Category Archives: Social Movements

State of the Blog Part 1: Blog Goals and Strategy

Intro

Several commentators have noted recently that, while I have plenty of critique for 350, Klein, Romm, and the climate cynics who have given up hope, I have not taken aim at fossil fuel companies, climate change denying Congress people, corruption in the US political system, or the cancerous doctrine of eternal economic growth.

“Who is the enemy?” One commenter asked—it seems like you think it’s the cynics! Another agreed, “Evil ignored is evil condoned.”

Dear readers, there is a method to my madness. In this post, I will discuss the goals and strategy for this blog and my thoughts on where the movement is at.

Goals

This blog has a singular goal: to fight climate change. To my mind, the only way humanity will have a chance of continuation is if we build, very quickly, a Human Climate Movement that fundamentally alters the national mood, waking the public up from their denial of the imminent threat of climate change. This movement must gain the political clout to launch a WWII style and level response against climate change.

Though I remain open to (and highly desirous of) alternative strategy proposals, I have yet to hear one articulated which would give humanity a fighting chance. Most groups and writers do not articulate comprehensive plans, making it impossible to evaluate or collaborate on strategy proposals. Will 350’s efforts on Keystone and divestment solve climate change? Clearly not. They would argue that they are just getting started. But I think they have an obligation to their membership, and to humanity, to engage in an open conversation about strategy. The Citizen’s Climate Lobby does articulate their plan, which relies heavily on conventional lobbying tactics, and aims to institute a carbon tax and end fossil fuel subsidies. I have serious doubts about their ability to succeed with their tactics, even worse, doubts that their advocacy is too modest to stop climate change, even if they were to succeed. I am also skeptical of any effort that advertises its “grass roots participation” and “leaderlessness” as major benefits, without explaining why this lack of organization is strategically beneficial. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, until I hear a plan that gives humanity a better chance of survival, I’m sticking with a WWII advocacy. I think that I may not have articulated well how radical of an advocacy this is, or how significant the implications of a WWII advocacy are for capitalism, fossil fuel companies, and others who are willfully lying to humanity, leading us down the road to destruction.

Remember, before WWII, were the 1930s and the Great Depression, still the period in US history in which wealth was most unequally distributed (though we are getting ever closer to repeating it.) The New Deal helped, of course, but it was really WWII that turned conditions in the US around, ushering in a multi-decade era of relative equality (See table from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).

Wealth inequality

 

During some years in WWII, the United States devoted 36% of GDP (!) to the war effort, or the equivalent of 5.6 trillion dollars, per year. The highest income tax bracket rose to 94%. The government intervened in industry in a way that has never happened before or since in the United States. After Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7th, 1941, the United States focused with a singular purpose on winning the war. Economic concerns were secondary and consumer luxury was not considered at all. Shared sacrifice was assumed. As historian Doris Kearns Goodwin writes:

In the summer of 1942, the accustomed rhythms of daily life were disrupted in every factory, business, and home by the institution of rationing and price control… By and large, American housewives accepted the system of rationing cheerfully. When butter became scarce, they added a yellow dye to margarine to make it look like butter. When sugar was cut back, they substituted corn syrup and saccharin in cakes and cookies. They planted Victory Gardens in their backyards. They saved kitchen fats and exchanged them at the butcher shop for points. …By the end of November, government regulations extended into almost every aspect of American life. Shortages of iron and steel prohibited the manufacture of a wide range of consumer items, including electric refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, sewing machines, electric ranges, washing machines and ironers, radios and phonographs, lawn mowers, waffle irons, and toasters. The use of stainless steel was prohibited in tableware. Shoe manufacturers were ordered to avoid double soles and overlapping tips; lingerie makers were limited to styles without ruffles, pleating, or full sleeves. (P 355, 394)

The war effort came first. Capitalism came second. Everything else came second. Citizens from across society were actively engaged in the war effort, and major steps in equality were made in multiple spheres racially, between the sexes, and economically. With the shameful exception of Japanese internment, it was a time of major progress on several fronts. 

So, a WWII advocacy has, nestled within it, an equality agenda, a citizen engagement agenda, an equality agenda and a very strong regulatory agenda.  There is also a justice agenda. During a war, people who side with the enemy or undermine the war effort are traitors. Which is a crime. Until a war is declared, their acts against humanity are not, technically, actionable crimes.

Strategy

I write for a singular purpose, to build a social movement that brings a Climate War about. To wake up humanity to the danger that we are in; to the fact that we are under attack, are in great danger, and desperately need to fight back. I will write scathing pieces about fossil fuel executives, crooked politicians, and other traitors to humanity if I viewed it as beneficial to this purpose. At the moment, however, I do not believe it is.  At the moment, the strategic imperative is to build the movement, to empower the movement, to organize the movement, and to unite the movement.

All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. If I was writing in German in the 1930s and 40s, I wouldn’t target Nazi’s for criticism. I wouldn’t view that as productive. I would have made clear that I considered their actions evil, but I would aim my criticism at ordinary Germans, at complicity. I would attempt to rally a resistance.

In this case, all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to continue their current protestations against evil. To continue talking about evil rather than organizing in order to effectively fight it.  The environmental movement has failed. Not to blame them for this failure: We have all failed, the environmentalists at least tried! Every political party, every organized religion, every corporation, and every individual has failed to stop our planet’s relentless march towards catastrophe. We need to recognize that failure, learn from it, and regroup. I doubt very much that I can change the minds of Rex Tiller, Exxon Mobile CEO or Jim Inhofe. But I do think I can contribute to planning, organizing, and growing the Human Climate Movement. Though I am predominantly addressing people already deeply concerned about climate change, I am not “preaching to the choir.” I am attempting to turn people who are deeply concerned into people who are deeply active.  I am attempting to help people who are already active think through their activities to achieve maximal results. I am attempting to unity disparate factions of the Human Climate Movement. I am trying to turn “the choir” into an army. I hope you join me.

 

The Human Climate Movement: What’s in a Name

I have been using the term “Human Climate Movement” in my writing for several months now. I thought it would be good to clarify why I introduced this term, what it means, and why I think it is valuable strategically.

The short answer for why to introduce the phrase Human Climate Movement is that there was no appropriate word or phrase available to describe what I wanted to describe. 350, the most prominent group of the Human Climate Movement, doesn’t name the movement, but rather describes it:  “a global movement to solve the climate crisis”

There is, of course, the “Environmental movement” or various permutations of the term “Green.” However, I wanted a term that connotes a fight for the continuation of humanity, which relies on a stable climate, (as well as other environmental factors, such as freshwater). We need a Human Climate rather than, for example, the climate of Venus or Mars. Nature captured this idea in the article, “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity.”

Speaking personally, though I care a great deal about nature qua nature, its destruction is not what gets me out of bed in the morning; it has not motivated me to dedicate myself to fighting climate change. Rather, I am motivated by my love and loyalty for my species, my human brothers and sisters.  I think that there are many people who feel similarly. That though they find the destruction of nature deeply disturbing, they are willing to dedicate much more and fight much harder for humanity than for “the environment.”

So that is the short answer. But I will elaborate a bit more on why I think the term is a good one.

I think that putting “Human” first in the name emphasizes the universality of the movement. Everyone is welcome, and the Movement fights for everyone. Fighting climate change, in my mind, should be the most unifying undertaking in human history.

When people work to spread the climate lie, or oppose the HCM in other ways, they stand on the side of human destruction. This indicates a deep inner deadness and an alienation from their human brethren. Ideally, even those people will soon awaken to the climate threat, and to their own sense of humanity, and join our ranks. But until then, we should make it clear that they are working against humanity, against you and me and my family and your family and their own family. They are killing our species for short-term, individual gain; they are traitors to their kind. This is much more powerful, psychologically, than saying they are damaging “the climate” or “the environment.”

Further, the name “Human Climate Movement” creates a distinction between this movement and other movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement. This is important, because, currently, groups like 350 are relying heavily tactics from the Civil Rights Movement, such as protests and civil disobedience. This is a strategic mistake, and belies a misunderstanding of social movements. They do not all happen the same way! Each movement needs its own tactics, geared for its specific challenges and context. The Human Climate Movement must learn from history, but it should not attempt to repeat history. We need something new. Let’s find the best strategy for the HCM through open collaboration; let’s open-source Movement Strategy, proposing and discussing various strategy options.

I hope that “Human Climate Movement” calls to mind the best things about our species: our compassion, collaboration, ingenuity, and ability to change and grow. We are not static. We have accomplished great things together through movement, through moving forward.  150 years ago, Americans owned slaves, Chinese  bound their young girl’s feet, and the British gentry used duels to settle honor disputes. Humans change. We grow. We move forward. We need to do it again, very quickly.  I hope you join me.

 

Let’s Open Source Strategy for the Human Climate Movement

Humanity is at a crossroads. Will we go over the cliff of climate change? Will we stay asleep at the wheel, becoming the passive victims of floods, droughts, food insecurity, extreme weather, and disease? Or will we wake up to the terrible danger we are in, and fight back, together? Will we collectively rise to the challenge of our time, creating a social and political movement that demands an emergency, warlike response from policymakers?   The stakes are the highest they have ever been. The fate of our species, and our planet, hang in the balance.

After realizing the terrifying reality of our current situation, the next questions are about strategy: What should we do? What should I do? How can we fight this?

Or maybe, we should take a step back and ask a more meta-question:

How should we make the decision about how to fight climate change? What is the best process for choosing both 1) an advocacy and 2) a strategy/ organizing plan, for accomplishing that advocacy?

Where are the scholars? The absence of a social-science consensus (or conversation!) on organizing strategy.

 It strikes me that, while there has been a fair amount (though certainly not enough!) of media focus on the scientific consensus that human-induced climate change is real, and a real threat to humanity, there has been no consensus, or even discussion among social scientists and scholars about how humans should respond to the threat of climate change; how we should organize and fight back. Indeed, there has been no attempt to reach this consensus.

While there is certainly scholarship on climate change, from many social science disciplines, this scholarship virtually never is connected with an organizing plan or with a specific advocacy for the Human Climate Movement.

The lack of scholarly engagement is due to several factors: 1) The idea that climate change is a “scientific” problem, and thus all aspects of climate change should be handled by scientists. 2) The reticence of social scientists and scholars to be so practical and political. Its better career-wise, and safer, to dwell within the realm of ideas. Grand theories and out-of-the-box applied political work is regarded with suspicion in many academic fields 3) Society’s recent antipathy towards social scientists and scholars of the humanities. The focus on STEM education and the belittlement of “impractical fields” has demoralized many scholars, making them think (not without reason) that society doesn’t care about their ideas. 4) General societal denial about the severity and immediacy of climate change (The Climate Lie), which keeps many scholars and social scientists from making concerted study of climate change a focus.

The Benefits of Urgent, Collaborative, Applied Scholarship

During WWII, scientists and scholars were asked to put aside “real” science and scholarship, and to focus only on projects that would benefit the war effort. They could resume their “real” work after the war. The irony, of course, is that WWII was one of the most productive scientific and scholastic periods in human history. We imagine science and scholarship to be dispassionate. And yet, passionate, applied scientists and scholars, working collaboratively towards a common goal, appears to be even more productive.

The best known example urgent scientific collaboration during WWII is the Manhattan project. But during WWII there were major innovations in all types of weaponry, in communications technology and code breaking, medicine, and production methods. In the realm of social science, there were major advancements as well. WWII was the first instance that the military and public recognized that combat PTSD was not a defect of character. It became official understanding that “Every man has a breaking point” and psychological knowledge was applied to help soldiers cope with the trauma of combat.  Ruth Benedict researched and published the classic study of Japanese culture, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, without setting foot in Japan! Under normal circumstances, anthropologists study cultures by living within them. This was not possible during WWII, and the United States needed to understand the Japanese mentality, which was so different from our own. So she studied Japanese texts and films, interviewed Japanese people living within the United States, and produced a classic work.

A sense of moral urgency can trump other concerns, such as personal advancement or institutional territoriality. It can instigate a rich collaboration; an open sharing of data and ideas, and bring forth new discoveries in all participating fields.

Open Sourcing Human Climate Movement Strategy

Climate change poses an even greater threat to humanity than the Axis powers did. Scientists and engineers have been collaborating and contributing to the solution for years—making huge strides in climate modeling, renewable technology, agricultural techniques, adaptation measures and much more.

We are long on scientific understanding, and shockingly short on social engagement and political will.

Its time for social scientists and scholars to get in the game. Applying their knowledge and theory to the problem at hand.  To answer the questions: (most importantly): What is the best strategy to instigate and organize a social movement that will fundamentally alter the national and international mood, making the public recognize the emergent nature of climate change? and (also important, but more frequently addressed): What policies should be enacted, once citizens have mustered the political power to demand transformation?

I tackled these very questions in my article “Fighting Climate Change is Different from Fighting for Civil Rights”, published this week on AlterNet. I argue that civil disobedience/ protest tactics succeeded for the Civil Rights Movement because they countered racism; the movement’s biggest barrier to spreading the truth about African American’s oppression. I argue that they will not succeed for the Human Climate Movement, because the Human Climate Movement’s largest psychological barrier to spreading the truth about climate change is anxiety—people are too terrified of the truth to recognize it and act on it. In Part II of the article, I propose a person-to-person, pledge based” strategy, that utilizes a comprehensive plan (Gilding’s One Degree War Plan) and human relationships to contain anxiety.

Though I believe that my article offers an important analysis, and the strategy I propose is innovative and has real potential for efficacy, I am not egotistical enough to believe that it should be the last word in Human Climate Movement organizing. Quite the opposite. My hope is that for other scholars and social scientists to improve upon it, and offer their own organizing and advocacy ideas, which can be further refined and combined with each other.

Benefits of Open- Sourcing

Inclusion: Publishing strategy proposals in an open forum allows anyone to enter the conversation and contribute. Any scholar, graduate student, auto-didact, or concerned citizen can be involved. It allows for a public debate on what should be a public issue: how to proceed with fighting climate collapse. People can utilize and expand on each other’s ideas. Proposals can become hybrids. Humanity can function as a hive-mind, ultimately selecting the best plan.

Accountability: Open sourcing strategy also adds a level of accountability for Environmental organizations and advocates. Groups that ask for your support should tell you their strategy and their plans, and admit if they do not have a comprehensive plan for fighting climate change. What is 350’s long-term organizing strategy? What is their long-term plan for success? What policies would they implement if they succeed in creating a social movement?  How about the NRDC’s organizing strategy? How about the Sierra Club? The Democratic Party? The Green Party?

Similarly, well known movement leaders and commentators have generally not put forth specific plans. Joe Romm, for example has a WWII advocacy, which I share. But he does not have an organizing plan for bringing it about. This is disempowering to readers. Someone could read Joe Romm’s blog, completely agree with him, and not know what to do next; how to put his values into practice. Commentators and leaders should propose or endorse specific organizing strategies, and explain their choices.

Organizations, leaders, and commentators should play their cards face up. Don’t ask me to donate money or attend protests, and not tell me the rationale, the strategy behind the action.  Let the public in on the plan, or lack thereof. Let the plan improve and evolve through critique and hybridization. The stakes are too high for individuals or institutions to act in their own best interest, at the expense of frank and honest discussion about strategy.

Unification: Another major benefit is that a process of considering and evaluating open-sourced proposals would give the Human Climate Movement a greater sense of unity, which it sorely needs. Currently, every environmental group pursues their own agenda (coal, Keystone, fracking, renewables, etc). Hopefully, through a process of discussion and strategy proposals, a consensus can be reached on both organizing strategy and advocacy. Unification would help the movement tremendously.

Logistics

If we get a critical mass of proposals, they could be organized with a Reddit-style voting system.  The more people endorse a proposal, the higher it moves towards the top. Where it will be read by more people. If this idea really gets going, a voting system might be endangered by trolls, and different methods of curating proposals can be explored.

Until then, I can publish proposals on my blog. Perhaps a larger news organization or environmental group would like to partner with me on this open-sourcing project.

I call for 2 types of papers:

1) Comprehensive Proposals. These include both a political advocacy (how we should fight climate change once we muster the political will to do so) and an organizing strategy in order to create a social movement/ muster the political will in order to enact the advocacy.

2) Partial Proposals.  These approach one element of organizing strategy. This could include, for example, ideas for how to target certain groups or types of people. Pure-advocacy proposals (ie, we should institute a carbon tax, or we should cap emissions at 350) would not be accepted as these are commonly discussed in the environmental movement/ blogosphere. Advocacies must be proposed with organizing strategies behind them.

Both types of proposals should demonstrate why their approach will be effective. This can be done using the history or theory of social movements, politics, psychology, anthropology, sociology, gender studies, economics, media studies, evolutionary biology… all perspectives are welcome, but proposals should be well researched and argued (Proposals should have a minimum of 5 cited sources). Proposals can, and should, build off of each other.

(My Person-to-person, pledge-based strategy is a comprehensive proposal, though I use Gilding’s One Degree War Plan for the advocacy portion. I demonstrate the efficacy of my plan through a mix of psychological, anthropological and historical arguments, largely based on an examination of the Civil Rights Movement.)

Participation will also occur through comments/ discussion.

Scientists and scholars during WWII were funded by the government. Fighting our current crisis does not have many economic incentives. But we can appeal to author’s sense of honor, scholarship and humanity. We can issue a call for papers that is open to anyone, as well as specific invitations to brilliant individuals. I, for example, would love to see proposals from scholars E.O Wilson, Tanya Luhrmann, Nancy McWilliams and Marshall Ganz, for example. As well as from activists and commentators including Bill McKibben and 350, Naomi Klein, Joe Romm, David Roberts, Jill Stein, and Al Gore.

Conclusion

Scientists have made it clear that we need to fight climate change with everything that we have. That question is answered.

The question that remains is HOW to do it. How to build a social movement. How to muster the political will. In my mind, this is the most important question in the world.

7 billion heads are better than one.

Let’s figure it out, together.

Forget your Footprint. Responsibility for Climate Change = Power + Resources + Talent. (W/ Schindler’s List Clip)

Climate change threatens to destroy the global climate and cause human civilization to collapse. Given this grave set of circumstances, what is my moral obligation? What is yours? How is it possible to live a moral life under these circumstances? When the systems we live within fail so terribly, how can we, as individuals succeed at living morally?

Deconstructing “Reduce your footprint”

The most common answer has long been to “reduce your carbon footprint!” We are exhorted by corporations, politicians, environmentalists, and the media. In the highly contentious arena of climate change, individuals reducing their impact may be the sentiment that has the most common ground.

Unfortunately, it is myopic and apolitical. Emphasizing individual emission reduction places the debate about climate change to the individual realm, rather than realm of societies, systems, and politics. This is why the carbon footprint  is a non-controversial approach to advocacy; it puts the onus of change onto the individual, freeing corporations, institutions, and governments from pressure to change.

Americans have, throughout our history, elevated the status of the individual. Individual freedom is paramount in our founding documents, and we generally esteem individual achievement above group achievement (Think sports stars or Steve Jobs; we love a hero).

Focusing on Systems and Systemic Change

We focus on the individual so much, that we can sometimes forget that we live within cultures, societies and governments; that our lives are governed by systems; that systems set the rules of the game. Governments, capitalism, the legal system, land-use schemes (zoning laws) and cultural norms—these systems structure and contain our lives.   These systems encourage consumption in thousands of ways. They make pollution free and reducing your carbon footprint expensive and difficult.

Our current systems—the ways we have structured and regulated human life, the way our civilization functions— is careening towards chaos. Our systems are destroying our climate, which has provided us humanity with stability and bounty, making human civilization possible for the last 10,000 years.

These systems are bigger than us. They comprise billions of people and trillions of dollars. Individual action is a speck of dust when compared to these systems. It will never succeed.

Our moral imperative, then, is not to reduce our carbon footprint. It is to change the systems. Though systems are daunting and powerful, they are developed and maintained by people, especially powerful people. We built them, we maintain them, and we can change them. Social movements have  done it many times before. We must create a social and political movement that fights denial and minimization and demands that the United States government respond to climate change as the existential threat it isto fight back with a WWII level mobilization.

Individual Responsibility, Reconceptualized.

When the systems have gone off the rails, then it is up to individuals to change those systems. A governments most basic responsibility is to keep its citizens safe. The climate crisis threatens all Americans and all humanity. Our government, as well as our culture, media, and economic system, have failed. Its up to us now.

Each of us must ask: what can I do to fight the culture climate change denial? How can I contribute to shifting the United States from passivity to action? How can I use my power, resources, talents, and connections to further the movement? Each person will have their own answer. Journalists can report on climate change; artists can create art about climate; religious leaders can preach about climate change in their sermons. Academics and students can apply their knowledge to helping the Human Climate Movement develop innovative strategies for success. Everyone can spread the truth of climate change amongst their family and friends.

Every person must give what they can to usher in the social movement. This means that the more power, resources, talent  you have, the greater your obligation. Perhaps Spiderman said it best: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

People often underestimate their power (and hence, their responsibility), thinking, “I’m only one person.” Or, “I’m just a student,” or “I’m not a politician or a scientist. What can I do?”

The truth is, if you are reading this, you probably have a good deal of power and privilege. You are literate, you speak English, you have access to the Internet, and you have the time available to read articles about climate change. Are you an American?  Than you are a voting member of the worlds most powerful nation. Do you have a college education? You are more powerful still. Globally, only 6.7% of people have a college degree. If you are one of the privileged, educated few, I believe you have a moral responsibility to use your knowledge to fight the climate crisis. Do you have money in your bank account? That’s a lot of power right there. Remember, 2.4 billion people live on less than $2 a day.  Are you talented? Do people respect you? Do you have a leadership position at work or in a community organization? These are assets that can be utilized for change, also.

Oscar Schindler: The Burden of Power in an Evil System

Oscar Schindler understood  that, in a crazed, immoral system such as Nazi Germany, powerful individuals bore a great burden of moral responsibility. Schindler was a rich German factory owner who, during the war, began to produce munitions and military supplies for the Nazis. As Schindler realized the evil of the Nazi system, he realized that he had to fight back. The situation was different in several ways than the climate crisis— the Nazi system was being challenged by the Allied forces, and open dissent was brutally suppressed. So Schindler did two things: 1) He began a mission to save as many Jews as he could, by employing them in his factory, relocating his factory to a safer area, and giving lavish bribes to officials and 2) He sabotaged his own factories operations. He never wanted to produce a working bullet; he knew that those bullets would be used to defend the Nazi cause.

Schindler understood that he had a moral obligation to stand against an evil system and that he had to use his power and privilege to do so. He undermined the system by providing it with faulty munitions, and shielded more than a thousand Jews from the system’s murderous intent.

So how did Oscar Schindler feel when the system was defeated—when Germany surrendered to the allies? Stephen Spielberg illustrates in the ending of his film Schindler’s List:

Schindler, rather than accepting the gratitude of his workers, is acutely aware of how much more he could have given—how much more his privilege and power required of him. And this was after the Allies had won. 

Imagine how you will feel as climate change continues to worsen, prompting resource wars, famines, and outbreaks of vector borne disease? Will you be able to hold your head high, confident that you did everything you could to contribute to the solution? Or will you live with the pain of knowing that you had power, resources, and talent, but failed to use it to change the system?

Fighting Climate Change is different than Fighting for Civil Rights: Part I, Strategy Analysis and Critique

Part I: A Psychologically and Technologically Informed Strategic Critique

Introduction:

The Human Climate Movement draws much of its strategy and tactics from the Civil Rights Movement; they engage in marches, demonstrations, and similar civil disobedience. For example, scientists and citizens handcuff themselves to the White House gates and face arrest, echoing the tactic of lunch counter sit-ins.

The Human Climate Movement is modeling itself on the Civil Rights Movement because it was dramatic, honorable, and highly successful. The success of the Civil Rights Movement was so inspired movements nationally and internationally to challenge the status quo, particularly through the collective action of civil disobedience  (Morris, 1999).

Further, the two movements have much in common. Both are fundamentally anti-denial movements, wielding the Truth as their greatest weapon. The two movements share several underlying goals, such as empowering their members, fighting cultural denial, and putting immense pressure on policy makers.

However, I argue that civil disobedience is the wrong approach for the Human Climate Movement. Though there are underlying similarities between the goals of the Civil Rights Movement and the Human Climate Movement, they face different barriers to spreading the truth. 

The key psychological challenge that the Civil Rights Movement faced was racism, and its tactics were perfectly tailored to combat racism. The fundamental psychological challenge of the Human Climate Movement is overwhelming anxiety; its tactics and strategy must be built to contain anxiety. In the Part II of this paper, I will propose an organizing strategy for the Human Climate Movement that is tailored to the specific psychological challenges of climate change.

The Shared Goals of the Civil Rights Movement and the Human Climate Movement

Successful social movements change the status quo radically. They create a reality that was not previously fathomable. They realign the stars. That the Civil Rights Movement did not accomplish all of its goals, or that much of its progress has been rolled back in recent years should not obscure the point that it achieved immense success. The Civil Rights movement rewrote the rules of morality and social acceptability. They made open racism anathema, and transformed “Whites Only” drinking fountains from a formidable systematic tool of oppression into an anachronistic embarrassment.

How did they accomplish this cultural and political shift? And what must the Human Climate Movement accomplish in order to create the radical change necessary to protect civilization from climate collapse?

I see three goals that are shared by both movements:

1) Empower members of the movement—give them an opportunity, and confidence to advocate for the truth and for themselves.

2) Fight denial and minimization of the problem; put the terrible reality of the status quo front and center of national attention. This removes the illusion of moral neutrality, showing people that they can either stand for change, or stand with the status quo.

3) Create immense social pressure, especially amongst elites, for drastic changes of attitudes, behavior, and policy.

Both the Civil Rights Movement and the Human Climate Movement are, fundamentally, anti-denial movements. They are messengers of the truth, standing against a system that is built on lies. The Civil Rights Movement fought the lie that black people are fundamentally inferior to white people and that their oppression was natural and benign. The Human Climate Movement must fight the lie that pollution is not causing our climate to collapse; that we can continue business as usual without horrific consequences. Both movements fight against widespread cultural denial that is fueled by vested interests and broad resistance to change.

To spread the truth, both movements must empower their member: Instill confidence that change is possible and that individuals can be agents of that change. Empowered participants become warriors of truth, carrying it with them, sharing it with others, fighting for it, fighting with it. Being a messenger of truth is an honorable undertaking, and empowered participants hold their heads high against fierce opposition.

Both movements need to capture sustained attention. Lies and atrocities are possible within  society because of peoples’ ability to ignore them, to focus on other things (Cohen, 2001). Both movements need to capture peoples’ full attention—to put the terrible, immoral reality of the status quo front and center in their minds. By doing this, the social movement forces a choice. The movement demonstrates that neutrality cannot exist; that you either stand for truth, or you are part of the lie.

Both movements need to fundamentally alter the culture so that there is tremendous social pressure to acknowledge the truth. The civil rights movement made open racism anathema—the Human Climate Movement must do the same for climate change denial and minimization. Such attitudes are rendered socially unacceptable, allowing ordinary people to take moral stands, “We don’t use that racist language in this house” or “We don’t deny climate change in this house.” Ideally, these changes happen throughout society. But their most important site is in the halls of power and policy making.

Both the Civil Rights Movement and Human Climate Movement appeal to the majority of Americans and policy makers, rather than appealing to the worst bigots or deniers. The goal of the movement is to create enough social pressure that the majority, and the government, turns against the worst offenders. The Civil Rights Movement didn’t make it a goal to show the Ku Klux Klan the error of their ways; it was to convince enough Americans, in the North and South, that intervention was necessary; that African Americans needed protection from the KKK and from Jim Crow. Similarly, the Human Climate Movement need not convince the executives of Exxon Mobile, Jim Inhofe, or other fanatical climate change deniers of anything. Rather, the Human Climate Movement must shift the national mood to the point where we realize that the government must protect its citizens against climate change, and those who seek to deny it.

Ultimately, a successful social movement exerts its power in government—pushing the government to publicly recognize the truth and govern accordingly. For the Civil Rights Movement this meant the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed the major forms of discrimination in the United States. For the Human Climate Movement, it will mean policies that respond to real scope and immediacy of the threat; policies that instigate a WWII- level mobilization to fight climate change.

Racism: Enemy of Truth, Barrier to Change

The Civil Rights Movement sought to expose the truth: that the United States, particularly the Jim Crow South, functioned through brutal oppression and exploitation. The evil of such a system should have been self-evident, but white Americans were able to escape this truth, through racism. The pervasive belief in black inferiority, especially black violence, immaturity, and impulsiveness allowed white Americans to rationalize the brutality of Jim Crow as responding to a need for order. This rationalization was something like, “Black people must be controlled by us, for they cannot control themselves.” Edmund Burke noted that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” racism  provided an ideological rationale for brutal oppression, a myth that appeased the consciences of good people, gave them an excuse not to act. Internalized racism also kept many black people passive and disempowered—believing that the system reflected some  natural order, and could not be changed, certainly not by them.

Tactics Built to Fight Racism and Demand Change

The Civil Rights Movement recognized that racism was the fundamental barrier to the spread of truth, and thus the fundamental barrier to their success. The leaders and participants in the movement responded to this knowledge by tailoring their tactics specifically to address and undo racism. The plethora of civil disobedience tactics; sit-ins, boycotts, marches, and protests were ingenious ways of doing this. The medium was the message. These tactics demonstrated the dignity, restraint, and fortitude of the protestors. Watching African Americans hold their heads high, resolute against white law enforcement or shop owners heaping abuse on them made huge inroads in dispelling the myth of black inferiority. To those watching from home, it didn’t seem like black protestors were primitive or violent. It seemed like they were standing with dignity against an unfair and brutal system. It was Jim Crow, and those who enforced it, that ended up looking primitive and violent.

Civil disobedience also accomplished the 3 psychological goals I have named as key to both the Civil Rights Movement and the Human Climate Movement. It 1) empowered its members, 2) fought denial and minimization, eliminating the refuge of “neutrality” and creating a forced choice 3) created tremendous social pressure, especially among elites, for cultural and policy shifts.

Empowerment was accomplished through 1) striking blows against internalized racism and 2) providing numerous opportunities for participation in collective protest.  The Civil Rights Movement provided countless examples of ordinary African Americans acting with extraordinary bravery and conviction. Civil disobedience gave black people and communities a tremendous source of pride. Through fighting racism, the Civil Rights Movement empowered African Americans, their core constituency for action. Civil disobedience invited all African Americans to take their stand, and provided myriad opportunities for African Americans to take part in boycotts, marches, and other civil disobedience. It was clear that all were welcome in the movement. More than “welcome” even, that the movement was waiting for you to muster your courage and take your place in line.

Utilizing Television to Fight Racism and Denial

Accomplishing the other 2 goals (Fighting denial and creating pressure, especially on policy makers) had much to do with television and tenacity. Civil disobedience was crafted with television in mind. (Thompson, 2004). The television was exploding in popularity. In 1945, there were only 10,000 television sets in the United States. But 1950, that number had reached 6 million, and by 1960, it had reached 52 million: 9 out of 10 homes had a television. Further, mobile video equipment was pioneered, allowing scenes from far-flung areas of the country to be broadcast nationally. New technologies always offer new possibilities for social movements to spread truth; They offer  ways for people to communicate (and thus interface and organize) which the establishment has not yet discovered how to co-opt. Consider the amount that in the Right has now mastered the television as a tool of control and disinformation. Would the Civil Rights Movement have succeeded if Fox News’ broadcasts of disinformation, reputation-destruction, and tokenism had competed for airtime with civil disobedience demonstrations? Or would it have allowed white Americans to stay in denial; to keep telling themselves that it wasn’t their issue? Because society had never been saturated with television sets before,  the Right had not yet mastered the art of televised disinformation. The truth, in the form of civil disobedience, was able to dominate the airwaves.

Martin Luther utilized the revolutionary truth-spreading potential of the new technology, the printing press, leading to the Protestant Reformation. Back in 1518, printing hundreds of copies of your political arguments and  distributing them was an innovation, and a very effective one. Luther’s namesake, centuries later, repeated the act of  harnessing a new technology’s change potential.

Civil disobedience created hundreds of dramatic, suspenseful scenes, such as confrontations during lunch counter sit-ins. The public was captivated. What would happen? How would this turn out? How would the owner and wait staff respond to this protest? How would the protestors respond to abuse? Would law enforcement get involved? Would there be violence? Would people die?

These scenes unfolding on the news, night after night was a spear in denial’s heart. Think the system isn’t so bad? Look at those who challenge it. The brutality and oppression of the Jim Crow system, as well as the dignity and humanity of African Americans, were brought front and center in the national mind.

The Civil Rights Movement gave white Americans a forced choice through their tenacity. Protests grew, and spread. It was clear that they would not be easily beaten. The government had a choice: either accede to protestors’ demands or respond with total brutality; fire on marchers; terrorize communities; assassinate leaders. And conduct this brutality with the world watching.

Similarly, civil disobedience created a forced choice within individual citizens. The confrontation between unfairness vs. equality; oppression vs. dignity; immorality vs morality, was stark. By creating evocative scenes that demonstrated the oppressiveness of the system, and sending those scenes into living rooms throughout the country, the Civil Rights Movement made people ask themselves: Where do I stand on this issue? Am I for the protestors, or the police? The tactics of the Civil Rights Movement left no room for neutrality and moral equivocation.

By fighting denial and creating this forced choice, the Civil Rights Movement created immense social pressure, including on policy makers and elites. The Civil Rights Movement was utterly tenacious in their mission, putting increasing pressure on Washington DC itself. 50 years ago, Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech from our Nation’s capital. But pressure on legislators came from all directions: their voters, their social circles, even their families. Legislators are not immune to social pressure; indeed because they are elected, they are extremely vulnerable to it. Legislators were also given a forced choice: respond to the Civil Rights Movement and the changed national mood, or dig in their heels against ongoing, mounting protests and social pressure.  The Civil Rights Movement demonstrated that, though legislators have inherent biases against change, that conservatism can be overcome through changing the national mood and the application of immense pressure.

The truth, when mobilized skillfully, can move mountains.

Differences Between the Movements: Anxiety as the Barrier to Climate Truth

Given the overwhelming success of the Civil Rights Movement, and the many overlapping goals of the Human Climate Movement, it should not surprise us that the Human Climate Movement is utilizing Civil Rights tactics, relying heavily on civil disobedience. Surely, the reasoning goes, this will empower activists, fight denial and spur policy action, as it did before.

But the Human Climate Movement faces different psychological barriers to accepting the truth, and different technology to utilize in order to capture the Nation’s attention. The fundamental psychological barrier to fully accepting the truth of climate change is  anxiety. Climate change is a horrifying force that threatens civilization and each of us individually.  People protect themselves from this knowledge in different ways. Some deny the existence of climate change all together. Others intellectually “know” that climate change is real, but emotionally block off any reaction to this information. Others feel frightened of climate change, but engage in token environmental actions that help them cope.

I have elaborated in a different paper on the particular psychological barriers to accepting the truth of climate change, which are complex, individual, and frequently include a sense of guilt, (“I have sinned by over consumption and climate change in the punishment for my greed”) but the fundamental barrier is anxiety. The truth of climate change causes feelings of terror, helplessness in the face of grave danger. The normal human response to overwhelming anxiety is to deny, intellectualize, or utilize another psychological defense mechanism.

When people are acutely anxious, they cannot think rationally. This is a well established psychological fact, and has been shown to happen specifically in the case of climate change (Lertzman, 2013) This response to anxiety explains why, as climate change has become more and more apparent, Americans are less likely to be concerned about it (Leiserowitz et al, 2013) [2]. Its not that we aren’t afraid, it is that we are so afraid that we cannot cope, and thus turn to various forms of denial. It explains why some people become so enraged with climate scientists and activists—their message evokes terrible anxiety.

The Civil Rights Movement had to overcome racism in order to get people to accept the truth of oppression in the United States. The Human Climate Movement must overcome anxiety in order to get people to accept the truth of global climate change.

How to Overcome Anxiety

Anxiety is an extremely uncomfortable feeling, which humans go to great lengths to avoid, including (unconsciously) altering their cognition and mental states. Put another way: if people are too anxious, they will deny climate change, shoot the messenger, change the subject, or flail desperately to cope with their anxiety. This defensive response interferes, drastically, with actually confronting the problem. Thus, addressing anxiety must be a central feature of a climate change movement. But how can this be done?

Some scientists and advocates have attempted to “soften the blow” by minimizing the damage climate change will cause, or making the timeline seem longer than it is (Romm, 2012). This strategy is a devil’s bargain. It reduces anxiety, but also betrays the public trust, and understates the need for immediate, massive action. Knowing more about anxiety and how it functions shows us that altering the truth is not necessary. The Human Climate Movement can be messengers of the terrible truth, while making a central part of their strategy to help people contain and process the anxiety that the truth brings.

How? By understanding 2 basic psychological principles about humans and their experience of anxiety. First, humans are much more able to cope with fear if there is a plan to respond to the threat (Alford, 2001). People facing medical crises are comforted by diagnoses, even when the diagnosis is dire. Knowing the nature of the problem allows for a plan. It empowers the individual to understand what is happening to their body, and to respond accordingly—to fight the disease. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt helped Americans contained their anxiety at being attacked with a plan: the promise that we would fight back, and triumph. A threat without a plan causes people to feel confused, overwhelmed, and helpless. Their anxiety controls them. A plan changes that. To effectively contain anxiety, the plan must be a comprehensive; it must start right now and leads to victory; it must show people how they can take part in the plan. Having a plan allows people to respond to the threat bravely; to channel their anxiety into focused, productive action. To fight back.

The other crucial thing to know about how anxiety functions is that close, relationships have the power to greatly reduce anxiety in the face of a threat. Conversely, feeling alone or isolated makes threats terribly overwhelming. Anna Freud took children out of London into the safety of the countryside during WWII. She found, however, that they were more anxious and psychologically disturbed by being separated from their parents than they were by having bombs drop around them. When there is danger and anxiety, being together becomes more important. This is why, when someone faces a dangerous illness, it is important to have friends and family around them.  Or why soldiers operate in tightly knit units. We gain strength from each other. Very few people are brave by themselves—the anxiety is just too much.  Together, our fears, our anxiety, become manageable. Together, we find calmness and courage.

Evaluating the success of the Human Climate Movement

Taken from this perspective, it becomes clear that civil disobedience tactics are the wrong approach for the Human Climate Movement. When African Americans participated in civil disobedience, the medium was the message. They were demonstrating, through their actions, their dignity, restraint and courage. They were disproving racist ideas through their protests.  When environmental activists or scientists participate in civil disobedience protests, and face unfair arrest— it might increase their sense of dignity, or even the publics’ appraisal of environmental activists, and it might lower the publics’ opinion of the government or oil companies. But it doesn’t embody the message. It doesn’t dispel myths, create a forced choice, or create social pressure. Worst of all, it doesn’t help people contain their anxiety. Actually, protests raise the level of anxiety by highlighting the conflict between the protestors and the government. Further, protests likely make people feel guilty and worried, “are they protesting against me for owning a car?” Because the Human Climate Movement has thus far failed to make anxiety containment central to their strategy, they have not been able to find much success in accomplishing the 3 basic goals: of empowering members, fighting denial and removing the illusion of neutrality, and creating social and political pressure. Though marches, protests, and divestment campaigns give activists “something” to do, it does not appear that participants feel confident that their actions will create change. Thus, climate activists are not well empowered.

The movement has also been unsuccessful in focusing national attention on the problem. This is a striking failure, given the scope and immediacy of the threat from climate change. Climate change, by all rights, should be THE singular political focus, and a topic of worried and urgent conversation in every segment of society. There is plenty of blame to go around for the fact that climate change is hugely under discussed on the TV news. In 2012, climate change was discussed for only 60 minutes total during the nightly news across all networks. In 2011, the nightly news programs spent twice as many minutes reporting on Donald Trump as they did reported on climate change. Americans ranked climate change as dead last of 21 national priorities. In 2012 presidential election, not a single debate question addressed climate change. Of course, we can and should blame companies, politicians, and members of the media who willfully mislead and confuse the public for this shocking state of affairs.

However, we must also ask why the Human Climate Movement has thus far failed to effectively focus national attention on the problem. Looking at the strategy and tactics of the Human Climate Movement shows us multiple reasons: 1) the protest/ civil disobedience tactics fail to contain anxiety; 2) Recycling tactics from past social movements means that they are not novel. Indeed by using Civil Rights tactics, the Human Climate Movement becomes thought of as “one movement among many” just like women’s’ rights, LGBT rights, or the anti-nuclear movement. Instead, the Human Climate Movement must strive to be seen as a super ordinate movement, whose goal is the continuation of human civilization; without a successful social Human Climate Movement, and a livable climate—all social movements are effectively moot. 3) The Human Climate Movement has, thus far, not accounted in its strategy for the changes in technology between the 1960s and today. In the 1960s there were only 3 national networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC). When these networks broadcast protests, viewers across the country and world saw those protests. However, in today’s globalized, media saturated environment, we are bombarded by so much stimulation and choices in terms of media consumption that major protests—or other newsworthy climate events— are ignored by the vast majority of the population. A successful Human Climate Movement must not only get on TV, it must find a way to cut through the noise and focus national attention on the climate.

Because the Human Climate Movement has not attracted attention, it is no surprise that they have not been successful in creating social and political pressure for change. In certain regional and socio-economic groups there is pressure for action on an individual, consumption level such as recycling and buying relatively energy inefficient vehicles. But the pressure to take political action; to take a stand against climate change is virtually non-existent.

The Human Climate Movement is nowhere close to stopping climate change, or to igniting a social movement.  This is due, in large part, to their modeling strategy on the Civil Rights Movement, and failing to address the crippling anxiety that climate change evokes. Climate change is different from any problem humanity has ever faced. We won’t beat it with old tactics that were created with old technology in mind. Its time for something new.

Read Part II: A Psychologically Informed Strategy Proposal

 

 

 

[2] Yale’s yearly polling on climate change attitudes indicates that the percentage of Americans “Alarmed” or “Concerned” about Climate Change has fallen since 2008, and the percentage of Americans “Dismissive” and “Doubtful” have risen since 2008. In 2008, 51% of Americans were either “alarmed” or “concerned” and only 18% were “dismissive” or “doubtful.” In 2012, only 45% of Americans are “concerned” or “alarmed” and 21% are “dismissive” or “doubtful.”

Fighting Climate Change is Different From Fighting for Civil Rights Part II, Strategy Proposal

(Return to Part 1: Strategy Analysis and Critique)

 

Introduction

In the previous section, I have delineated the ways in which the Human Climate Movement shares goals with the Civil Rights Movement, but differs in the barriers to those goals, and the technological context.  I argue that both movements must 1) empower their membership, 2) place the truth front and center, forcing Americans out of denial and destroying the illusion of neutrality and 3) create massive social and political pressure, especially among elites and policy makers, for change.

I showed that the movements are distinct, however, the fundamental barrier to the goals of the Civil Rights Movement was racism, while the fundamental barrier to the Human Climate Movement is anxiety. Civil disobedience fought racism but does not fight anxiety. Anxiety is best contained through the existence of a comprehensive plan that starts right now to and leads to victory and through human relationships. I also discuss the different technological contexts that these movements occurred in: while the Civil Rights Movement could capture the national attention through civil disobedience, in today’s oversaturated media environment, protests do this extremely rarely. I argued that, for these reasons, civil disobedience will not succeed as a primary strategy for the Human Climate Party.

In this section I will propose an alternative strategy for the Human Climate Movement that makes containing anxiety its central feature, and also responds to our current technological and media age.

A Comprehensive Plan to Contain Anxiety and Fight Climate Change

I discussed previously how a plan is a fundamental tool to contain anxiety. To effectively contain anxiety, a plan must be believable and comprehensive. It must lead from right now to victory. In the case of climate change, this means that it must have two distinct parts: 1) A plan to ignite a social and political movement powerful enough to fundamentally change the national approach to climate change and 2) A plan for how to actually fight climate change, once the social movement has succeeded in creating the social and political will necessary to impel legislative action.

Many social movements, including the Civil Rights Movement, move forward step-by-step, gaining momentum from every small victory. They do not have a comprehensive plan at the beginning, but rather plan as they go. The Human Climate Movement is attempting this currently—hoping that victories such as university divestment or stopping the Keystone pipeline will lead to a larger movement and ever-larger victories. The problem with this stepwise approach is that it doesn’t contain anxiety. It doesn’t offer a path to victory—to a planet safe for humanity. This means that, while building gradually has worked for other social movements, the Human Climate Movement must start with an all-encompassing plan for success.

Luckily, a plan to fight climate change, once we recognize the depths of the crisis and muster the social and political will to fight back, already exists. Paul Gilding and Jorgen Randers prepared a “ One Degree War Plan” which approaches fighting climate change with the same zeal and urgency of purpose that the Allies fought WWII.  It is a plan to prevent further emissions as much as possible and remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere, while also pursuing adaptation measures and low-risk, reversible geoengineering strategies. Their plan cuts emissions by 50% in the first 5 years, and to become entirely carbon neutral in 20 years. The next 80 years will be dedicated to recovering from the damage that has already been locked into the system. Their aggressive approach includes, during the first 5 years of the war:  closing 1000 coal plants, building wind farms and solar arrays in order to compensate for some of the lost energy and encouraging efficiency measures and electricity rationing for the rest of the energy losses; decreasing commercial flights by 10% a year; cutting deforestation by 50%; utilizing agricultural and forestry methods that bind 1 gigaton of carbon into the soil; and instituting a carbon tax of $20 a tonne, which increases by $20 a year until it reaches $100 per tonne of carbon. The entire plan is available here.

Gilding and Randers prepared their plan as an example of what could be accomplished with a war approach, the details were meant to be flexible, and should change according to cutting edge scientific understanding, technological breakthroughs, and new ideas I, for example, would advocate for the creation of a “Climate Corps” in which young people were drafted out of high school for 2 years of public service, fighting climate change. We could put the Climate Core to work on projects such as insulating homes, building sea walls and levies, and spreading agricultural techniques that bind carbon in the soil.

Though the details must continue to evolve, the point of the Gilding & Randers plan is that: if the United States came out of denial and waged a WWII Level War on Climate Change, civilization would have a good chance, a fighting chance, of continuation. We would need allies, of course, just like in any war. It wouldn’t be easy, or simple, or short. But it would be humanity’s chance to be active participants in our destiny, rather than sitting, passive victims, waiting for climate change to wreak its havoc. Thus, a WWII approach should be the plan with which the Human Climate Movement fights for.

But how do we get there? How can we possibly muster the political will to start fighting? Gilding believes that, once climate change gets bad enough, humanity will realize that we have to fight back. It will be a spontaneous, global awakening.

I disagree. Denial is an incredibly strong force. When animals, including humans are in existential danger they generally do one of three things: fight, flight, or freeze (Schmitt et al., 2008).  They play dead and hope the danger passes them by. As a species, we are paralyzed by fear and disbelief (Hamilton 2010). As climate change worsens, we very well could become more frozen and more deeply in denial.  To switch gears into fight-for-our-life mode, we need a social movement. We need the Human Climate Movement to focus national attention, to fight denial, spread the truth, and usher in that awakening. And to do that, it needs a new strategy; one that is built around the goal of containing anxiety and that is responsive to our current technological situation.

A Person-to-Person, Pledge Based Approach

Imagine: Your phone rings. It’s your old friend. (Or your cousin, neighbor, or former roommate). He says he would like to talk with you about climate change. Can he send you a few articles and then meet you for lunch on Wednesday to talk? He is going to have a small gathering at his house next week.  You are invited to that, too. You know climate change is a problem, but you haven’t read anything about it for a few years. (Who wants to read that depressing stuff? Plus, you have been so busy.) But you care about your friend, you are intrigued by his offer, and you realize that you probably should be more current on what is happening with our planet, anyway.

You accept. You make time. You read the most current assessment of how our climate has already changed, and where it is going. You realize that civilization will not be able to withstand this. Your mind is buzzing with questions, “What is going to happen? How can I protect my family? What should I do?”

You can hardly wait Wednesday—to talk over what you have read with your friend, to talk about options. He tells you that he shares your feelings. Climate change is a massively destructive force, which will wipe out human civilization if we let it. But, he tells you; we don’t have to be helpless. We can fight back. Your friend describes his recent signing the Human Climate Pledge. The Human Climate Pledge has the following components:

An acknowledgement that:

  • Climate change threatens civilization.
  • Fighting climate change it is an issue of survival and of morality. It must be our top political priority.
  • To preserve civilization, we must fight climate change like we fought WWII: with a government led, society-wide mobilization.
  • We must dedicate approximately the same amount of resources to fighting climate change as we did to fight the Axis powers: 36% of our GDP.  Or 5.6 trillion dollars, per year.

A pledge to:

  • Only give time or money to political candidates who also sign this pledge.
  • Vote for candidates who have signed the pledge in local, state, and national elections, when they are running against a candidate who has not signed.
  •  Live in Climate truth—to forsake denial, and face the frightening truth of climate change.
  • To spread the truth of climate change to people you know and love, and encourage them to sign the pledge also.

Your friend tells you how he learned about the Pledge, and why he decided to sign it two months ago. He shows you the Human Climate Pledge App on his phone, which displays the total number of signatories, and how many signatories he has brought on; the number of people he has given the pledge to, how many they have given the pledge to, how many they have given the pledge to, and so forth. It shows that, in total, 20,000 people have signed so far. And your friend has thus far given it to 8 people: his wife, brothers, and a small group of friends, and that they has so far given the ledge to 20 other people, mainly their family and friends.

He tells you that he asked you to talk because he cares about you, and respects you and knows that there are many people who would find your opinion influential. He tells you he hopes you join this effort; that you sign the pledge and spread it to other people. That you will join him in living in climate truth, and fighting this war of wars. He asks if you want some more reading, and recommends a few further books and articles, and gives you a written copy of the pledge for you to consider. He invites you, Sunday at 8:00, to come to his house to talk more, and to take the pledge, if you are ready to. Bring someone, if you like. Five other people, some of whom you know, are planning to attend, some may take the pledge at that time.

You part ways, your head spinning. Your friend has always been mild mannered and reasonable. Someone you have respected, and viewed as similar to yourself. This is unlike anything he has ever been involved with. Maybe he is onto something. And the articles you read were certainly upsetting. And the weather has been so strange…

Over the next few days, you read more and more. You knew the climate was changing, but you didn’t realize all of the different things that this would impact: Rising sea levels, damaged agricultural yield, vector borne disease, resource wars, climate refugees.  The information is hard. The whole world is changing, and it is happening very fast.

On Sunday, you arrive at 8:00 with some snacks and a bottle of wine. The atmosphere is somber, but friendly. You are happy to see some people you haven’t seen in a while, and meet some of your friend’s neighbors. You discuss the material you have read, and what has been happening in your area. Your friend puts on a 20-minute video from the organizers of the Human Climate Pledge. It’s a summary of the impacts of climate change, and a discussion of the Pledge. It’s a call to arms, an invitation to join.

Your friend asks if anyone is ready to take the pledge. 3 people say that they are. They stand. Your friend asks if they want to dedicate their pledge to anyone, or offer any comments to the group. A woman says she wants to dedicate her pledge to her children. She says she would do anything to protect them, and knows that fighting climate is something that we have to do, together. A man says his pledge is dedicated to his deceased mother, who always hated and feared pollution. After they have offered their comments, they stand and recite the pledge in unison. The rest of the group claps. People have tears in their eyes.

Your friend enters the new signatories information into the system, via his HCP App. The new signatories now download the HCP App themselves. They now have the capacity—and the responsibility—to give the pledge to others. To induct them into the Human Climate Movement. Your friend tells the new signatories that he has some buttons, armbands, and bumper stickers, if they want to broadcast their pledge visually.

He says he will be having people over to his house again in 2 weeks. All are invited back, and invited to bring others. Maybe people will feel ready to sign. People spend the rest of the evening eating and drinking together. There is a good atmosphere in the air. It feels like hope.

Specifics of a Person-to-Person, pledge based approach

As I have attempted to illustrate in the above narrative, this approach utilizes pledge-signing as a central tactic in the Human Climate Movement. The pledge specifies that the signer agrees that climate change is an immediate, existential threat to civilization, and that a WWII style response is called for. The signatory pledges only to donate money and time to candidates who have signed, and to vote for any candidate who has signed the pledge over any candidate who has not. In this way, the pledge functions as a reclamation of Democracy. The signatories recognize that the government is failing in its most important function: protecting its people. The signatories pledge to wield their power as citizens, and as humans, to push policy makers into action.

Signatories also pledge to “Live in Climate Truth,” meaning to actively commit to fighting their own tendencies to deny, minimize, and dissociate their knowledge and to share their knowledge with others. I have written elsewhere on the principle of Living in Climate Truth. The idea comes from Vaclav Havel, who noted that—when a system, such as the Soviet Union in the 1970s—was built on lies—that individual citizens disbelieved the regime’s lies, but acted compliant in order to avoid trouble. Havel saw revolutionary potential in this state of affairs. If a system is built on a lie, and people know it’s a lie but keep that opinion private, publicly demonstrating their allegiance to the system, then the system is ready to crumble. All it takes is for people to live in truth: to act on what they believe, to be open about it. This lessens the amount of pressure to conform other people feel, making it easier for them to live in truth, also. One of the ways we live within the Climate Lie is we don’t talk about it socially. Climate change makes people uncomfortable and anxious, so we don’t mention it. We may be depressed or terrified about the climate, but don’t want to be a downer or a drag. The Human Climate Pledge signatories promise to live in Climate Truth; to face the truth of climate change themselves, and to share their truth with others.

Specifically, signatories pledge to spread the Human Climate Pledge to others, especially people they know and love. One scenario for how signatories can recruit others was demonstrated in the narrative. But there are infinite ways that people can approach others with the Human Climate Pledge. They could give a special presentation in church or a community meeting; they can have informal conversations; they can invite friends to a recurring climate themed book-group; they can have conversations over the phone or through video-conferencing technology; they could convince existing environmental or political groups to take the pledge together. Getting people to sign the pledge will, in most cases, require a fair amount of education. Signatories can encourage friends and family to read books or articles about climate change, or attend presentations. Knowledge sharing and consciousness raising are central parts of a person-to-person approach.

Reaching out to people, personally, and sharing the reality of climate change, as well as the hope of the Human Climate Pledge, becomes the central organizing tactic of the Human Climate Movement; it becomes what civil disobedience was to civil rights. Pledge recruitment (like civil disobedience) allows activists to utilize their creativity, and adapt to specific situations. People are experts in their own networks. They know what might appeal to their family and friends. They speak their language, literally and metaphorically.

A mobile phone App should be developed to structure and track the progress of the Human Climate Pledge. The HCP App is received when someone takes the pledge, and it allows that person to give the pledge to others. This enforces a person-to-person structure. One cannot take the pledge online. (How many online pledges have you signed and then forgotten about?) They must receive the pledge from someone who has already taken it. They must take the pledge in person, ideally with others present. This reinforces the message that fighting climate change is a shared human endeavor; something we must pursue together and help each other with.

This person-to-person structure, and the utilization of a HCP App also allows for detailed tracking of pledges. It can track, and display: 1) How many people, total, have taken the pledge to date; 2) How many people you have given the pledge to 3) How many people those people have given the pledge to, how many those people have given the pledge to, and so on. In other words, the App will track a person’s total impact in terms of spreading the pledge. If I give it to 10 people, who each give it to 10 people, who each give it to 10 people, my actions have helped spread the pledge to 1000 people. This number will be continually available.

The use of an App also allows for coordination between individuals and the central Human Climate Pledge organizing committee. Potential uses include: HCP central can communicate with signatories via the App, for example, about political candidates who have signed the pledge; members could use their App to request buttons/ bumper stickers, other visuals that indicate support for the HCP; members can donate funds to HCP central through their app; HCP central can track Pledge progress and identify people who are particularly effective in spreading the message of Climate Change and the Human Climate Pledge, and ask them to share their best practices, or give trainings to teach others their techniques.

Recruiting people, including politicians, to sign the Human Climate Pledge should be the central tactic of the Human Climate Movement. But it does not necessarily have to be the only tactic. Indeed, a concerted recruitment effort that creates both community-level connections, and connections with a centralized Human Climate organization will make it easier to mobilize signatories for other types of action, all which share the same focus: raising awareness so that the United States can wake up to the threat of climate change, and respond with a WWII level approach.

Benefits of this approach

A person-to-person, pledge based approach offers myriad benefits as the central plank of the Human Climate Movement. Most importantly, it helps people contain their anxiety and channel it into action. By structuring the movement around existing human relationships, it allows people to support each other through their fear. An approach that unifies people allows them to gain strength from each other. The advocacy of a comprehensive plan contains anxiety further, and the recruitment-focus allows people to see their own role in the movements.  This is quite empowering, and the software that tracks how many people a member has given the pledge to, and how many people those individuals have given the pledge to serves as a constant, concrete reminder of a persons’ efficacy.

A person-to-person pledge based approach is an approach that is responsive to our current technological context. The Internet, social media, and ubiquitous smart phones are changing human behavior faster than politics can keep up with. The Obama campaign utilized the internet for coordinating meet-ups and volunteers in innovative ways and was richly rewarded for it. It should probably go without saying that a successful Human Climate Movement will have to use social media and technology in an innovative way if we are to find success. Social movements must leverage the technologies of their day; novel ways of using technology for and organizing and message-spreading provide a strategic advantage to movements, because the entrenched powers and vested interests do not have a counter-strategy available. (During the Civil Rights Movement, The Right did not have Fox News available to broadcast propaganda undermining the movement.)

A person-to-person approach utilizes technology in a novel way, but, perhaps more importantly, it is also built in response to a culture that is over saturated with media and technology. A 2009 Nielson study showed that Americans spend 8.5 hours per day looking at some type of screen. On those screens, we are bombarded by every type of information: news, advertisements, political messaging, infotainment, and updates on strangers lives. It is impossible to rationally process and filter this information; much of it is simply disregarded. Because of the cacophony, vested interests such as fossil fuel companies are easily able to warp the conversation by ginning up controversies and promoting phone “doubt” among scientists. Their arguments are paper thin, but because 1) the truth inspires anxiety and 2) most Americans don’t focus on the issue in a concerted way, but rather experience it as part of an over-stimulating barrage of information, they are effective.

A person-to-person approach cuts through the noise. It treats climate change as it should be treated: as critically important, deeply personal, yet inherently political. When a friend calls to talk about something important to them—a crisis they are facing— most people stop what they are doing and pay attention.

A person-to-person approach allows the medium to be a major part of the message. This approach emphasizes unity, learning, cooperation, and human relationships; some of the best aspects of humanity. It frames fighting climate change as a shared project, rather than a divisive protest. It recognizes that we are all in this together; climate change is bigger than any of us. Our best hope is to utilize thoughtful, coordinated, courageous action.

Conclusion

In the first section of this paper, I described ways that the Human Climate Movement is psychologically similar to, and different from, the Civil Rights Movement. I argue that, while the goals of fighting denial are the same, the fundamental barrier to fighting the Civil Rights Movement was racism, while the fundamental barrier to fighting climate change is anxiety.

In the second section of this paper, I applied this analysis by offering an organizing strategy that makes anxiety-containment the central goal. It is the best strategy that I can think of.  Perhaps a more effective strategy exists in someone else’s mind; certainly this approach can be improved and refined though collaboration with others. I encourage and welcome disagreement and constructive criticism, both on the psychological forces at play in the Civil Rights Movement, or the Human Climate Movement, and regarding the optimal strategy for organizing the Movement. Perhaps we can crowd-source strategy for the Human Climate Movement.

I encourage all who approach these questions to do so with a theoretical orientation guided by the history and theory of social movements, psychology, or anthropology rather than (just) an understanding of the current political situation. Aggressive action on climate change is not possible in today’s political climate. But social movements transform the political climate. They make us look at the past and ask, “How could things have ever been that way? How could we have been so ignorant?” They realign the stars. This is exactly the level of change that we need to fight Climate Change.  It’s a tall order, but the other option is passive suicide. Let’s put our heads together and get to work solving this. I hope you join me.

 

 

 

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Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., Feinberg, G. & Howe, P. (2013) Global Warming’s Six Americas. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. http://environment.yale.edu/climate/publications/Six-Americas-September-2012

Lertzman, 2013. The Myth of Apathy. In (S. Weintrobe) Engaging with climate change: Psychoanalytic and interdisciplinary perspectives. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Morris, A. D. (1999). A Retrospective on the Civil Rights Movement: Political and Intellectual Landmarks. Annual Review of Sociology, 25, 517.

Romm, J., (2012) Hug the Monster: Why so many climate scientists have stopped downplaying the climate threat. Think Progres. http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/05/07/478984/hug-the-monster-why-so-many-climate-scientists-have-stopped-downplaying-the-climate-threat/

Schmidt, N. B., Richey, J. A., Zvolensky, M. J., & Maner, J. K. (2008).Exploring human freeze responses to a threat stressor. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 39, 3, 292-304.

Thomas, 2004. Southern Spaces. Television News and the Civil Rights Struggle: The Views in Virginia and Mississippi. http://southernspaces.org/2004/television-news-and-civil-rights-struggle-views-virginia-and-mississippi#section10