, the fossil-fuel industry as a
whole is “Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary
civilization," this game has become much tougher to play, as the
presence of the Sierra Club and other mainstream groups at the Stop
the Frack Attack rally indicate.

Second, more and more people are proving willing to incur the higher
costs that come with engaging in disruptive actions, and grassroots
environmental movements are building the kind of localized networks
that enable part-time activists to join them.

The strip mine shutdown, organized by the group Radical Action for
Mountain Peoples' Survival (R.A.M.P.S.), follows from a long tradition
of mobilization against coal in the region. The Appalachian Group to
Save the Land and People staged direct actions against surface mining
throughout the 1970s, including an occupation of a strip mine in Knott
County by 20 women in 1972. Saturday's action brought in anti-fracking
activists from Pennsylvania and Ohio, as well as members of Occupy
Wall Street and Occupy D.C., but organizers say that more and more
locals are taking part. (Future participation could be compromised,
however, by the harsh police response. Bail for those arrested is
reportedly set at $25,000 per person, and police allegedly beat one 20
year-old demonstrator. In an interview with Waging Nonviolence,
R.A.M.P.S. organizer Mathew Louis-Rosenberg said, “This is what
happens when you’re effective ... They use these [scare] tactics
because they can work.”)

Still on the horizon this summer is a planned blockade of the southern
leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which President Obama announced in
March that he would be expediting. Sure enough, last week, TransCanada
obtained the final of three permits from the Army Corps of Engineers
to begin constructing a 485-mile section stretching between Cushing,
Oklahoma and the Texas Gulf Coast.

The Tar Sands Blockade campaign aims to pull off a series of
interruptions along the pipeline's construction route by connecting
those willing to risk arrest with those whose land will be crossed by
the pipeline. Led by grassroots climate justice groups like Rising
Tide North Texas, the campaign is currently conducting trainings
throughout the region to grow the numbers of those willing to

Organizers say that a broad coalition has turned up for the trainings.
“You could say this is a story of unusual bedfellows,” Ron Seifert, a
spokesperon for Tar Sands Blockade, told In These Times. “We have Tea
Party activists concerned about private property rights and
conservative South Texas landowners, along with climate justice
activists and people concerned with human rights abuses at the point
of [tar sands] extraction.”

Seifert notes that this has been made possible by a shift in public
perception about the stakes of climate change and the actions
necessary to stop it. The arrests of nearly 2,000 pipeline protesters
in front of the White House last summer, he says, “brought the
accessibility of direct action to a more mainstream public. I've been
surprised to see in trainings that even the more escalated tactics
we've brought up haven't scared anybody away.” Several dozen people,
he says, have already committed to risk arrest.

Of course, most of these actions—three-hour shut downs of mines,
temporary delays in construction—are geared toward building a broader
movement rather than securing an immediate victory. As McKibben
acknowledges, time to do that is, ultimately, exactly what the
movement may lack. Still, Seifert hopes that imposing enough
interruptions on extractive industries will change the economic
calculus that makes inflating the “carbon bubble” so profitable:
“Every delay we create is a victory.”

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